Overlooking the quaint Travis Park in San Antonio, Texas, the Crowne Plaza St. Anthony Hotel is a hotel of firsts:
It was one of the first of San Antonio’s hotels to earn the nickname, the “grand old lady.” It was the first purely-luxury hotel in the Lone Star State, and had been designed with that mindset from the get-go when the first brick was laid down in 1909. And for those who wilt under the hot Texas sun, you’ve got The St. Anthony to thank for being the first hotel in the world to offer central air-conditioning.
(Of all of its many accolades, the central AC factor might have just stolen my heart).
Since its construction in 1909, The St. Anthony has played home-away-from-home to some of the biggest names in Hollywood, including Fred Astaire and, more recently, George Clooney and the former governor of California, Arnold Schwarzenegger. It underwent a massive renovation haul in 2013, which returned this lovely hotel back to its former glory.
But in the last century since The St. Anthony’s grand opening, there has been one “thing” that has remained without fault: the hotel’s ghostly population.
And as much as the living love this elegant hotel, it seems that the hotel’s spirits are even more enchanted by it.
Leading up to the twentieth-century, San Antonio had undergone a major (okay, not quite “major” but close enough) transformation. It operated as a cattle town as much as it did as a strategic military defense for the Southwest and the Mexican border. When the Sunset Route opened its train depot in San Antonio in 1877, well, that might as well have been the match lighting the tinder.
San Antonio’s economy boomed.
By the early 1900s, the historic city of San Antonio had the largest population in the state—and its myriad of cultures and diversity earned itself the nickname, as one of America’s “four unique cities.” (These also included Boston, San Francisco and Boston).
For those with the gumption to start a business, San Antonio was it. And there was one particular man by the name F.M. Swearingen who had the requisite wherewithal to make his dreams a reality.
Prior to opening The St. Anthony Hotel, Swearingen had been the manager of the famed Hot Springs Resort Hotel of San Antonio. But he had large dreams—larger than managing a hotel for someone else—and he turned his attention to his own extravagant plan. Swearingen instinctively understood that he needed investors if he wanted his showcase hotel to be everything he’d hoped for.
Thus, in came the money: cattle barons B.L. Nayler and H.H. Jones. (Both men were incredibly well off, and Jones would even become Mayor of San Antonio shortly after, though he died in 1913 while still serving the city).
Nayler and Jones provided the cash, and it wasn’t before long that Swearingen, at the helm, purchased land from Samuel B. Maverick. He ordered the demolishment of Maverick’s house and then turned Maverick’s orchard into what is now known as Travis Park.
When the final touch was added to The St. Anthony Hotel, there was not a single doubt that Swearingen, Nayler and Jones had outdone themselves. For $500,000 (in the currency of the day), illuminated closets were added, as well as bedroom lights that turned off when the door clicked shut; add to these luxurious features was the fact that each bedroom had its own private bathroom.
The St. Anthony Hotel was opulence personified.
For F.M. Swearingen, it was a dream accomplished.
During the first year of business after the 1909 grand opening, The St. Anthony Hotel took off at a running start. One tower was erected; then, a second one was constructed shortly after.
Nightly rates were high, averaging at $1.50 per evening, and made it so that The St. Anthony’s clientele were generally of the upper crust variety. (No burnt bottom pieces, if you catch my drift).
But in 1935, the American economy plummeted. Tanked, actually, and it became imperative that The St. Anthony Hotel do something to climb itself out of the spiraling hole that was America’s financial instability.
The man to tackle the problem was Ralph W. Morrison. His financial advisors had warned him against making such a badly-advised financial decision, but Morrison barely gave their worries another thought. He was going to do it.
He was going to purchase the now-failing St. Anthony Hotel.
If The St. Anthony Hotel was named in honor of the patron saint of the poor and of women who cannot conceive—or the city of San Antonio itself—than Ralph M. Morrison might as well have been the hotel’s Knight in Shining Armor.
He added two stories to the top of the hotel, bringing the number of floors to ten; he connected the two towers; he sealed off the old elevators from the public and converted the shafts into a central air-conditioning unit. If that was not enough, the hotel was also outfitted with the first auto lobby, so that guests could park downstairs and then take the elevator directly to the lobby—or “Peacock Alley” as it was called at The St. Anthony.
Morrison was also almost single-handedly responsible for gracing the hotel’s interior with French Empire antique furniture, authentic oil pantings, beautiful tapestries and countless sculptures.
“Beautiful” could not accurately describe the architecture and design of San Antonio’s most luxurious hotel.
And, in truth, it was so beautiful that it was fit for royalty. Both of the bloodline and self-made variety.
It truthfully wouldn’t make sense for a club geared toward the high elite of society to be founded, or operated, anywhere else but The St. Anthony Hotel.
In 1959, the club was founded. In theory it was a dinner club, but in reality it was biggest nightclub in the Southwest, and the third most popular in the country. Invited members included celebrities and well-known figures from all over the world.
And, to top off the bubbly champagne, the club’s nightly live music was broadcasted live on the radio all over the United States.
If you were important, you belonged to The St. Anthony Club. If you weren’t important, you simply wished you might meet Lady Luck and be invited just one time.
In a twist of unfortunate events, The St. Anthony Club as a presence—or group—no longer exists, although you can certainly make a stop in the infamous part of the hotel when staying at The St. Anthony in San Antonio, Texas.
In 2013-2015, the legendary St. Anthony Hotel underwent a major renovation, the most recent one after the 1980s.
The priceless antiques that Ralph E. Morrison had once brought to the hotel were restored, and even original Venetian-tile mosaics were revealed beneath the layers of flooring and polished to a glimmering sheen.
As The St. Anthony Hotel prides itself, even on its website, “The St. Anthony delivers a renaissance of glamour. Steeped in the living history of San Antonio, the hotel is a continuance of a fine tradition, where the grandeur and grace of the past exist in harmony with the conveniences of the present, all delivered with the renowned charm of Texas hospitality."
While all of this is undeniably true—and if you choose to stay at The St. Anthony, there’s no doubt you’ll feel similarly—it seems that the hotel has left out one major aspect of its Texas hospitality.
When discussing the paranormal activity at The St. Anthony Hotel, some might argue that it’s tough to know who is haunting this stately hotel. As author, Docia Schultz Williams wrote in her When Darkness Falls: Tales of San Antonio Ghosts and Hauntings, “No one really knows who The St. Anthony’s spirits might be."
Williams continues on to say that while there aren’t any specifically identified ghosts at The St. Anthony, it’s a surefire thing to say that the hotel is haunted. Talk to the staff members, or the guests of the hotel and, well, there’s no limit to the number of ghost stories that have been reported at this historic hotel.
Who are some of those nameless wandering specters at The St. Anthony? Take a seat and let me introduce you . . .
An apparition of a lady wearing a red-sheathed dress has been seen wandering the halls of The St. Anthony Hotel. Nameless though she remains after death, people have reported watching her amble down the corridors . . . or enter into the woman’s bathroom.
Women (the alive kind, mind you) have stood at the sinks washing their hands, when the lady in red struts through the doors. Heels clicking against the marble, the figure enters the first stall of the women’s restroom, and then nothing.
Her stocking-clad legs, seen beneath the stall’s divider, shimmer and then vanish. No doubt that the women who have witnessed this duck and glance at the stall. Wondering—nay, praying—that their eyes are just playing tricks on them.
But the legs never return, not at that moment anyway, and the women with oxygen still pumping through their lungs begin to question their sanity.
It is suspected the ghost of the Lady in Red was a guest of the hotel when she entered the stall to use the restroom. Short of breath, she panicked and hightailed it back to her room where she ultimately suffered a heart attack.
Is the womanly spirit seen entering the restroom and wandering the halls, simply reliving her final hours on the earthly plane?
Added on during Ralph E. Morrison’s management era during the Great Depression period, the tenth floor is reputedly the most haunted level of The St. Anthony Hotel.
Bellmen working at the hotel have heard the sounds of footsteps trailing behind them. One staff member, in particular, heard the distinct sound of shuffling behind him one night when he was finishing some tasks. He slowed to a stop. So, too, did the padding of feet behind him. The bellman rolled his shoulders to shake off the nerves, and proceeded forth.
The footsteps behind him started anew. This time, the bellman ground to a halt and twisted around to look over his shoulder. No one was there, and he was completely alone.
Is this inquisitive spirit the same as the ghostly tall man dressed in a dark suit, who has been seen riding the elevators, only to disappear when he reaches the tenth floor and exits the elevator?
One guest staying on the tenth floor was dead asleep when she was broken from her slumber by the sounds of whacking on her door. She likened the sound to a strip of leather snapping against the wood.
She leapt from the bed and hurried to the door. When she swung it open, she noted that there was not a single soul in sight. But then she heard it again: whack. Whack. Whack. Whack.
With shock jittering through her system, the guest realized that the sounds of that leather meeting wood were coming in a rapid succession down the hall. Doors were swinging open as everyone heard the same noise strike their doors.
The following morning at 6:15AM, the same paranormal occurrence transpired again. And once more, each guest on the tenth floor found themselves peering out into the hallway, hoping to find the perpetrator but finding no explanation at all.
If the lady’s restroom is to be haunted at The St. Anthony Hotel, then it seems only fair that a male-oriented space should have some ghostly activity as well.
Downstairs in The St. Anthony’s employee male locker room, there have been many people who have reported spectral sightings.
Men who are gathering their stuff at the end of a long shift, have experienced the startling sensation that they are not alone. The doors in this area of the hotel area are known to open and close by unseen forces. And, to make matters that more nerve-wracking, there is the ever-present sound of distinct footsteps on the floor even when no one is around.
Others have reported hearing the sounds of an employee washing up in one of the empty stalls, and more than disturbing are the shadow figures that have been spotted in down in the locker room.
For these paranormal phenomena, it’s uncertain as to who they might be—or who they might have been. For the strong of heart, head down to this area of the hotel and see if you run into one of these shadowy outlines or hear the disembodied footsteps.
Gorgeously massive chandeliers hang from the ceiling, twinkling and illuminating the Anacacho Ballroom better than any disco ball ever could.
Today, the Anacacho Ballroom is used for classrooms, business dealings and weddings. Its two-storied space is one of those most beautiful rooms in all of The St. Anthony Hotel.
But one thing is for certain: it’s haunted. And the ghost still inhabiting the grand ballroom is no doubt the sort who likes to play pranks.
(I hope this is the case, at least).
On one particular night, one of the security guards of the hotel was doing his rounds when he stopped in the Anacacho Ballroom to make sure that everything was secure.
Just as approached the door to leave, he both saw and heard the deadbolt lock into place. Shock immobilized him as he heard what sounded like someone kicking the door. When he managed to shake the trepidation off seconds later, he unlocked the door and peered out.
Not a single soul was there. As he later reported, he hadn’t known nerve-wracking fear until that moment when a cold chill was racing up his spine and he knew, without a doubt, that he was not alone.
For most who choose to stay at a fine, stately hotel during a vacation, there’s a few things that are expected.
You’ll be treated kindly—this is a check at The St. Anthony.
You’ll truly feel as though the hotel is your temporary home-away-from home—also checked off for those staying at The St. Anthony.
Your room won’t be double-booked—
Unfortunately, The St. Anthony Hotel can’t guarantee this last unchecked box. Not, however, because they don’t want to, but because the ghosts of The St. Anthony truly have a mind of their own.
On more than one occurrence, guests at the hotel have checked with grand smiles on their faces. They are ready for an adventure of a lifetime in San Antonio. Even more ready now that they have booked their stay at The St. Anthony. They're checked into the hotel by an equally smiling front desk clerk, and given directions to their room.
Ascending up the floors on the elevator, the happy guests are not even put off by the cheesy elevator music. No, nothing can ruin this experience.
Quickly they find their room and let themselves in.
Only to come to a stuttering halt as they see a man and woman sitting in the room, drinking cocktails.
Furious, the happy guests are no longer so happy and sweep into the lobby, the air around them practically crackling with high-energy. After accusing the hotel of booking them a room which has already been booked, the guests—who are no longer guests, really—check out and storm off, never to be seen again.
. . . Sound slightly exaggerated to you?
I wish that I could say that I made this up, but unfortunately that’d be a lie. Those guests were incredibly put out and they did, in fact, leave the hotel when they saw that their room was already occupied. When The St. Anthony’s staff hightailed it upstairs to tell those other, wayward guests to get out, they found nothing and no one in the room. No lingering perfume, no broken glass on the ground as they hurried to abandon their post.
This has happened several times now, and staff have come to the conclusion that many of the hotel’s spirits stay because they once enjoyed their own stay at The St. Anthony. Although they might not be part of the living, they’re unwilling to leave the hotel entirely.
So if you happen to find yourself sharing your room upon checking into The St. Anthony, just remember that the overall experience of the hotel is so great that even the dead are not willing to forego the pleasure of staying at The St. Anthony Hotel.
*This gruesome story must be told in two parts, as it happened in two separate locations. To read the first half of this story in its full, gritty detail, follow this link to be taken to our Haunted Gunter Hotel Page. Otherwise, shall we continue?
It was the year 1965 when The St. Anthony Hotel would find itself amidst a mysteriously gruesome murder case. Many of the details elude us till this day, but for many—well, it seems that there are too many details to be aware of.
A block down the road, one of the housekeepers of the Gunter Hotel was approaching Room 636 with fresh towels. Absently Maria Luisa Guerra noted the “Do Not Disturb” sign on the door, but thought nothing of it—often, guests forgot to take it down even after they’d left their rooms or checked out entirely.
She clicked open the door, her bundle of towels still clamped in her arms, only to stop dead in her tracks.
Room 636 was covered in blood. Blood on the walls, the ceilings, the floor. And oh God, Maria Luisa Guerra must have thought as her gaze locked on a man standing next to the bed, something terrible had happened. In his arms, the man held a large bundle of what appeared to be blood-soaked brown paper bags.
Maria Luisa Guerra screamed, and the murderer took the opportunity to flee the scene. Cops were called to Room 636. A lipstick-smeared cigarette were found, as well as a lock of brown hair, checks and more brown paper bags. But there was no body—nor would a body ever be produced.
As the city erupted into utter fear, a man checked into The St. Anthony Hotel just a block away. He checked in under the name Robert Ashley on February 9, 1965, just two days after the bloody murder. He listed his address as 2822 Swiss, Dallas, Texas.
He asked for Room 636. After checking their bookings, the front desk attendants apologized and said that Room 636 was already taken. Did he mind having Room 536 instead? Even as the man passed over a check, the attendants thought it was quite strange that Robert Ashley traveled with no luggage when it was chilly outside. He planned to stay at the hotel until February 13th.
The cops investigated every outlet for evidence, and it was only when a check came out from a restaurant that “Robert Ashley” had taken his paramour that the truth unfurled. His name was actually Walter Emerick and he’d planned the murder, having even visited Sears to purchase a meat grinder.
Cops arrived on the scene at The St. Anthony Hotel. When they tried to arrest him, it was to no avail. As they tried to get the door open to Room 536, Walter Emerick lifted a gun to his head and pulled the trigger. They found him dead on the bed with a .22 right next to him.
But the clues were all there, and all the dirty details matched. The Room Numbers—even though Emerick had had to settle for 536 at The St. Anthony—the fingerprints at both scenes, the guns and even the same cigarettes. Including the brown paper bags and the checks used to check in at both locations.
The San Antonio police had their guy.
But they did not have the woman. Her body was never found, and even though witnesses saw Emerick parading about town with a tall blond woman for a series of days before the murder, her disappearance has never been solved.
Still today, the fifth floor of the St. Anthony Hotel gives some of the employees a very strange feeling. Housekeepers have been called to bring towels to the floor, but when they arrive no one answers the door. Still, they place the towels in the bathroom, turn around to exit the guest room only to see a roll-away bed or some other heavy object blocking their exit out of the room.
As for the homicide detective who worked the 1965 murder case, he admitted in an 1976 interview that “people told me that they do too, [get this funny feeling] between the Gunter and the St. Anthony Hotels . . . I can’t help it, but it can give you chills."
For those looking to stay in this reputedly haunted room at The St. Anthony, be aware that Room 536 has since been split into two different rooms after the 2013-2015 renovations.
Are you looking for a bit of the paranormal mixed in with your next vacation to San Antonio? If you are, don’t look further than The St. Anthony Hotel.
Renown for its beauty and stately elegance, this historic hotel has everything you could possibly want, including a lovely view of Travis Park just across the way.
And if you happen to be woken up during your slumber, don’t worry, it’s just the paranormal guests of The St. Anthony Hotel having their own grand ol’ time during the nighttime hours.
To learn more about The St. Anthony Hotel check out their website for reservations and information.