Get to know the ghosts of Salem's most haunted hotel
One glance at the Hawthorne Hotel in Salem, Massachusetts, will tell you a few things:
You’d be right on all counts, especially on the latter front.
Since the grand hotel’s opening in 1925, the Hawthorne Hotel has earned international acclaim for its beauty and its . . . ghosts. In 2007, Travelocity named it the fourth most haunted hotel in America (quite a feat!), and in 2015, it was awarded the prestigious “2015 Best City Center Historic Award” from the Historic Hotels of America.
Its welcomed famous guests such as former President George W. Bush and his wife Laura, General Colin Powell and even actresses Bette Davis and Vanessa Redgrave. More recently, Jennifer Lawrence, Robert de Niro and Bradley Cooper stayed at the Hawthorne while filming their movie, Joy.
If you were to ask the Hawthorne’s General Manager, she’d probably tell you that the Hawthorne isn’t haunted. She was quoted as saying in 2011 to the Boston Globe that, “People tell us they feel things, whatever, but we don’t have any documentation.”
But is that really true? Employees have claimed to experience the darker side of the hotel, and countless guests have done the same. Author and journalist Sam Baltrusis, The Ghosts of Salem, believes that the Hawthorne is very much haunted and the hotel’s tragic past is the leading factor as to why.
So, is the Hawthorne Hotel haunted? Many believe it to be, some discount the numerous ghost stories. Let us regale you with the haunting tales--and then you tell us what you think.
The Hawthorne’s history is an interesting that starts long before the current property was completed in 1925. And, as is the case with many haunted stories, the Hawthorne’s past began with hopes and dreams and ended in flames.
Seated at 18 Washington Square West, the Hawthorne’s first identity was actually “the Franklin Building.”
Designed and constructed by Samuel McIntire (1757-1811) in 1809, the plan was to create a universal building that could be utilized by various groups. After a year of building, the end result was a rectangular, hipped-roof brick structure that caught the eye of every passerby.
Even in the early 19th century, the Franklin was at the center of Salem’s budding central business district. It housed shops, offices for local businesses and even residential apartments for those wealthy enough (and with enough blunt) to afford luxury spaces.
Unfortunately, as is the case with most prized buildings in the 18th and 19th centuries, the Franklin’s future was to be plagued with much heartache.
In 1845, a fire struck the property. In 1859, another conflagration caught the Franklin’s tails and licked its feet. In 1860, the Franklin Building caught on fire for a third time. And, as they say, the third time's the charm. In the Franklin’s case, the third time proved too much and the structure succumbed to the flames.
The Salem Register best described the 1860 fire as, “an easterly gale was raging, and the fire progressed, in spite of all the efforts to save it, until the noble structure, which has been one of our institutions for about sixty years, and which extended from Essex to Forrester Streets, was a complete mess of ruins.”
Not to be done in, local architects sought to reconstruct the building in 1863, and it was in 1864 that the new Franklin Building rose from the flames like a phoenix and proceeded to maintain its stronghold within Savannah until the turn of the 20th century.
From as early as 1766, the Salem Marine Society had occupied whatever current building sat at 18 Washington Square West. First, it was a nondescript building, then the Franklin Building (Part 1), then the Franklin (Part II).
Their original purpose was to act as a safe haven for seafaring sailors. After nearly two centuries operating out of the same location, the Salem Marine Society had no intention of moving any time soon.
In 1921, a wrench wedged itself tightly among the Society’s best laid plans.
It was at this same time that approximately 1,100 local residents decided that Salem needed a beautiful hotel to attract newcomers into the city of Salem. They dreamed of a luxurious hotel that would entice the upper crust of society for a visit.
Problem was: they wanted their dream hotel to take the place of the fire-ravaged Franklin Building . . . a building that the Salem Marine Society claimed as home. Debates sparked and ultimately, the Society agreed to give up their building . . .
As long as the hotel builders allowed their new headquarters to be at the very top of the new hotel. And, that its offices had to be an exact replica of the cabin from the Taria Topan, one of the vessels they’d used during their many travels to East India during Salem’s illustrious shipping history.
The hoteliers agreed and soon the Hawthorne Hotel was on its way to becoming a reality.
Why the Name ‘Hawthorne’?
As you may have guessed it, the Hawthorne Hotel is named after none other than author Nathaniel Hawthorne. What you may not have known is that the Hawthorne Hotel’s location near the Salem Commons was a deliberate choice.
The Hawthorne Hotel is situated near Nathaniel Hawthorne’s birthplace on Union Street (though now moved to the House of the Seven Gables); the house on Mall Street, where Hawthorne penned A Scarlet Letter; and, his childhood home on Herbert Street.
When it comes to the Hawthorne Hotel, there’s no mistaking that the hotel’s namesake is a large part of its legacy.
While the Hawthorne quickly garnered some major attraction in its early years, its notoriety really sprung up in the 1960s with the production of Bewitched.
For anyone out there who has no idea what Bewitched is, take a seat and listen up for the witches of Salem made a reappearance in 1964.
In the TV show, Samantha (Elizabeth Montgomery) falls in love and marries a mortal, Darrin Stephens (Dick York). But, when Darrin discovers Sam’s true identity he makes her promise to never use her magic again. (Magic, mind you, that occurs whenever she twitches her nose). Throughout the series, Darrin and Sam’s relationship is one of back and forths as outside characters attempt to intercede and cause all sorts of comedic drama.
When the townspeople of Salem found out that a witch show was coming to their home to film, there were some heavy critics out there. After the 1692 witch hysteria, they were tired of Salem’s reputation being connected with witchcraft.
Instead of winning out and excommunicating the crew and cast of Bewitched, a monument was erected at the crossing of Essex and Washington Streets in the show’s honor. (Beware the witches, if you dare!)
During the time of filming, both Elizabeth Montgomery and her co-star Dick York stayed at the Hawthorne through to the end of filming in the Salem area. (It’s believed that Elizabeth and her husband, and the director of the show, William Asher, stayed in Room 512.)
Bewitched even showcased Hawthorne's elevators in one of the show’s most iconic scenes. For months after the show’s airing, people rang the hotel to ask, “Are you the hotel where Bewitched filmed the elevator scene?”
The answer to that question was and still is, yes, no matter how much the employees at that time must have grown tired hearing the same thing asked day after day.
Today, you can still find quite a bit of memorabilia from the show in the lobby of the hotel. There are script pages from the Salem episodes and even a copy of the special menu served at the Main Brace Restaurant used in the show.
The Hawthorne Hotel undergoes a Make-over
In a strange twist of fate, the Hawthorne continued the Franklin Building’s legacy in 1997.
That October, amidst preparations for the hotel’s annual Halloween ball, a small fire started in the basement. While no one was hurt, and even the damage to the hotel was quite limited, many have wondered if the threat of fire has not been somewhat responsible for the ghostly activity at the Hawthorne.
In his book, The Ghosts of Salem, author Sam Baltrusis argued, “It’s possible that the psychic imprint from the cursed land’s past may have caused what parapsychologists call an aura of disaster--fertile ground for the birthing of ghosts. According to several accounts over the years, the Hawthorne Hotel does indeed have a storied history of alleged paranormal activity.”
So, is it true? Since that fire, the six-story, 150-room Colonial Revival structure has come under scrutiny for supernatural occurrences. If you were to believe one source, however, they would say that there is nothing to be seen here . . .
Yup, you read that correctly. In 2007, Ghost Hunters featured the hotel on their popular paranormal show and they had something pertinent to say: “nothing happened at the hotel that would cause hauntings.”
Baltrusis disagrees, believing that six fires which have occurred at the hotel have obviously spurred on some sort of haunted energy at the property.
It seems that when Ghost Hunters visited the hotel, they made somewhat of an error: they argued that the accused witch Bridget Bishop once had her apple orchard on this land. For many who stay at the hotel, they attribute the random scent of apples pervading the rooms and hallways to Bridget Bishop’s orchard.
Most historians argue against this point, saying instead that it is common knowledge that Bishop’s apple orchard actually once existed where the Lyceum Restaurant is now.
Despite the fact that the investigators Ghost Hunters didn’t leave with a glowing report of the paranormal, the same can’t be said for the many visitors who travel to the Hawthorne.
On the top floor, belonging to Salem Marine Society, employees have claimed to see the ship’s helm turning. Many attribute this eerie phenomena to the sailors of long ago who once sailed the waters of Salem and traveled all over the world.
Others up on top floor have left and returned to find items usually locked up strewn all over the room the next morning. Antique maps, charts and other objects are most frequently the objects that are misplaced.
Are the ghosts of these sailors still lingering at the hotel? It would certainly seem so.
In addition to the Bridget Bishop rumors, locals and tour groups speak of a few different reasons that the Hawthorne Hotel might be so very haunted:
1. That the ghosts of the hotel are none other than the executed victims of the Salem witch trials;
2. Or, that the fires have created a fissure of paranormal energy--a catechism, if you will.
Since none of the executions occurred on this land, the answer to the haunted question definitely isn’t A. But it might very well be B.
Guests report hearing water faucets turn on and off, as well as toilets flushing mysteriously on their own. One woman staying at the hotel awoke in the dead of night to find her son cowering. When she asked him what was wrong, he claimed to have heard the disembodied voice of a child sobbing.
It goes without saying that they were alone in the room.
According to various reports, Room 325 and 612 are the most active at the Hawthorne Hotel. The source of the activity?
Phantom hands tugging on the sheets in the middle of the night, and even a few different occurrences when guests claim to have felt those phantom hands actually touching their hair, their hands, as they slept.
Those who stay in Room 612 often report seeing a ghostly woman parading about the room, checking out her near-translucent figure in the mirror.
After all, what spirits aren’t interested in getting a little look-sy of what they looked like so long ago.
For those stopping in Salem, Massachusetts, a stay at the luxurious Hawthorne Hotel is an absolute must--especially if you are visiting for Halloween.
For twenty years now the hotel has hosted a major Halloween bash and tickets often sell quickly. Throughout the rest of the year, the Hawthorne Hotel is still a place to consider staying. It’s centrally located and connected to the restaurant, Tavern on the Green, which is a local favorite.
And, should you be interested, they even have packages that include tickets to the Witch Museum or the House of Seven Gables, all of which allow you to amp up your trip with spooky, witchy delight.
Will you be staying at the Haunted Hawthorne Hotel? If you do, don’t forget to choose Room 325 or 612. What good is a trip to Salem if you aren’t kept up all night by the ghosts of the hotel?