Hotels in North America are embracing long-held rumors about ghostly guests roaming the rooms and halls.
GLOBAL REPORT—It’s easy to get lost in the many corridors of the vast Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel. Luckily, some guests have reported, there’s a gentle, gray-haired bellman who has helped them find their rooms.
But Sam the Bellman died 40 years ago.
“You may have run into Sam,” one of the hotel’s friendly ghosts, the front-desk staff tell the guests.
There’s no denying the “haunted” history of this castle resort, which since 1888 has overlooked the Canadian Rockies in the Banff National Park in Alberta, Canada.
“All of the legends of ghosts in the hotel, all of the stories passed down for years and years, are on the internet already,” said Stephen Tait, marketing manager for the Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel. “Anyone can find them with a Google search. Lots of times, the guests come in knowing more about it than the staff. So it’s something we know is out there, and we’ve just learned to embrace it.”
That strategy of buying into the ghost stories is what sets the Fairmont Banff Springs—and a few others like it—apart from the scores of hotels around the world with reputations for being haunted.
- This map from 2014, based on analytics by HNN parent company STR, shows 419 hotels in the United States alone that are said to be haunted by at least 629 ghosts.
The 1886 Crescent Hotel & Spa—a mountain resort in Eureka Springs, Arkansas, which is widely considered “America’s Most Haunted Hotel”—has its own year-round Ghost Tour operation. Ghosts aren’t the hotel’s bread and butter; most guests come for weddings and getaway vacations, said Bill Ott, director of marketing and communications.
The ghost business is “what they call down in south Louisiana ‘lagniappe’ – that’s Cajun talk for ‘a little somethin’ extra,” Ott said. “People know (the Crescent) to be a great place to spend the night, to relax and get away. And, by the way, we also have ghosts.”
Similarly, at the Fairmont Banff Springs, the “ghosts” are a bonus, Tait said.
“Existing in a national park, the beauty of the hotel against that wild landscape is what we want to be known for, and are iconic for,” he said. “The history we’re telling with the legend of the ghosts … is not something that detracts from that, but adds to it.”
Delivering a haunted experience
The Fairmont Banff Springs is in only its third year of offering guests a Halloween package, which includes a family-friendly Haunted Heritage Ghost Tour and a Haunted Halloween Gala on 29 October. Although ghosts aren’t a part of the regular heritage tours that are offered the rest of the year, Tait said guests frequently ask about them.
Ott said that owner Elise Roenigk and her late husband, Marty, who bought the Crescent in 1997, decided to embrace the rumors about the hotel’s ghosts. Before that, hotel employees were not allowed to talk about it.
For about five years, the hotel brought in a pair of local clairvoyants to lead ghost tours. Now, the tours are all in-house.
“Most nights, we will do two, three, four tours. … Weekends, that can get up to around six or eight,” Ott said. “Halloween weekend, we can get 12 or more tours a night.”
The Historic Bullock Hotel in Deadwood, South Dakota, also offers ghost tours year-round, for which they contract with three local guides, said GM Danee Eggleston, who has led the hotel since January 2016.
The biggest draws at the Bullock are still local history and gaming, but Eggleston said about a third of business at the hotel comes from interest in the paranormal.
But not all of the Bullock’s guests are as keen to share their stay with a spirit.
“Just recently, we had a lady check in by herself … (who) a couple of hours later stopped by the front desk and asked if any of the ghost stories are true,” Eggleston said, who added the staff acknowledged other guests have reported seeing ghosts in the hotel. “An hour later, the lady came down (and) said she could not stay here. She would not go back up to her room to get her things. My staff had to go get her luggage. … She was terrified and just had to leave!”
Others are eager to visit “Seth’s Cellar,” where each ghost tour starts. The ghost that supposedly haunts that spot is Deadwood’s first sheriff, Seth Bullock, who built the hotel.
Rooms with a ‘boo’
Some guests ask for specific rooms that hold a reputation that they are more likely to be “haunted.”
The “big three” at the Crescent are rooms 218, 419 and 3500.
In 218, known as “Michael’s Room,” guests have reported being greeted by a ghost sitting on the bed, supposedly an Irish stonemason named Michael who fell to his death while building the hotel in 1885. In Room 3500, some have seen a ghost in a Victorian nightgown.
Room 419 is “Theodora’s Room,” where sightings have been reported of a nurse who worked there from 1937 to 1940, when the hotel was the Baker Cancer Hospital. Because of that former life, the hotel has something most properties don’t: a morgue.
“It’s funny, when people ask, ‘Well, is my room haunted?’ we tell them we’ve had reports from nearly every room in the hotel,” Ott said. “We tell people to go enjoy themselves, and if they have a paranormal experience of some kind, to share it with us. Let the front desk know, send an email; if you capture an orb in your photos, share it.”
Tait said the two ghosts at the Fairmont Banff Springs “with the biggest personalities,” are Sam the Bellman and “the ghost bride.”
“The legend goes that she was a bride at the hotel in the 1920s … She is said to still roam the ballroom, as well as the halls and corridors around that staircase,” he said.
What not to say
For the most part, staff members try to avoid calling the hotels “haunted.”
At the Bullock, employees first try to gauge the guests’ interest, Eggleston said.
“If they are somewhat concerned or not at all interested, then we just go with, ‘We are known for unexplained activity, but there is nothing to be concerned about,’” she said.
The Fairmont Banff Springs staff members “usually talk about sharing the stories of the rumors,” Tait said. “We keep it a bit more general. … We’re not confirming anything.”
The Crescent’s Ott said it’s key not to oversell the paranormal factor.
“As marketing director, I try to never say that we have ghosts,” he said. “I like to say we have had enough reports of paranormal activity by guests and visitors that would make one tend to believe that we might be haunted. We don’t want anyone disappointed who comes to the hotel to meet Casper and he or she doesn’t.”
It’s important, he said, to distinguish all of the hotel’s “ghosts” as “Casper-esque,” or friendly.
“There’s nothing macabre about the entities said to roam our hallways,” he said. “These are just people who enjoyed themselves here and have come back for a few more nights. We refer to those folks as … guests who checked out but never left.”