The Ghosts of the Emily Morgan

Who is haunting this San Antonio Hotel?

It was born of marble rock before it became one of the most luxurious hotels in all of San Antonio, Texas.

In comparison to many other historic hotels, the Emily Morgan Hotel has only been in action since its grand opening in 1984. Since then, the number of accolades the Emily Morgan has received has been countless. In 2015, it was inducted into the Historic Hotels of American Organization; its historical importance within San Antonio was noted even earlier, in 1977, when it was recognized by the National Register of Historic Places as part of the Alamo Plaza Historic District. It’s been featured in numerous magazines, including one composed by American Airlines. Oh, and in 2010, it received the American Institute of Architects San Antonio’s Twenty-Five Year Distinguished Building Award.

Age is just a number, folks.

Despite the thirteen-stories tall, Gothic Revival structure having only been home to the Emily Morgan since the mid-1980s, the building itself has been much more than that since the 1920s.

In truth, it was the building’s first usage nearly a century ago—and the subsequent phenomena—that earned the elegant Emily Morgan Hotel yet one more accolade in 2015.

In 2015, USA Today listed the Emily Morgan Hotel as the third most haunted hotel in the world. Yeah, you read that correctly.

Shall we begin?

The History of the Emily Morgan Hotel

Medical Arts Center

Before perhaps the thought even entered anyone’s head to build a structure at the site of the current-day Emily Morgan, the marble rock yard land was used for construction throughout the nineteenth century in downtown San Antonio.

Until 1924, that is.

It was at that time that builder J.M. Nix and architect Ralph Cameron came together to erect what came to be known as the first “skyscraper” west of the Mississippi River. Nix and Cameron held nothing back when it came to building what was at the time San Antonio’s tallest structure. The final design was a thirteen-story tower dressed in Gothic Revival architecture. The bottom three floors and the top three floors were glazed with a terra-cotta finish, while the middling seven floors were made out of a light-hued brick.

Nix and Cameron’s work caught the eye of many, at first because of its triangular shape. Situated on what has been called, San Antonio’s Flat Corner,” the structure was meant to mimic New York’s Flat Iron Building from the 1800s. During that era, the big cosmopolitan cities in North America all had a similarly styled triangular buildings, including San Francisco, Chicago, Denver and Toronto. San Antonio, once considered one of the four most unique cities in the States, was not about to be left out of the race.

Thing was, San Antonio’s first skyscraper was in a league all unto its own.

A historic photo of the Emily Morgan Hotel, which is in San Antonio Texas, from 1927 when it was the Medical Arts Building.
A historic photo of the Emily Morgan Hotel, which is in San Antonio Texas, from 1927 when it was the Medical Arts Building.

It had been designed with the mindset that it would be built as the city’s first Medical Arts Building. The building’s most noticeable feature—then and now—were the terra-cotta gargoyles crawling up its sides. In what had to be some sort of witty commentary on Nix and Cameron’s end, the gargoyles were all styled to depict various medical ailments. Some faced the plague of a perpetual toothache, their mouths gaping wide to reveal lines of broken teeth, while others clutched their bellies in pain.

No welcome can possibly best the rows of Gothic gargoyles glaring down from the now-Emily Morgan Hotel.

In 1926, after two years of construction, the Medical Arts Building was the first doctor’s building in all of the city. Apparently it was so large that nearly one hundred doctors and office space for four hundred people could be accommodated within.

When it operated as a medical facility, the downstairs levels functioned as offices for the doctors, while the top floors were used as the best working hospital in the city. The basement, alternatively, was the facility’s morgue. As the story goes, the decision had been made to place the hospital and surgery space on the upper levels so that the smell would not be locked inside, as the windows could be cranked open for relief from the stench.

Though Medical Arts Building continued its operation for the next fifty-or-so years, in 1976 it was converted into an office building.

Less than ten years later, in 1984, it became the Emily Morgan Hotel.

The Emily Morgan Hotel

What’s In a Name?

When the Emily Morgan Hotel opened in 1984, it claimed the name of one of San Antonio’s most remembered icons: the infamous Emily Morgan.

Born Emily D. West (c. 1815-1891), Emily was a free woman of color who hailed originally from New Haven, Connecticut. As a woman of mixed race during the early nineteenth century, it was custom to serve as an indentured servant for a period of one year to a few years. Emily West was no different and in 1835, when Emily was twenty-years-old, she found herself contracted to James Morgan. She took his surname, as was also custom, and was due to complete her time owed in Morgan’s Point, Texas, as a housekeeper at the New Washington Association’s Hotel.

Things did not go as planned, and definitely not as smoothly as Emily might have wished.

On April 16, 1836, only several months into her contractural agreement, Emily and some of her colleagues were kidnapped by the Mexican Cavalry. Their man in charge? General Santa Ana himself, the most legendary Mexican General in, well, history pretty much.

Santa Ana gathered the kidnapped lot of them and marched them out to the Mexican army camp at Buffalo Bayou, where the city of Houston is today. The Mexican army was recharging, regrouping after the legendary fall of the Alamo not six weeks before. They prepared to face Sam Houston’s troops next.

The battle for Texan Independence loomed large overhead—although it’s slightly impossible to imagine General Santa Ana furrowing his brow in concern at all. He ran one of the best armies of his day and age. Squaring off with Sam Houston would just be stamping out another revolt, on Santa Anna’s part.

On the other hand, no one could have predicted how that squaring off—known as the Battle of San Jacinto—would play out. On the morning that Houston and his men rode in to Buffalo Bayou, General Santa Ana was otherwise preoccupied. He’d taken a fancy to our Emily Morgan, and on the morning of the battle he invited her into his tent for entertainment. Some say she merely danced for the tough general, some say she might have slipped him a drugged concoction that rendered him useless for battle. Better yet, others suggest that our Emily Morgan was so skilled (read between the lines, y'all), that she helped the Texans win their independence in a matter of eighteen minutes.

A historic photo of Emily West de Zavala, the wife of the first Vice President of the Republic of Texas from the 1830s.
A historic photo of Emily West de Zavala, the wife of the first Vice President of the Republic of Texas from the 1830s.

Skilled, indeed.

General Santa Ana was found after the Texans had already won huddling under a tree. In a dressing gown and a pair of slippers. (Oh, how the mighty often fall!) Talk immediately erupted all over the Texan camp that Santa Ana had been trying to escape the bloody fray crossdressing as a woman.

British traveler William Bollaert later wrote in 1842: “The Battle of San Jacinto was probably lost to the Mexicans, owing to the influence of a mulatto girl belonging to Colonel Morgan, who was closeted in the tent with General Santa Ana, at the time the cry was made, “The enemy! The enemy! They come!” She delayed Santa Ana so long that order could not be restored readily again."

Though the battle had been won by the Texans, poor Emily Morgan was stranded in Texas. During the course of her capture some time before, she had lost all of her paperwork—including her passport—that declared her a freed person. The era of slavery made it impossible for her to travel without proper documentation, and it was not until Major Isaac Moreland, commandant of the Texas military at Galveston, vouched for her that she was able to resume her travels. Records show that as soon as Moreland wrote of her, Emily Morgan was on the next way out to New York in March of 1837.

(To see the letter that Major Moreland wrote for Emily, follow this link).

Emily’s notoriety as the savior of Texas Independence was once again revisited during a mid-nineteenth century song, “The Yellow Rose of Texas.” Although the correlation between the woman and the song has since been proven false, many still sing the hymn and claim that the lyrics were written about Emily Morgan.

So goes the last line of the chorus: But the Yellow Rose of Texas beats the belles of Tennessee.

Superstitious and Renovations at the Emily Morgan Hotel

After the Emily Morgan Hotel became the Emily Morgan Hotel, it underwent a partial renovation in 1997, followed by a multi-millionaire haul from 2001-2002. After, the hotel could then claim 177 rooms and 24 suites to its name. (And even a champagne bubble hot tub in one of the beautiful suites, which overlooks the street many-stories below).

Another multi-millionaire renovation took place in 2012, and the Emily Morgan then came under the ownership of the DoubleTree by the Hilton family.

There are two things that never changed, despite all of the interior changes throughout the years.

The first is the blank space between the fourteenth floor and the observation tower, where a clock was meant to be installed at some point but never was.

The second, is that there is no true “fourteenth floor” as the fourteenth floor of the Emily Morgan Hotel is actually the thirteenth floor.

(If you’re slightly confused, don’t worry—many are).

Like many public buildings across the nation and in the world, the Emily Morgan Hotel has chosen to forego its thirteenth floor in name of what can only be superstition. Clamber into the elevator and you’ll find that the Fourteenth Floor is only a hop, skip and a jump away from the Twelfth with no stop in between. But of course, the Emily Morgan has kicked it up a notch because not only have they eliminated the thirteenth floor, they have also cut out Room 1408. Room 1407 is seated adjacently to Room 1409, and it can only be because when the numbers are added together 1408 equals to thirteen.

Why go through all of the hassle?

For many owners of large-scale corporations like hotels, the swap of the thirteenth and fourteenth floors is done to avoid any possible bad luck that might be heading their way. Even more, it’s often done to settle the nerves of any superstitious guests unwilling to stay on the often-dreaded thirteenth floor.

As it is, changing the thirteenth to the fourteenth floor hasn’t done much in the way of dissuading otherworldly phenomena.

At the historic Emily Morgan Hotel, all of the floors of the building are rumored to be haunted. With a past as a fully operating medical center, you couldn’t expect anything different—could you?

The Ghosts of the Emily Morgan Hotel

With its rather unique past, it should come as no wonder that the Emily Morgan is considered to be one of the most haunted hotels in all of Texas. According to various reports, even some given by the hotel’s own Sales Manager, the most haunted floors are the seventh, ninth and fourteenth in addition to the basement. (It’s recommended to book your stay on the seventh if you really want to experience some ghostly activity).

It was these particular floors that at one time functioned as the psychiatric ward, surgery level, waiting area and morgue, respectively. At the Emily Morgan, almost all of the paranormal reports involve ghosts and spirits from days gone by when the building was the medical building.

Guests have reported strange things occurring on these particular levels. The sensation of feeling something cool brush up against you, even as the lingering heavy scent of medicine settles in your nose. Up on the fourteenth-floor, the scent is more than just overwhelming.

The Haunted Fourteenth Floor

Those staying on the fourteenth level of the Emily Morgan generally have one thing to say: that the smell is acutely reminiscent of a hospital. Once the Medical Arts Building’s waiting area, it seems that this floor has been impressed with the residual energy of one of the surgical levels.

Guests have reported to opening the doors to the hallways only to find a scene from a hospital waiting right inside. Their gazes widen, their fingers no doubt tightening on the doorknob as they grasp to comprehend the nearly tangible sight before them. In an attempt to organize their clashing thoughts, they shut the door. Taking a deep breath in the safety of their guest room, they then swing the door wide open again. The ghostly image has always vanished by this second peek out into the corridor, and the imprinted image from the past is nothing but a memory for the living.

Staying on the Twelfth Floor

The twelfth floor is no less haunted than the fourteenth, and was once the operating level for the Medical Arts Building.

It is on this floor that guests have visibly witnessed their bathroom doors opening and shutting on their own accord. In the dead of night, guests are roused from their slumber only to hearing the trickling of water leaking, the quiet drip-drip-drip that can ultimately drive even the sanest person to insanity. Feet hitting the floor as they right themselves up in bed, guests find themselves pulled to the bathroom only to find that the faucets have since been cranked open, the water freely flowing like a fountain. But then they cross the threshold into the bathroom, and everything returns to normal. The water clams up like a rubber stopper has been put in, and nothing appears out of the ordinary.

Even though everything is out of the ordinary.

Others have seen lights flashing in their rooms. And yet others have reported seeing actual apparitions of nurses in the hallways as they push rickety gurneys down the corridor. Then, as if the ghostly image was never there in the first place, the scene dissipates into thin air as if it never was.

Interestingly—or maybe disturbingly—it is said that the the Emily Morgan’s swimming pool has been constructed out of the stainless steel from the medical center’s operating tables.

If that is the case, then we can possibly attribute many of the hauntings at the hotel to ghostly attachment, where spirits often are unable or unwilling to leave either a location or an object that was by them at the time of their death. Is it possible that that the Emily Morgan is home to so many ghosts because some of the medical equipment still resides at the hotel?

Elevators With a Mind of Their Own

Elevators might not be everyone’s thing, but no where so much as at the Emily Morgan.

At this historic hotel in San Antonio, the elevators are known to ride up and down without a single rider on it. And when a guest does embark on it, they might as well be signing up for an adventure. The elevators will skip past the requested floor as though the guest never pushed their desired floor at all. Sometimes, even, the elevators’ doors will cling shut and remain closed for hours, effectively locking people within until help arrives on the scene.

In an even strange twist of paranormal phenomena, front desk attendants often receive unlisted phone calls . . . from the elevators themselves, though no one is inside when the calls were made.

And perhaps creepier than anything else? It’s common for the elevators to bring guests down, down, down to the basement level where the morgue once was.

The Basement Level

Today, the basement is completely roped off to anyone who is not employed by the hotel. But even for employees, the basement is not a favorite place.

For years the basement was used as the medical center’s morgue and crematorium. Employees who have had to do work downstairs have experienced a strange number of weird transpirings. They’ve seen glowing orbs dancing in the air, as well as having heard disembodied voices that have no known source.

None of this compares to the stench of burning human flesh, however.

The number of dead who were embalmed or who underwent autopsies in the basement of the Emily Morgan was probably somewhere in the hundreds, and it should come as no surprise that many of the dead have remained in that space.

Down in the basement the air reportedly feels quite heavy, and employees hurry with their tasks so that they can ascend to one of the upper levels. Funnily enough, it has been said that each floor of the Emily Morgan has its own distinct smell, but none so off-putting as that of the basement level.

The Ghost Bride of Floor Seven

An old photo of the Emily Morgan Hotel in San Antonio, Texas
Do the patients from the building's old medical days still roam the Emily Morgan today?

According to staff of the Emily Morgan, the seventh floor of the hotel might just be haunted by a ghostly bride. Who is she, and why might have her spirit remained on the earthly plane? Your guess is as good as mine, but the seventh floor is reportedly one of the most haunted in the entire thirteen-story building.

A woman’s unearthly shrieks carry in the dead of night, waking sleeping guests. Frightened by the chilling sound, many guests call down to the front desk to ask about the disembodied voice. The front desk attendants never seem to have the answer, other than to offer a, “We’re sorry, but we do think it might be a ghost responsible for that."

For many, the activity is too much to bear. Apparitions have been sighted as their translucent frames dart through the rooms, often disappearing right into the wall itself. And on some occasions, those same apparitions appear along the living when the living peer into the mirrors to check their reflection. Those playful spirits never cause any harm, but even so, reports of guests leaving the hotel in the middle of the night or demanding to switch rooms is not out of the norm at the Emily Morgan Hotel.

After all, it was just listed as the third most haunted hotel in the world.

Staying at the Haunted Emily Morgan Hotel

Are you looking to stay in one of San Antonio’s premier hotels with a paranormal twist? If so, then look no further than the haunted Emily Morgan Hotel. With amenities like a cozy library, a heated outdoor pool (that may or may not have been constructed out of operating tables), and even a shuttle service to bring you to all of your local attraction destinations, management at the Emily Morgan has done everything in its power to ensure its guests a delightful time in San Antonio.

Plus, the Emily Morgan is also pet friendly, and you know what they say about animals and the paranormal? . . . There’s a good chance your four-legged friend is going to know what ghostly phenomena is going on before you do.

So if you hear the shark bark from your pup, and then immediately feel the bed dip, the covers lift, and a weight settle in, make sure to check if its the living or the dead, because at the Emily Morgan? Well, the ghosts like to make themselves at home just as much as you do.

Follow this link to get started on booking your reservations today at the Haunted Emily Morgan Hotel.

Want to visit the Emily Morgan on a nighttime ghost tour? Check out our all-ages Ghosts of San Antonio Tour!

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