Galley Gossip: Flight attendant haunted layover hotel ghost stories (and a haunted plane!)

In the spirit of Halloween, I’d like to share a few layover hotel ghost stories from flight attendants I know…

At a hotel in San Francisco the water kept turning itself on during the night. After the 3rd or 4th time, instead of getting up and turning it off, I had a little talk with the ghost. I was thinking I must have lost my mind. Water went off automatically. Never came on again! – Vicki Howell

At our current Paris hotel, I had an apparition appear at the foot of my bed. At first I didn’t think it was anything until I felt somebody sit on my bed. I turned on the light near the bed and of course there was nothing there. – John Gonzales

On a layover in Miami, I felt someone/something pull the covers off of my shoulder and breathe cold air onto the back of my neck. I jumped out of bed, ran for the door, turned on the light… and no one was there. On the next trip another flight attendant couldn’t get into that same room with her key. Security couldn’t get in either. They had to change her room. Gives me the chills even talking about it. – Penni Reynolds Piskor

At a Sheraton in New Jersey in 1989, I kept thinking there was someone in my room. Woke up several times convinced. Searched the room. Nothing was there. Found out later the hotel was reputedly haunted, and one of the elevators was known to run all night, stopping at each floor even though nobody called it – Julie Meyer

I always clip my curtains closed so the light will not shine through and wake me up. In the middle of the night it was like someone used their hands to push both curtains back forcefully. I was lying there freaking out! Another time I woke up to find the decorative bed quilt folded neatly in the corner of the room. I don’t fold at home nor am I good at it, so I know I didn’t do it in my sleep. The third time we did a seance. We asked for a sign and all the elevators opened simultaneously. We jumped up and ran! – Lynne Smith

In Mexico a friend had similar experience as John did above. A guy sat on the edge of his bed in the middle of the night, but when he turned on the lights, no one was there. He mentioned something to the front desk and they sheepishly asked if he was gay. When he said yes, they said that Jorge always visited gay guys in their rooms (I was never visited!) I don’t believe in haunting and have waited for them every time! – Gordon Valentine

Lights, faucet and bathtub all turned on during my sleep at the layover hotel in New Orleans. Just asked the naughty perpetrator to behave themselves because I needed the sleep before an early roll out. – Alx Stellyes

It was an old hotel in Boston, next to an historic graveyard. I was having a crazy dream about a Nun. My room was in a corner and I woke up in the middle of the night to repeated pounding. Turned the lights on, it stopped. Asked the driver the next day what the deal was with the hotel. (Didn’t tell him about my dream) He said a certain floor was haunted ( mine, of course!) by a NUN. – Lori Polka

In Manchester England we used to stay at a hotel with huge vaults and all were opened except one where someone locked themselves in it hundreds of years ago. The skeleton key is still in the lock, from the inside, but nobody can get it opened. Then you go into the bedrooms and they are all different themes. Mine was very opulent. She (the ghost) Kept turning on the sink faucet. After getting up 2 times to turn it off I was getting pissed. The third time I just screamed “turn that effing water off! And it did. Never picked up another Manchester trip. – Daniel Koukes

At Tower Air there was an aircraft (604) we ferried a lot. A spirit would walk up and down the aisles and wake us up. It also would unlatch everything in the galley and open all the carts and bins. You would close them and tell her to stop. A little later you’d hear it happening again. – Lynne Smith

The hotel Jakarta is known for having all sorts of ghost stories, especially amongst female, Chinese, Japanese and Korean crew. They tend to sleep 2-3 in a room instead of alone in that hotel! – Sodwee.

There was an Eastern Airlines airplane that went into the Everglades. It was Flight 401. The airline finally had it dismantled and used parts in other aircraft – Vicki Howell

Eastern Airlines L-1011 #318 was a haunted plane. It had ovens taken from the airplane that crashed in the Everglades in the early ’70’s. So many sightings and occurrences were reported that the a/c # had to be changed. Who knows where it is now – Julie Meyer

I remember reading the book of Eastern flight 401 and all the happenings from that incident. Came to be they had to remove all the extra parts from the plane and any carts that were used on other flights had to be grounded as they were all linked to Flight 401 – Gordon Valentine

Photo courtesy of dantc and roeyahram

Alabama celebrates its haunted past with an entire month of events

alabama hosts scary events throughout octoberThroughout October, the state of Alabama in the United States will celebrate its haunted past with a variety of events, including ghost walks, story-telling festivals, and a moonlit tour of Old Cahawba, a historic ghost town.

Here are some of the scheduled events:

7th Annual “Historic Haunts Walk”
Athens, Alabama (Oct 4, 12, 14, 19)

This spooky walk will begin at the Houston Library and includes stories about paranormal activity at twelve local structures. For instance, hear about the girl who fell to her death at Athens University and is still said to wander the halls. Each walk lasts about 90 minutes, with tickets costing $5. For more information, contact Limestone County Tourism at 1-256-232-5411 or Jeanette@visitathensal.com.

Storytellin’ Campfire Talk: Spooks in the Valley
Fort Payne, Alabama (Oct 22)

This free event takes place at the large pavilion in DeSoto State Park. Sit around a campfire and listen to ghostly tales and scary stories. For more information, call 1-256-782-5697.

Ghost Walk & Fall Festival
Thomasville, Alabama (Oct 23)

The Thomasville Arts Council will be acting out some of renowned storyteller Kathryn Tucker Windham‘s famous scary stories. There will also be haunted tours, street dancing, a motorcycle poker ride, a car show, and a haunted house. For more information, call the Thomasville Chamber of Commerce at 1-334-636-1542.

To view the complete list of scary events for the month of October, click here.

Three nights in a haunted hotel room


The best thing about being an agnostic is that you don’t have to live your life fearing the unknown. The worst thing is admitting the possibility that there might be something to fear after all.

Instead of pretending to have all the answers, my belief system ranks things in order of likelihood, and ghosts are pretty far down the list. Not as low as Santa Claus or the “we never landed on the Moon” conspiracy theory, but a poor ranking nonetheless. So when I heard that my hotel room in England was supposedly haunted, my only thought was that I’d bagged a good story for Gadling.

Unlike a lot of supposed hauntings, this one’s actually based on a true story, related to me by local historian and folklorist Steven Wood.

Back in 1906, Haworth, Yorkshire, was holding its annual gala. Like in other years, brass bands played, entertainers wowed the crowd, and food stands sold all sorts of delicacies. This year, however, the people of Yorkshire had been promised something special. Lily Cove, a famed “aeronaut”, was going to do a death-defying parachute jump from a balloon. This was only three years after Kitty Hawk, so nobody in the area had ever seen an airplane, and balloons were a rarity too. Seeing a lovely lady jump from one and land safely was something of a miracle.

Lily Cove stayed at The Old White Lion Hotel in Room 7, the very same room I had. While waiting for a day with good weather the glamorous aeronaut made many acquaintances in town and became very popular.

On June 11 the weather was fair and thousands gathered to see her performance. After she and her manager Captain Frederick Bidmead checked the balloon, she secured herself to a trapeze hanging from the bottom. The balloon soared into the air with Lily waving to the crowd with a handkerchief. The idea was that once she got to a good altitude, Lily would leap from the trapeze and a ripcord would open up her parachute. She’d then float gracefully to earth.

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The balloon floated over the fields. After it got up to about 700 feet Lily jumped. The parachute opened as planned, but one witness saw Lily shrugging her shoulders and a moment later she detached from her parachute and plummeted to the ground. Farmers rushed to the spot, but she was dead. Her broken body was carried back to her room, my room, and laid out until a coffin could be made for her.

The whole town went into mourning. Captain Bidmead, a veteran of 83 parachute descents, said he might never fly again. At the inquiry he gave the opinion that she’d deliberately separated herself from the parachute. He suggested that because she was drifting towards a reservoir and didn’t know how to swim, she decided to get to the ground early. She must have thought she was much lower than she was and could land without injury. Others said she committed suicide, but there seemed no reason for this. The court ruled that Lily Cove died of “misadventure.” Parliament soon banned parachute performances so such a tragedy would never happen again.

According to local ghost story collector and guide Philip Lister, it wasn’t long before guests began reporting strange happenings in Room 7. Some woke up with a start, thinking they were falling through the air. Others saw an attractive young woman standing at the foot of their bed. The sightings have continued to the present day, and everyone in Haworth knows of Room 7’s reputation.

I didn’t hear any of this until I had spent my first night in the room. Tired from a day’s travel from Madrid, I slept fine, although I woke up once, glanced at the clock, saw it was 4:10, and went back to sleep.

The next day one of my travel companions told me my room was haunted. She started telling me the story but I stopped her. I didn’t want to be subject to suggestion. I wanted to test Room 7, and not have my own mind play tricks on me. The conversation turned to ghosts stories in general, and over the course of the day four of my nine travel companions told me they’d seen ghosts at least once in their lives. I was amazed. These educated, quite sane travel writers were telling me in all seriousness that they’d seen spirits. Nearly half of our group had a story to tell, and I didn’t even get around to asking all of them! Apparitions from the beyond are more common than I supposed.

The second night I slept fine again, although I briefly woke up again shortly after 4am. I think it was 4:08, but I was too sleepy to be sure.

By my third night I’d heard the whole story. I even went on a ghost tour, which I’ll describe in my next post in this series. So when I tucked myself in I knew just what had occurred to that poor woman who had stayed in my room. Once again I saw nothing, except I briefly woke up and looked at the clock.

It was 4:11 in the morning.

Waking in the middle of the night isn’t unusual for me, but I never wake up at the exact same time three nights in a row. Is this significant? Well, by the third night I was wondering if I would again awake shortly after four, so that might have been autosuggestion. The time seems to have nothing to do with the haunting, since Lily did her ascent at seven o’clock in the evening.

So was Lily Cove waking me up? Probably not. The tricky thing about ghosts is they’re unprovable. Even if I’d awoken to see a spectral woman at the foot of my bed, that wouldn’t prove anything except I had a weird experience that could have been a hallucination. Yet ghost stories are found throughout history and in most if not all cultures. We seem to need ghost stories. That doesn’t necessarily mean there’s life beyond death or that dead people occasionally come back to scare the crap out of the living, but it does show ghosts are a part of the human experience. What they signify is something we’ll probably never know, and not knowing is far more interesting than pretending you have all the answers.

Don’t miss the rest of my series Exploring Yorkshire: ghosts, castles, and literature in England’s north.

Coming up next: The good old days were horrible!

This trip was sponsored by VisitEngland and Welcome to Yorkshire, who really should have put someone more impressionable in Room 7.

The Purgatory Museum

I’m not sure what I’m looking at.

A rectangular slab of wood bears two burn marks–one in the shape of a cross, the other resembles a human hand. Nearby are other items–a shirt, a prayer book, a pillow–all with burns that look like they’ve been made by fiery fingers.

I’m in Rome’s smallest and strangest museum, the Piccolo Museo del Purgatorio, the Little Museum of Purgatory. Housed in the church of Santo Cuore del Suffragio, which is dedicated to relieving the souls tortured in Purgatory, it stands barely ten minutes’ walk from the Vatican. Small it certainly is, just one long case along a single wall, but the questions it raises are at the center of an increasingly acrimonious debate that’s dividing Western civilization.

Purgatory is a halfway point between Heaven and Hell, a place for the souls of people who lived good enough lives to avoid eternal damnation, but not quite good enough to join the angels. In Purgatory these souls suffer torment for enough time for their sins to be forgiven, a sort of celestial spanking with no Child Protective Services to intervene.

But there is hope. Prayers by the living can reduce a soul’s time in Purgatory. Faithful relatives offer up prayers or even pay for entire masses to be said for the departed. Others neglect this spiritual duty, and it is said that sometimes a tormented soul will return to Earth and ask for help.

During the seventeenth to nineteenth centuries these visitations happened fairly often and took on a common pattern. A spirit would appear to a relative or friend, reveal it was in torment, and ask for prayers to shorten its time in the cleansing fires. As proof that the spirit had been there, it would touch its burning hand to a nearby object. These events were one of many types of miracles common in the Catholic world such as apparitions of the Virgin Mary and bleeding statues of Jesus.

The Purgatory Museum collects these soul burns and tells their story. The hand and cross that I am seeing was left on a table by Fr. Panzini, former Abbot Olivetano of Mantua. In 1731 he appeared to Venerable Mother Isabella Fornari, abbess of the Poor Clares of the Monastery of St. Francis in Todi. He appeared to her on November 1, 1731 (All Saints Day) and said he was suffering in Purgatory. To prove his claim, he touched his flaming hand to her table and etched a burning cross in it too. He also touched her sleeve and left scorches and bloodstains.

%Gallery-101999%I have to admit I’m skeptical. I am an agnostic, and while I can’t disprove the existence of some sort of deity, I’m having trouble believing this story. The hand doesn’t look quite right. I take several photos, including the negative black and white image shown here. On this image details become clear that aren’t easily spotted with the naked eye. The burnt hand and cross are made up of a series of circular patterns as if they were made with some sort of hot poker. Other objects, whose images and stories can be seen in the attached gallery, appear more convincing but could still easily have been made with a bit of flame and ingenuity.

This doesn’t dissuade the two guys I’m seeing the museum with. They are a devoutly Catholic gay couple here in Rome on pilgrimage, something I find far more mysterious than a few burns on a nightcap. They go from object to object with wonder in their eyes. Looking at that same hand they don’t see its shape as odd, and they don’t see the circular patterns that make it up as a sign of forgery. A burning hand, of course, would have flames coming out of it, which would distort its shape and lead to some areas of the imprint being more scorched than others.

And that, I realize, is what the Purgatory Museum has to teach. For the faithful, it is yet more proof of Divine Judgment. For an atheist, it is proof of the gullibility of religious people and the nasty web of lies that supports organized religion. For the agnostic standing between two fundamentalisms, it proves nothing. Personally I think these objects are the products of overzealous fraudsters wanting to make converts by any means necessary, yet debunking them doesn’t disprove the existence of spirits any more than showing there’s no life on Mars would disprove the possibility of aliens on other planets.

As I stand there wondering where the whole debate over religion is going to lead, an attractive young American nun walks in, hands me a pendant of the Virgin Mary, and hurries off before I can ask her what the Latin inscription says. This sort of thing happens a lot in Rome. The inscription reads, “O MARIA CONCEPITA SENZA PECCATO PREGATE PER NOI CHE RECORRIAMO A VOI” and bears the date 1850. Translation, anyone?

So I leave the same as I entered, “knowing” nothing but insatiably curious about everything. That’s a pretty good place to be, I think. Walking down the nave I see one of the gay Catholics gazing upon a reclining figure of the crucified Jesus. His face is transfixed with reverence, wonder, and sadness as he bends down and kisses the statue’s feet. His visit to Rome will be very different than mine.

This starts a new series called Vacation with the Dead: Exploring Rome’s Sinister Side. I will be looking at the Eternal City’s obsession with death, from grandiose tombs to saints’ relics, from early Christian catacombs to mummified monks. Tune in tomorrow for The Tombs of Rome!

Lon-done? Try Windsor and Eton

If London has whet your appetite for all things English, hop on a train and visit Windsor. Less than an hour from central London, this historic city is one of the easiest and most popular day trips for foreign visitors. You can also enjoy a nice stroll to nearby Eton and visit the famous boarding school.

The main attraction is, of course, Windsor Castle. It’s one of the official residences of the Queen and she often spends her weekends here (tough life!). It’s the oldest and largest continually inhabited castle in the world. While there was a castle here as early as 1070, the oldest surviving parts date from the reign of Henry II (reigned 1154-1189). In 1189, Prince (later King) John was besieged here by angry barons who eventually forced him to sign the Magna Carta, the first official limitation on the monarch’s power. King Edward III (reigned 1327-1377) built much of the present structure.

The tours are lots of fun. One of the highlights is St. George’s Chapel, and elaborately Gothic 15th century house of worship that’s the place of rest for ten monarchs. Other stops include Queen Mary’s dollhouse, a lavish art collection with pieces by Holbein and Rubens, the armory, and fine views from atop the battlements. Windsor Castle is one of those rare sights that’s actually better to visit in winter, because that’s when the semi-state rooms are open. Built by George IV in the 1820s as living and social quarters for the royal family, they include elegant furniture and giant oil paintings under elaborately molded plaster ceilings.

Interesting trivia: Windsor Castle is not named after the House of Windsor (the royal family), but in fact the royal family is named after the castle. During World War Two the royals decided their actual name, the House of Saxe Coburg-Gotha, sounded too German and changed it!

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After visiting the castle, enjoy a pleasant amble through Windsor Great Park and The Long Walk. This 4,800 acre park used to be hunting grounds for the Saxon kings. The Long Walk runs nearly half a mile from the southern gate of the castle. It used to be a promenade for the aristocratic set. Don’t go here after dark, though, because Herne the Hunter–a mysterious phantom rider who has antlers on his head and leads a pack of spectral hounds–has been known to ride by giving ominous predictions of doom to anyone who sees him.

If you have the time you should also check out Eton, the most elite public (i.e.–private) school in the UK. Eton has been educating future power brokers since it was founded by Henry VI in 1440. A tour gives a glimpse of what it’s like to live the privileged life, with a small teacher/student ratio and more extracurricular activities than you can count. The school is historic and beautiful, with a 15th century chapel and classrooms and serene grounds perfect for lazing about and spending daddy’s money learning. The Museum of Eton life explains what the kids get up to in all these ornate buildings–and one thing they get up to is carving their names everywhere. You’ll see graffiti on some of the walls that’s older than many nations.

While most visitors will only see the castle and Eton, Windsor has a lot more to offer. If the weather is fine, take a boat trip along the River Thames, which flows between Windsor and Eton. You can get some great shots of Windsor Castle from the water. A picnic at Windsor Great Park is also a good way to while away an afternoon. You can also hop on a bus near the castle that takes you to Legoland Windsor with lots of rides and attractions and Miniland, a reproduction of some of the greatest landmarks of the world. You can see Kennedy Space Center, London’s Millennium Bridge, and more. Building all this took nearly 40 million bricks of Lego. That’s some serious dedication!

Windsor and Eton are compact enough that you can easily walk around and see all the highlights in a single long day. If you decide to stay overnight, the Mercure Windsor Castle Hotel on 18 High Street offers sweeping views of the castle. This 16th century coaching inn has lots of historic flair and if you have deep pockets, there’s a good but pricey restaurant that serves English cuisine and high tea. More affordable dining can be had at the Castello Restaurant and Wine Bar at 4 Church Lane. The building dates to 1423. Original oak beams crisscross the walls and ceiling and there doesn’t seem to be a straight line anywhere. For al fresco dining, step out onto the medieval cobblestone lane. Simple, reasonably priced food, big servings, and a medieval setting-you might have to go to Italy to find this combination again.

If you want to do more day trips from London, try Bath, St. Albans, and Canterbury.