Monday, October 8, 2012

Alamo Plaza's Haunted Lady ~ Lyn Horner

A bit of ghostly history, Texas style . . .

The Alamo is The Shrine of Texas Liberty, dedicated to those who fought and died there. Surrounded today by a bustling metropolis, it is the heart of San Antonio's Alamo Plaza. However, next to the Alamo stands a grand lady infused with her own dramatic history and resident ghosts. I refer to the Menger Hotel.

Alamo 2
The Alamo, 2012 -- Photo by author

Opened by German immigrant William Menger in 1859, only twenty-three years after the fall of the Alamo, the Menger is one of the oldest and most famous hotels in Texas. It also owns the title of "The Most Haunted Hotel in Texas."
Menger ca. 1860s
Menger Hotel ca. 1865 -- Photo of a vintage photograph hanging in the hotel; taken by Ted Ernst
file from the Wikimedia Commons; licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license.
The hotel first catered to patrons of Wm. Menger’s brewery, the first brewery in Texas. So popular was the hotel, that Menger soon had an addition built between the hotel and brewery, with a tunnel connecting the two. Menger died at the hotel in 1871, leaving his widow and son to run the establishment.

Menger bar
The Menger bar -- Photo by author
After railroad service reached San Antonio in 1877, the Menger became the best-known hotel in the Southwest. It offered fine cuisine in the Colonial Dining Room, including turtle soup made from turtles caught in the San Antonio River. An east wing was built in 1881, and in 1887, a replica of the taproom in London’s House of Lords Club was added. With its cherry wood bar and paneling, French mirrors and elegant atmosphere, the taproom was the toast of the town.       

The Menger has changed hands more than once. It’s been enlarged and modernized several times, and was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1976. Down the years the hotel has hosted military leaders such as Phillip Sheridan, William Tecumseh Sherman, Robert E. Lee, George Patton and Jimmy Doolittle. Presidents Ulysses S. Grant, Benjamin Harrison, Theodore Roosevelt, and Dwight Eisenhower have also slept there.

In Teddy Roosevelt’s case, he stayed there three times, twice before becoming president. During his second visit, he recruited cowboys for his Rough Riders in the Menger bar. The story goes that as cowboys walked in, he would ply them with drinks and jovially recruit them to fight in the Spanish American War. Since his passing, Roosevelt has reportedly been seen sitting in the dark barroom, drink in hand, more than once.

Other celebrities who stayed at the Menger include authors Oscar Wilde and O. Henry, film star Mae West, and baseball great Babe Ruth. Captain Richard King, founder of the famous King Ranch, kept a personal suite in the hotel. After learning he hadn’t long to live, King spent his last few months there, writing his will and bidding friends farewell. His funeral was held in the Menger’s parlor. King’s old room is now called the "King Ranch Room.” His spirit has been seen walking straight through the wall where the door to his room was located prior to remodeling.

Photos and displays in the Menger lobbies offer glimpes of the past. Photo by author

A woman named Sally White is the most frequently seen Menger ghost. Once employed there as a chambermaid, she had an argument with her husband and on March 28, 1876, he attacked her in the hotel. She died two days later. Her funeral was paid for by the Menger. Perhaps in gratitude, Sallie continues to carry out her duties. She is often seen in the Victorian wing of the hotel, wearing a long gray skirt and a bandana around her forehead, typical garments for a maid in her time. She usually appears at night, walking the hallways with clean towels in her arms.

The Menger ghosts span many time periods, including a Spaniard, a Confederate Officer, a frontiersman in buckskins and a gent in a top hat. There are numerous stories of apparitions sitting in the lobby, “helping” in the kitchen, or appearing in guestrooms. How startling it must be to wake up in the middle of the night and feel a ghostly maid smoothing your bedcovers, or to step from your shower and see an entity arguing with another unseen presence . . . before disappearing into thin air.

Menger Hotel 2012 -- Photo by author

All together, the Menger claims to house 32 individual ghosts. I’ve long wanted to stay at the historic hotel, but after learning about its haunted reputation, I’m not so sure. I’m kind of a scaredy cat. Still, getting to see Teddy Roosevelt or Captain King, or the tragic figure of Sallie White might be worth a few shivers down my spine. How about you? Would you risk it?

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Caroline Clemmons said...

Lyn, I'd love to stay there. Bea stayed there when the librarian conference was in San Antonio, but didn't see a ghost. She stayed in the less expensive new part. She loved the hotel, though, even if she didn't see any ghosts there. Lovely post.

Lyn Horner said...

Caroline, I really would love to stay there too. Maybe if I stay in the new part like Bea did, I'd be safe from ghosts. Anyway, so far as I've read, none of the spirited folk are out to hurt anyone. Glad you enjoyed the post.

Gerri Bowen said...

Great post, Lyn. Yes, I'd love to stay there!

Paty Jager said...

That hotel certainly has a ghostly history. Great post, Lyn!

Ally Broadfield said...

I'd love to stay there. We're planning a trip to San Antonio next summer. I'll definitely check it out (though I expect my kids will want to stay up all night!).

Lyn Horner said...

Thanks to all you brave cowgirls! Wouldn't it be fun to hold a western author meet-up at the Menger? We could explore all those ghostly haunts. I bet we'd come up with some great story ideas.

Mel Comley said...

Love it Lyn. Our first house in France was haunted. We had to contact a medium/psychic to rid the house of the spirit!

Love your informative posts. x

Lyn Horner said...

Merci beaucoup, Mel! Ooh, you lived in a haunted house? That must have been, um, "interesting." :)

I'm so glad you enjoy my posts. Thanks for visiting CK. We aim to please.

Jacquie Rogers said...

Lyn, I loved your tour of the Menger Hotel! And yes, it would be a great place for a western author meet-up. It's a bit of a commute for me, though. LOL.

Lyn Horner said...

LOL! Thanks, Jacquie. I reckon it would be quite a ride from your neck of the woods. But it sure would be fun. Someday maybe.