“This is a stick up. Don’t made a sound."
It was the year 1959, and a “tall bandit” (according to The Courier Gazette) had just robbed the historic Menger Hotel. The bandit had been seated in the lobby of the nineteenth century luxury hotel and, despite being noticed by both the night watchman and the elevator, he apparently had enough gumption to stand up, go on over to Paul Cox, and thrust a brown paper bag at the fifty-eight-year old clerk on the other side of the counter.
As one might guess, the brown paper bag was not just a brown paper bag—no, the Tall Bandit had used it to shield his blue steel revolver. When he aimed it at Cox, the gaping steel mouth was all too clear to see.
“This is a stickup,” the Bandit said, “Give me all the big bills."
Cox did, scrambling to hand the robber all of the bills except for the one’s, before the bandit hightailed it out of the Menger.
Over the last century-and-a-half the Menger Hotel, located on the Alamo Plaza in San Antonio, Texas, has been witness to more than just the extracurriculars of a robber. It’s been the scene of Teddy Roosevelt’s Rough Riders recruitment, a devastating fire, and a host of other strange happenings.
And by “strange” I mean “ghostly,” because this hotel—which once known as the “Finest Hotel West of the Mississippi” has also earned the accolade of “Most Haunted Hotel in Texas."
By whom, you ask?
Well, it sort of seems that the Menger Hotel is pretty much haunted by everyone . . .
Before the land on which elegant Menger Hotel sits became a hotel, it was the scene of perhaps the most remembered fight for Texas Independence.
The Battle of the Alamo.
The Texans hoped—no, they needed—their freedom from Mexico, and minor disputes ultimately resulted in one of the bloodiest battles in Texas history. In February of 1836, Mexican General Santa Anna marched with his troops to the Alamo mission, intent on stamping out the rebellion. They arrived with nearly 4,000 soldiers.
Despite the odds stacked against them, the Texians and Tejanos gathered together to fight. They held out for thirteen long days. The commanding officer, William Travis, sent missives to other Texas communities for aid and was rewarded when thirty-two volunteers arrived at the Alamo. The numbers then tipped toward two hundred.
For days, the battle commenced, but on March 6, 1836, the Mexican soldiers rushed the compound. General Santa Anna’s troops sieged the church, busting the doors open with a cannon. One by one the Texians fighters and their supporters fell, including infamous James Bowie and Davy Crockett.
On the land which the Menger Hotel would be built on twenty-three years later, the Alamo fell to General Santa Anna, and it is reported that all of the men fighting for Texas independence were killed.
By the 1840s, Manifest Destiny” had become an almost tangible concept to the countless people migrating west across the great plains of the United States. When journalist John L. O’Sullivan wrote, “ . . . the right of our manifest destiny to over spread and to possess the whole of the continent which Providence has given us for the development of the great experiment of liberty and federative of self government entrusted to us,” he initiated a rallying cry that would be echoed all throughout the eastern seaboard.
The twenty-year-old German immigrant, William A. Menger must have felt the calling in some capacity because he arrived in San Antonio in the early 1840s, when it was still very much a cattle-baron town. Menger wasted no time in settling in to San Antonio. Within a few years he’d started the Western Brewery with his partner Charles Phillip Degen, who was another German brewmaster. Western Brewery was not only the first brewery in Texas, but by 1878, it had also grown to become the largest operating brewery in the Lone Star State, as well. (In 1868, Menger also bought out his competitor, Naylor’s Brewery, and earned the nickname the “Beer King.”)
Western Brewery had been built on part of the site in which the Battle of the Alamo had transpired; just on the other side was a boarding house owned by the widow, Mary Guenther. As it turns out, Mary was one of the first people that Menger met when he’d moved to San Antonio. While looking for prospective job opportunities, Menger had made Mary’s boardinghouse his temporary (all right, kind of permanent) home for three years.
Finally, Menger convinced the boarding house proprietress to marry him, and soon after the two wed. Both business thrived in the San Antonio market, but soon enough it was necessary to expand the boarding house. They needed more space.
Together, Mr. and Mrs. Menger decided to turn the boarding house into an opulent hotel. They named it the Menger Hotel, after themselves of course, and set upon making their dreams a reality.
To design their dream hotel, the Mengers hired a local architect by the name of John M. Fries. On February 1, 1859, the hotel was completed: it was a two-story stone-cut structure with classical details. The interior, if at all possible, was even more breathtaking.
William Menger continued to operate his brewery business, and actually had a large cellar constructed under the hotel itself. Three-foot-thick stone walls formed an underground space that was used to chill the beer produced by the brewery; a tunnel ran between the two establishments so that Menger, who was naturally proud of his fine tasting brew, could bring guests of the hotel next door to sample and tour the brewery.
The Menger received so much attention that within three months of the grand opening, William and Mary began to sketch out a plan to expand the hotel. What had started out as a fifty-room hotel, then became a hotel of ninety guest rooms, making it the largest hotel in the area.
The Civil War placed a heavy weight on business for the Mengers. The number of people coming to stay at the hotel slowed dramatically, and William was forced to shut the establishment down . . . for paying guests at any rate.
In an attempt to show their support for the war efforts, they instead chose to open the hotel’s door for the sick and wounded. For the length of the War, the Menger was converted into a makeshift hospital for those who were sick or gravely wounded. Many passed away during this period, unable to regain their health.
Not so many years later, William Menger passed away at the hotel in March 1871. His death was met with grieving from the entire city, but the cause of his death remains a mystery even today. Prior to his death, a local newspaper wrote, “Our community can ill spare a gentleman of such public spirit, such enterprise, such generosity and such wonderful energy.” Menger had grown terribly ill, but with no autopsy performed on the hotelier’s body, his death will always remain something of a mystery.
Despite Menger’s death, Mary refused to give up, and right after her husband’s passing, she was quick to put in an ad at the local paper. In the notice she assured locals that William’s death “would cause no change in affairs” with the brewery or hotel.
Truth is? She didn’t allow the death of her husband to affect the business at all.
In one year alone, Mary welcomed 2,000 guests to the hotel. With the expansion of trains and a depot station being laid out in San Antonio, the Menger Hotel went on to even bigger heights. By the 1870s, she’d decided to add lush, modern technology and outfitted the entire hotel with its own gas source.
Age was perhaps the only thing that put a damper on Mary’s business prowess. Her son rejected the idea of inheriting the hotel, and the property was sold to the original contractor of the Menger, Major J.H. Kampmann. The Menger sold in 1881 for $118,500 ($2.8 million today), and Kampmann also purchased all of the interior furnishings for another $8,500 ($203,000 today).
Under Kampmann’s management, a new bar was installed and it became one of the most elegant of its day. It was a near-identical image to the bar at the House of Lords Club in London. It was equipped with a beautiful cherry-wood bar, matching cherry-wood ceiling and French mirrors.
The Menger Hotel continued to be the Place to go and stay.
When the reports surfaced in the newspaper on October 15, 1924, the headlines read: “Flames Rout Menger Guests: $15,000,000 oil explode[ing.]”
Although the oil exploding was not responsible for the fire, the conflagration did occur. Starting in the kitchen in the hotel’s new addition, the flames licked the walls and ceiling. Wood would ultimately be the Menger’s downfall, for the fire leapt along the woodwork, heating the expanse of the chimney and completely swallowing the entirety of the third and fourth floors.
All of the guests were urged to evacuate the premises, thanks to a night clerk who realized that there was even a fire at all. In the dead of night, he scurried to each room, rapping on doors and waking the guests. Apparently, one guest reacted with such complete hysteria that he pushed the poor night clerk down the stairs. (For any inquiring minds wanting to know, the clerk was not seriously injured).
But it was not the 101 guests staying at the Menger who were actually hurt. Instead, the injuries came when the fire steam engine came rumbling down the road. The steamer, heading to the fire at the Menger Hotel, rammed into an oncoming streetcar, injuring the two firemen, A.J. Ashbruck and W.R. Boyd, who were operating the vehicle, and three people on the streetcar. One of the firemen was found “unconscious under the wreckage,” though there’s no mention of his death in the records.
The Express recorded that “Rarely have the firemen had to do battle with a more stubborn or spectacular fire.” The flames allegedly enveloped the entire block, but at the Menger the original section of the hotel was thankfully spared from any heavy damage.
It was only after the fire raged for forty-five minutes, the Houston Post wrote, that “the flames, which at first threatens the entire building, were brought under control. The lighting plant was put out of commission and guests are forced to grope their way to the exits in darkness."
Over the years, the Menger Hotel has persisted to be one of the most beautiful places to stay in all of Texas. And as The Finest Hotel West of the Mississippi, it has welcomed some incredibly famous guests in the last century-and-a-half.
Actors such as Sarah Bernhard and Lillie Langtree; political men like General Robert E. Lee and Ulysses S. Grant; and authors such as William Sydney Porter, Sidney Lanier and Oscar Wilde have all stayed at the Menger, some more frequently than others. (Royalty and eleven Presidents have also called this historic hotel their home away from home a time or two).
Perhaps one of the most famous of all of the Menger’s guests would happen to be a guy named Bill.
In the early 1900s, a fair performer did the utterly unthinkable: he departed the Menger without paying his bill. You’ve got to wonder how desperate he was to avoid the payment because he just so happened to leave his 750-pound bull alligator behind.
As opposed to evicting the poor gator off hotel grounds, management decided to name him “Bill,” and they allowed him free reign of the atrium. Sometimes, if he was nice, they even brought in other alligators so that Bill could have some friends around.
What other hotel can you think of who’d do that?
Over the last century-and-a-half, the Menger has continued to be one of San Antonio’s highlights for visitors and locals alike. Although the Great Depression era slowed business for the hotel, the 1940s saw a reemergence of the Menger’s popularity. New renovations were added to the hotel by the then owners, the Moody family, and the famous once again returned to their favorite spot. Mae West, Babe Ruth and Roy Rogers were all visitors during this period.
The Menger’s restaurant, the Colonial Room Restaurant, received very high praise for its menu, as well. (And still does—make sure you try their homemade mango ice cream!)
In 1980, the Menger was awarded a state historic marker in 1980; in 1989, it received one of the highest praises for being a historical hotel by being listed on the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
The Menger, with its annual Halloween party for children and its annual Christmas party for the underprivileged children, certainly deserves its accolade for the Finest Hotel West of the Mississippi.
So fine, actually, that even in death no one truly wishes to leave the Menger—making it the Most Haunted Hotel In Texas.
There’s a bit of a dispute on how many ghosts still haunt the halls of this historic hotel—some put the number of specters at thirty-two, others claim that the number might be closer to forty-five. One thing we know for sure is that the Menger isn’t just haunted, it’s Haunted. (Yes, there's a difference).
Guests have reported countless paranormal phenomena, including everything from witnessing beds actually levitate off the floor to hearing strange rapping noises and even seeing nearly translucent faces appear beside their own while looking into the mirror. The scent of cigar smoke is inhaled in the hotel’s non-smoking rooms, and heavy doors are known to open with no source to have actually pushed them ajar.
Who is responsible for all of this paranormal activity, however? Unlike many other haunted locations across the country, the Menger’s ghosts aren’t shy in the slightest. If you choose to stay the night at the Menger, all that can be advised “prepare yourself."
Or better yet: Good Luck.
Teddy Roosevelt was a huge fan of the Menger Hotel, so much so that he visited on three different occurrences. Even so, his first visit is certainly his most memorable, for it was in 1898 that Teddy arrived in San Antonio with his infamous Rough Riders. Today, it is said that people see his ghost in the Menger Bar from time to time.
Arriving in 1898, the leading Colonel set up recruitment headquarters in the patio area of the Menger Hotel. Teddy joined not eleven days later, and there was not a single doubt that the recruits were a mix-matched lot. While some were Teddy’s classmates from Harvard, others were Native Americans, Texas cowboys, rangers and random folk who’d enlisted to fight in the Spanish American War. They’d appropriately earned their nickname after a Washington, D.C. correspondent called them a “rough riding outfit."
Although they only remained in San Antonio for a month, the locals preferred to call the men “Teddy’s Terrors” instead. One could say that the motley group had left a certain impression on the people of San Antonio.
Those who had survived the War and life itself returned to the Menger Hotel for a reunion in 1905, Teddy included.
It seems that even though a hundred years have passed since, many of the Rough Riders still like to camp out at the Menger. Even more, the ghost of Teddy Roosevelt is one of the most frequently seen ghosts at the Menger. Almost always, he’s seen—or heard—at the Bar. When staff close up at night, they’ve seen a man appear by the bar. His nearly translucent figure never moves, never shifts; nevertheless, staff have reported feeling as though they are being watched at all times.
Sometimes, however, the ghost of Teddy Roosevelt is much more vocal. Seated at the bar, he’s been known to holler out at the workers, easily coercing them into conversation. On the rare occurrences when staff have actually approached the very-real looking apparition, he is said to start with his recruiting tactics as though trying to rope them into joining the Rough Riders!
For the most part the Menger’s staff don’t seem to fear Teddy, but on one particular night, that was not the case at all . . .
He was a new employee, and perhaps that was his first mistake. He’d been tasked with closing the bar down that night. When he was almost finished, the heard a distinct sound behind him. Whipping around, the employee spotted a man appear at the bar. Teddy was doing his thing, staring intently as he was often did to the other staff, but the new employee panicked at the sight of the apparition. Terrified, he hastened to the doors to leave the bar, belatedly realizing that he had been locked in.
Terror running through his veins, the employee curled his hands into fists and hit the door with all of his might. It’s uncertain how long he kept it up, that banging on the door; nor is it known how long Teddy’s ghost stood there, watching the man practically claw at the doors in his attempt to escape.
When another member of staff finally heard the frightened employee’s screams for help, the door was unlocked but the damage had been done. The employee had been scared out of his wits. Even after he’d regained a modicum of his composure and explained what had happened, he refused to reenter the bar area.
He quit not long after, but it’s safe to say that the Teddy Roosevelt’s ghost has not quit the Menger for sightings continue to this day.
Sallie White was one the Menger Hotel’s most beloved staff members during the late nineteenth century. She was the good sort, the sort of person who took pleasure in completing her daily duties as a chambermaid.
Though at work Sallie was all smiles, the same couldn’t be said for her life at home. Her common-law husband, Harry Wheeler, was the jealous sort and stories circulated the hotel that Wheeler was always jealous of any attention given to his wife. His jealousy sparked endless arguments, some of them even transpiring at Sallie’s place of work, the Menger.
On March 28th of 1876, Harry Wheeler’s jealousy would take a deadly turn.
On the evening before, one of Harry and Sallie’s rows had escalated quickly. Wheeler wheeled around on Sallie, closing in on her. So furious, he threatened to kill her. Panic kicked up Sallie’s steps as she ran from her husband to the local police station. She begged the officers to help her; they agreed, allowing her to stay at the courthouse for the remainder of the night. An investigation of Wheeler himself and their house showed no signs of any weapons, leaving the officers without any sort of leverage to arrest Harry Wheeler and stick him in jail.
Early the next morning, Sallie returned to her house to gather some items before heading to work at the Menger.
Harry Wheeler had been waiting for her, and he’d been waiting with a fully loaded pistol.
Sallie ran. Bursting out of their shared home, she ran down the street, hoping, praying, to close the two-block gap to the Menger Hotel where she could find safety. But Wheeler followed his wife. He followed her down those two-blocks, and when he caught up, he closed his hand around her throat and unloaded the six-shooter.
He shot her once in the lower abdomen, and when she squirmed out of his tight grasp. he fired again and shot her just to the left of her spine.
Sallie White died two days later one of the third level floors of the original part of the hotel. Harry Wheeler never was arrested for the murder of his common law wife. Where he went after the shooting, no one is quite certain. Mary Menger and the other management at the hotel had loved poor Sallie White so much, however, that they decided to fund Sallie’s funeral costs. The 1876 receipt can still be found in the lobby of the Menger Hotel, in which they paid cash for Sallie White, “col’d chambermaid, deceased, murdered by her husband.” For the grave they paid $25.00, and for the coffin $7.00.
Today, Sallie White’s ghost is still seen frequently throughout the hotel, but most especially on the third floor where she passed over a hundred years ago. It seems that even in death, Sallie enjoys her work at the Menger for she is most commonly seen clutching an armful of towels or sheets to her chest.
On two separate occasions, guests reported seeing Sallie’s ghost walk through a door or a wall as though the barrier posed no problem to the otherworldly specter. Always her hands were full of sheets and towels. On the second occasion, the guest had just gotten out of the shower when she saw Sallie’s apparition folding sheets at the edge of her bed. Shock hit her squarely in the gut, followed quickly by pure fear, and the guest hightailed it down the stairs to the front desk and told the concierge everything that she had seen.
For those hoping to see Sallie for yourself, make sure to book your room on the third floor of the original section of the hotel. Keep a lookout for a nearly translucent form wearing a maid’s uniform, a scarf tied around her head and a lock necklace of beads.
And if all else fails, perhaps mess up your sheets a bit—it just be Sallie’s cue that you need her after-life assistance.
Another notable ghost of the Menger Hotel is Captain Richard King. Originally from New York City, Richard’s poor Irish family lacked the funds to provide for their son. Seeing no other possibility, King’s parents opted sell young Richard as an indentured servant. Richard despised his time with a jeweler in New York, and at the first opportunity he escaped and stole away on a ferry destined for the Mississippi River.
Richard King would go on to be one of the most successful entrepreneurs of the nineteenth century, in all of America. He founded a steamboat company, and actually worked as a blockade runner during the Civil War. After visiting Texas for the first time, King decided to buy land in Corpus Christi. There, he opened King Ranch, which would end up growing to a monstrous one million acres.
Richard King really was a King—a cattle baron King.
He developed a love and appreciation for the Menger Hotel during his trips to San Antonio for business. He stayed so often, actually, that the hotel bestowed upon him his own private suite on the second floor. When King grew deathly sick with stomach cancer at the end of his life, he actually requested to be brought to his private suite where he passed away on April 14, 1885.
His funeral was held downstairs in the Menger’s lobby and it is said that the celebration was the largest funeral procession seen in quite some time in San Antonio.
Turns out that much like Sallie White, Captain Richard King was not about to let death be the reason he was seated from the Menger. Since the time of his passing, his ghost has been spotted at the Menger, most especially in his old private suite.
Today, the suite is known as the King Ranch Suite, and you too can stay there on your next trip to San Antonio. (If you’ve got the guts, of course, since the bed in the suite is the same bed that King himself died upon in 1885).
Guests have reported all sorts of paranormal phenomena in the Suite, especially the sense of being watched. One woman sleeping awoke, only to glance at the foot of the bed and see an apparition of Captain King watching her.
Others have claimed to hear heavy footfalls padding about the room, in addition to hearing the shutters on the windows open and close by an unseen force. Captain King’s apparition has been spotted roaming the hallways on the second floor and disappearing through doorways.
But the strangest paranormal activity of all must be the dancing red orb that only has ever appeared in King’s suite or just outside it. What is the cause of this red orb, and is it perhaps a signal that Captain Richard King is closer guests even realize?
Anything is possible in the afterworld.
Because of its central proximity within San Antonio, the Menger Hotel has been the scene of many a murder, of many a suicide. It seems that many of those restless spirits have yet to leave the hotel, though it is difficult to know why. Perhaps they are stuck on the earthly plane, so that their residual energy is left to relive their last moments over and over again for eternity.
While we’ll never know for certain, we do know that the Menger Hotel and Death have had a close relationship almost since the beginning.
In 1890, an Austin Insurance Agent showed up at the Menger. Entering the barroom—where Teddy Roosevelt’s ghost has since been seen—H.H. Childers strode up to the bar, removed his six-shooter from its holster. He raised his arm, aimed, fired, and killed Jim Draper, a San Antonio hack driver. At trial, Childers was sentenced to twenty-five years, but on his appeal the case was reversed and he was allowed a bond.
What motivation Childers had for the murder is completely lost to history, at least it fails to be documented in the newspapers.
Later, in 1903, a mail and key clerk was visiting San Antonio. Originally he’d hailed from Kentucky, but at only twenty-six years of age, was quite ill. He’d been told that San Antonio might offer him just what he needed, and the clerk made the move.
The clerk did not get better. The sickness must have been so bad that, seeing no other recourse, the clerk went to his room on the night of Monday, September 7, 1903; he took a knife and “committed suicide by cutting his throat.”
At the Menger Hotel, it seems that deaths by murder and suicide have only increased the paranormal activity. Unsuspecting guests have reported seeing the ghosts of these unfortunate souls “replay the last moments of their lives before startled onlookers."
It seems that the tragedy that these people suffered in life have continued even in death as their spirits haunt the Menger.
The Menger Hotel is not only of the most celebrated in San Antonio and in Texas, but it is also one of their most haunted locations as well. Staff and management alike have had their own countless paranormal experiences, so much so that when men like Ernesto Malacara sit down to tell ghost stories crowds gather to listen.
With 316 rooms that overlook the historic Alamo or a courtyard garden, a heated outdoor pool and hot tub, and even an Alamo Plaza Spa, there is something at the Menger Hotel for everyone.
Interested in booking your stay? Follow this link to learn more and get started!
Additionally, the Menger is one of our most frequently visited haunted locations on our nighttime ghost tour!