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Real or Rumor: The Hotel del Coronado

The following article is from the book Uncle John's Bathroom Reader Plunges into California.

(Image credit: Dirk Hansen)

Built in 1888, the Hotel del Coronado (or Hotel Del) near San Diego has been the site of ghost hauntings, movie filmings, celebrity getaways, and all kinds of other legendary stuff. Let’s separate the facts from the fiction.

RUMOR: In December 1904, the Hotel del Coronado lit the first electric outdoor Christmas tree in the United States.

TRUTH: The hotel itself makes this claim, but it’s unlikely. Electric lights on trees probably came sometime in the late 1800s. However, in 1904 the hotel did wire 250 lights to its 50-foot tree. It may have been the first in Southern California and was certainly done at a time when few people lit outdoor trees at all and indoor ones were still fire hazards with candles. The tree remained on display for a three hours each night from Christmas Eve through New Year’s.

RUMOR: Every U.S. president since Lyndon B. Johnson has stayed at the Hotel Del.

TRUTH: This is true. The hotel has been the temporary home to 15 presidents, including the eight since Johnson. Seven presidents before Johnson also stayed at the Hotel Del: Benjamin Harrison, William McKinley, William Taft, Woodrow Wilson, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Dwight Eisenhower, and John F. Kennedy. [Ed. note: this was written before the election of 2016.]

RUMOR: At a 1920 Hotel Del banquet in his honor, the 26-year-old Prince Edward of Wales met 24-year-old Wallis Spencer, a U.S. Navy captain’s wife who was destined to (scandalously!) become Edward’s Duchess of Windsor.

TRUTH: Years later, the couple did have an unsanctioned relationship (he had a thing for married women, and she was about to be twice-divorced). He briefly became King Edward VIII, but abdicated his throne to marry her, and they lived in exile as the Duke and Duchess of Windsor. Wallis Simpson did live in San Diego in 1920 while her first husband was stationed on Coronado. But aside from a brief meeting at a party’s receiving line, historians find no proof that Edward and Wallis ever spent time together at the Hotel Del.

RUMOR: Each winter, the hotel’s staff leaves a Christmas party invitation for the Hotel Del’s resident ghost, Kate Morgan.

TRUTH: Back in 1892, a beautiful young woman (whose real name, many believe, was Kate Morgan) checked into room 302. After trying (and failing) to repair her marriage, she fatally shot herself on the hotel’s beach. For more than a century since, visitors claim to have seen her ghost and other strange happenings. But there’s no truth to the holiday party invites, according to the hotel.

RUMOR: The Hotel Del inspired writer L. Frank Baum’s fictional Emerald City of Oz, and Baum himself designed part of the hotel.

TRUTH: Baum first visited San Diego in 1904 and stayed at the Hotel Del several times, writing Dorothy and the Wizard of Oz, The Road to Oz, and The Emerald City. But the Emerald City first showed up in the series’ original book, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, which was published in 1900… four years before Baum came to Coronado.

However, it is true that Baum designed part of the hotel’s interior. The author was a fixture at the hotel in the early 1900s, reading to children and writing from a rattan rocking chair outside the formal Crown Dining Room. The room was grand—with a sugar pinewood ceiling built using pegs and notches, no nails—but Baum thought it needed a more regal, luxurious feel to live up to its name. So he created the room’s elaborate chandeliers, which he shaped like the crown worn by the lion in the Oz books. They’re still hanging in the dining room today.

RUMOR: Marilyn Monroe had a thing for the hotel’s pudding.

TRUTH: This is also true. A former chef at the hotel dished that Marilyn Monroe requested the same treat every day while she filmed 1959’s Some Like It Hot on the property—the vanilla soufflé pudding decorated with an egg white.


The article above was reprinted with permission from Uncle John's Bathroom Reader Plunges into California. This volume brings you stories of the Golden State you've never heard before. You’ll meet child prodigies, spies, traitors, celebrities (and sidekicks), gossips, hermits, humanitarians, and zealots.  

Since 1988, the Bathroom Reader Institute had published a series of popular books containing irresistible bits of trivia and obscure yet fascinating facts. If you like Neatorama, you'll love the Bathroom Reader Institute's books - go ahead and check 'em out!

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