1The Cecil Hotel (Los Angeles, California)
Gentrification may not be able save LA’s Cecil Hotel, now known as Stay On Main. It has such a sordid past that show creator Ryan Murphy has admitted the place is the inspiration for American Horror Story: Hotel. He said, “There was a surveillance video that went around that showed a girl getting into an elevator in a hotel that was said to be haunted—and she was never seen again.”
The video he’s referring to features Canadian tourist Elisa Lam, 21, whose nude body was found in the Cecil’s rooftop water tank in 2013 after complaints from tenants about strange, dark water which tasted “sweetly disgusting.” (The source of this “funny” taste was found to be Lam’s decomposing body, which had been in the tank for two whole weeks.)
The mystery of what happened to Lam only deepened when the video in the hotel elevator was released. The frightened, curious and highly disoriented girl appears to believe she is being followed by something or someone. (See it below, and yes, it is disturbing.)
The Cecil opened in 1924 to great fanfare in what was then a cutting-edge area of downtown LA. But five years later, when the stock market crashed in 1929, a depression settled over the Cecil that would never leave. The surrounding neighborhood slowly fell into disarray, and the hotel increasingly became a hostel for the shady and the sick. For the following eight decades, the Cecil would be marred by suicides to such a degree that long term residents began to refer to the building as “The Suicide.”
By the 1970s and ’80s, Skid Row (the area surrounding the hotel) was plagued by increasing violence and a huge influx of illegal drugs. Richard Ramirez, the infamous “Night Stalker” who terrorized LA in the mid-1980s, allegedly lived at the Cecil, where rooms were as cheap as $14 a night. Ramirez wasn’t the only murderer who would call the Cecil home. Austrian serial killer Jack Unterweger also stayed there in the early ’90s.
In 2007, the Cecil was purchased for $26 million and turned into a boutique hotel for hip, middle-class tourists. However, despite the hotel’s partial transformation (there are 328 rooms that are still vacant), the weirdness continues. As recently as June 2015, a 28-year-old man was found dead outside the Cecil after an apparent fall. It seems the curse of the hotel lives on.
2The Stanley Hotel (Estes Park, Colorado)
The Stanley Hotel, located in Estes Park, Colorado, a resort town just east of Rocky Mountain National Park, has earned its spirit-laden reputation over the last century.
The Stanley was opened in 1909 by a Massachusetts couple, F.O., and Flora Stanley, as a secluded mountain resort. Though the Stanleys have passed, many believe they never actually left. Mr. Stanley has been reported as hovering behind employees at the reception desk, and Mrs. Stanley can still be heard playing piano in the hotel’s music room.
Haunted events have been recorded at the hotel as far back as 1911, when Elizabeth Wilson, a housekeeper, was electrocuted during a lightening storm. Though she wasn’t killed, the room where it happened, Room 217, became a hotbed of paranormal activity. Strange, unexplained occurrences are said to take place in that room, including doors opening and closing, and lights switching on and off by themselves.
Stephen King spent the night in Room 217 in the mid-70s. While we don’t know exactly what he witnessed there, he did write The Shining after staying at the Stanley, and Room 217 factors heavily in the story.
Numerous television shows having to do with the paranormal have filmed there, and every year, thousands of believers (and skeptics) converge on the property to decide for themselves if the Stanley is really haunted.
Resident paranormal investigator Lisa Nyhart leads guests on ghosts hunts and rarely comes up empty handed. “We have more nights with activity than [without],” she says. “It’s a Disneyland for spirits.”
3Timberline Lodge (Mt. Hood, Oregon)
The Timberline Lodge is creepy for an altogether different reason—its association with The Shining.
Since 1980, the hotel has been known for mainly one thing—its exterior was used to represent the Overlook, the iconic, haunted hotel in the Stanley Kubrick film. 35 years later, the lodge, which gets its name from being at the timber line (5,960 feet) on Mount Hood, can’t shake its horror-movie history. Nor does it want to.
The Timberline revels in the mystique brought about by the movie classic (as does The Stanley Hotel). The lodge hosts murder mystery dinners, and there is an Overlook Hotel-themed night once a year. During that event, all the mirrors at the lodge have “Red Rum” written on them, and, starting at midnight, the TVs in every room play the movie. Nike, with headquarters in nearby Beaverton, even rented out the entire lodge to have a night of The Shining for its employees. It hired Shining impersonators, including the creepy twins and a man who broke through a door with an ax, just as Jack Torrance does.
The similarities to the Overlook pretty much end with the hotel’s exterior. The interior is markedly different from what you see in the movie (that was shot on a soundstage), and there is no Room 237. In the Stephen King book that the movie was based on, the room number is 217. John Tulles, who handles public relations for the Timberline, says: “Richard Kohnstamm, the one-time area operator for the lodge, asked Kubrick to have a room number not used at the hotel. Richard was scared no one would ever stay in [Timberline’s] Room 217 again!” The lodge’s room numbers only go up to 229.
4McMenamins White Eagle Saloon & Hotel (Portland, Oregon)
The tiny White Eagle Saloon and Hotel began its life as a respectable establishment. Built in 1905, it originally catered to the Polish workers who lived in the then residential area. Over the next few years, the surrounding neighborhood became industrialized, so the clientele changed and drew in laborers who worked at the docks, rail yards, and factories.
By then, the White Eagle was no place for respectable society. It’s been alleged some customers from the saloon were shanghaied onto ships that needed men. Supposedly, there was an underground tunnel from the basement of the building that led outside. This route was taken by kidnapping thugs who transported the incapacitated men to the ship, where they would wake up the next morning.
Legends say the bar hosted a brothel (white prostitutes worked on the second floor while minority women worked in the basement) and an opium den (also located in the basement.)
Ghost stories and sightings abound here, and the White Eagle is said to be one of the most haunted buildings in Portland. In the basement, which is now used for offices and food storage, freezer doors are reported to open and close, people have been groped, and coins are said to drop from the ceiling. The second floor, which was renovated and now used as a hotel, is said to be haunted by two ghosts, Rose, and Sam. Rose was a prostitute who can occasionally be heard crying. Sam was a housekeeper who lived on the second floor from the age of ten until his death in his room. Both are said to be non-threatening entities.
5The Hotel Galvez (Galveston, Texas)
The Hotel Galvez is rumored to be one of the most haunted spots in Texas. Dubbed the “Queen of the Gulf,” this iconic hotel, overlooking the Great Seawall and Gulf of Mexico in Galveston, hoped to become a symbol of the city’s restoration after the devastation caused by The Great Storm of 1900, but has been the site of unexplained occurrences since it opened.
The Galvez was built on the site of St. Mary’s Orphan Asylum, which was home to 93 orphans and the ten nuns that took care of them. When the Great Storm hit the city, the nuns, hoping to keep the children safe, tied clothesline around their waists. Ultimately, all but three children were killed, and it is believed that that the dead were buried beneath where the hotel now stands.
The luxurious and glamorous Galvez has been frequented by movie stars and presidents throughout its history, but the place is notorious for its spine-tingling paranormal activity. If you’re feeling a bit brave, book rooms 501 and 505. Tour guides also suggest having your camera ready.
6Lizzie Borden Bed and Breakfast (Fall River, Massachusetts)
On August 4, 1892, the Fall River, Massachusetts home that is now the Lizzie Borden Bed and Breakfast was the site of a gruesome double-murder that would scandalize and fascinate the nation.
It was here that Andrew Borden and his wife Abby were found brutally murdered with their skulls caved in by the vicious blows of a hatchet. Their youngest daughter, Lizzie, became the main suspect as she was the only one around and the first to find them. She was believed to have fiscal and emotional incentives to kill her father and stepmother. However, on June 20, 1893, Lizzie was acquitted of the murders. The case is still unsolved to this day.
The hotel is open to the public year round. The entire crime scene has been recreated, and memorabilia from that dismal event can be bought at the gift store in the back. Lizzie’s room, as well as that of her father and stepmother, are available to stay in, if one feels brave enough to do so. But just a warning—the house is known for its supposed paranormal activities.
7The Hotel Carter (New York City, New York)
Manhattan’s Hotel Carter is a threadbare accommodation that stands as a throwback to Times Square’s seedy past—and it too has a notoriously violent history. The hotel (just think of it as the New York City version of the Cecil) has had its fair share of tragedy—at least nine deaths have occurred here.
An infant was beaten to death at the hotel in November 1983, by her father (and hotel resident) Jack Joaquin Correa. A half-undressed woman with her hands tied behind her back was pushed out a window and fell to her death in 1987. In 1999, a clerk was charged with killing a co-worker with a knife and a hammer during a brawl at the front desk. In 2007, the body of Kristine Yitref was found wrapped in plastic garbage bags, hidden under a bed in Room 608.
Over the years, there have also been small fires and arrests. In 2005, a building engineer was killed in a freak elevator accident and FBI agents once raided the hotel to rescue a 4-year-old boy who had been kidnapped from a day care center in Connecticut as part of a ransom plot.
The Carter is also is the three-time winner of TripAdvisor’s dirtiest hotel in America survey and is undeniably, unequivocally, the worst hotel in New York City.
8The Knickerbocker (Hollywood, California)
The Knickerbocker has a macabre history that rivals that of any hotel on this list. Formerly one of the hippest spots in Hollywood, the hotel was home to celebrities and aristocrats alike immediately following its opening in July 1929. The luxe Spanish-Colonial building and its nightclub, the Lido Room, became a hotspot for the burgeoning film community.
In 1936, the “creepy” factor came to the hotel and never really left. Before he passed away, magician Harry Houdini had told wife Bess that if he died, and if there was an afterlife, he would come back to her to prove it once and for all. For ten years, Bess had been holding a séance every Halloween, waiting for Harry to give her a sign. Her last attempt was on the roof of the Knickerbocker. It was a media sensation and cemented the hotel’s legendary status, but Harry never revealed himself.
In 1943, mentally troubled film star Frances Farmer, wearing only a shower curtain and screaming obscenities, was dragged through the hotel lobby by police and was eventually placed in a mental institution. Five years later, D.W. Griffith, the pioneer silent film director, walked into the lobby and fell dead from a cerebral hemorrhage.
In 1962, MGM costume designer Irene Gibbons slashed at her wrists, then leaped to her death from the 11th floor. Her body landed on the roof of the hotel lobby.
The body count doesn’t end there. William Frawley, best known as Fred Mertz on I Love Lucy, walked out of the hotel’s bar—where he always ordered a walnut with his drink—and dropped dead on the sidewalk in 1966.
By the time Frawley died, the Knickerbocker had become something of a dump. Gangs, prostitutes, and drugs slowly drained the charm from the grand old hotel. In 1970, it was renovated and converted into apartments for senior citizens.