Spooky season is upon us, and leave it to historic hotels to tell some of the very best ghost stories about guests who never checked out. In fact, Historic Hotels of America keeps a running list of its 25 most haunted hotels and many hotels market their ghosts with tours and merchandise to help drum up revenue to cover historic preservation costs.
Take Hotel del Coronado in Coronado, California (near San Diego), where the property’s historian leads a Haunted Happenings Tours, relaying the tale of Kate Morgan’s 1892 visit to the Del and the mystery surrounding her death. And at The Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, Colorado–a historic property that’s garnered a reputation for being a “Disney for ghosts” and is also the hotel that inspired “The Shining”– guests have snapped photos in a staircase and later noticed apparitions in their shots.
So, if you’re among the 46% of the American population that believes ghosts are real, how do you know if your hotel room is actually haunted or the property just needs some electrical upgrades to stop the lights from flickering?
For believers, hotels are well-known for haunts, which can be attributed to how many people walk through the doors and spend time at the properties, says Wes Leslie, the co-founder of The Haunt Ghost Tours, which leads paranormal investigation tours in California.
“Residual energies can linger after guests leave,” Leslie says. “Plus, many hotels are old buildings constructed of wood, and organic materials can be conduits and contain energy. Add to that the fact that tragedies and important moments take place inside of hotels, and you have a perfect storm for paranormal activity.”
On the positive side, spirits may simply love the place–perhaps it’s haunted by someone who loved the grandeur of the hotel and spent time hobnobbing there, and remains comfortable in the space, he says.
Ahead of Halloween 2023, here’s five signs your hotel is haunted (should you believe in ghosts):
1. Objects Move Without Assistance
Objects moving or music playing is one of the biggest signs of a haunt that paranormal experts pinpoint.
It could be anything from a pen to glass moving without aid in front of you, while asleep, while no one was in the room, says Sterling. You may even see movement through fabric like curtains, drapes, hanging towels, or bedding.
“After weeding out any possibility of someone else moving objects, such as housekeeping or your travel partner, or that the air is on, you may consider this a sign of a hotel haunting,” Sterling says.
Jay Fanning, a paranormal tour guide at The Elms Hotel & Spa in Kansas City, Missouri, says stories range from seeing a woman in white, objects moving in rooms, splashing in the pool, wet footprints, jazz music randomly playing, and the neon “The Elms” sign disappearing in photos.
2. Electronics Turn On and Off
While this can happen from short circuits or power outages, most hotels have generators preventing this, Sterling says.
“When electronics such as alarm clocks, televisions, hair dryers, and lights flicker or turn on without assistance, this is often a sign of a ghost trying to get your attention,” she says.
Holly Walker, an energetic healer based in Oregon, says lights are one of the easiest ways for ghosts to connect with people, which is why they manipulate the lights and electrical devices around us.
“Watch for lights turning on or off by themselves, flashing, or becoming brighter, then dimming,” Walker says. “I’ve seen ghosts bounce back and forth through canned fixtures, to where it looked like carnival lights.”
3. You Smell Cigarette Smoke or Perfume
Another sign your hotel is haunted is smelling cigarette smoke, cigar smoke, or perfume in your room, seemingly out of nowhere, with no explanation as to why, says Cindy Kaza, psychic medium and host of the Travel Channel’s The Dead Files. Oftentimes, other hotel guests or employees will have had similar experiences.
“Ghosts try to get our attention in many different ways,” Kaza says. “Most of the time, they want to be acknowledged and they want their stories to be told correctly.”
If you’re dealing with an unwelcome haunting, her advice is to acknowledge the ghost and tell them you’re closed for business and need to get some rest. “It doesn’t always work, but it’s worth a shot, she says.
4. You Feel Cold Spots
Unexplained cold spots are also a common sign ghosts are present, says Walker.
“This will literally feel like areas of a room or building have their own weather,” she says. “It’s more than just chills when entering a space–this can manifest as a breeze or just a pocket of cold air. The more souls gathered in a room or building, the larger the pocket.”
5. You’re Moody
Lastly, you should pay special attention to drastic changes in your personal mood when staying in a suspected haunted hotel, according to Michelle Vincent and Heather Rhyneer, who co-founded East Valley Paranormal in Mesa, Arizona and lead ghost towns in the city. Feelings of sudden anger or sadness are very common in a haunted hotel room, they say.
Those “off feelings” may be combined with more obvious signs like your electronics acting strangely (not holding a charge or glitching), items being moved on their own accord, and doors closing on their own, they say.