It Was Once A Hot Spot For Hollywood Elites - But A Pattern Of Tragic Events Led To Its Demise

From the Bates Motel to the Overlook Hotel, the existence of haunted hotels has fascinated people for generations, likely because real-life haunted hotels can be found in practically every state. Haunted hotels exist across the United States, where apparitions are known to walk the halls and objects move, float, or break on their own accord. Each encounter is unique and intriguing to those who believe that a ghostly dimension overlaps our own. And the Knickerbocker Hotel haunting comes with the added bonus of being home to the ghosts of some of Hollywood's most recognizable figures.

Originally opened in the late 1920s, the Knickerbocker Hotel experienced its first brush with the occult during a 1936 Halloween seance held by Harry Houdini's widow on its rooftop. Since then, a startling number of famous individuals have met their untimely demise or have gone through life-altering events while under its roof. Today, many people even believe the Knickerbocker Hotel hosts a few spectral guests who never had a chance to check out.

Photo: Gary Minnaert / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

  • The Hotel's Roof Hosted The Final Official Houdini Seance In 1936

    The Hotel's Roof Hosted The Final Official Houdini Seance In 1936
    Video: YouTube

    Famed magician Harry Houdini made a pact with his wife, Bess, that they would find a way to continue his research into debunking the paranormal whenever either of them died. He and Bess agreed that the surviving spouse would spend 10 years - no more, no less - attempting to contact the departed partner in the afterlife through seances in an effort to prove (or disprove) the existence of another realm.

    Although Bess held up her end of the deal and conducted seances at the Knickerbocker Hotel every year, her tenth and final attempt to contact Houdini at the hotel on October 31, 1936, is remembered as being the most bizarre. Hordes of Houdini fans waited in the lobby while Bess and a few select witnesses on the rooftop watched as Edward Saint attempted to call out to the spirit of her dead husband. Some reported that the skies opened up and a thunderstorm soaked only the Knickerbocker hotel during the seance, but the true outcome of the pact remains known only to Bess - and perhaps Houdini himself.

  • Famed Costume Designer Irene Lentz Committed Suicide At The Knickerbocker

    Irene Lentz - known professionally as just 'Irene' - dressed some of Hollywood's most notable stars in the '30s and '40s in her glamorous designer clothing and costumes. On November 15, 1962, she checked into a room at the Knickerbocker under a fake name before proceeding to get very drunk. Irene's husband had recently suffered a stroke, she had money troubles, and "the death of her unrequited love Gary Cooper" left her in a bad mental state. 

    Intoxicated, Irene composed suicide notes to several people including hotel guests, that read short and to-the-point: "Sorry I had to drink so much to get the courage to do this." After slitting both of her wrists, she jumped from her room's window and landed on the roof of the hotel lobby. 

  • Pioneering Filmmaker D.W. Griffith Suffered A Stroke In The Lobby

     After his death, many described D.W. Griffith as "almost single-handedly invent[ing] the art of modern cinema." The director of the now-infamous 1915 film The Birth of a Nation, Griffith lived out the last year of his life in the Knickerbocker Hotel after being spurned by the same business he influenced so strongly. On July 23, 1948, Griffith tragically suffered a stroke while residing in the hotel. 

    Some sources reported his cerebral hemorrhage occurred in his room and that he died shortly after, while others claimed that the fatal stroke took place in the lobby, underneath a very expensive chandelier. Griffith allegedly drank away much of his time at the hotel bar, which likely triggered his death.

  • 'I Love Lucy' Actor William Frawley Reportedly Died On The Sidewalk In Front Of The Hotel

    Actor William Frawley lived in the Knickerbocker Hotel for a few decades, but reports differ as to whether he still resided there at the time of his death on March 3, 1966. The various accounts of his death remain disputed, sharing only the date and collapse in common.

    That day in 1966, Frawley arrived back at the hotel - or perhaps walked out of the Knickerbocker's bar - and collapsed onto the sidewalk before being pulled into the lobby by his nurse. Other sources report, however, that Frawley left a movie with his nurse, crossed the street near the hotel, and died suddenly of a heart attack just outside.

  • Actress Frances Farmer Was Arrested And Dragged Half-Naked Through The Lobby

    Frances Farmer worked as an actress in the late '30s and early '40s before mental illness and substance abuse dramatically altered her personality and ambitions. When she was eventually arrested, and then convicted, for driving under the influence, Farmer lost her professional contract with Paramount Pictures, which led her further into a state of desperation. At this same time she, too, was a guest at the Knickerbocker Hotel, where her continued drinking sent her into a rapid downward spiral.

    In 1943, police arrived outside Farmer's door to arrest her for either a failure to visit her probation officer or the nonpayment of several DUI citations, but when she refused to open the door, authorities forcibly broke into the room. There they found Farmer in the midst of a drunken, manic episode. She attacked the police officers while half-naked, prompting them to wrap her in a shower curtain and drag her out through the hotel lobby. She then spent several subsequent years of her life in mental institutions, receiving electroshock therapy, insulin shock treatments, ice baths, and hydrotherapy.

  • Marilyn Monroe's Ghost Is Said To Frequent The Ladies' Room

    Marilyn Monroe's Ghost Is Said To Frequent The Ladies' Room
    Photo: Dell Publications / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    Marilyn Monroe and her soon-to-be-husband Joe DiMaggio supposedly met up in the hotel's bar for secret dates, the actress using the kitchen entrance to sneak into the bar and spend time with the famous baseball player. They also enjoyed sunbathing on the hotel roof and basked in each other's company in the privacy of DiMaggio's room. Several sources claim the pair even honeymooned in the Knickerbocker after their January 1954 nuptials.  

    According to some, Monroe's presence can still be felt within the Knickerbocker's walls. Witnesses have reported seeing Monroe in the hotel's ladies' room, looking at herself in the mirror. Alternatively, an employee claimed that she had seen a blonde woman's face reflecting in the mirror she was cleaning, only to turn around and see no one there. As it turns out, the mirror in question was the same one that once hung in Suite 1200, the one Monroe most often stayed in.