I like to travel. Fortunately, my irresponsible lifestyle choices make travel a frequent possibility. Over the years. I have developed an interest in spooky stays.
In the Chuck Palahniuk novel, Lullaby, there is an unscrupulous real estate agent who specializes in selling haunted properties. She never tells the buyer about the property’s disturbingly supernatural qualities, she just waits for them to get scared off and re-sells the property. As I will probably never be in the market for a home, haunted or otherwise, I must make do with haunted hotels. And if you are like me and enjoy staying up late watching ghost videos on YouTube, then you know there is no shortage of haunted hotels in the world.
Years ago, I was traveling Europe by train and visited a friend in Frankfurt, Germany. He lived in a renovated one-level rowhouse a short walk from the famous church on which Martin Luther had nailed his treatise. The houses had been there since the Weimar Republic. My friend is from Croatia, and Croatian hospitality dictates that the guest gets the master bedroom and the host sleeps on the couch. I tried to debate this, even saying I would be more comfortable on the couch, but have you ever tried arguing with a Croatian? You can’t. I ended up in the master bedroom, and it really was remarkably comfortable compared to sleeping in hostels and on trains.
In the middle of the night, however, I was awakened by someone pounding on the foot of the bed. I sat up and turned on the light — no one was there. Still half-asleep, I figured it had just been my own legs kicking and went back to sleep. The pounding resumed. Thump, Thump, Thump! on the mattress. It happened three times that night. The next morning, I mentioned it to my friend. He said, “Oh, yes, we think the house is haunted by an old woman who died here during World War II. She must not have liked you sleeping in my bed.” I was fascinated! He showed me old pictures of what the houses had looked like over the years, but sadly, he had no specific information about the old woman, other than the landlady had mentioned it to him when he had moved in. “She’s quiet, and aside from a few things being moved in the night, you won’t hear much from her.” He had thought it was quaint and moved right in. He said he never really noticed anything weird, but my presence in the room must have upset the spirit. I am a notorious snorer, so I wonder if that’s what had set her off?
After that, I was hooked. When I travel now, I seek out the haunted places. If you share my morbid curiosity, you can find scores of websites and videos dedicated to identifying haunted hotels around the globe, and there are likely to be a few in any city you visit. However, believe it or not, most hotels have at least one room that is known to the staff — a room they don’t tell guests about, but of which they like to share stories during the night shifts. When checking in, just say, “By the way, if you have a room that has a reputation for being haunted or… just weird, I’d like that room if at all possible, please.” Most of the time, the desk clerks will just smile and say, “Ha ha, no, we don’t have any rooms like that, I’m afraid,” and you just accept your boringly normal room and try to enjoy your vacation. Maybe there’s a haunted pub or theater in town you can visit.
There are those rare occasions, however, when the desk clerk will smile, pause with consideration, and then hand you a different room key. In fact, these occasions are not as rare as you might think.
Back in February of 2020, just before the big COVID-19 pandemic (ah, the good old days of travel!), I was lucky enough to travel south of the equator, a destination that had long been on my bucket list. Most of my time was spent with friends in New Zealand, but I did pop over to Sydney for a long weekend. I booked a room at the Great Southern Hotel, terrific accommodation with a fantastic location for a very reasonable price. Friendly staff, great restaurant/pub with a street-side patio, and a less-than-five-minute walk to the trams and subway, one stop from Circular Quay.
Upon arrival, I went to the front desk and asked as sanely as I could for any haunted rooms. The girl behind the desk smiled but said nothing. She took a key card from a drawer and after much typing, scanned it for the room she was giving me. As she handed it over, she said, “Good luck! If you want to change rooms later, we can accommodate you.” “Oh!” I said, taking the key. “Perfect! Thank you!” I started to head to the elevator, but then thought to ask, “What’s special about the room? What have guests reported?” She said, “It’s usually not guests, it’s the cleaning staff that seem to have the most… experiences.”
“Oh, objects in the room move, the bathroom door slams shut. A few of the cleaning girls have felt someone grab them. One girl refused to work on that floor again.”
“Seriously?” I had to ask. “But no guests are bothered?”
“Sometimes, but not as often. We’ve had guests complain about the bathroom door slamming and not being able to open it. And one woman said she felt someone get into bed with her. She was not happy.”
“Yes, I wouldn’t imagine she would be. Any visual sightings?”
“Not that I know of, but the cleaning staff have heard voices inside before they go in and the room is empty.”
“What do the voices say?”
She shrugged. “Just voices. I’ve not heard of anything specific being said. Although one guest said he heard someone coughing in the bathroom all night. He thought it was a guest in another room, but the room is at the end of the hall and there is no other room on that side.”
“I see. So it seems a lot of the activity is centered around the bathroom.”
“I guess so,” she said. “Why? Are you with one of those ghost hunting channels?”
“No, I just like to have interesting stories to tell when I travel.”
She smiled. “Well, you don’t need ghosts to have interesting stories. There’s lots to see and do in and around Sydney!”
“Yes, I hear you have spiders that can kill people just by looking at them.”
She laughed. “Not here in the city, but yeah, out in the bush, maybe.”
I liked this girl. Most hotels that have any sort of paranormal history that they do not try to profit from instruct the staff not to talk about it with guests. If you request a haunted room, they just smile and quietly give you the key. This girl was exceptional just for being so open to the discussion. I went up to my room and showered. Sadly, there were no mysterious messages scrawled into the condensation on the mirror. I stayed there for three days, traveling around Sydney, riding out to the Blue Mountains to look for those spiders, but my stay in the room was more or less uneventful. I did notice the bathroom door move now and again, but nothing that would send anyone screaming from the premises. I even tried communicating with the specter because you have to, right? You don’t want to be rude. When I noticed the door moving, I said, “Hey, there! How’s the cough, buddy?” Alas, I received no reply. At least, none that I could hear. I wonder if I should invest in one of those EVP recording thingies that I see on those ghost hunting channels? I was hoping to make a report to the nice girl behind the desk when I checked out, but she was not on duty when I did.
I guess that’s all I have for this blog. Are you disappointed that there weren’t more terrifying details about the coughing ghosts of Sydney? if it helps, I have seen what I suspect were ghosts twice before in my life. One was in my hometown of Mansfield, Pennsylvania, home of the infamous North Hall on the Mansfield University campus. It is now the university library, but way back in the late 19th century, is was a boarding school for young women. One of those young women committed suicide by jumping down a stairwell from the sixth floor. They call her “The Ghost of All Floors” because it is said that she can travel through all of them as she had passed through each as she had died. She is often described as a girl in white carrying a candle. One night, sitting outside the building and looking into the dark windows, trying to catch a glimpse of her, I saw a small light — like a candle — move across the three windows in front of me. It then stopped, and rose straight up to the floor above, and continued back the way it had come. She’s a sweet kid.
Another sighting occurred on a camping trip in Raccoon Creek State Park in Clinton County, Pennsylvania. Some friends and I attended a concert there and camped in the state park. That night, after the concert as we sat around the campfire, I kept seeing people, all in white, moving between the trees just outside our campsite. “Who are those people?” I kept asking. “What people?” my friends would reply. “There! They’re all dressed in white, and they keep popping out from behind the trees!” No one else saw them. I even went off looking for them, but found no one. The next day, we noticed a lot of the herbaceous perennial known as Indian Pipe growing around the area. Native American legend says that this plant grows where ghosts walk. You can also use them to brew a tea with a very mellowing effect. When we stopped off at the public restrooms for a morning refresher, we noticed the information board had a newspaper clipping posted that read, “Have you seen a ghost? Raccoon Creek State Park is said to be haunted by the spirits of Native Americans…”
So there it is. A few mildly weird encounters, but nothing on the level worthy of a Hollywood horror show. Ghosts in general, I think, can be described in much the same way as Douglas Adams describes the Earth itself: Mostly harmless. Demons and Shadow People, however — watch the f**k out!
Until next time, I wish you all the joy and safety in your own travels… assuming we will ever be able to travel again. At the time of this writing, the U.S. is pretty much banned from traveling anywhere. Here in Korea, travel is possible — we just have to bring back a doctor’s note saying we were tested and maybe self-quarantine for a couple of weeks. Still, better safe than sorry. Stay well, and remember — ask for those haunted rooms! There may be a lot more of them after this pandemic subsides.