Thursday, November 21, 2019

HGB Ep. 315 - The Menger Hotel

Moment in Oddity - Jack Budlong's Death

There are a handful of stories of actors dying while on set filming a movie. One of these stories involves a guy who really wasn't an actor, but his buddy got him a part as an extra on the 1941 film "They Died With Their Boots On." That amateur actor was Jack Budlong and his buddy was Errol Flynn. They knew each other from playing polo together. The film was a fictionalized biopic of George Custer and Errol asked the producers to let his friend Jack ride into battle with the other extras. Everybody was given wooden swords as props, but Jack had a real saber and he decided he wanted to use that. The battle scene began and this sequence featured the Bull Run bridge. There were some special effects blasts that went off on the bridge and this spooked Budlong's horse. The horse reared and Budlong lost grip on the saber, which fell to the ground and the hilt wedged between two rocks with the saber tip pointed up. Budlong was thrown 15 to 20 feet and right onto the saber. They rushed him to Cedars of Lebanon Hospital and he lingered for days finally succumbing to advanced peritonitis. Even more strange, his father had died a month before, to the day, and his brother died a week later. The fact that a sword would wedge perfectly on its hilt and that Budlong would be thrown perfectly atop the saber, certainly is odd!

This Month in History - Martha Mansfield Dies

*Let me preface this with that I was looking for details for the Moment in Oddity when I came upon this actress' death, which took place while filming in San Antonio. I thought to myself, wouldn't it be perfect if she died in November so I could use this for the history segment?*

In the month of November, on the 30th, in 1923, Martha Mansfield dies while filming "The Warrens of Virginia" in San Antonio, Texas. Mansfield was the leading actress in the movie. She was dressed in a Civil War era costume that had a billowing hoopskirt with lots of ruffles. She had just finished her scenes for the day and had gone to sit in a vehicle with some friends. A man in the car or possibly she herself, lit a match that caught the costume on fire. Her co-star, Wilfred Lytell, took off his overcoat and threw it over her trying to protect her face and neck from the flames. The chauffeur of the car tore the burning dress off Mansfield as she ran from the car. Sixty percent of her body was badly burned and at the time, there was not much they could do. She was taken to the Physicians & Surgeons Hospital where she died the following day. She was only twenty-three years old. Her body was sent to New York for burial and production on the film continued without much issue because most of her scenes had already been shot. And well, I guess Fox didn't want to lose money by halting production out of respect.

The Menger Hotel

San Antonio is one of my favorite cities not only for its amazing history, but it is full of haunts. One of those haunted places is right next to the Alamo and boasts over thirty ghosts. A young man came to this city with big dreams and started the first brewery in Texas, which makes him a top entrepreneur in my book! This man would turn the boarding house where he stayed upon arriving in town into the Menger Hotel, which would host dignitaries and become a town center. Join me as I share the history and hauntings of the Menger Hotel!

St. Augustine, Savannah, Salem, New Orleans, Alton and San Antonio are all cities that I return to often on this podcast. They each have their own character and when I look at that list, I realize they touch on key areas of American history that are all quite different. St. Augustine is the oldest settled city, Savannah was built as a series of squares and survived the Civil War mostly intact, Salem was one of the first colonies and the scene of the most famous witch hunt, New Orleans has unique architecture, jazz and Voodoo, Alton was a center for abolition of slavery and San Antonio was the setting for the Texas Revolution. For San Antonio, I've produced Ep. 47 featuring the Gunter Hotel, Ep. 83 featuring the Emily Morgan Hotel and one of the HGB Road Trip episodes from 2017 covers the Alamo and San Antonio in general. I've shared the history of the Battle of The Alamo and the Texas Revolution before, but there is an aspect to San Antonio's history that I haven't covered. There were originally Native American people here, followed by frontiersmen. But there was no civil government or organized settlement until the Canary Islanders arrived.

José de Azlor y Virto de Vera was born in Spain to a family that had a long history of serving the Spanish Crown. He married the daughter of the first Marqués de San Miguel de Aguayo and thus he became the second man to serve in that position. This was similar to being a governor and this was for the Mission San Jose. He sent a letter to the king of Spain in 1719 suggesting that they needed more immigrants to the area  to help set up a proper city. He wanted 400 families and he asked that they be brought from the nearby islands of Cuba, Galicia and Canary. The king said yes, but it wasn't that easy. Juan Leal Goraz led a group of far fewer families than the 400. There were about twenty-five families who started the journey and this shrunk to ten, which grew back to fifteen after a few marriages and a group of bachelors were considered a sixteenth family. This amounted to 56 people and they had to hike overland from the Gulf to the presidio of San Antonio de Bexar. They arrived on March 9, 1731. This small group would be the nucleus of the organized government and they elected their leader, Goraz, as first alcalde or mayor. There are many families in San Antonio that trace their roots to the original Canary Islanders.

They laid out the village that would become San Antonio on the west side of the Plaza de las Islas, which is today the Main Plaza. They built the first church and government building here. Within this historic plaza, one will find the Menger Hotel at 204 Alamo Plaze, right next door to The Alamo. I have been inside this magnificent hotel and it is like walking into a museum where you can stay overnight. From the Victorian lobby to the antiques to the artwork, one is transported to another time. And perhaps that is why there are spirits locked into this location.

As you know by now, I like to dig through history to find out what was on the land at the very beginning for a haunted location. So many miss the importance of this, but this is sometimes the only way to explain why a place is haunted. And I'm one of those people that wants to know the why, not just the what. Obviously, since the hotel is near The Alamo, the land beneath the building was once part of the fort. All of the men fighting at The Alamo for Texan Independence died as the fort fell to General Santa Anna in 1836. Not long after that, German immigrant William Menger arrived in town.
He was only twenty-years-old and he used his German knowledge of brewing beer to establish what would be the first brewery in Texas with a partner named Charles Phillip Degen. They called it Western Brewery and it specialized in making lagers, which were in high demand because lagers were not as available. They are harder to make than porters, ales and stouts.

*Rabbit Hole: I'm not a beer expert, but I'm working on it! I've always loved beer, but while I was with Denise we didn't drink. There were not many craft brews back when I was in my early twenties, so I'm really having fun now exploring all the great flavors out there. I just wanted to take you down into this rabbit hole for a brief overview. There are two main styles of beer: lagers and ales. Porters, stouts and wheat beers are all ales falling under categories like IPAs, Browns and Belgians. Bocks, Pilsners and Oktoberfests are Lagers falling under categories like dark, pale and Vienna. They are made in very different ways. Ales are brewed using top-fermenting yeasts, so the yeast floats to the top of the brewing barrel during fermentation, which takes place at a warm temperature around 50 to 77 degrees Fahrenheit. Lagers are brewed using bottom-fermenting yeasts, which take longer to grow and they settle on the bottom of the barrel during fermentation, which needs colder temperatures around 45 to 60 degrees Fahrenheit. So as you can imagine, before we had refrigeration, lagers were hard to make and maintain and for southern areas, one had to wait until cooler weather temperatures.*

So when Menger brings lagers to the public, it was a hit and his brewery became very popular and he started to get wealthy, even having enough to buy out competitors, so that Western Brewery became the largest operating brewery in Texas by 1878. Soon, people were calling Menger the "Beer King." The Western Brewery was on part of the site where the Battle of the Alamo had happened. On the other side of the brewery was a boarding house owned by a widow named Mary Guenther. Menger had made one of the rooms here his home and he lived there for three years. I don't know how many long nights Mary and William spent sitting on the porch visiting or how many longing glances they gave each other in the hallways, but they eventually ended up married to each other. And this made Menger co-owner of the boarding house. He helped expand the business and they needed more rooms, so they decided it was time for the boarding house to go and a gorgeous and expensive hotel to take its place. They had big dreams and they would make those dreams come true.

The Menger Hotel you see today is a culmination of years of design and construction under four different architects. The original section is a two-story building on the southwest corner that is made from limestone and designed by a local architect named John M. Fries. Fries is also credited with repairing the damaged Alamo and he's the one that gave it that unique parapet on the front. The hotel opened on February 1, 1859 with fifty rooms. The Victorian Lobby was the original lobby on that opening day. There was a large cellar built under the hotel with three-foot thick walls that Menger used to chill the beer from the brewery and a tunnel was built to facilitate this storage without having to cross the street above the ground. This tunnel also brought guests over from the hotel to tour the brewery.

Things changed quickly for the Menger and three months after opening, William and Mary were already making plans to expand the hotel to ninety rooms. This would make the Menger Hotel the largest hotel in the area. This three-story addition was built directly behind the hotel. Things continued to be good until the Civil War broke out and business slowed way down. The Mengers decided to offer up the hotel as a hospital and obviously, many soldiers died at the hotel. After the war, it reopened and flourished. And then William Menger got sick. There is no record as to what illness he had, but he passed away at the age of 44 in March 1871. Mary and her son Louis announced that operations would continue and the hotel flourished even more. She bought more property in 1874 and got the hotel outfitted with its own gas source.

In 1876, a chambermaid named Sallie White was murdered by her husband who didn't like her working in the hotel. He shot her three times, but she didn't die right away. She languished for two days and in that time, her husband was released and he ran away, never to be caught. The Menger hotel covered the costs of her funeral, buying her a coffin and plot. By 1881, Mary felt like she needed to retire from the hotel business, but Louis didn't want the hotel so she sold it for $118,500 to Major J.H. Kampmann. He also purchased all the furnishings. All of this would have run over $3 million today. He added a third story to the Alamo Plaza section and a third-story to the north side and relocated the kitchen. Kampmann felt the hotel needed a new bar and so he had one built that was considered one of the most elegant around and it is no wonder since it was inspired by the House of Lords Pub in London. The ceiling is paneled cherry-wood, beveled mirrors from France, decorated glass cabinets, a cherry-wood bar and leather booths from France. This really is the neatest place to get a brew on tap. There is a balcony areas sitting above the bar that is perfect for taking in the ambiance and people-watching. In it's heyday, the top drinks here were mint juleps served in silver tumblers and hot rum toddies.

There's also something pretty special historically about this bar. Teddy Roosevelt loved this place and it became the scene of the formation of his Rough Riders. There is memorabilia here that includes some of their uniforms. Some stories claim that Teddy actually rode into the bar on his horse and a bullet hole in the wall is credited to him too. This happened in 1898. The Rough Riders was a common name given to the 1st United State Volunteer Cavalry that served during the Spanish-American War. They were mustered from four southwestern states because they would be fighting in Cuba, which had a similar climate. The war started when the USS Maine was sunk in Havana Harbor and Spain was considered responsible.

In 1887, a fourth-story was added to the Blum Street side of the hotel and updates were made including electric lights, steam laundry, steam elevator and artesian well. Renovations would continue through the years adding fixtures and more furnishings and another fifty-room addition. In 1909, Architect Alfred Giles would add an ornamental marquee of iron, a new marble floor to the original lobby and Renaissance-revival embellishments like Corinthian columns and filigreed balustrades with wrought iron scrollwork. The decorative tile floor was expanded into the Colonial Room Restaurant and a leaded stained-glass skylight was installed.

That Colonial Room Restaurant would be remodeled in 1912 by architect Atlee B. Ayres to make it match the neoclassical style that was evolving in the hotel. The plaster mantelpiece is unique featuring two caryatids topped with Ionic capitals and scrollwork that has a nymph motif. The food is said to be amazing here. In 1924, fire would hit. The headline for the San Antonio Express read "Flames Rout Menger Guests, Fire Engine and Street Car Collide, Five Hurt." The Express reported, “Rarely have the firemen had to do battle with a more stubborn or spectacular fire” and this was because of all the additions and remodels to the hotel. The fire started in the kitchen when an overheated flue set fire to the ceiling and the hotels woodwork just fed it sending flames quickly to the second floor and then over to the south wing where fire gutted the third and fourth floors. A night clerk discovered the fire and ran down the halls yelling for everyone to wake up and get out. One crazy guest grabbed the clerk and threw him down the stairs. He was only slightly injured. None of the 101 registered guests was injured, but the fire hit the hotel hard and damages were thought to be $100,000, about $1.4 million in today’s dollars. 

The Menger would rebuild and in 1943 it would be bought by W. L. Moody, Jr. A major addition was added in 1949 that added another four-story wing with 125 rooms, a new lobby was built, a swimming pool was added and air conditioning was added throughout the hotel. Today, there is a display case that surrounds the fireplace that contains memorabilia. Another five-story addition was added in 1966 and another restoration project in 1988 added a new ballroom, meeting rooms and 33 more rooms and suites. Famous people who visited the hotel over the years were Lillian Langtree, Sarah Bernhard, Ulysses S. Grant, Robert E. Lee, Presidents McKinley, Taft, Eisenhower, and Roosevelt, Mae West, Roy Rogers and Dale Evans, Babe Ruth and Oscar Wilde.

This is clearly one of the most acclaimed hotels in the state of Texas, but it is also considered the most haunted hotel in Texas too. There are many rivals to this claim, but I think the Menger Hotel probably makes a good argument for that claim with its long list of spirits found here (usually claimed to be 32) and there are many, many people with their own personal experiences. All types of phenomenon are reported from rapping noises to faces staring out from mirrors to doors opening and closing on their own to the scent of cigar smoke. Brandon Cory wrote me, "I have overheard you mention the Alamo and the Menger Hotel in San Antonio and having worked at the Alamo I can verify the haunting and can correlate that many of the staff in both locations have had many a run in with spirits."

The employees all seem to have their own personal stories to share. Two of them were up on the third floor at the east end of the hotel, walking down a hallway. They were visiting with each other when they suddenly stopped, startled by what they were seeing. They saw a white mist that resembled smoke and it was coming towards them. They stood frozen as it passed right through them and they felt a chill. They turned to watch as this mist continued down the hall towards a set of French doors. One of the doors opened, the mist passed through and then closed. The employees took off downstairs. Two waiters in the Renaissance Room were setting the tables for an event. On one of the side tables, they set up 100 wine glasses in four rows of 25. They started to leave the room when they heard the sound of a glass falling over. They turned around and watched as each of the wine glasses was pushed over one at a time. Two porters in the lobby went into the ladies room to clean it and as they approached the utility closet with the supplies, they heard a bunch of banging around in there as though buckets and mops were being moved around. The door was locked so they tried their key and couldn't get the door opened. They called for security worried that someone was in the closet. The guard used his special keys to open the door and they found no one inside and nothing amiss. They closed the door again and heard disembodied laughter coming from inside.

A guest was taking a shower and when they got out of the shower, they found a ghost standing in their room, dressed in a buckskin jacket and grey pants. He seemed to be talking to something unseen and he yelled, "Are you gonna stay or are you gonna go?" He yelled it again two more times and then disappeared. In the bar there was a weird incident. A young man was sitting at a table in front of the mirror at the north end of the bar. A couple walked in and sat at the table facing this young man's. Suddenly, an ashtray went flying off that table and landed at the young man's feet. He asked the couple why they threw the ashtray at him when he didn't know them. The couple insisted that they didn't throw the ashtray. That is when the cocktail waitress let them know that there was a spirit in the bar who liked to move things around like that.

There are two ladies in blue here. They both roam the halls in blue dresses. One doesn't seem restricted to the hotel and has been seen dancing on the ramparts of The Alamo next door. The other is described as looking middle aged and her dress has red embroidered stars on it and she wears boot that look like they are too big and bulky for a woman. She is seen sitting in the lobby at times reading or knitting and then she disappears. And speaking of The Alamo, there are spirits that spill over from that location. Soldiers are seen standing on the second floor and looking over the railing, one of which is called the Spaniard. This Spanish conquistador is also seen in the lobby in full armor. There are Confederate soldiers seen here as well. There is also a four year-old little girl. Her story is that she was run over by a horse and carriage outside of the hotel in the late 1800s. She is seen behind the front desk in the lobby, in the bar and in the Colonial Room Restaurant. She is mischievous and is known to play games with the staff. They have taken to calling her Sarah and people claim she has long brown hair and wears a white dress.

These are random stories about indiscernible spirits, but there are some spirits who people believe they can identify. One of the more well known is the spirit of the chambermaid who was murdered by her husband, Sallie White. She is easily recognized because she always wears a white scarf around her head. She originally stuck to the oldest section of the hotel, but now has been reported nearly everywhere. She seems to still be doing her job in the afterlife, often being seen carrying towels and bedding in her arms. One guest claimed to see Sallie come walking through her door carrying a towel and disappearing into the bathroom from which she never emerged. Another female guest stepped out of her shower and saw a maid folding sheets near the bed. She was startled, not only because she didn't expect to see someone in her room, but because she could see right through her.

Another guest ran into Sallie in the ladies room in the lobby. She described her as having short curly black hair and either being Native American or Latina with a paper-like tiara in her hair and a maid outfit that you would see in an old movie. The guest went into a stall to do her business and heard Sallie rattling around stocking stuff. She wondered why she was wearing the tiara. She thought she would ask her when she came out. Possibly she was head maid?  When the guest exited the stall, she didn't see the maid anywhere. She went up to the front desk and asked about the headpiece and why this maid would be wearing one. The clerk directed her to a man in the lobby who kept track of the ghost stories and after she gave him details, he told her that she probably just saw Sallie the ghost.  The guest was positive that this was a real person. She walked away and then saw this same maid holding towels out in the garden. She looked to see where the man was so she could show him this was a real person. When she looked back, the maid was gone. Others have seen Sallie wearing an old long gray skirt and a bandana around her forehead, the uniform common during her era. Primarily, appearing at night, Sallie is generally seen walking along the hotel hallways, carrying a load of clean towels for the guests.

Charlotte Jane is one of my young listeners and she had wanted to know if Teddy Roosevelt's ghost was seen anywhere and it just so happens that The Menger Hotel is one of those places. He loved the bar and that is where staff members have seen him after closing time, sitting at the bar. A new employee was closing up the bar by himself when he heard something behind him. He turned and saw a man sitting at the bar, gazing at him intently. He knew he should be the only one in there and he ran to the door frightened. As he pulled, he realized he was locked into the bar. He banged and screamed until someone heard him and let him out. He told the person what happened, but they were like, who is at the bar? There was no one there and the only way out was through that door. Sometimes Roosevelt's ghost can be vocal and he has tried some of his recruiting tactics on the employees. He occasionally hollers at employees too.

Another specter with an identity is Captain Richard King. He had been the owner of The King Ranch, which was one of the largest ranches in the world. The Menger Hotel was one of his favorites and he had a personal suite at the hotel. It was in this suite that he decided to die after his doctor told him that he was going to die. He had stomach cancer. He wrote his will there and goodbye letters to family and friends and died in 1885. That suite is today called "King Ranch Room." It is here that Captain King is seen. What is really strange is that the room was remodeled so the door was moved, but Captain King still enters his room where the door used to be so he goes right through the wall. There is also a red orb seen in suite or just outside of it. This is the only place where this orb is seen. King not only died here, but his funeral was held here.

The Menger Hotel has seen a lot of death whether it was natural deaths or suicides in the hotel to accidents outside to men dying in battle. Has this lead to spiritual activity? Is the Menger Hotel haunted? That is for you to decide!

*Special note: If you find Ernesto Malacara at the hotel, he is the man to talk to about ghosts!*

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