Thursday, August 24, 2023

HGB Ep. 501 - Hotel del Coronado

Moment in Oddity - Gold Coin Treasure

With such a large Lottery payout recently it can make one curious about the likelihood of suddenly hitting those winning numbers or coming across buried treasure. Earlier in 2023, a Kentucky man found an unexpected cache of gold coins buried in his corn field. The fortuitous, farmer found over 700 gold coins dating back to the Civil War era. The coins have since been certified as genuine $1, $10 and $20 dollar gold coins minted prior to and during the Civil War. The value of the individual coins vary from one dollar coins selling for $1,000 to gold Liberty double eagles minted in 1863 which can sell for between a few thousand dollars up to nearly $400,000 dollars at auction. Some of the found coins were in such excellent condition that it has been determined that they may have never been in circulation. Many of the coins were minted in 1862 and 1863 during which time Kentucky was the location of intense battles between the Union and Confederate armies with the state being politically divided. It is hypothesized that the gold coins were buried during this time to hide them from the invading army and that most likely the owner was killed since the coins were never recovered by their owner or perhaps they simply forgot where they buried the stash. Although the finder of the treasure has chosen to remain anonymous, the fact that he posted his discovery on the internet may not keep his identity a mystery for long. It is understandable how discovering such a historic and rare find such as these coins can be compared to winning the Lottery but undeniably, it certainly is odd.

This Month in History - The Lincoln Penny

In the month of August, on the 2nd, in 1909, the first pennies with Lincoln's profile were issued. If it were not for President Theodore Roosevelt, the Lincoln one cent piece may never have come to fruition. At the turn of the century, the deceased President Abraham Lincoln had already become a highly regarded icon. Although at the time, people thought it improper to have a real persons likeness on a circulating coin, Roosevelt had a different opinion. He had viewed sculptor Victor David Brenner's bronze plaque of Lincoln and was so impressed that the sitting President insisted that the artist create a coin of Lincoln's profile for circulating currency. The creation process was difficult for Brenner and the U.S. Mint Chief Engraver, Charles Barber. The Engraver did not favor working with outside artists and it took a while to come up with a design that satisfied both the artist and The Mint. Victor David Brenner wanted to create a beautiful coin, where as Charles Barber desired a design that would not wear out the coin dies too quickly. Once the final design was agreed upon and production began, the new to arrive coin was highly publicized creating much impatience with the general public. Due to the expected demand, The Mint held off release until it had struck more than 25 million pennies to place into circulation.

Hotel del Coronado

There's no other way to describe the Hotel del Coronado in San Diego other than magnificent. The structure is unique and easily recognizable with its Queen Anne Victorian architecture and white clapboard exterior topped with red turrets. Much has been added to it through the years to modernize it, but the original 1888 hotel still dominates the scene. A beautiful stranger came to stay in 1892 and she was found dead at the hotel. And now that hotel is famously haunted by her spirit. From the hotel, one can see the Old Point Loma Lighthouse, which also is apparently haunted. Join us as we explore the history and hauntings of Hotel del Coronado.

San Diego was experiencing a land boom in the mid 1880s. Elisha Babcock, Jr. and Hampton L. Story traveled to Coronado Beach and they were so moved by the beauty there, that despite having no experience in the hotel business, they decided to build a hotel. Their goal was to make it the talk of the western world. The men formed the Coronado Beach Company and chose a site for the hotel. Then there was the matter of all the logistics connected to developing the hotel properly. There would need to be streets and parks and transportation. The Coronado Ferry Company developed ferryboat service between San Diego and Coronado The men then set out to build a town by holding a land auction and they sold 350 lots. Continued sales eventually reached $2.25 million. Coronado was incorporated in 1890.

Architect James Reid from New Brunswick, Canada laid out the basic design for the hotel in 1886. Babcock's instructions to Reid were as follows, "It would be built around a court... a garden of tropical trees, shrubs and flowers,... From the south end, the foyer should open to Glorietta Bay with verandas for rest and promenade. On the ocean corner, there should be a pavilion tower, and northward along the ocean, a colonnade, terraced in grass to the beach. The dining wing should project at an angle from the southeast corner of the court and be almost detached, to give full value to the view of the ocean, bay and city." 

Construction began in March 1887 and a planing mill was built on site to finish the raw lumber, kilns were installed for making bricks and a metal shop and iron works were constructed. California red wood was used for external siding and the lobby had Illinois white oak. Much of the labor came from Chinese immigrants and about 250 men were needed. The pinnacle of the hotel was the Crown Room, which was the main dining room, and it had an Oregon sugar pine ceiling that was installed without any nails. Only pegs and glue were used. The interior court of the hotel had a fountain and exotic fruit trees. There were music and billiard rooms, private parlors and expansive verandas. The Mother of Balboa Park, botanist Kate Sessions, designed the landscape for the hotel. This included a Japanese tea garden, tennis courts, bowling alleys and an Olympic-sized salt water pool. The hotel touted itself as a health resort.

The Hotel del Coronado officially opened in February 1888 with 399 rooms. It featured the latest in fire prevention with a freshwater pipeline running from San Diego Bay, two large concrete cisterns in the basement to catch rain water and gravity flow sprinklers. The world's first oil furnace was installed in the hotel. The electrical system was also a marvel. It ran electric wires along the gas lines, so that if the electricity didn't work, gas could be used. The Del, as everyone was calling it, was the first hotel to have electricity. And then right after the hotel opened, the land boom busted and the Coronado Beach Company found itself in need of money, which they borrowed. They then capitalized with three million dollars, but eventually ended up selling to John Diedrich Spreckles. The Spreckles family would retain ownership of the hotel through to 1948. 

The rich and famous all wanted to stay at the hotel and they did. The Prince of Wales, Edward, visited in April of 1920. The 1920s were a grand time for the Del. Charlie, Chaplin, Rudolph Valentino, Clark Gable, Mae West, Errol Flynn, Douglas Fairbanks, Bette Davis, Ginger Rogers, Katharine Hepburn and Joan Crawford all visited during that decade and the 1930s. The cisterns down in the basement were used for hiding alcohol during Prohibition. The SS Monte Carlo shipwrecked a quarter mile south of the hotel. This had been a gambling ship know for its "drinks, dice and dolls." A Naval Air Station was built on nearby North Island in 1917 and is considered the "Birthplace of Naval Aviation." During World War II, hotels were used by the government for housing and hospitals and the Del was one of them that housed pilots that were being trained at the Naval Air Station. The government didn't actually have to officially commandeer the hotel as it willingly housed families of officers as well. It did receive designation as a wartime casualty station and planted a large victory garden on all the spare grounds.

In 1948, a man named Barney Goodman purchased the hotel from the Spreckels. Under his tenure, the hotel began to fall into disrepair. The once gorgeous Del needed renovating and that would come in 1960 when local millionaire John Alessio bought the hotel. He invested $2 million on refurbishment and redecorating, which was supervised by Hollywood set designer Al Goodman. Goodman was born in Chicago in 1910 and he studied at the prestigious Chicago Art Institute. He moved with his wife to Hollywood during the Great Depression and he was hired as a set artist by Paramount Studios. Goodman spent twenty years working in Hollywood not only working on movies, but also television shows. He was a pioneer in special effects and set design. The redesign he did of the Hotel del Coronado's ballroom in 1961 was acclaimed and featured in San Diego Magazine. 

Alessio didn't hold onto the hotel for long. He sold it in 1963 to M. Larry Lawrence who initially planned to demolish the Del and redevelop the land. Thankfully he changed his mind and instead invested a whopping $150 million to refurbish and expand the hotel. He doubled its capacity to 700 rooms and added the Grande Hall Convention Center and two seven-story Ocean Towers. Larry died in 1996 and his family sold the hotel to the Travelers Group and they in turn made a $55 million upgrade to the hotel in 2001. Through all these changes, the original portion of the Del has kept its Victorian look, which inspired the design of Walt Disney World's Grand Floridian Resort. Cottages and villas were added to the property in 2005, which increased occupancy by 205 rooms. And then things got really complicated about the Del's ownership.

Many different transactions and changing of hands occurred with multiple companies holding shares of the hotel. The Blackstone Group LP, which seems to own everything nowadays, bought Strategic Hotels and Resorts in 2015 after it became the full owner of the Del. The hotel was said to be worth $590 million at the time. A year later, Blackstone tried to sell the property to China in a a multi-resort deal worth $6.5 billion, but the government said, wait a minute. The Del is too close to major Navy bases for the comfort of the government. So Blackstone still owns the hotel today, but it is managed by Hilton Hotels and Resorts. The Hotel del Coronado was inducted into Historic Hotels of America in 2018.

The ghost story connected to the Del is fairly well known and involves a woman named Kate Morgan who seemed to have committed suicide at the hotel. There is a lot of mystery to this story. She started out as Kate Farmer and was born in Iowa in 1864. We are unsure of the month, but by September of the following year, she was motherless. Her father cared for her for a short time, but then sent her off to her maternal grandfather. Her father remarried and started a new family, leaving Kate behind. So she has lost her mother and been abandoned by her father by the age of two. She grew up and married Thomas Edwin Morgan on December 30, 1885. She became pregnant right away and gave birth to a boy the following October. Tragically, the child only lived for two days. This is the point in our narrative were facts and fiction get blurred.

Many accounts claim that Tom Morgan was a no good gambler who took his wife on the road to swindle people out of money as they pretended to be brother and sister. In these accounts, Kate got pregnant again and decided that this card sharking life aboard trains was not suitable for a pregnant woman and she gets off the train without Tom who decided he was not ready to settle down. This took place in 1892. While it is a fact that the couple did split up in 1892, there are historical records that seem to indicate that Tom stayed in Iowa and lived out the rest of his life there. The fact that trains were heavily policed also makes it improbable that this couple could have done much card sharking.

The story continues that Kate arrived at the Hotel del Coronado, registered under the false name Lottie Bernard, attempted to abort her own baby and became very ill. She claimed that she was waiting for her brother who was a doctor to show up at the hotel and help her. Most people believe that she was going to rendezvous with a lover as she was estranged from her husband. Witnesses claimed that she had been arguing with a gentleman on a train who abandoned her mid-trip. This man never came and Kate was found dead at the bottom of some stairs leading to the ocean on November 29, 1892 from an apparent self-inflicted gunshot to the head. Although the coroner did say that the bullet didn't match the gun, it was ruled a suicide and the story of Kate Morgan was over. Until the 1980s, when a San Francisco lawyer named Alan May decided to look at the case. May wrote a book in which he claimed that the bullet in Kate's head was not a bullet that matched the gun she had. He surmised that her husband Tom had found her and in a rage killed her. It's believed that the coroner misspoke at the inquest and that the bullet did match the gun and that May's theory was preposterous.

But even more mysterious is that there is information that has come to light that leaves doubt that the dead woman was even Kate Morgan. The body it seems was never properly identified. Kate's family did not claim the body or identify it and the dead woman was said to be beautiful. A picture that was provided by Kate's employer revealed that Kate was quite plain and certainly not a woman who would be thought to be pretty. She also dressed plainly. The dead woman was found with an expensive shawl around her. Kate also did not have the kind of money to stay at the Hotel del Coronado. So who could this dead woman be?

There was an actual Charlotte Lottie Bernard from Detroit who lived during this time according to census reports. She disappears from census reports about the same time that a Lottie Bernard turns up dead at the Hotel del Coronado. Author John Cullen believes the stranger was Lizzie Wyllie. This was a young woman who got knocked up by a rich married man. He claims that Kate Morgan befriended Lizzie and that she pushed Lizzie into some kind of blackmail against her lover. Lizzie became distraught, took several types of medicines to cause herself to miscarry, became very ill and finally committed suicide by shooting herself. Kate then takes off with a man named John Longfield, who had also been a lover to Lizzie.

The story about the dead woman is quite confounded and more than likely will never be solved. The identification practices at the time were antiquated. After reviewing much of the evidence and reading the coroner's inquest, we can't honestly say with any certainty that the dead woman was Kate Morgan. There was no autopsy. Not all witnesses were interviewed. The investigation was shoddy at best. Was this just a suicide or could it have been murder? That is difficult to ascertain, but whatever the circumstances, it was not a good death.

What we do know is that many people claim that the Hotel del Coronado is haunted by a female ghost. The hotel goes with the claim that the ghost is Kate Morgan. For that reason, we will refer to the ghost as Kate. Renovations have caused the room number to change, but most accounts claim that Kate checked into either Room 302 or Room 3327. The room is said to be quite active. Lawyer Alan May himself stayed in that room and claimed he had a visitation from Kate. The lights turn on and off in the room all by themselves. Cold breezes are felt in the room. Curtains move even with the windows closed. And the room has an all over oppressive feeling. Kate has been seen all around the hotel though. She died on the exterior staircase leading to the beach. This location has featured sightings of her full bodied apparition. The hallways have also apparently been walked through on occasion by Kate. Corey Menotti was a Guest Service manager and he said that years ago he was watching the sunset when he felt something like drapery being swept across the back of his legs. Later, he found out that he was standing where Kate Morgan's body was found and it sent chills up his spine.

Christine Donovan was the director of heritage programs at the hotel and wrote "Beautiful Stranger: The Ghost of Kate Morgan and the Hotel Del Coronado." She was once emailed by a doctor who claimed that during his stay, his shoes and socks (which he always carefully placed by his bed at night) would end up all over the room by the time he woke up. Many people have claimed to have objects thrown about their rooms in the middle of the night making people think that Kate isn't the only ghost here. Room 3519, which was formerly Room 3502, had once been a maid's room and stories claim she had been the mistress to a hotel owner. She committed suicide in the room after finding out she was pregnant. Objects in this room move around on their own and there is other haunting activity.

The gift shop is nearly as active as Kate's former room. Items are removed from the shelves, but always found upright and unbroken on the floor. Sometimes those items literally fly off the shelves. An employee who works in the shop claims that she once saw a woman wearing a black dress with a high collar behind the counter one morning before opening. She hurried past because the figure scared her. Later, she asked the manager if another employee had been in this particular shop early that morning. The manager said she had been the first in to the shop, but that she had noticed that the books on the counter had been in a disarray as if someone had been leafing through them and she knew she had straightened them the night before.

The fifth floor has a haunted room that has been investigated several times by paranormal investigating groups. They have captured chairs moving, water faucets turning on by themselves and objects moving. The hotel started allowing people on the hotel's haunted tour to enter the room in 2022. Halloween is a special time at the hotel with bonfires on the beach, ghost stories read in the lobby, pumpkin carving and ghost tours. 

*Fun Fact: Hotel was featured in "Some Like It Hot."*

Across the bay from the hotel is Old Point Loma Lighthouse. It's not a very big lighthouse, but for 36 years, it kept watch at the entrance to San Diego Bay. The location for the lighthouse was chosen because it was 422 feet above sea level. California had only been an official state for 19 days when Congress appropriated funds to build lighthouses on the West Coast. The job of building the lighthouse on Point Loma was given to Gibbon and Kelley out of Washington, D.C. Construction began in 1851. Sandstone was carved from the hillside for the walls of the lighthouse and salvaged floor tiles from the ruins of an old Spanish fort were used as flooring. The roof was fashioned from rolled tin, the tower was made from brick and the housing for the the light was from iron and brass. 

This would be one of those lighthouses that was basically a house with a small tower in the middle for the light. The lantern and lens came from Paris in 1855 and was lit for the first time on November 15, 1855. A small wooden structure was built next to it for storage, but was converted to an assistant keeper's house in 1875. Today, that house serves as a museum and the lighthouse was refurbished by the National Park Service. The lighthouse is referred to as the Old Point Loma Lighthouse because a newer one was built at a location closer to the water at the tip of the Point at a lower elevation. This was necessary as it was found that fog and low clouds often obscured the light and keepers sometimes had to rely on shotgun blasts to warn ships. The keeper extinguished the lamp for the last time on March 23, 1891.

Some family memories were shared by David & Jeanne Israel who had a great grandfather that was a Lighthouse Keeper at Old Point Loma. Their grandfather grew up at the lighthouse. They wrote, "Life on the isolated Point was, at times, an adventure. My mother remembers as a child complaining to my grandfather about having to walk to school, and him telling her, 'How would you like to have to ROW A BOAT across the bay to school?' That’s how he and his two brothers got to school in Old Town San Diego from the Lighthouse." The Israel family lived there for 18 years and the great grandfather was the one to extinguish the light for the last time. In 1984, the light was re-lit again by the National Park Service for the first time in 93 years, in celebration of the site’s 130th birthday. Approximately 3,000 people and over 100 descendants of the Israels attended.

People who have visited the lighthouse claim that it is haunted. There are stories of loud disembodied footsteps coming from the second floor. The bedrooms feature low moaning that some describe as sounding demonic. One visitor was climbing the stairs up to the light when they heard that weird moaning and it got louder with each step. At the top of the stairs there was a bone-chillingly cold spot. Then a dark, shadowy figure appeared, flew past the visitor and disappeared down the stairs. No one knows for sure who the spirit might be, but most people think it is Robert Decatur Israel, the last keeper. The Point Loma Rosecrans National Cemetery is only a mile away from the lighthouse, so perhaps a spirit or two visits from there.

So who was the dead woman on the stairs at the Hotel del Coronado? Has she been misidentified and this is why she haunts the hotel? Does the spirit remain because of the tragic death? Is the Hotel del Coronado haunted? That is for you to decide! 

No comments:

Post a Comment