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Menger Hotel, San Antonio, Texas
Wesley Hitt  /  Alamy
At the Menger Hotel in San Antonio, Texas, owners brag that 32 different apparitions haunt their premises.
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updated 10/27/2008 11:19:01 AM ET 2008-10-27T15:19:01

Climbing Mt. Everest. Swimming with dolphins. Watching someone who died 300 years ago pass through your room? Yes, some travel experiences are more equal than others. And while you may never rappel up the side of a mountain, you have lots of opportunities to stay in a haunted hotel. Or, shall we say, an allegedly haunted hotel.

Dom Villella, an investigator with Paranormal Investigation of NYC, has studied paranormal activity for several years and says hauntings are typically either "traditional" or "residual energy" experiences. A traditional haunting may be from the spirit of a person who dies a "violent death, whether it be a murder or a suicide."

But why would a ghost choose to haunt a public hotel, not their former residence? "Maybe they have unfinished business or there is a person they are attached to," says Villella. Many hotels are haunted by former staffers, he says, perhaps because spirits stick close to places where they spent a lot of time when certifiably alive. "I think a lot of people, when they die, they don't know where to go, so they just resume their old life."

Quite a few haunted hotels harbor a history as a wartime station for rest or recuperation, particularly below the Mason-Dixon line. When Confederate soldiers occupied Cashtown, Penn., during the Civil War, for example, The Cashtown Inn became an ad hoc surgery site—and thus a place where many young men lost their lives. Some of those fallen soldiers seem not to have left. Recently, when the inn appeared on the Sci-Fi channel show, "Ghost Hunters", cameras allegedly caught a picture frame turning around on its own while filming overnight. The owners also told the program their pet dog and parrot will both follow things unseen to human eyes at the same time and they occasionally smell cigar smoke in the non-smoking inn.

Cashtown Inn isn't the only lodging with a blood-soaked history. The Hawthorne Hotel is in Salem, Mass., site of the infamous witch trials of the 1600s. It's easy to imagine how the area's death and misery could lead to hauntings.

Suicide seems to be the reason for hauntings at other hotels. At the Heathman Hotel in Portland, Ore., guests sleeping in rooms that end in "-03" have reported seeing a ghost in their rooms. According to legend, a guest in room 703 fell to his death from it, and his spirit remains in all the rooms he passed on his "way down." Jennifer Aniston was reportedly spooked when she stayed at the hotel (though on the ninth floor).

The Equinox, Manchester Village, Vt.
The Equinox Resort
You may never rub elbows with Laura Bush or Nancy Reagan, but up at the Equinox in Vermont you can pass the time with a former First Lady: Mary Todd Lincoln is said to haunt the hotel.
Other hotel ghosts are simply souls who were associated with the property, such as domestic staff or onetime owners. The Homespun Farm bed-and-breakfast in Griswold, Conn., was originally called the Brewster Homestead, named for William Brewster, who arrived on the Mayflower and helped found Plymouth Colony. But his great-great-grandson, Simon Brewster, appears to have never fully left the property he opened. Current owners report seeing a thin, ghostly man wearing overalls and have felt a goosebump-addled "presence" while gardening in the blueberry patch. When a Brewster family member came by with pictures of one of the Brewster descendants who passed away in the 1970s, the owners said they recognized him as the overall-wearing man from their garden.

Brown Palace Hotel, Denver, Colo.
The Brown Palace Hotel and Spa
Not just one ghost will do for Denver's Brown Palace: The hotel is allegedly haunted by a rather large band of ghosts. Hotel employees report children running in the hallways laughing, musicians in the ballroom and even the hotel's long-dead founder pacing the halls.
Ghost sightings are hotly contested, of course. While some hotel owners leave their ghostly histories to the province of paranormal researchers, others seize their "guests" as a marketing opportunity—much to the dismay of disputatious historians. One such case is the Lighthouse Inn, in New London, Conn., which was originally built as a summer home for a wealthy steel magnate. The Inn is said to be haunted by a 1920 bride who fell down a grand staircase, snapped her neck and died at her groom's feet on her wedding day; the ghost bride has also been seen wandering around the third floor of the inn. Two children who died during a 1938 hurricane also allegedly haunt the halls. At least that's the story: A local historian told The New York Times last year the ghost stories are all a bunch of bunk and neither a bride nor children died ever died at the hotel.

In any case, ghost hauntings—if they exist at all—are quite rare, says Villella. "Residual energy" is more common, accounting for 90 percent of the cases. This paranormal activity is unconnected to specific spirits; it's residue left by multiple people throughout the years. This is why spots that see a lot of foot traffic, such as hotels, movie theaters and train stations, often come with complaints of strange footsteps and weird noises.

Despite being the most common paranormal activity, residual energy hauntings are also the hardest to prove, says Villella, who works as a hypnotherapist when he is not ghosthunting. Of course, all paranormal activity is ultimately unprovable. "It's our own little theories that we try to piece together."

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