Amid the countless allegedly haunted locations in San Antonio, the Sheraton Gunter Hotel’s verifiable history of horror sets it apart, whether it wants the notoriety or not. Some say ghosts only come out in the dark, helped along by creaks and drafts to stir the imagination, but even the modern, well-lit, and draft-free hospitality of the Sheraton Gunter can’t chase away the remnants of its past.
There are no dark forests, creaking stairs, or clanking pipes to unsettle guests of the Sheraton Gunter, yet behind all the bright lights and amenities, this hotel has some of the darkest, most substantial ghost stories in a city teeming with haunted and historic destinations. It’s an ideal stop for the paranormal enthusiast who likes to travel in comfort.
History of the Gunter Hotel
From the Alamo to the Turn of the Century
Though the ownership and architecture of the building itself have changed, a hotel has stood on this spot in some form since 1837, one year after the battle of the Alamo took place less than half a mile away.
From 1846 until 1872, the hotel was closed to the public and used as military offices, first in response to post-Mexican War cavalry incursions, and then during the Civil War, when it changed hands between the Union and Confederacy multiple times.
After being repeatedly redesigned and renamed as the Settlement Inn, the Frontier Inn, the Vance Hotel, and the Mahncke Hotel, the building was eventually razed and rebuilt as the Gunter in 1909, named after an investor who died during construction. At the time, it was the most opulent hotel Texas had ever seen, and the tallest building in San Antonio.
A Star-Studded Guestbook
The presidential suite of the Sheraton Gunter has often been used for its titular purpose, most notably to accommodate Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman. Plenty of other celebrities have passed through over the years, including beloved and influential blues musician Robert Johnson, as well as some of the biggest names of Hollywood’s Western classics. Mae West, Gene Autry, Roy Rogers, Tom Mix, and John Wayne have all stayed in the hotel, Wayne during the filming of The Alamo.
Its most famous guests today, however, are those who will never check out. Like most hotels in the immediate surrounding area, this one has had sightings of the spirits of frightened Alamo soldiers, but there’s also a motley family of spirits seen only at the Sheraton Gunter.
Gunter Hotel Ghosts
Ingrid and Peggy
Two loud but harmless spirits are said to inhabit opposite sides of the hotel’s second floor. Ingrid, with her long dark hair and white dress, and Peggy, in her daringly short flapper attire, have apparently been nursing a bitter rivalry since their deaths, or perhaps before.
No one’s sure who they were in life or whether they knew each other, but now they’re fond of throwing things at each other, slamming doors, and occasionally tugging guests back and forth between them. They seem to become especially active during parties, apparently wanting to join in the fun, and Ingrid in particular is known to photobomb unsuspecting guests, appearing beside them in all her pale finery.
Robert Johnson’s Bargain
On November 23rd 1936, Robert Johnson began the first recording session of his career in Room 414. The session lasted three days and included his recording of “Cross Road Blues,” a song some have interpreted as a hint at his alleged deal with the devil, trading his soul for inhuman musical talent.
Sadly, this first recording session was also his second-to-last. He died just two years later, at the age of 27, under suspicious circumstances. Accounts by friends and witnesses indicate that he may have been murdered with a bottle of poisoned whiskey, gifted to him by an obsessed fan, or possibly tampered with by a jealous husband or even the devil himself in some tellings.
Although Johnson died two states away from the Sheraton Gunter, guests say they can see, hear, or feel him lingering in the room where he first tasted mainstream success. In spite of the legend of a deal with the devil, his presence is described as a positive one, a muse to artists who seek him out.
Indeed, many believe the song is not about the devil at all, but about a benevolent Voodoo trickster god symbolized by a crossroads, or perhaps simply about the fear of being caught on the road after dark as a black man in the segregated south.
If you’re not lucky enough to book your stay in Room 414, you can still stop for a nightcap in Bar 414, the hotel lounge named in honor of Johnson’s visit.
The Woman in Room 636
The most verifiable and downright chilling splash of the macabre to darken the Sheraton Gunter’s history is without a doubt what happened in room 636.
In 1965, a handsome blond man named Walter Emerick checked into room 636 under a false name. For the next several days, he was seen enjoying the accommodations in the company of an unidentified blonde woman.
On the day he was scheduled to check out, a maid removed the room’s Do Not Disturb sign, thinking he had forgotten it on his way, and entered to find Emerick sitting on the bed, surrounded by blood splatter on every possible surface. According to the maid, he then raised a finger to his lips to shush her.
The maid screamed anyway, and Emerick rushed out past her, holding a bundle of bloody sheets. A few days later, he checked into the nearby St. Anthony Hotel, specifically requesting to stay in room 636 there as well, and becoming angry when he had to settle for room 536. When the staff became suspicious and called the police to his room, he shot himself before they could enter.
No substantial amount of a body was ever found, and no missing person report ever matched the case, but it’s clear by the amount of blood that somebody died that night, and long blonde hairs were found in the mess.
By following Emerick’s spending in the weeks before, the police discovered he had had an argument with the attendant of a store that didn’t carry a large enough meat grinder to suit his needs. Based on the pronounced rings of blood around the tub and toilet, it’s believed that most if not all of the mystery woman’s body was ground up and washed down the plumbing.
If there was any left, perhaps wrapped in those bloody sheets, it was likely dumped in the concrete of one of the many fresh construction sites in the area at the time.
Ghost Hunting at the Gunter Today
Unlike the inspirational memory of Robert Johnson, and the tolerated mischief of Ingrid and Peggy, the hotel has done its best to forget what happened in Room 636, remodeling and splitting the original room in two to try to shake the restless spirit.
Nevertheless, guests still see the murder endlessly repeating, or else see the mystery woman simply standing near where it occurred, arms outstretched. Some have also seen a much older woman in a similar pose. It’s unclear whether she’s a different entity attracted to a spot of spiritual turmoil, or the mystery woman herself, lamenting her lost chance to live and age.
In spite of all efforts to move on, almost fifty years after the murder, the hotel received a weathered envelope addressed to its old name at its old zip code, circa 1965. Inside there was no message, only an original key to room 636, also from the era of the murder, just before the switchover to keycards.
Do you dare check in and greet the ghosts of the Sheraton Gunter for yourself?
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