The Beautiful Stranger: Kate Morgan and the Haunting of Hotel Del Coronado
Kate Morgan has been haunting Hotel del Coronado in San Diego for more than a century. Photo courtesy of the Hotel del Coronado.

Of the many ghosts in human history, the woman in the Hotel Del Coronado is one of the most mysterious. This historic Victorian beachfront hotel was built in the city of Coronado, California – just across the bay from San Diego. At the time of its opening in 1888, the Hotel was the largest resort hotel in the world, but today it is a historical getaway for celebrities and politicians.

Yet, this elegant structure is also home to a specter that many identify as Kate Morgan, though, given the details of the case, coming to any conclusion is difficult at best.

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Relatively little is really known about Kate Morgan. She was born around 1864 in Fremont County, Iowa but was sent to live with her maternal grandfather Joe Chandler after her mother died. Her father remarried and had two daughters after becoming the postmaster of Hamburg, Iowa in 1870. Kate married Thomas Edwin Morgan in 1885, and she gave birth to a child who only lived a few days. Some versions of her story portray Tom as an expert gambler, with Kate as his assistant in conning others out of their money, but there is little evidence for either.

The Beautiful Stranger: Kate Morgan and the Haunting of Hotel Del Coronado
Hotel Del Coronado c.1880s

Unhappy with their marriage, Kate at some point took up with her husband’s stepmother’s stepson, Albert Allen, and the two headed west in 1890. By 1892, though, they had gone their separate ways, and Kate was on her own, making a living as a maid in the Grant family’s wealthy Los Angeles household. Her ex-husband Thomas meanwhile moved to Burchard, Nebraska due to his job as a rural mail carrier. Whether or not they remained in touch is unknown, but she soon found herself alone at the Hotel Del Coronado.

At the time, the hotel was a swinging resort that included tennis courts, a Japanese tea garden, an Olympic-sized saltwater pool, an ostrich farm, and activities from bowling to hunting and deep sea fishing. The Hotel Del Coronado regularly hosted presidents from Harrison to McKinley, Taft, and Willison – along with celebrities like Charlie Chaplin, Mae West, Thomas Edison, L. Frank Baum, and even foreign royalty like King Kalakaua of Hawaii. In short, it was a hopping node of activity in the San Diego area.

In late 1892, a strange woman appeared at the Hotel and stuck out clearly amidst all this energy. She had traveled alone under the name of Lottie Bernard from Los Angeles to San Diego and booked a room where she would wait for a gentleman coming from afar. Although the strange woman argued with a male companion at one point, the only other remarkable thing about her was her illness. She had arrived ill but began to get worse, and she told staff that she was a cancer patient waiting for her doctor brother. Whatever the truth, her health degraded fast over her 5 days at the Hotel Del Coronado.

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As her health declined, guests complained about the woman who had registered as “Lottie”. On November 29th, her body was found on the exterior steps to the beach. A few witnesses would later report having spotted her purchasing a gun while in a San Diego gun store. That gun was nearby, and a single gunshot to the head had taken her life – presumably from her own gun. Although the case seemed an obvious suicide, police agencies were unable to conclusively determine the real identity of the “beautiful stranger”.

The Beautiful Stranger: Kate Morgan and the Haunting of Hotel Del Coronado
[Image via Wikipedia] Photograph of Kate Morgan taken c.1886
If it was Kate Morgan, then she would have been 24 when she arrived in town for Thanksgiving Day celebrations. Some versions claim that Kate then became pregnant again, and Tom or her latest lover left her to avoid having to settle down. Although authorities at the time concluded that the body was that of Kate Morgan, not much ties them together. In particular, the family never identified the body, and Kate’s photo did not seem to match that of the “beautiful stranger.” In any case, San Francisco lawyer Alan May researched the case in the 1980s and concluded that the poor woman had been murdered. He specifically pointed to a passing statement that the bullet in the gun did not match the bullet in her head. As interest in the case renewed, the strange spirit of the woman in Room 302 also came to light.

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The woman in Room 302 – or 3312 by its current numbering system – has long called the Hotel Del Coronado home. Over the years, she has seemingly enjoyed playing with guests by messing with the room’s electricity – causing lights to flicker and electronics to turn on and off of their own accord. Maids regularly report objects and doors moving of their own accord, while guests often detail inexplicable murmurs and other sounds. Most ominously, some have felt deathly cold breezes in the height of summer, while others have even spotted the woman’s ghost pacing the hotel’s corridors.

The Beautiful Stranger: Kate Morgan and the Haunting of Hotel Del Coronado
Hotel Del Coronado, east side view c.1888

Several independent paranormal researchers have documented activity in the room. Although not all have spied the female spirit that many identify as Kate Morgan, most have found spikes in paranormal activity in the hotel, especially the gift shop and Room 3312. The lawyer who argued that May was actually murdered even reported having seen the face of a woman light up an unplugged television screen. The spot where “Lottie” lost her life is equally mysterious, as local electricians report that the street lamp above it will never remain lit for long – as every bulb placed in the light will almost immediately burn out.

Whoever she was, the woman at the Hotel Del Coronado remains restless after all these years. The hotel’s Heritage Department maintains interest in this spirit, with books like the historical account of The Beautiful Stranger: The Ghost of Kate Morgan and the Hotel del Coronado. You can visit her at the hotel or at her grave in the nearby Mount Hope Cemetery, though be prepared to get caught up in the mystery of who this strange woman was – and how and why she died that bleak November morning in 1892.

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