By Tom Morrow
In the late 1890s, the venerable Hotel del Coronado was the social toast of San Diego. The posh hotel was Southern California’s first elegant seaside resort that attracted the rich and famous from around the world. Although, some of those who checked in had questionable reputations – “including ladies of the evening.”
As the story goes, the body of a known prostitute was found outside one of the rooms after a suspected night of someone’s chicanery. She was identified with a now long-forgotten name. The corpse’ identity has slipped into one of the hotel’s many historic tales. No one knows what happened or “who dunnit,” or maybe the truth was known at the time, but has been long forgotten. What lingers is a ghost story.
Over the years guests have reported seeing a lady wearing gay nineties apparel walking the halls of the great building. The story varies from one year to the next. There have been ghost hunters from around the world checking into the Hotel del Coronado to see if they might discover some apparition floating down a hallway or traveling up the oldest Otis elevator west of the Mississippi.
As the years have passed, the tale of the lady at the Del Coronado has varied – dramatically. When I was vice president of communications and in charge of the hotel’s historical archives, the story centered around one of less-popular rooms located in the far west end of the hotel – Room 3361. While doing my historical due diligence I discovered that Room 3361 didn’t exist until 1945. The portion in which the room is located is a section built during World War II to house officers and pilots in training at nearby North Island Naval Air Station.
There are those, especially owners and promoters of the hotel, who didn’t and don’t believe my research. Well, you have to admit it’s a good yarn that is hard to prove – there was a dead woman found outside of a room sometime in the ninth decade of the 19th century. Today, no one knows which room, which floor, or which section of the world’s largest wooden structure.
But ghost hunters persist on chasing – well, a ghost of a story. Such was the case during the filming of a television miniseries during 1984. It was based in a James Mitchener novel, “Space,” starring James Garner, Harry Hamlin and a cast too large for me to remember.
I arranged rooms, food service, special needs and requests of the producers while they were filming on the hotel property. One afternoon Hamlin came into my office asking about the hotel’s resident spirit. I told him the story and what I had discovered during my research, but he said he’d like to see Room 3361. I obliged, taking on the long walk to the back section of the hotel where the room was located.
Inside, Harry looked around the small room. After a few minutes he looked at me with eyes wide open, insisting he could feel a presence of some kind. I humored the situation – after all, the guests are always right – right?
“Could I spend the night in this room?” Harry asked. I chuckled and said it would be arranged. I already had him booked into one of the hotel’s best suites, but on this one night he wanted to spend it in Room 3361.
The next morning I saw Harry having breakfast in the Coronado Room. I stopped by and asked him if he had anything of interest to report on his stay in the ghost room?
“Tom, something was there. I swear I could feel it, but I didn’t see anything,” he replied. He thanked me profusely for arranging his special accommodations for that evening.
Harry joined hundreds of other ghost hunters, who, down through the years, have chased the elusive spirit that, reportedly, roams the halls of the great house.
As a film director once said, “Never let a few facts get in the way of a good story.”
SIGNS SEEN — In a Podiatrist’s office: “Time wounds all heels.”
WILL ROGERS: “Never miss a good chance to shut up.”
SCAG SEZ It just occurred to me that boxers are one of the few people who can wake up and find themselves rich. — Cecil Scaglione, Mature Life Features.