Episode 004: The Ghosts of the Menger Hotel

This is a podcast transcript, originally published as part of the Crimes & Witch-Demeanors Podcast.

INTRO: Hello, and welcome to Crimes and Witch-Demeanors — I am your host, Joshua Spellman. Thank you so much for tuning in and sticking with me. For everyone who enjoyed the first batch of episodes, thank you so much! I didn’t think anyone was going to like them…but that’s just my self-hatred. But I’m not going to talk to you about that — that’s what therapists are for. What we’re here for is ghosts! I know last episode on Murder Creek was a little light on the ghosts and the spookiness…but this week we have plenty of ghosts to talk about. There is no shortage of ghosts.

I feel like we’re slowly making our way from coast to coast. So we’ve done New York and we’ve done Ohio and now we’re making our way to the Southwest. We’re in Texas this week!

Everyone always says “Remember the Alamo” and the ghosts of San Antonino are keen on making it difficult to forget. Particularly, the spectral denizens of the Menger hotel, once known as the “finest hotel the west of the Mississippi” now holds the moniker of “the most haunted hotel in Texas”. The battle of the Alamo, a deadly fire, a murdered maid, and more are the causes of its infamous reputation, allegedly being home to over 32 spirits…including that of Teddy Roosevelt. President Theodore Roosevelt. I thought you know…Texas no connection to me in Texas…but it turns out that I have a personal connection to this story as well. But we’ll get into that later. But spoiler: it has to do with Teddy Roosevelt and my family.

If that’s not intriguing you enough, let’s dig into the so-called history of the Menger Hotel. And as usual, afterwards we’ll dig deep into the archives to separate fact from folklore…


In the mid-1830’s Texas was fighting for their independence from Mexico. Ultimately, what originated as minor disputes and squabbles erupted into one of the bloodiest battles in Texas history. In February of 1836, the Mexican General Santa Anna intent on quashing the rebellion descended upon the Alamo with a phalanx of almost 4,000 soldiers.

The Texians and Tejanos were vastly outnumbered but more determined than anyone to fight for their freedom. They banded together and held out against the Mexican forces for thirteen long, agonizing days. Missives were sent to neighboring communities to reinforce their numbers – and they did grow – but it wasn’t enough. It was 200 against 4,000, and on March 6 1836, the Mexican soldiers made one final push and rushed the compound. Using a cannon, General Santa Anna’s troops blasted open the doors of the church and began slaughtering those inside. The Tejanos and Texians fell one by one, including the American folk hero Davey Crockett.

23 years later, at the site of this bloody battle, the Menger hotel would eventually be built.

An old cabinet card featuring William Menger

In the 1840’s a German immigrant by the name of William A. Menger settled in the cattle ranching town of San Antonio. Menger stayed at a boarding house owned by a widow named Mary Guenther for three years while he found his footings in this new town. Menger quickly established himself and founded the Western Brewery with his business partner Charles Philip Degen, another German Brewmaster, just across the way from Mary’s boarding house. The Western Brewery became the first brewery in Texas and also grew to become the largest in the state, with Menger buying out his competitor’s breweries and earning the title of “The Beer King”

But what is a king without a queen? William Menger married Mary Guenther, and their businesses flourished, resulting in Mary needing to expand her modest boarding house. Together, the Mengers decided that they would construct an lavish hotel bearing their name—a true kingdom to reign over.

Construction on the new hotel was completed on February 1, 1859. It was a two story stone structure with 50 rooms and opulent decorations. A tunnel in the cellar attached it to the brewery. In fact, the hotel was so successful, after only three months of being open, William and Mary began sketching plans for the hotel’s first expansion—increasing accommodations from 50 rooms to 90, effectively making it the largest hotel in the area.

However, the civil war began in 1861 which saw a sharp decline in paying guests at the hotel. Instead, they chose to offer the hotel to be used in the war effort. The hotel was converted to a hospital for the sick or badly wounded for the duration of the war. During this period the hotel saw many tragic deaths. Not long after, William Menger himself passed away inside the hotel during the March of 1871.

Despite William’s death, Mary Menger refused to let this deter her hotel from becoming a success. She published a notice in the paper claiming his death “would cause no change in the affairs” at the brewery or the hotel…and she cashed in on this promise. She saw over 2,000 guests come to the hotel that year and even had the modern amenity of gas installed.

In March of 1876, the Menger received one of its…permanent guests. Sallie White was a chambermaid who worked in the hotel. One night, she got into an argument with her husband and stayed at the hotel to keep her distance. The next day her husband threatened to kill her…and did…and he shot her inside the hotel. Badly injured, Sallie held onto life before succumbing to her injuries on March 28. The hotel paid the cost of her funeral, because she had no other family. Grateful for the hotel’s kindness, she is one of the most seen spirits of the hotel. She is typically spotted carrying out her housekeeping duties, bringing clean towels to guests or dusting the furniture.

An old newspaper ad depicting the Menger Hotel in the late 1800’s

The hotel continued to flourish and it seemed that nothing could stop Mary’s unparalleled success…everything but her age. Her son refused to inherit the hotel and in 1881 she eventually sold it to Major J.H. Kampmann for $118,500 or the modern equivalent of 2.8 million dollars…Mary also managed to sell him the furnishings for an additional $8,500 or $203,000 today. Mary made sure she got her money’s worth.

Kampmann added an east wing that December of and a new bar that was unrivaled by anywhere else this side of the pond – an exact replica of the taproom in the House of Lords Club in London, England. This is the same bar where Theodore Roosevelt would sit at, buying young cowboys drinks in order to convince them to join the Rough Riders. Teddy’s ghost is still said to sit at the bar today to enjoy a cocktail.

The lavish Menger hotel continued to attract wealthy visitors…and claim their souls as its own. Originally from New York City, Captain Richard King was born to poor Irish immigrants. They could not afford to care for him and so sold him into indentured servitude. He hated being a servant and soon escaped on a ferry bound for the Mississippi river. Richard would go on to become one of the wealthiest entrepreneurs of the 19th century. He founded a steamboat company, served in the Civil War, and after his first visit to Texas…decided he was going to buy all of Corpus Christi. There, he opened his massive one million acre ranch.

King developed a love for the Menger hotel and he ended up staying there so often that he was given his own private suite on the second floor. This is where he died, after succumbing to a battle with stomach cancer on April 14, 1885. The Menger hotel held his funeral in the lobby and it was said to be one of the largest funeral processions that San Antonio had ever seen.

Captain Richard King’s ghost is frequently seen inside his private suite…or walking through the wall where the original door to it had been. The shutters in the room open and close on their own, people hear his heavy footsteps, and a mysterious red orb only ever seen in his room

The last major tragedy to befall the Menger hotel occurred in October of 1924. A fire started in the kitchen and the flamed traveled up the walls to the ceiling. The Menger’s intricate woodwork that trails throughout the whole hotel was the vector that allowed the fire to completely consume the third and fourth floors. However, a night clerk was able to evacuate all 101 of the guests from the hotel before they could be injured. Instead…the injuries occurred when the firetruck, on its way to the scene, crashed into a streetcar. The two firemen were injured as well as the three individuals in the streetcar. Thankfully, everyone recovered.

The hotel recovered from this tragedy and continued to grow and expand. In 1949, an additional 125 rooms and air conditioning were added and the stately bar was moved to the other side of the hotel. In 1975 the hotel was added to the National Register of historic places and remains a popular place to stay to this day. Those that stay here frequently report ghostly sightings and unexplained events. The ghosts are here to make sure that no one forgets the Alamo…or them.

I know this sounded like more of a dry history lesson – but this part of the podcast is where it juicy. Last week with Murder Creek, we were pretty void of the paranormal so this week we have it in droves. We just have a small amount of history to trudge through first!

The details of the hotel, it’s owners, and most of the ghosts have all been almost 100% historically accurate…save for the story of the chambermaid Sallie White. I ended up discovering something about her that lets me get on my soapbox in regards to the historic record.

So when I was looking for Sally White I was so sure that I was going to find a great deal of evidence since I had exact dates…and we had names. Sallie White and her husband was said to be Henry Wheeler so I was super excited but I was coming up empty-handed. I couldn’t find any census information on Sallie White or Henry Wheeler. I couldn’t find their graves – nothing. I was reading through the newspapers around those dates of not only San Antonio, but neighboring cities like Dallas as well, around the dates of the crime and I didn’t see anything mentioning the name Sally White or Henry Wheeler, her husband or the Menger Hotel…but I did find a story that sounded vaguely like what happened to Sallie in the April 2, 1876 issue of the Dallas Daily Herald.

It reads as follows (please forgive the language of the time, it’s important to the discussion and the context):

A negro woman was shot and dangerously wounded by her husband in San Antonio last Tuesday. But slight hopes of her recovery.
Dallas Daily Herald Article

A negro woman was shot and dangerously wounded by her husband in San Antonio last Tuesday. But slight hopes of her recovery.

That’s was it. That was the blurb. I looked at a calendar for 1876 and the Tuesday prior…to this issue…was March 28th. I found Sallie! And the reason I couldn’t even find her name or a census record was because Sallie White was black. The civil war had only ended 11 years prior and, as we know, things were not in great for black people during that time, and it wasn’t going to be for awhile…and it still isn’t great today. But especially for black women.

But looking back this explains why I was able to find nearly nothing on Sallie White. In retrospect, I’m just an idiot. I didn’t put two and two together that ledger from the hotel that lists the cost of her funeral says “col chambermaid, deceased, murdered by husband” and that clearly stood for “colored” and I just didn’t put that together.

But this brings me to discuss a topic about archives and libraries before we get to the paranormal (I promise it’s coming!). The historic record, archives in particular, always reflects the viewpoints of those in power. Typically, this has meant cis het white men with lots of money. No one cared about the archives of the Irish immigrants or free black slaves. These aren’t the types of materials that museums and libraries have been interested in. So women, queer people, immigrants, and the poor rarely have their stories preserved or told. It’s only been recently that people realize how important their stories are and are trying to scrape together what they can to fill in the gaps of the historic record.

At my job, even with cases recently as the 1970’s, I’ve had so much trouble researching women…because I can never find their real names! Their husbands names are more often used such as Mrs. James McGovern that even if I can use that to find out some information…their name has been completely lost to history. So…yeah. That’s my librarian shoptalk soapbox that I’m getting down from now so that I can tell Sallie’s real story and then we can get to the GHOSTS.

So, Sallie was not shot within the walls of the Menger Hotel. Her “husband” aka her commonwealth husband Henry Wheeler was known to be prone to anger and jealousy. They were in and out of the courts at the time on domestic charges, which landed Wheeler with a criminal record. However, they stayed as a couple. On Monday, March 28th 1876, Henry was furious about something and Sallie wasn’t home, which angered him even more. He scoured the neighborhood looking for her, and upon finding her began to abuse her in public.

He dragged her home and continued to hurt her and swore that he was going to murder her. Sallie managed to escape and contact the police, who searched the home for firearms but found nothing. Sallie pleaded with police that she couldn’t stay with him that night because he would kill her as she slept. The police arranged for her to sleep at the Recorder’s office where she was able to sleep safely.

The next morning, however, between 6 and 7 am, she made her way home to get ready for work. When she entered her neighborhood, there was Henry Wheeler, brandishing a six shooter in his hand. There, in the streets, he shot Sallie, wounding her in the bowels severely. She ran, as two more shots hit her in the bosom. She came to collapse at the Menger Brewery. Sallie was taken to the third floor of the Menger hotel where it took her two whole days to die. Mary Menger was said to have truly cared for Sallie and that is why she covered the costs of her funeral – 25$ for the grave and another 7$ for the coffin. Sadly, Wheeler escaped and was never caught.

Now…Sallie’s ghost can be found on the third floor of the original hotel building, so if you want to see her, that’s where you should go. People see a semi-transparent figure of a woman wearing a maid’s uniform, a beaded necklace, and a scarf tied around her head. She’s usually seen walking through doors or walls, carrying sheets or towels. One guest even saw Sallie folding sheets in her room as she was taking a shower and allegedly ran downstairs to the front desk out of fear.

Now I found this story on reddit from the user tuffythetooth:

I was at the Menger Bar and I had to use the restroom so I walked in and took care of business. No one was in the bathroom – it was a Tuesday evening, I believe, so the bar and hotel weren’t busy. I exited the stall and walked towards the sink to wash my hands. I heard the door creak open (it’s a rather heavy door so it makes a bit of noise) and I looked to see if anyone had entered the bathroom. Normally, I am not so nosy, but I just felt really strange. No one came through the door. I kind of shrugged it off and I started looking in the mirror to reapply my lipstick and all of a sudden, a bright ball of light about the size of a snack plate flew in front of my face, hovered, and then flew into a corner and disappeared. I saw it in front of me and I saw it in the mirror. Needless to say, I took the heck off.

Now people claim that this is Sallie, even though her haunt is the third floor. Other commenters in the thread say that people see Sallie in the restroom all the time and I guess I’ll just have to take their word for it…now the next guest is unmistakeable when you see him or hear him. And that’s Theodore Roosevelt.

Now I have two small personal connections to Teddy as well as the Rough Riders that he was recruiting at the Menger. First, allegedly my great, great grandfather was a Mexican outlaw that rode with Pancho Villa against the Rough Riders…which I think is kind of cute. Secondly…Theodore Roosevelt was one of the only Presidents inaugurated outside of DC, in this case due to the assassination of William McKinley in Buffalo. And…well…my father and grandfather reupholstered the historic furniture a the Theodore Roosevelt Inaugural site and museum which is also kind of cute!

Try as I might…I have had some kind of connection to most of the stories I’ve told here so far.

So Teddy was only at the Menger a total of three times in his life but apparently he loved the bar and is seen there quite frequently. He sits at the bar as a very solid apparition, and sometimes will holler at the workers to get their attention. For those that have spoken with him, he’s said to try and recruit them to join the Rough Riders!

But…I love this one story about Teddy because it’s so stupid.

A new employee was closing up the bar alone, and when he was nearly finished, he turned to see Theodore Roosevelt sitting at the bar. He was just sitting there, staring at the boy like he did with all the staff there, but this scared the crap out of this newbie.

The employee ran to the bar doors and tried to get out, but they were locked. In a panic he began to wildly punch the doors while screaming to be let out. And…I just cannot get the image of Teddy just staring at this maniac trying to run away while just sipping on his whiskey. I bet Teddy found it funny. Eventually another employee heard the pounding on the bar doors and let them out. The poor guy eventually quit.

Being a hotel, the Menger has seen countless acts of violence and murder. When I was investigating the fire that happened in the 20’s I came across one of these many other deaths that happened there in 1952.

Lubbock Morning Avalanche article

I’ll quickly read the article from the Lubbock Morning Avalanche:

There’s no stories of her ghost, but I can’t help but think she must be one of the 32 purported spirits…maybe even the one that led to this horrifying story from reddit user Hakuhofan:

A few years back I took my wife to the historic Menger Hotel for her birthday weekend. The hotel is a very popular place and has been around since the 1800’s. It has an old wing (original) and a new wing. The old wing is absolutely beautiful and we reserved a room in this section for the weekend. We checked in around midnight and go straight to bed. My phone battery died on the trip.

I put our suitcases in the closet and close the door. I have a habit. Anytime I close a door I give it a slight tug in the opposite direction to make certain it is latched. It’s all one quick motion and it’s just an old habit.

We get woken up at about 3:20am to my wife’s phone ringing. We both wake up and she answers it without looking at it. “Hello?” static “Hello?” garbled voice

She’s still on the phone and I say “Who is

it?” static…silence…AAARRGGBBRRGGHAAAGGHH!!!!!!! Same garble voice but agitated and then click it hung up. I could hear the last one because it was quiet. I was like WTF? We looked at each other and looked at the caller ID and it was MY PHONE. She pulled my phone out of her purse and checked it, I checked it. It was dead. It wouldn’t turn on. Just like we left it.

We both looked at each other, kinda nervously chuckled a little (not much), and I said “Happy birthday?” We went back to sleep. I’ll admit I kinda laid there for at least an hour just freaked out. When we woke up in the morning and the closet door was open. Not cracked or slightly open, ALL THE WAY OPEN as far as the door would go.

2nd day we ate lunch in the historic dining room and I had to get something from the room. I left her at the table and made my way to the elevator where it just opened. No sensors. It just opened. I said thank you and got in. All in all the entities we encountered were friendly. We will stay there again. Old section only of course.

…okay…first off…pretty friendly? A ghost called you and screamed at you. That’s not friendly my friend. That is scary. But hey, if you weren’t too freaked out and you just think “Hey let’s just go back there, let’s just get harassed by a ghost on my own phone” then sure. What the heck.

If you’re looking for a spooky hotel to stay at and you happen to be going to Texas, it sounds like the Menger is definitley giving you some ghostly room service. If you stay in the old section of the hotel you’ll get the full experience: you get to see Sallie, you can see Teddy Roosevelt, you get to get yelled at on your phone by some horrifying entity, and apparently their elevators are full service. Which comes in handy during COVID-19 times– you don’t want to have to touch those buttons everyone else is touching.

So that is the historic Menger Hotel and the ghosts that inhabit it. I hope you enjoyed today’s episode. Any scans or images will be on the podcast instagram @crimesandwitchdemeanors.

Please leave us a review on iTunes if you like the show. If you have any feedback, please don’t hesitate to either DM me on instagram or shoot an email to crimesandwitchdemeanors@gmail.com I am all ears to any constructive criticism you may have.

Which brings us to the end of today’s episode! I’ll see you next week for another ghost story. But, until then…stay spooky!

Sources

Another Outrage: Malicious and Probably Fatal Shooting of a Negro Woman by her Crazed Husband. (1876, March 29). San Antonio Daily Express, 1.

Captain Richard King. (1885, April 15). The Galveston Daily News, 1.

Haunted Menger Hotel | San Antonio’s haunted Hotel. (n.d.). Ghost City Tours. Retrieved November 24, 2020, from https://ghostcitytours.com/san-antonio/haunted-places/haunted-hotels/menger-hotel/

Haunted Menger Hotel in San Antonio – Legends of America. (n.d.). Retrieved November 24, 2020, from https://www.legendsofamerica.com/tx-mengerhotel/

Historic Hotels San Antonio | Our Story | The Menger Hotel. (n.d.). Menger Hotel. Retrieved November 24, 2020, from https://www.mengerhotel.com/about-us

Professor’s Wife Dies in Hotel Fall. (1952, June 21). Lubbock Morning Avalanche, 9.

R/Paranormal—[Experience] The Menger Hotel—I saw *something* in the ladies’ restroom. (n.d.). Reddit. Retrieved November 24, 2020, from https://www.reddit.com/r/Paranormal/comments/1mgq3z/experience_the_menger_hotel_i_saw_something_in/

r/Paranormal—Menger Hotel, San Antonio. (n.d.). Reddit. Retrieved November 24, 2020, from https://www.reddit.com/r/Paranormal/comments/9qlr00/menger_hotel_san_antonio/

State News. (1876, April 2). The Dallas Daily Herald, 1.

The 140th Anniversary of Sallie White’s Murder. (n.d.). The Sisters Grimm Blog. Retrieved November 24, 2020, from http://sistersgrimmghosttourblog.weebly.com/1/post/2016/03/the-140th-anniversary-of-sallie-whites-murder.html

Total Destruction Menger Hotel by Fire is Now Feared. (1924, October 15). The Eagle.

William A Menger (1827-1871)—Find A Grave… (n.d.). Retrieved November 24, 2020, from https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/47178741/william-a-menger

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