Ghost buster, ghost hunter, phantom fighter: Jim Fassbinder doesn’t want to hear it. Despite the name of his popular nightly walking tour – the San Francisco Ghost Hunt – the paranormal expert insists, “I don’t bust ghosts. I study them.” And he’s been doing just that his entire life. Fassbinder regularly materializes on the Travel Channel, as well as magazines and newspapers around the country to discuss his favorite subject – especially in October when interest in ghouls and ghosts, zombies and vampires is at an all time high.
But if you can’t get to San Francisco this month, there’s probably a haunted hotel somewhere near you. To find out, I caught up with this spook spotter to learn which hotels in the country make his personal top-11 list.
1) The Queen Anne Hotel. This one-time San Francisco school for girls, decked out with enough Victorian opulence to befit its ritzy Pacific Heights location, is the stomping grounds of one amiable apparition. “In all my research, Mary Lake,” the school’s former head mistress, “is the friendliest ghost around,” says Fassbinder. “The place oozes with a feeling of love.” For those who want close and personal contact with Ms. Lake, request room 410 – the Mary Lake Suite. (1590 Sutter St., San Francisco, CA., 415-441-2828)
2) Myrtles Plantation. Located 30 miles north of Baton Rouge, this late 18th-century plantation house-cum-hotel is an axis of antebellum banshee-ism. A ghoul who plays the grand piano and a portrait that changes expressions are just a few of the curious activities that have been reported. “If you’re really serious about seeing a ghost,” says Fassbinder, “the caretaker’s house is the most haunted site on the plantation. Many have tried to stay there, but few have made it through the night without getting spooked.” (7747 Hwy 61 North, St. Francisville, LA, 255-635-6277)
3) The Stanley Hotel. This stark white mansion hotel was the inspiration behind the nightmare-inducing book and movie, “The Shining.” The fact that it’s crawling with ghosts might bring new meaning to the phrase, “Here’s … Johnny!” Literary aficionados like staying in room 217 where Steven King was holed up. But Fassbinder is quick to point out, “The real ghostly goings on are in room 417 where the spirits of F.O. and Flora Stanley, the original owners, still linger.” (333 Wonderview, Estes Park, CO, 970-586-3371)
4) Le Pavillion. “This is one of my favorites,” says Fassbinder about the 1907 New Orleans hotel, which is set on the cusp of the French Quarter, and drips with Versailles-like rococo extravagance. “The hotel once hired paranormal investigators who identified four ghosts: a young guy who plays pranks on hotel staff, an aristocratic couple clad in ’20s garb, who have been seen strolling the grounds, and a lost and confused teenage girl.” (833 Poydras St., New Orleans, LA, 504-581-3111)
5) Lizzie Borden’s House. Just minutes from Providence and about 50 miles south of Boston, this murder house-cum-B&B features several ghoulish rooms. Stay in the John Morris room where Abbey Borden was killed with an axe or chill out in the sitting room where Andrew Jay’s body was found. In the morning, wake up to a breakfast of bananas, sugar cookies, Johnny cakes, and coffee – the same breakfast the Borden’s ate the day they were murdered. “I attended a séance once – it was wild and very spooky,” adds Fassbinder. “Don’t miss this place if you’re in the area.” (92 Second St., Falls River, MA, 508-675-7333)
6) Congress Plaza Hotel. For the celebrity obsessed – which is most of us – this Chicago hotel is the paparazzi’s dream. That is, if you have a camera that can capture ghosts. “The historic hotel’s halls are said to be haunted by Franklin Roosevelt, Thomas Edison, and Frank Lloyd Wright,” says Fassbinder, who’s not sure why the hotel attracts such acclaimed apparitions. “It used to be one of the most prestigious hotels in the city – in fact, its nickname was ‘Home of Presidents’ because so many visiting presidents have stayed there.” (520 S. Michigan Ave., Chicago, IL, 312-427-3800)
7) Hotel del Coronado. “This is a beautiful place,” says Fassbinder, “with a great ghost.” This island hotel off the coast of San Diego is a true southern California resort. And it’s also, according to Fassbinder, truly haunted. “The resident ghost is Kate Morgan who was murdered down at the beach. She’s real friendly,” Fassbinder claims. The hotel is very accommodating to ghost gawkers. “They don’t rent out room 304 so that anyone can visit it and feel the creepiness.” (1500 Orange Ave., Coronado, CA. 619-435-6611)
8) The Lemp Mansion. St. Louis may be the gateway to the west, but if you want to find the gateway to the paranormal realm, this one-time family mansion-turned-hotel is the spot to set up camp. Through the years, various members of the emotionally tortured Lemp family – once famous for their brewing empire – have committed suicide in the house. “If you dare to stay here, listen for ghostly knocks and phantom footsteps in the building,” warns Fassbinder. “But if that scares you too much, you can come to the annual Halloween party – that way, you won’t have to spend the night.” (3322 DeMenil Pl., St. Louis, MO, 314-664-8024)
9) The Farnsworth House. This 1810 brick building, which housed Confederate sharpshooters during the Civil War and contains over 100 bullet holes, is a mecca for more than just history buffs. “The staff claims that there are 14 different ghosts here who walk the corridors at night,” says Fassbinder. “In fact, a lot of people who have taken my ghost tour have told me they’ve stayed at the Farnsworth House and say that they’ve seen Civil War soldiers marching through the place.” (401 Baltimore St., Gettysburg, PA., 717-334-5862)
10) 17 hundred 90. This centuries-old Savannah inn has a perpetually heartbroken permanent guest: in the early 1800s, Anna Powers fell in love with a seaman who never came back. She eventually threw herself off a third-floor balcony on to a brick courtyard. “She wears a white-flowing, ankle-length long gown, and is believed to be haunting room 204, waiting for her lover to return,” claims Fassbinder. “This is a really fabulous place. I love it. And, like most of the hotels on my top-11 list, the staff is very open to talking about the ghost.” (307 E. President St., Savannah, GA, 912-236-7122)
11) The Roosevelt Hotel. This 75-year-old, 12-story landmark smack in the center of Tinsel Town has long been a lure for legends of the screen – both living and dead. “After a multi-million dollar renovation in the ’80s, an employee was dusting off a mirror just before the grand re-opening when she saw a blond woman’s reflection in the mirror,” Fassbinder says. “When she turned to speak to her, no one was there. But when she looked back in the mirror again, the blond woman was still staring at her. Coincidentally or not, the mirror was hanging in suite 1200, where Marilyn Monroe often stayed.” (7000 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood, CA. 323-366-7000)
[Photo courtesy of miguelvieira via Flickr]