Known for its famous ghost, the “Lady in Black,” and presidential guests, the Desoto House Hotel in Galena, IL, has a rich history. It is the oldest operating hotel in the state and has suffered a series of misfortunes in addition to the ghosts that haunt it. These hauntings have a long history as well and date back into the 1800s.
The hotel features 55 Victorian-style rooms with names that reference some of the famous guests of the past. With all of the misfortunes that have befallen the hotel, it not only appears haunted but cursed as well.
History of the Desoto House Hotel
Galena’s economic peak occurred in the 1850s when it was the principal river port of the Upper Mississippi Valley. A group of local investors formed the “Galena Hotel Company” and built the DeSoto House, which opened in 1855. The name came from the discoverer of the Mississippi River. Its purpose was to show the growing prosperity of the area and serve the people arriving in Galena due to it being a significant trade and mining center. The original hotel had 225 guestrooms, ladies’ parlors, a gentleman’s reading room, a large kitchen, and a 300-seat dining hall.
The hotel’s first proprietor, John C. Park, provided $15,000 worth of furnishings in exchange for a two-year rent-free contract. The DeSoto House was the center of Galena’s political and social activities. President Abraham Lincoln gave a speech from the Main Street balcony in 1856 to support John Fremont’s bid for the presidency. In 1858, Senator Stephen A. Douglas also spoke from this balcony.
Ulysses S. Grant caused a stir in Galena when he returned home from the Civil War. There was a grand reception with parades and 25,000 citizens to welcome him home. Later on, he also used rooms 209 and 211 of the hotel as his presidential campaign headquarters.
In June of 1859, the misfortunes began. Just four years after its grand opening, the hotel suffered a fire, which caused water and smoke damage to the entire hotel. It also destroyed about 12 rooms on each floor. Then about ten years later, in December of 1869, the hotel suffered a massive blow, literally. A stream boiler in the hotel’s basement exploded.
The hotel was put up for rent a few months later and then closed in December of 1870 before being bought in 1871 by W.H. Blewett. He redecorated and was able to revive the hotel. The building changed a lot more in the 1880s when they removed the fourth and fifth floors, and moved the tavern to the Green Street side of the building. In the 1980s, the hotel underwent a major restoration with Frank Einsweiller’s $7.8 million contribution.
Currently, the DeSoto House has three dining areas, conference and banquet rooms, a ballroom, 55 guest rooms with private baths, a private parking garage, and specialty shops. It also has a four-story atrium for Courtyard dining.
The Hauntings of the DeSoto House Hotel
The history of ghosts at the DeSoto House Hotel goes back over 100 years, with some ghost stories published in local newspapers. In these articles, a woman claimed she saw a black figure come to her window. Sightings of “The Lady in Black” have also been documented since the 1800s. For many years, people have reported seeing a woman in a black period dress descending a staircase and then walking into a wall. There seemed to be nothing unique about this particular wall, so it was interesting that people always said this is where she disappeared. In 2011 part of the mystery of her appeared to have been solved.
That year Galena had a flood that destroyed some of the drywall in the hotel’s lower level. They had to remove this and what they found was a doorway opening right where the Lady in Black appeared to disappear. Instead of just disappearing, she must be going through a door she remembers. Instead of covering it back up, they put in plexiglass so that you can see the doorway. There is also a picture that caught The Lady in Black in a full apparition form.
Other people have reported voices in the halls and phantom cigar smoke.
Most Haunted Areas
The third floor appears to have the most haunted activity. There was a desk clerk who never believed in the paranormal until she began working at the DeSoto House. While on the third floor late at night, she experienced a chill and a bright ball of light that zoomed past her. She also said that room 333 gave her an uneasy feeling, so if you are looking to find some ghosts, make sure to request that room.
Guests have also complained about hearing footsteps and noises coming from above while on the third floor, but there are no longer floors above it. Others have felt a presence on the end of their bed. While there are no official ghost tours offered at the hotel, there are many local ones from which to choose, including one that begins in the DeSoto House Hotel’s lobby.
Visiting the DeSoto House
Costs range from $150 to $340 per night depending on the room you pick, whether you choose a special package, and the day of the week. Some rooms overlook the courtyard restaurant, downtown Galena or the park.
You can also pick from romance packages that include chocolate and champagne or historical packages that include a tour of the history museum. Additional specials are available on their website. Plus, you may get the bonus of seeing the Lady in Black like so many others!BOOK A STAY
Galena, IL, is believed to be a super haunted town. The high concentration of ghosts seems to be due to the high number of tragedies, the fact that it is a valley and the energy stays contained, and that so many of the buildings are preserved, so the ghosts still feel at home.
It is a great town to get your dose of the supernatural through the haunted buildings and expert ghost tours. DeSoto House Hotel is a great place to stay for a great chance to see a well-established ghost in The Lady in Black.