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).
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."