Hotel Del Coronado

Hotel Del Coronado and the Beautiful Stranger

General History of “The Del”

 People from all over the United States have heard of the Hotel Del Coronado.  A historic gem by the sea, the renowned hotel is located in the picturesque City of Coronado and a short distance from San Diego, California.  As one of the last remaining luxurious seaside resorts, the Hotel Del Coronado continues to serve as the epitome of nostalgia.  Back in 1846, the Coronado peninsula was a barren land as opposed to what it has become today: an exquisite village with million-dollar mansions, delectable eateries, vintage shops and of course, it’s iconic Victorian hotel. 

When California became a part of the United States, the Coronado terrain was sold for $1,000 in 1849; once the Civil War came to a halt it was later purchased for $10,000. Elisha Babcock Jr., a railroad executive, arrived to San Diego from Evansville, Indiana in 1884. Along with his friend, H.L. Story, he envisioned how the stretch of land and climate could attract people from all walks of life.  As such, a syndicate called the Coronado Beach Company was developed to purchase the peninsula and commence a thriving city.  It was in 1885 when Babcock and Story bought the Coronado land for $110,000.

Promotional events took place with the aim of advertising San Diego as one of the most attractive places in the nation.  Babcock envisioned building a resort that would be adequately known as the “talk of the Western world.” It was on Independence Day in 1886 when a community picnic celebration took place, signaling the start of an annual tradition that still exists today. 

The Reid Brothers were the chosen architects for the construction of the hotel and resort.  For the ensuing 40 years, local pioneers worked together to establish a modern city.  The arrival of John D. Spreckels brought further fascination into the City of Coronado and its prized hotel icon. Babcock then persuaded Spreckels to financially subsidize the Coronado Beach Company.  The latter managed the corporation and hotel via his San Francisco residence.

The Hotel Del Coronado underwent further renovations from June through December of 1902.  This dawned a new era for the city with the arrival of Tent City along the Silver Strand. The mission of Tent City was to provide a social arena for Coronado’s residents, which included boating ventures, concerts, plays and vaudeville shows; however, 1939 brought an end to this era of vacation mindset.  The hotel eventually went up for sale after the dissolution of World War II.  Sadly, at this point, “The Del” was not the epitome of opulence it once portrayed.

The passing of time brought about new owners to the premises, including Kansas City hotel mogul Barney Goodman.  Goodman instituted further renovations to the edifice, such as a fifth floor and the addition of fifty rooms.  Upon his death, local entrepreneur, John S. Alessio, assumed ownership of the hotel in 1961.  Alessio’s refurbishment contributions included the improvement of public areas and guest rooms.  The original windows inside the iconic Crown and Coronet rooms were detached and replaced with massive plate glass varieties that are still present today.

The Hotel Del Coronado Corporation purchased the structure from Alessio. As the board’s chairmen, M. Larry Lawrence became the hotel’s sixth owner.  It was his design proposal that brought about the structure’s Victorian grandeur.  Lawrence constructed the Grande Hall, big enough to accommodate 1,500 people.  The number of guest rooms went from 399 to 689 due to the building of the Ocean Towers and further pool side development.  Between 1963 and 1983, $40 million was allocated for restoration, repairs and the replacement of defunct machinery.

Today, people flock from all over the world to visit and/or stay at the Hotel Del Coronado.  Guests and locals can choose from many activities, whether it be a relaxing walk along the beach, lunch or dinner at one of its prized restaurants and shopping in the many boutique stores.  It’s always an impressive site as you drive down Orange Avenue and see the hotel’s red-roofed turrets as you inch closer to the grand edifice.

In addition to the beauty that older hotels bring, there’s typically a ghost story or two surrounding their historical charm.  The Hotel Del Coronado is certainly no exception as many people, including myself, have encountered either apparitional sightings, eerie cold spots and disembodied vocalizations.  As you might have guessed, the legendary hotel is listed as one of San Diego’s most haunted abodes, mainly due to one ghostly account:  the story of Kate Morgan, also known as the “Beautiful Stranger” of the Hotel Del Coronado.

The Story of Kate Morgan aka “The Beautiful Stranger”

Provided as an excerpt from my book, San Diego’s Most Haunted-The Historical Legacy and Paranormal Marvels of America’s Finest City, here is the tale of Kate Morgan:

The story of Kate Morgan is perhaps the most popular spirited tale associated with the edifice.  Kate Kathleen Farmer was born in Iowa on September 23, 1865, to George W. Farmer, an affluent miller and his wife, Elizabeth, who passed away shortly after giving birth.  Having no surviving brothers or sisters, Kate was then primarily brought up by the males in her life, and it has been suggested that as a result, she turned out to be rambunctious and uncontrollable.  In her late teens, Kate wed Tom Morgan on December 30, 1885, and the couple had one child by the name of Thomas who passed away just two days after his birth.

In 1892, on Thanksgiving Day, the young and beautiful Mrs. Morgan checked into the Del under the alias “Lottie A. Bernard.”  She was alone and despondent when she arrived, having waited five lonesome days, possibly for her husband Tom Morgan. Sadly, just five days later, Kate was found lifeless on one of the exterior staircases leading to the beach.  She was found to have a single gunshot wound to the temple, and it was later ruled that she committed suicide.  The news of her demise became a national sensation, as her description and circumstances were telegraphed to police personnel around the nation.  Tom sent a letter to the San Diego coroner identifying Lottie A. Bernard as Kate Morgan.  The letter mentioned that her Iowa-based grandfather was Joe W. Chandler, and that he should be the one to receive her remains.

The situation surrounding Kate Morgan’s short stay at the Hotel Del Coronado continues to remain quite ambiguous to this day.  Thus, the events preceding her tragic demise are not entirely based in fact, leading people to infer and formulate their own conclusions as to what transpired.  The coroner’s inquest took place on November 30th, just one day after her youthful body was found.  Witness testimonies have provided in-depth information about her actions and behavior during her sojourn at the Hotel Del Coronado.  At the time of her stay, Kate seemed ill and depressed, and told hotel staff she was suffering from stomach cancer, possibly concealing the fact that she may have been pregnant.  Oddly, she told employees to not worry about her condition, as her brother, who happened to be a doctor, was soon to arrive to help her.  Kate even approached the front desk several times asking about her brother and when he was to arrive.  As it turns out, this young, beautiful woman never had a brother; thus, most people feel that the man she was anxiously waiting was in fact her husband Tom.

It was determined that Kate Morgan resided in and worked at the Los Angeles home of L.A. Grant, where she went by the alias “Katie Logan.” She was reported to be a sufficient employee, always tending to her assigned duties.  Her husband was known to be a gambler, a fact that concerned her at times.  Another oddity is evident, in that she left for San Diego without her personal belongings, therefore suggesting she would soon return to Los Angeles.

As she traveled by train to San Diego, witness accounts disclosed that a woman matching her physical description quarreled with a man who left her en route.  One of these eye-witnesses was a man named Joseph E. Jones, who documented that Kate and a man had a significant altercation.  The man got off the train in Orange County, whereas Kate continued south toward San Diego.

Many rumors have circulated around Kate’s tragic death and still do so to this day.  Almost immediately people wondered why she traveled to the ornate hotel alone, something that women of her time period rarely did.  Some say she wanted to divorce Tom, especially since witnesses declared that she wanted to get some papers signed.  It has been speculated that she committed suicide; however, others feel that she was the victim of a senseless crime. 

Mrs. Morgan visited a gun shop in San Diego and purchased a .44 Bulldog.  She may have arrived back at the Del between 6:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m. later that night.  A witness spotted her standing on her room’s veranda as she gazed toward the stormy Pacific Ocean.  Perhaps her husband finally arrived at the hotel, where the couple further argued; however, the condition of her hotel room did not indicate a struggle of any kind.  If Tom and Kate did argue, maybe he fired his gun at her head, ultimately ending her life.  This scenario seems quite plausible.

The medical examiner testified that the bullet found lodged in Kate’s forehead came from a .38 or .40 caliber weapon, a bullet commonly associated with the Derringer gun that Tom carried on his person. Additionally, Kate was found to have been shot in the temple at an upward angle, indicating that  she was standing a couple stairs above her assailant.  Also, the positioning of her body on the staircase was not indicative of a self-inflicted wound. Her pistol was oxidized the following day, suggesting that her attacker washed his bloody hands in the saltwater ocean, then came back and strategically placed the gun underneath her hand so it looked like she committed the act.

Personally, I believe she was tragically murdered.  Perhaps, her earthbound spirit remains at the hotel as a way to tell her story.  I have talked to Kate many times, letting her know that there’s a better place for her, one with eternal love and peace.  I hope she has heard me and understands that when she’s ready, she can move on to that beautiful place.  Maybe she already has.  Kate Morgan’s legacy is an everlasting part of the Hotel Del Coronado.  What better place than, “The Del”?

Many people have documented strange accounts in her room on the third floor, which was numbered 302.  Today, it’s 3327. The bed in the room sometimes shows a body imprint.  The television has turned on and off seemingly by itself. Pillows have been neatly stacked and guests encounter bed sheets being ripped off them.  Guests have experienced flickering lights, cold spots, phantom scents, disembodied voices and footsteps, the opening and closing of doors and belongings moved around.  Individuals have even seen Kate’s full-bodied apparition adorned in a dark dress in various parts of the hotel, on the beach and on the stairs where her physical body was found. 

I have had odd experiences in the hotel.  I often experience the sense of being watched along with extreme nausea.  This could be due to a high EMF (electromagnetic field energy), which can cause these symptoms.  A couple of years ago, my friends Jim and Karen Frazier came down to Southern California for a visit.  Their first stop was San Diego and a memorable stay at “The Del.”  One evening on the way down for some cocktails, Karen and I noticed a white mist in the hallway where their room was located.  It formed into a humanoid shape then vanished before our eyes.  We both felt female energy.  Did we encounter Kate in ethereal form? 

 Other Ghost Stories Associated with “The Del”

 Other ghosts adorned in vintage attire have been spotted throughout the hotel, including phantoms clad in suits.  In the gift stores, employees have documented items flying off the shelves.  Concierge staff have heard disembodied whispered conversations.  The ghosts of a little boy and girl have been seen peeking out from behind window curtains.  Some paranormal activity is residual in nature and some intelligent. So, as the saying goes, some people have checked into this lavish hotel but haven’t checked out.  In all honesty, if someone chooses to linger around, what better place than the Hotel Del Coronado?

By Nicole Strickland

Published in Paranormal Underground Magazine’s West Coast Ghosts column

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