Magazine article Sunset

Secrets of the Grand Hotels: Juicy Stories Are the Lure to These Tours

Magazine article Sunset

Secrets of the Grand Hotels: Juicy Stories Are the Lure to These Tours

Article excerpt

"Oh yes, I can tell you about the murder," Tony Bissen whispers to us. His historical tour, at Honolulu's Sheraton Moana Surfrider, is one of several backstage tours offered at historic hotels around the West, from Yosemite's Ahwahnee to Spokane's Davenport. The tours (all but one open to nonguests) recount a little history and some really good gossip.


Bissen leads us to the 1901 hotel's restored historic section. "This is where staff are said to have seen Mrs. Leland Stanford's ghost," he notes outside room 244. In 1905, Stanford University cofounder Jane Stanford checked in for a vacation, and perhaps to escape a conflict with university president David Starr Jordan.

One night Mrs. Stanford took a drink from her bottle of water and screamed. "She died a horrible death," Bissen says. "A doctor concluded she had been poisoned with strychnine." But an inquest, spurred by university trustees, found Mrs. Stanford died from "natural causes," Bissen notes, "so it's hard to say what happened."

It's a chilling tale. But it doesn't prevent us from wanting to check into the Sheraton Moana Surfrider for a good long stay.

                                       BACKSTAGE       FAMOUS
HOTEL                                  SECRET          GUESTS

DENVER                                 You'll never    In what's now
The Brown Palace                       see a house-    called the
Since opening in 1892, this wedge-     keeping cart    Eisenhower
shaped, red sandstone, Richard-        in the hall--   Suite, you can
sonian Romanesque building has         housekeepers'   still see a dent
hosted Denver's most prominent         supplies are    that President
visitors: Kings, queens, and           taken into      Dwight D.
presidents have walked under its       each guest      Eisenhower is
grand atrium. The Palace's past is so  room in         said to have
rich, the hotel has its own            wicker          put in the fire-
historian, Julia Kanellos, who also    baskets.        place with an
leads the tours.                                       errant golf
ROOMS: From $279                                       ball.
INFO: 321 17th St.; www.brown or 800/321-2599

HONOLULU                               The laundry     Film stars
Halekulani                             staff's secret  from Clark
Tours here are open to guests only--   for getting     Gable to Halle
another reason to splurge for a stay.  towels super    Berry have
The hotel's oldest section is a 1930s  white: three    stayed here.
plantation-style mansion, and its      rinse cycles.   During WWII,
most famous attraction may be the                      the hotel
hotel pool, shimmering on the bottom                   hosted military
with a cattleya orchid fashioned from                  brass like
more than a million Italian glass                      Admiral William
tiles.                                                 (Bull) Halsey.
ROOMS: From $325
INFO: 2199 Kalia Rd.; www. or 800/367-2343

HONOLULU                               Pineapple       As a young
Sheraton Moana Surfrider               is served in    adult in the
Along with mysteries, tours highlight  spears instead  1940s, Shirley
wonderful artifacts from the Moana's   of slices       Temple stayed
early years: a historical video of     because it      here; strolling
surfer Duke Kahanamoku canoeing;       ripens from     on Waikiki
photos of singers on the radio show    the bottom      Beach, she
Hawaii Calls, which was broadcast      up, and a       met her future
from the hotel's Banyan Court between  lengthwise-cut  husband.
1935 and 1975.                         spear is less
ROOMS: From $270                       likely to be
INFO: 2365 Kalakaua Ave.; www.         entirely, 888/488-3535, or  under-or
808/922-3111                           overripe. … 
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