How come there are so many haunted hotels in the world? “It is not uncommon for historic hotels to claim to have a resident ghost”, writer Susan Harlan explained. “From the infamous Stanley Hotel in Colorado—Stephen King’s inspiration for The Shining to random Days Inn hauntings, it’s almost pro forma to brag of supernatural guests. A whole website exists to help you locate and book rooms at such places. Ghosts embody the past and suggest that the past persists in the present; they also authenticate old hotels… Perhaps historic hotels like ghost stories so much because ghosts are like guests: wandering and displaced, restless.”

Curiously, both guests and employees like to talk about the other world residents they have encountered during their hotel stays. Often it isn’t just ghosts but the whole gamut of supernatural activities that holds hotel guests in thrall. India has a fair share of haunted hotels like, for example, the Savoy at Mussoorie, but to my mind the Emily Morgan Hotel in San Antonio, Texas, USA, listed as the third most haunted hotel in the world by USA Today in 2015 is exceptional.

Originally a thirteen-story tower, building work on it started in 1924 as the city’s first Medical Arts Building. It had office space for nearly one hundred doctors and four hundred people  . For the next fifty or so years, the basement was the facility’s morgue while the upper levels were used for surgeries and as a hospital. In 1984, it became the Emily Morgan Hotel, named after one of San Antonio’s most remembered icons: Emily Morgan , notorious as the saviour of Texas Independence.

With 177 rooms and 24 suites, all the floors of the hotel are rumoured to be haunted. The supernatural phenomena is attributed to its past as a medical center. The most haunted floors are said to be the seventh, ninth, twelfth and fourteenth in addition to the basement, which coincidentally were also the floors that were once the psychiatric ward, surgery level, waiting area and morgue cum crematorium, respectively. “Guests have reported strange things occurring on these particular levels. The sensation of feeling something cool brush up against you, even as the lingering heavy scent of medicine settles in your nose. Those staying on the fourteenth level of the Emily Morgan generally have one thing to say: that the smell is acutely reminiscent of a hospital….Guests have reported to opening the doors to the hallways only to find a scene from a hospital waiting right inside…” Shocked, they shut the door but “the ghostly image has always vanished at a second peek into the corridor, and the imprinted image from the past is nothing but a memory for the living.”

Elevators have a mind of their own and guests have seen lights flashing in their rooms. “..And yet others have reported seeing actual apparitions of nurses in the hallways as they push rickety gurneys down the corridor. Then, as if the ghostly image was never there in the first place, the scene dissipates into thin air as if it never was. Employees who have had to do work in the basement have experienced weird happenings like seeing glowing orbs dancing in the air and hearing “disembodied voices that have no known source”.

According to Ghost City Tours, the number of dead who were embalmed or who underwent autopsies in the basement of the Emily Morgan was probably somewhere in the hundreds, and it should come as no surprise that many of the dead have remained in that space. None of this compares to the stench of burning human flesh, however. Down in the basement the air reportedly feels quite heavy, and employees hurry with their tasks . It has been said that each floor of the Emily Morgan has its own distinct smell, but none so off-putting as that of the basement.

“ Interestingly—or maybe disturbingly—it is said that the Emily Morgan’s swimming pool has been constructed out of the stainless steel from the medical center’s operating tables. If that is the case, then we can possibly attribute many of the hauntings at the hotel to ghostly attachment, where spirits often are unable or unwilling to leave either a location or an object that was by them at the time of their death. Is it possible that that the Emily Morgan is home to so many ghosts because some of the medical equipment still resides at the hotel?” Is it also possible that a continuation of the “duty after death theory” was at work?

Let’s swing to December 1972 when an Eastern Airlines Tristar jetliner, flight 401, crashed into a swamp in Florida, USA. One hundred and one people died in the crash, including the pilot, Bob Loft, and the Flight Engineer, Don Repo. On more than twenty occasions thereafter, crew members of other Eastern Tristars—especially those that had been fitted with parts salvaged from the wreckage of Flight 401—saw entirely life-like apparitions of Loft and Repo. What is particularly significant about this account carried in The Unexplained : Mysteries of Mind, Space and Time, ( Vol. 3, Issue 32  ) is that the apparitions of the pilot and the flight engineer were seen especially on aircraft fitted with parts salvaged from the aircraft which had  crashed.

Obviously, there seems to exist a strong, almost compelling link between the last, ill fated flight and the apparitions, a link, as in the case of the Emily Morgan hauntings, between physical parts of the aircraft and psychical appearances. Was it because the duties of the pilot and the flight engineer were suddenly and unnaturally snapped, therefore remained incomplete and therefore the appearances—a continuation of duty as it were? Whatever the reasons, distinct imprints were clearly made by the incidents on both space and time and probably the mind and psyche of the people involved as well.

In incident after incident at haunted hotels, the “last activity, last place, last setting” links are irrefutable and point to clear imprinting on space, time and much more. But it’s not as simple as that. Why not ? Because there are many other instances where the “time warp-imprinting” theory doesn’t quite fit. Will tell you about such fascinating incidents in a future column but meanwhile supernatural guests are undeniably as much a part of many hotels as living guests. Significantly, they seem to be as valued as living guests. Are they valued because ghosts and the supernatural represent an unpredictable element in today’s largely controlled environment? Whatever the reason, ghosts residing in hotels are certainly an embodiment of the ultimate hotel guest who will never leave.