Slide show: Vacation spots for the morbidly curious, from the Bates Motel to the inspiration for "The Shining"
Shivering overnight in the home of an ax murderer in Fall River, Mass.
Replicas of Andrew and Abby Borden’s skulls — or what was left of them — are displayed daintily, like china, in the dining room curio cabinet of the Lizzie Borden B&B, the ax murderer’s old house, now a bed and breakfast. After taking a “timeline” tour of the murders, something possessed me, and I decided to stay overnight. Owner Lee Ann Wilber offered to put me up in the bedroom where Abby was axed to death — a crime-scene photo displayed conspicuously on the wall. It’s a charming room, actually, with a beautiful carved bed, cream-colored crocheted bedspread and Victorian knickknacks. I just couldn’t get past that bloody snapshot. I opted instead for Lizzie’s room, an equally attractive space as B&B rooms go, because, honestly, I’d rather be where the murderer slept than where the killing occurred. But that’s just me. Apparently the murder room is highly sought after, as evidenced by an annual eBay auction for the anniversary of the night of the killings, when it goes for around $1,000. Breakfast included.
Sensing spooks amid the castle stones in Kilkenny, Ireland
If and when spectral noises wake you in your bed at the 15th-century Foulksrath Castle, you might not be dreaming: On this very spot, a BBC program featuring the castle-turned-hostel (allegedly) recorded “the best ghostly sounds of any place” they visited in Ireland. Since it’s the oldest hostel in Ireland, there’s been plenty of time for ghosts to take root and make the Norman tower house their home. The legend goes back to when the lovestruck daughter of the original owner was locked away and eventually murdered by her father. Despite its bloody past, and the fact that it nearly succumbed to the wrecking ball in the mid-’40s, the castle is now one of the most spectacular hostels in Ireland. Located just 12 kilometers north of Kilkenny, the dorms are accessed via a staircase that spirals up from the ornate dining room. A peek out the windows offers endless views of the surrounding grounds.
Hearing the cries of fallen soldiers in Fredericksburg, Va.
Union soldiers stabled their horses in what is now the Kenmore Inn’s cellar pub, and you can still see evidence of artillery hits in the elegant B&B’s sturdy walls. This is one place where it truly doesn’t seem trite to say, “If only these walls could talk …” Once you get your head around the carnage, ineptitude, valor, futility and despair that occurred here on Dec. 13, 1862, you’ll never look at the streets and storefronts in tiny downtown Fredericksburg the same way again. There are ghosts here, for sure. Take a ghost tour, or go it alone, walking the very cobblestones where 17,000 Americans “fell like autumn leaves” to bayonets and cannonballs in one day’s street fighting.
Living beyond your means at L’H
With a name like L’H
Chasing ghosts at the haunted Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, Colo.
Midnight at the Stanley Hotel doesn’t find many weary travelers curled up in bed and sleeping tightly. Instead, wide-awake guests roam the hallways videotaping and photographing, looking and listening for signs of the ghosts believed to have haunted the premises since the early 1900s. Join one of the hotel’s ghost tours, and you’ll be guided through the buildings and an underground tunnel while you’re told tales of unexplained happenings, particularly in the ballroom. Stephen King stayed in the nearly empty hotel just before it closed for the season and was inspired to write “The Shining.” Though the Kubrick movie (which the writer hated) was filmed at a different hotel, the King-approved miniseries was set here at the Stanley.
Sleeping with the Grey Lady in Telemark, Norway
Complete with dragon heads and spears, bewitching Hotel Dalen by the canals of Telemark has a ghost: the Grey Lady. Legend has it, a young English aristocrat, Miss Greenfield, spent a summer at Dalen in the 1890s. During her stay, her belly grew and by the time she left, it was flat; no baby was ever seen. Home in England, she was found guilty of murder and executed. Ever since, many have reporteed seeing a lady in grey in the great hall. Others have heard a baby crying. I lay awake in Room 17 — Miss Greenfield’s room — expecting her to stop by any minute. Will I at least hear a slight whimper from the cradle that’s been placed in a corner of the small room? Regrettably, I doze off.
Bunking at a Hollywood legend in Los Angeles
You all know the script: Led Zep roaring through the lobby on their Harleys; Jean Harlow bunking with Clark Gable; Jim Morrison swinging from the rooftop drainpipes; Johnny Depp and Kate Moss romping in every room. Why not write, direct and star in your own off-screen version? Chateau Marmont has a reputation for hard partying and nonstop glamour. Hollywood’s take on French aristocratic excess, its idiosyncratic pseudo-Norman architecture shines out across L.A. from high in the hills like a Disney castle gone bad, its turrets and towers a siren call to playboys and their perfectly coiffed muses. Producer Harry Cohn advised, “If you must get in trouble, do it at the Chateau Marmont” and, taking him up on it, poor John Belushi OD’d on the excess here, dying after shooting up repeatedly in one of the bungalows. But if you exercise just a modicum of restraint, Chateau Marmont still feels like a hip hideaway that provides an antidote to the over-designed tendencies seen in Tinseltown.
Ghost hunting at Ballygally Castle in Northern Ireland
Climb the creaking, step-worn turret of Ballygally Castle to the resident ghost room and see if you can’t feel the embittered spirit of Lady Isobel Shaw brushing by. Is it cold in here? Really, really cold? There’s a 17th-century decrepitude about the tiny space that feels uncomfortable and claustrophobic. Lady Shaw was locked in this room by her husband and allegedly left to starve to death. Before you scramble back down the stairs to the warmth of the hotel, pay the former inhabitant respect by peering out the window from which she hurled herself (or her husband hurled her, depending on the account). And remind yourself: “There’s no such thing as ghosts.”
Finding feng shui in a Taipei hotel in Taiwan
Unlike many other hotels with a macabre past, the Grand Hyatt Taipei doesn’t play up the morbid angle. Built on the site of a World War II Japanese prison camp where brutal executions and burials took place, you won’t find poltergeists listed among the amenities. Maybe that’s because the swanky hotel’s 800 rooms are geared toward upscale breeze-in, breeze-out business travelers seeking nothing more than cushy carpet, a rooftop pool, shopping at the luxury mall next door, and a skyscraper view of one of the world’s tallest buildings, the super-pagoda Taipei 101. After a decade of locals looking at the building askance and complaints of spectral shenanigans (even Jackie Chan reported nocturnal disturbances), the hotel hired feng shui experts to straighten out the problem through better design and blessings — with wind chimes, photos of black and white vases in the rooms, and two impressive Buddhist scrolls on either side of a mirrored door in the five-story gleaming marble lobby. It’s a reassuring shout-out to the spooked and superstitious (and a recognition of Taiwan’s tragic past) that goes right over the head of many Western guests.
Retreating to a turn-of-the-century hotel in Coronado, Calif.
San Diego’s grand dame, the historic Hotel del Coronado, hasn’t been this buzz-worthy since it opened in 1888. A mere 120 years later, a $150 million makeover brought a clutch of private cottages, a spa, a feng shui salon, a wine bar with artisanal cheeses and chocolates, a chichi cocktail lounge with fire pits, and a chic oceanfront restaurant. Oceanfront, you ask? Indeed. By ripping out a row of outdated tennis courts, the Del found its beach. The renovation left all of the Hollywood glamour intact (“Some Like It Hot” was filmed here) and retained the rambling, mildly spooky charm of a Victorian seaside retreat. In fact, tragedy is woven into the hotel’s swanky fabric. As the difficult-to-pin-down story goes, just four years after the Del opened, a high-profile suicide occurred on the steps leading to the beach. Kate Morgan and her husband, Tom, were reputedly grifters who posed as brother and sister; she seduced men, setting them up to play poker games with Tom, who then bilked them out of their money. Separated from her husband and possibly pregnant, she checked into Room 3327 under an assumed name on the Thanksgiving weekend of 1892. A few days later, she poisoned herself with quinine (perhaps an attempt at abortion gone awry) — or, according to some accounts, shot herself to death. Despite the sketchy details, the hotel celebrates the ghost story and the paranormally inclined claim she still rifles through guests’ things and hangs out on the steps in the early morning.
Searching for the Green Lady in the Loire Valley, France
“If I find it, he’ll believe me. They’ve told him lies. I am as good as dead if he believes them. I must find it. Where is it? Mon dieu, he is here.” La dame verte is said to look for something, something she never finds, in the oldest corridors of this castle. Her jealous husband stabbed her to death and took off — that part’s true. Someday, I’m going to splurge and stay at the hotel overnight and help her find what she’s looking for. Short of that, it’s still a good castle tour. They call Ch
Exploring the Biltmore Hotel’s dark past in Coral Gables, Fla.
By day, civilized travelers and locals enjoy afternoon tea or lounge by the gigantic pool while a bride-to-be poses for wedding photos in the romantic lobby of this striking 1920s Spanish-revival building. By night, however, the the Biltmore turns mysterious. Its dimly lit bar — complete with upholstered armchairs and swanky piano — offers jazz, wine and classic cocktails. When you’ve finished your drink, ask if the famed Al Capone Suite is unoccupied. You just might get escorted to the infamous 13th floor, where the bellhop will show you bullet holes in the coral fireplace. In what was once a prohibition speak-easy popular with the mob, on a fateful night during “an illegal gambling party gone wrong,” the Chicago gangster’s right-hand man, Fats Walsh, was shot down — and the hotel’s already notorious reputation was upgraded to “haunted.” No worries, though. The ghost of Capone’s bodyguard will protect you.
Tipping a pint with a ghost or two in Chagford, U.K.
Since the 13th century, the Three Crowns Hotel in Chagford, a picturesque village in southwest England, has been providing lodging, food and spirits for weary travelers. It wasn’t until the middle of the 17th century that the ghosts moved in. Bartenders enthusiastically regale visitors with the story of how poor Mary Whiddon arrived after she was shot dead on her wedding day in 1641. Swashbuckling poet Sidney Godolphin still reportedly makes things go bump in the night. He was felled by musket fire in 1643 in the hotel’s doorway. The Three Crowns, encased in granite, exudes old-world charm with its low, wood-beamed ceilings and grand stone fireplace. So, belly up to the bar, order a pint of bitter and find your way to the corner table by the back door. When it blows open and shut on occasion, ask yourself, “Is it really just the wind?”
Picturing a motel menace scarier than bedbugs in Hollywood, Calif.
Wedged in between the explosions, flash floods, ye olde European Town, and the cowboy kitsch of the Universal Studios back-lot tour, you’ll find a physical reminder of a time before reality TV and plentiful Internet porn when voyeurism was exciting, risky and terror inducing. The Bates Motel and Mansion have been moved around Universal’s lot several times since 1960, surviving the decimation of fires, remakes of the film, and the increasing Disneyfication of the studio’s grounds. Though modified, the motel’s buildings evoke the original “Psycho” (except in color) — with the creepy camera-angle-friendly Victorian mansion (based on a painting by Edward Hopper) looming overhead atop a small hill. Despite the fact that “Psycho” was terribly low-budget, the building has held up as well as the movie. Universal goes the shtick route here. Tram-voyeurs watch a greasy-haired Norman Bates loading an inanimate Janet Leigh doll into a trunk (with an incongruous bit of Whoville peeking over the motel roof). The taxidermist then turns on the tram, crassly wielding a rubber knife in a way that lacks the meticulously crafted suspense of the original, but delights squealing postmodern kids.
Trysting on West 23rd Street in New York City
Among Manhattan’s many romantic haunts, the famed late-Victorian Chelsea Hotel might rank rather low by some standards. Its sexy history as home to literary and artistic greats from Dylan Thomas to Patti Smith to Janis Joplin conjures an almost gamey enchantment, to be sure. Brick, marble and upholstery are all somewhat worn about the edges, notwithstanding the Internet magic that enables the Chelsea to spin itself as a boutique hotel. But that frayed, bohemian vibe might be just what powers the passion between you and the object of your desire. Maybe you share a nostalgic penchant for Beat poets or a morbid curiosity for macabre places. Hotel Chelsea is where the Welsh poet Dylan Thomas drank himself to death and was the final stop on Sid and Nancy’s heroin-fueled punk-rock romantic tour (he allegedly stabbed her to death in No. 100′s bathroom).
Every Sunday, Salon presents a feature from Trazzler spotlighting surprising travel stories from across the globe. Unexpected discoveries and strange, wonderful treasures are condensed into slide shows that entertain as much as they educate.