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To much chagrin, Salem's Hawthorne Hotel ranked fourth most haunted

Posted by Justin Rice  October 24, 2011 10:00 AM

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ballroom_hawthorne.jpg

Courtesy photo

The Hawthorne Hotel's annual Halloween Ball.

When the general manager of the Hawthorne Hotel, Juli Lederhaus, saw a Facebook posting last week that linked to Travelocity’s Top 10 Haunted Hotels in the U.S., she wasn’t exactly thrilled that the historic Salem hotel was ranked fourth by the online travel site.

“In a city that's well-known for supernatural occurrences, this hotel stands out as a place to see hauntings up close,” the article read. “Two of the most talked about paranormal activities in this hotel are the phantom hands in room 325 and the spectral woman on the sixth floor. However, there are plenty of other hauntings that take place throughout the hotel, so be ready for a scare during your stay!”

The problem with the publicity, Lederhaus, says is that it’s not true. The place isn't haunted, she says. 

She says the hotel was featured in an October 2007 episode of the show Ghost Hunters on the Sci-Fi (Syfy) channel. The show’s investigators, known as the TAPS team, investigated stories about bathroom lights and plumbing turning on by themselves in room 325 and the reports of strange sounds and sensations, such as a child crying and invisible hands touching guests, that also have been reported to have happened in room 325.

The show also investigated reports of a spectral woman who has allegedly been seen wandering the halls of the sixth floor before pausing in front of room 612. Some guests of that room have also alleged to have felt an unseen presence in the inside the room.

“I’m sure this is just an outgrowth of that kind of thing but TAPS didn’t find anything,” Lederhaus said before adding, “Of course [guests] do look up haunted hotels on the Internet and those things pop up, the more people site those kinds of stories the more they get published out there. I feel like I’m constantly putting out fires all the time.

“There’s no documentation. People tell us they feel things, whatever, but we don’t have any documentation. TAPS did a fine job with their investigation. They went to the library, City Hall and did their research on the physical property. They said ‘Juli, nothing happened in the hotel that would cause hauntings.’”

Lederhaus said she also is constantly dispelling the myth that the hotel is located on the former site of an apple orchard owned by Bridget Bishop, the first woman executed during the 1692 Salem Witch Trials. She said the orchard was actually located where the Lyceum restaurant is located. She's even fielded calls from Food & Wine Magazine and USA Today wanting to do stories about claims that apples can still be smelled in the hotel.

“The Internet made it even harder to struggle against bad stories,” Lederhaus said. “It’s sort of like the placebo affect. If someone wants to believe something what can I do?”

John Marsicano and his wife, Karen McCrory, however, have been staying at the hotel several times a year for the last 13 years, including 14 straight Halloweens. Each October the New Jersey couple decorates their room for a two week stay.

Marsicano said they don’t stay at the hotel because it’s haunted but he hopes to experience a haunting there sometime.

“I’ve never seen anything or experienced anything,” he said. “I have elsewhere but not in Salem. I go to a lot of historical sites for revelry work and Civil War reenactments. “I don’t have a doubt that [the Hawthorne is haunted]. I haven’t had the pleasure [of experiencing it] yet.”

He said the spirits must have not come out during the Ghost Hunters’ investigation.

“I think those guys are good and do their endeavor with earnest and are honest about it,” he said. “But ghosts and spirits, if they do anything, might not do it on command.”

While Marsicano and McCrory are drawn to the hotel’s Old World charms, other tourists have also been known to knock on the doors of room 325 and 612, disturbing unsuspecting guests.

“That’s not fair, not everybody is here because of that,” Lederhaus said. “They don’t want to be bothered with people knocking on their door.”

As annoyed as she is by having to set the record straight all the time, Lederhaus admits it draws business to the hotel. And she also knows their status as a haunted hotel has a lot to do with the fact that they are a staple of Salem’s annual Haunted Happenings celebration. Each October they host the Stop by for a Spell Children's Brunch the Hawthorne Hotel Halloween Ball.

“Certainly we love to throw a good party,” she says.

But Lederhaus still prefers to highlight the hotel’s documented history, such as the fact that the hotel was publicly owned by Salem residents when it was first opened in 1925.

“Practically every person in town bought a share of stock,” she said, noting that episodes of Bewitched have also been filmed at the hotel. “Would something like that happen today, probably never. The fact that the hotel was built as a point of civic pride is interesting.”

The hotel also hosts hundreds of weddings each year and lots of distinguished guests have stayed at the hotel, including the George HW President Bush and President Bill Clinton.

Lederhaus said she doesn’t believe in ghosts but did say that there were two buildings on the site of the hotel before the Hawthorne was built in 1925.

“Could something have happened in one of those buildings?” she said. “Who knows?”

Justin A. Rice can be reached at jrice.globe@gmail.com.

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