Ghost Month: Hotel Del Coronado and the Mystery of Lottie A. Bernard
May is Ghost Month here at the Midnight Society! I love ghosts stories more than a person should. Normally if I talk to someone for more than thirty minutes, I can be found asking if they know any good ghost stories. It’s the truth and the rest of the Midnight Society can attest to that!
The story I’m here to tell you today is true, and it’s a story of murder, heartbreak, and a mystery that still haunts the Hotel Del Coronado today.
On Thanksgiving day in 1892, a beautiful woman checked into the Hotel Del Coronado.
She never checked out.
The Hotel Del Coronado opened in late January of 1888, thanks to hotel founders, Elisha Babcock and Hampton Story, Jr., along with a San Diego developer named Alonzo Horton (pictured above). They were so inspired by the natural beauty of Coronado that they bought the island and decided to build a hotel that would be “the talk of the western world.”
As you can see, a hotel of this magnificence drew in a crowd from all around the world to see this glorious hotel in person.
One of the visitors in 1892 was a beautiful 24 year-old woman checked into the hotel. Five days later, on a stormy night on November 29th 1892, the hotel electrician David Cone found the beauty dead with a .44 caliber gunshot blast to the right temple, on a hotel exterior staircase leading to the beach.
The Coroner ruled her death a suicide.
But who was this woman? Nobody knew. The newspapers called the deceased the “Beautiful Stranger,” as rumors and mysteries around the girl spread like wildfire.
What was known about the woman?
Until the hotel clerk recognized the corpse. He identified her as Lottie A. Bernard, a woman who had checked into the hotel, room 302, on Thanksgiving day.
A search of her effects turned up a key. Soon, they discovered that the key fit Lottie’s trunk, one that had arrived in the Santa Fe depot from Omaha, via Denver. Police also uncovered that Lottie had sent a telegraph at the hotel, before her death, to G.L. Allen at Farmers and Merchants Bank in Hamburg, Iowa. The investigation followed these leads to uncover more about this woman. How did Lottie know G.L. Allen? What was her business in Coronado? Most importantly, why oh why did she kill herself?
Because she was so beautiful and exquisitely charming, many wondered if she was a con artist of some sort, traveling the railroad and swindling people out of their money. There are reports that Lottie had said that she was waiting for her husband. Others claim that Lottie had used a fake name because she was meeting a lover. The signature below Lottie’s name (pictured above), is Joseph E. Jones of Boston. He checked in immediately after Lottie and said that he had seen her arguing on the train with a male companion, who then deserted her en route.
Arguments swirled as to whether or not it really was Mrs. Lottie A. Bernard from Detroit. Some believed her name to be Lottie A. Barnard (and the clerk just misspelled her name), some believe her identity to be Kate Morgan or Kate Logan, a housekeeper from Los Angeles. News was spreading and this mystery gained national attention! A woman in Detroit claimed that it was her daughter, based off of the description, and identified the girl as Miss Lizzie Wyllie, who had eloped with a married man and was reported to have been betrayed by him. A quick search in the California Digital Archive Collection revealed this newspaper article titled, “A Mystery Cleared Up.” There was later an article in the Los Angeles Herald questioning this claim by Mrs. Wyllie.
Whatever the case may be, one thing is certain…no one ever reported seeing Lottie’s husband or lover arrive at the hotel. Reports say that Lottie was so distressed over her lover never arriving or a sickness that she reportedly bemoaned, that after five days of waiting, upset at being stood up or not, she took her own life.
After digging around on the web I’ve found a few more theories. Some believe that Lottie was a mistress who wound up pregnant, and her lover (already married to another), wasn’t happy and decided to take care of it himself. Others believe that poor Lottie’s death blow was the result of a lover’s quarrel, one that was settled with a hot temper and a gun.
Lottie was found wearing all black with a black lace shawl over her head, next to the gun that she had bought herself a few days prior.
Lottie’s spirit is reportedly still at The Del. Reports say that she wanders the hotel, mainly occupying her old room, 3327 (formerly 302). The Hotel Del Coronado refers to the spirit, as Kate (due to the uncertainty of identity and what research has led them to believe).
According to Christine Donovan, The Del Coronado’s historian says that Kate is a relatively harmless ghost. “She generally limits her activity to fleeting appearances and inexplicable antics. Guests in Kate’s room report everything from breezes that come from nowhere to having to deal with a television set that turns on and off by itself.” Kate has been spotted all over the hotel, and has even been seen wandering down hallways, along the beach, and in the garden. The hotel also boasts that one its hot spots is their gift shop, which was located in a room that was built back when Kate had visited. Items are known to fly or tumble off of shelves and pictures fall off of the walls. Even after they relocated the gift shop in an attempt to curtail ghostly activity, Kate’s spirit hasn’t stopped. The paranormal activity remains.
Visitors to the hotel have reported rushing footsteps in the hallways and stairs (when no one is around), pillows stacking themselves in a pyramid formation, extremely cold spots, ceiling fans turning on and off by themselves, the television operating on it’s own volition, and covers being thrown off of you in the night.
Have you ever stayed at the Hotel Del Coronado? Have you met Kate or Lottie? Let us know in the comments below!
Sources: The library, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here. Not all of these are legit but they make for fun reading and conspiracy theories.
She bought a gun with two bullets – why would someone do that? His and Hers, perhaps? I think the other party had thought 50% of that was good enough.
If this woman was pregnant, where would that have likely happened. I suggest the LA ‘mansion’ she had been working at previously had the answer. She was working for someone who had influence in the LA of 1892, and indeed the name is still in circulation 125+ years later. Surely this person (or persons) had connections and could have hired someone to make his problem go away. Afterwards, the police in LA could talk to their brethren in SD to make a suicide verdict hold up, not something else involving one or more of their more distinguished citizens.
Not just my 2c, but over 30 years interest in this case. Lies, legend, and lore abound. but in the end, I really think it just comes down to the usual type suspect(s) with the usual type motives. In over 20 years of checking the interest nobody else has ever suggested that, choosing instead to conveniently making the abandoned husband into a would-be Brett Maverick with evil intent. The real life record would seem to indicate otherwise, or some elaborate scam involving Hawaiian intrigue – hardly from a knocked-up “domestic”