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THE SAVVY TRAVELER

Finding the Right Room Can Be a Scary Ordeal : Halloween: The best ghost stories seem to take place in hotel rooms abroad. However, no matter who tells the story, reactions to news of such aberrations are real.

October 29, 1989|PETER S. GREENBERG | Greenberg is a Los Angeles free-lance writer .

The next time you check into a hotel room, wait until dark. Then take a good look around. See anything? Anyone?

Happy Halloween. What better time to meet a host of legendary--and not so legendary--haunted hotels and hotel rooms.

Depending on the stories (and who is telling them), then the world is full of ghostly abodes, featuring spirits and visions, floorboards that move, noisy walls, unexplained voices and other such aberrations of the night.

In Ireland and Wales, hardly a hotel doesn't feature at least one room that harbors a (usually) friendly ghost.

In the United States, particularly in the South, hotels and ghosts almost seem one and the same.

Even in Hawaii some hotel rooms filled with evil spirits are legend--not among guests but among hotel staffs. This has kept some big kahunas busy . . . in the exorcism business.

One That Floats

If you believe in such stories, consider these: At the Glen Tavern Inn in Santa Paula, Calif., silverware has been known to float across the room. At the Hotel Le Lagon in Port Vila, Vanuatu, don't ask to rent Bungalow No. 3 unless you want to share your space with the spirit of a sea snake that some think is the long-departed grandfather of the hotel's cook. (More on this later.)

At the Oak Alley Plantation in Vacherie, La., the owners proudly display a photo of their own friendly ghost.

Some of the ghost stories may be apochryphal, but reactions to news of haunted hotel rooms is quite real. Some bizarre hotel ghost stories involve airline flight attendants. But don't laugh; the flight attendants involved truly believe these stories.

For a number of months, flight attendants on Cathay Pacific flights landing in Bangkok complained of a particular hotel room. One night a flight attendant saw a vision of a female ghost running through the room, and then moving through walls and windows. Hotel staffers switched her room. But the next night a flight attendant on another Cathay flight was put in the same room, and saw the same thing.

"Finally," says one Cathay official, "we had to get the hotel to agree to block the room, because it was truly affecting our staff."

A similar problem happened at the Dubai International Hotel. Both male and female flight attendants of the now-defunct British Caledonian Airlines who stayed in one particular second-floor room in the H wing of the hotel complained of immense pressure on their chests and an inability to sleep. To make matters worse, the flight attendants then reported seeing a white figure pass back and forth in their rooms.

"Shortly before there was a staff revolt," says one former British Caledonian official, "we had to send in senior staff to the hotel and renegotiate our rooms agreement. A new condition of the contract was that no one associated with the airline could be put in any room in that wing."

Sometimes the solution to the ghost problem isn't that easy. Consider the case of Bungalow No. 3 at the Hotel Le Lagon, at Port Vila in Vanuatu (formerly the New Hebrides Islands). "It happened one morning, and I'll never forget it," says Ted Wright, then the general manager (and now the general manager of the Regent of Sydney hotel).

A honeymoon couple was staying in the bungalow. It was early in the morning. The husband had just gotten up when he saw it--a large sea snake slithering along the floor, heading for his new wife. The man ran outside and headed for the recreation shed.

"One of the sports activities we offered was skeet shooting," says Wright. "The man grabbed a shotgun, ran back into the bungalow and shot the snake's head off. And that's when our problems started." Wright was in his office when he heard the screams. The hotel's French chef came bursting into his office. The hotel cook, a woman named Missy, was hysterical.

"The man just killed her grandfather!" the chef shouted. The staff was in an uproar.

"It seems that Missy's grandfather had died 20 years earlier and she believed he had been reincarnated as that snake," Wright said. "And so did the rest of the hotel staff."

Wright immediately moved the couple to another bungalow, but the staff refused to allow Wright to rent the room out again. "Since the snake, or should I say 'grandfather,' was killed in the bungalow," says Wright, "the staff argued that it was now his bungalow. His soul lived there."

Intense negotiations followed. First came an elaborate burial service of the snake--at sea. "I had to officiate," Wright says, "and I also couldn't laugh. This was serious."

The staff finally agreed to reopen Bungalow No. 3 a month later, but only after a series of Melanesian rituals that designated the bungalow as an eternal temple to the snake. Wright then moved to the slightly larger (700-room) Hawaiian Regent hotel in Honolulu. Just when he was forgetting about Bungalow 3 he was confronted with a much more serious problem: Room 1022.

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