I was on the verge of falling asleep when these words jolted me awake: “The seventh and 14th floors are haunted.”
My blood ran cold. I had been looking up my hotel on review sites, something I usually do before I travel. That’s how I found out about the burglaries in my hotel in Toronto and that a bloody sock was found under a mattress in my hotel in Madrid.
I just didn’t think I’d ever be warned about ghosts.
I put down my phone and stopped reading.
Over the next days, I managed to avoid thinking about the inevitable—that I was going to New Orleans not just to interview the cast of “Chicago” before they come to Manila, but also to spend several nights in a haunted hotel.
From the Lonely Planet:
“In 2003 the hotel invited the International Society of Paranormal Research to come spend several days, during which they identified 12 disparate spirits on the property…”
Oh Jesus. It wasn’t just website blather anymore. According to Lonely Planet, in the hotel run by the Monteleone family since 1886, young ghosts are seen and heard playing, café doors open and shut on their own, people see a bar patron who isn’t really there, and the ghost of a former hotel employee named Red still roams its halls.
The one that freaked me out the most was Maurice, a little boy who has been seen by a number of guests in room 1462. They believe he is looking for his parents, Josephine and Jacques Begere, who were once guests of the hotel.
‘Mischievous but benign’
The paranormal occurrences at Monteleone were described as “mischievous but benign”; that offered me no comfort. I spent the rest of the flight worrying about how I’d face the ghosts in my room.
Because of delays, we were no longer arriving in New Orleans at the safe and relatively early hour of 5 p.m., but at 2 a.m.—in a hotel full of ghosts. Lord help us.
I had created the image of a creepy, cobweb-covered hotel in my head so I was pleasantly surprised when we walked into Monteleone. I took in the marble floors, huge chandeliers, ornate ceilings, fresh flowers and the grandfather clock in the middle of the lobby and thought, “Hey, this isn’t so scary. It’s actually beautiful.”
I heaved a sigh of relief when the front desk girl handed me my keycard. Room 352. I would have been even more relieved if someone else had been assigned to the same floor but no—Bambi Verzo of Concertus and Inquirer Entertainment’s Emmie Velarde were on the 10th floor, Broadway World’s Oliver Oliveros was on the eighth and The Philippine Star’s Scott Garceau was on the fourth.
“It’s okay,” they said, trying to ease my fears. “Only people with a third eye can see ghosts.”
“That’s the problem,” I replied.
I am no stranger to supernatural experiences. I’ve seen a disembodied hand open my grandparents’ refrigerator; a creepy little boy once appeared in front of me while I was on the phone arguing with a boyfriend; I unknowingly took a photo of a ghost in my hair while I was covering the post-tsunami recovery efforts in Thailand; a ghost once followed me from an assignment in Tagaytay to my home in Manila; I can usually tell if a place is haunted within seconds of arriving.
But unlike people who relish their connection to the spiritual world, I would much rather interact with the living.
We got into the elevator and because I was on the lowest floor, I was the first one off.
“Bye!” “See you tomorrow!” They said their good nights cheerfully. As the elevator doors closed, I resisted the urge to scream, “Guys, don’t leave!”
All of a sudden, I was alone.
I was hoping my room would be near the elevator (you know, for quick escape) but it took two turns and a long walk almost to the very end of a hall to reach it.
It was dim and decorated traditionally, with heavy drapes, antique-looking lamps and mirrors. There was a dark energy in the room but I waved it off as my overactive imagination.
The first thing I did was turn on the TV so I could drown out any unwanted sounds. Then I took a shower, leaving the bathroom door open and refusing to use the shower curtains.
My closet wouldn’t stay closed despite there being a latch on the door so I leaned my suitcase against it. And because the bed was too big, I covered the other half with my things—my backpack, my laptop, my phones, my books—just to make sure there was no space for any unwanted guests.
I dove under the covers and watched TV, switching from a movie channel to CNN to avoid the trailers of horror movies that kept playing.
I had started to drift off to sleep when TV static woke me up. Images of Sadako crawling out of the television in “The Ring” flashed in my head. I tried changing channels: static, static, static. I opened my laptop and clicked on a Conan O’ Brien YouTube playlist.
Seconds later, the TV started working again.
But as I was starting to fall asleep, it happened again.
TV static jolted me awake three times that night. I finally fell asleep with both the TV and Conan’s playlist running, just to make sure I always had friendly noise in the background.
Over the next days, strange things happened, which I tried to force myself to believe had a logical explanation or were just the result of both my fears and my wild imagination.
On our second day, on my way down to the lobby, I heard a woman sobbing. But there was no one with me, I was alone in the elevator.
I heard glass breaking outside my door. Refusing to look through the peephole, I blamed it on the room service staff. When I stepped out into the hallway, there was no sign of broken glass.
I kept seeing shadows moving by my drapes. I waved them off as the reflection of the chandelier.
On our third day, I woke up in the middle of the night to the strange sensation that there was someone else in the room with me.
Whoever—whatever—it was was standing at the left side of the bed, just by my shoulder. It wasn’t a negative presence, in fact, it felt friendly, almost familiar.
I was still half-asleep when I remembered that I was supposed to be alone in the room. I looked around but there was no one there.
On the fifth morning, just hours before we were to leave the hotel, as I was packing my toiletries in the bathroom, I heard a thud. It sounded like my smaller suitcase had fallen to the floor. But when I checked, it was still on the chair where I had left it.
“Sh*t, I better hurry,” I told myself, heading back into the bathroom to grab the rest of my things.
That’s when I heard it, again coming from my room: the sound of someone clearing his throat. It was distinctively male.
“F*******ck!” I screamed in my head, running around the room like a madwoman, dumping things into my suitcases and then heading downstairs to check out. I haven’t packed that fast since that day in Valencia when I thought I was about to miss my flight.
When faced with the possibility of a haunting, your survival skills will kick in and you will try to do things—even little things—to cope.
Since the day I heard the woman sob in the elevator, I always wore earphones and had music turned up high when I walked in the halls and when I rode the elevators. I never switched off my TV or my lights, I never used the shower curtains.
In moments of great fear, we called on our buddies—like the night Oliver had to walk me and Bambi to our rooms. Or the morning I stayed in Emmie’s room while she packed and showered.
Some of us drank a little more than we usually do, in hopes that when we got back to our rooms, we’d be so tipsy that we’d ignore any strange occurrences.
I wasn’t the only one who had stories. One of the elevators skipped Emmie’s floor and headed straight to the 14th floor where it stayed for a while. “If this is empty when it opens, I’m not getting in,” she said. Sure enough, the elevator doors opened to reveal no one inside. She waited for the next elevator.
Oliver kept hearing a family with kids outside his door but he never saw them. On the last day, on his way out of the room, he heard them again. But when he opened the door, there was no one there. The hallway was empty, too.
Bambi, who complained that her closet kept opening despite her attempts to keep it shut, had her moment while she was packing. She grabbed her leather jacket from the closet and put it in the middle of her bed. Seconds later, she found her jacket on the floor.
The hotel employees had their own stories, too. They talked about the restaurant doors that would swing open between 7 and 8 p.m. despite being locked. Or how they would lock the roof deck but someone would turn on the lights and the music just minutes later.
They talked about Maurice, how his parents died. They talked about ghosts drinking in the iconic Carousel Bar long after it closed.
“Our ghosts are friendly,” said one of our waitresses at breakfast. “Here in New Orleans, you should be scared of the living.” Then she talked about how someone stole a liquor truck—an entire liquor truck—just outside our hotel that morning.
Scott could be considered the most courageous of us. He read stories and watched YouTube videos about the haunting in Monteleone while we were still there. And one night, after the rest of us had retired to our rooms, he went up to the 14th floor (which is actually the hotel’s 13th floor) alone. It was creepy, he said, and the lights were flickering as he exited the elevator.
“You’re crazy,” I said. But we made a deal. We’d go to the 14th floor before leaving for the airport.
Untethered to a haunted room I had to keep going back to, I was suddenly brave. “Let’s go!” I posted on Oliver’s Facebook wall.
Only three of us went up to the 14th floor—Oliver, Scott and I.
We visited the seventh floor and the roof deck, too, because they were also supposed to be hot spots for paranormal activity. We walked around the halls, took pictures and videos and ran into ladies from housekeeping. At one point, Scott grabbed a towel from a housekeeping cart and flung it over his head to scare us. It worked on Oliver for a second and then we all dissolved into a fit of giggles.
We turned serious again as we stood outside 1462, supposedly one of Monteleone’s most haunted rooms.
“The light under the door keeps moving,” Oliver said. Our jaws dropped as the door opened. And when two elderly ladies walked out, we started laughing again. We wondered if they knew that their room was haunted.
On the way to the airport, I finally dared to research about the hotel ghosts. Numerous New Orleans visitors have written online about their experiences in the hotel, with a lot of them telling stories similar to ours—strange noises in their rooms (two heard what sounded like a large chain sliding off a table), loud thuds, shadows by the drapes, the sound of kids playing, things being moved, elevators stopping on the wrong floors.
There were reports of a TV cabinet opening on its own while other guests claimed that ghosts tried to wake them up by tapping on their shoulder, touching their back or commanding, “Wake up!”
Some say a little girl asks guests for help, holding their hands before disappearing into thin air.
Others claim that the ghost of the man who built the grandfather clock in the lobby can still be seen working on it even at daytime.
While other guests have stayed and left without knowing about the hotel’s scary history, for some, the hauntings at Monteleone have become a tourist attraction.
The hotel doesn’t seem to mind—stories about the ghosts are featured on its website. Some guests even request for rooms on haunted floors.
But the truth is, whether or not you want to go ghost-hunting, Hotel Monteleone is worth a visit.
The historic hotel in the heart of New Orleans’ French Quarter is a literary landmark. Ernest Hemingway, Tennessee Williams, William Faulkner, Anne Rice, John Grisham, Stephen Ambrose have all stayed there.
Hotel Monteleone has even found its way into the works of Hemingway and Williams. Truman Capote claims he was born in the hotel (he wasn’t really, but his mother did stay in a suite in the hotel while waiting for his birth).
I found that, despite my fears and weird experiences, I had a lovely five days there. The staff was kind, attentive and friendly. (I especially loved the ladies at Criollo who served us breakfast every day.)
The food was good, the location great, the Carousel Bar fun and constantly packed.
What’s stranger than my strange experiences at Hotel Monteleone?
The fact that I would gladly stay there again.
Hotel Monteleone is at 214 Royal St., New Orleans, Louisiana.