Haunted Menger Hotel in San Antonio

San Antonio Menger Hotel 1905

The Historic Menger Hotel, San Antonio, Texas, in 1905, vintage postcard.

Constructed 23 years after the fall of the Alamo, San Antonio’s Menger Hotel is and has been since 1859, The Grande Dame of Alamo Plaza. Having hosted many celebrated personalities, including past presidents, military commanders, empire builders, cattle barons, etc. The Menger still serves as one of San Antonio’s premier hotels. Located on Alamo across from the Alamo, the historic Menger Hotel is a five-story hotel offering 320 rooms and suites. On the National Register of Historic Places, the Menger Hotel is one of Texas’ best-known and oldest hotels. Continuing to cater to travelers today, the hotel is also said to be home to several resident ghosts.

The hotel was opened by William Menger on February 1, 1859, on the site of Menger’s brewery, the first brewery in Texas. Said to have been the finest hotel west of the Mississippi River, it once hosted such notables as Sam Houston, Generals Robert Lee and Ulysses S. Grant and Presidents McKinley, Taft, Eisenhower, and Roosevelt; Babe Ruth, and Mae West.

Menger, a German immigrant, arrived in San Antonio in the early 1840s and operated a brewery with Charles Phillip Degen at the site. In 1857 he decided to build a hotel to accommodate the many carousers who frequented his brewery. Soon, he hired local architect John M. Fries to design the two-story cut-stone building, which featured abundant classical detail.

The hotel was so successful that Menger immediately made plans to build an addition between the hotel and his brewery. Construction on a forty-room annex began in August 1858 and was completed the following year. The hotel featured a tunnel opening off the basement, through which Menger led groups of selected guests on tours of the adjacent brewery. Menger died at the hotel in March 1871, and his widow and son took over the management.

When the Civil War and Reconstruction were over, especially after the railroad arrived in 1877, the Menger became the best-known hotel in the Southwest. It was praised for the cuisine offered in the Colonial Dining Room, which included such specialties as wild game, mango ice cream, and snapper soup made from turtles caught in the San Antonio River.

An east wing was added in December 1881. Hermann Kampmann became manager in 1887 and supervised the installation of a new bar, a replica of the taproom in the House of Lords Club in London. The solid cherry bar, cherry-paneled ceiling, French mirrors, and gold-plated spittoons were the marvels of San Antonio. The beer was chilled by the Alamo Madre ditch, which passed through the hotel courtyard, mint juleps were served in solid silver tumblers, and hot rum toddies came to have wide renown. Theodore Roosevelt first visited the Menger in 1892 on a javelina hunt; he returned to recruit his Rough Riders at the hotel in 1898, and in 1905 he was back for a banquet.

In 1909 the hotel was again enlarged with an addition to the south side. Architect Alfred Giles altered the main façade, adding Renaissance Revival details in stuccoed brick, pressed metal, and cast iron; he also designed an interior rotunda that provided light and served as a circulation hub. The hotel was a center of San Antonio social affairs and a meeting place for visiting celebrities. It declined during the Great Depression, but in the mid-1940s, the building was reconditioned, and the more celebrated dining rooms were restored. By 1951 a new wing had been added, and the building had been completely modernized. In 1976 the hotel was added to the National Register of Historic Places as part of the Alamo Plaza Historic District. The Menger was again renovated in the 1980s.

Inside the lobby of the Menger Hotel

Inside the lobby of the Menger Hotel

In addition to its significance as a historical landmark, the Menger offers unparalleled amenities, including the famous Colonial Room Restaurant and the Menger Bar, along with 316 guest rooms and suites. Many rooms overlook the Alamo, pool, or Alamo Plaza, and all retain the furniture, art, and accessories from the hotel’s earlier days, including four-poster beds, velvet-covered Victorian sofas and chairs, marble-topped tables, and period wall coverings.

As to its resident ghosts, the historic Menger Hotel is said to be called home or regularly visited by some 32 different entities. Seemingly, they don’t mind sharing the old hotel with the living as they pleasantly go about their business.

The Menger’s most famous spiritual guest is former President Teddy Roosevelt. Here, in the Menger Bar, Roosevelt recruited hard-living cowboys fresh from the Chisholm Trail to his detachment of Rough Riders. Reportedly, Teddy would sit at the bar. As the cowboys came in, he would cheerfully offer them a free drink (or several) as he worked his recruiting strategy upon the unsuspecting cowpoke. Many sobered up the next morning to find themselves on their way to basic military training at Fort Sam Houston before joining in the Spanish American War. Over the years, Roosevelt has reportedly been seen drinking at the dark little barroom off the main lobby.

The most often sighted spiritual guest is a woman named Sallie White. Long ago, Sallie was a chambermaid who worked within the hotel, and one night after an argument with her husband, she stayed overnight. The next day her husband threatened to kill her, and sometime later, on March 28, 1876, he attacked her inside the hotel. Badly injured, she held on for two days before dying of her injuries. According to the hotel’s ledgers, it paid for her funeral for $32.00.

Today, Sallie apparently continues to perform her duties within the Victorian wing of the hotel. Sallie has been seen numerous times wearing an old long gray skirt and a bandana around her forehead, the uniform common during her era. Primarily, appearing at night, Sallie is generally seen walking along the hotel hallways, carrying a load of clean towels for the guests.

Another apparition that is often reported is that of Captain Richard King, the one-time owner of one of the largest ranches in the world – The King Ranch. A frequent visitor to the Menger Hotel, he had a personal suite within the hotel during his lifetime. When he learned of his impending death from his personal physicians, Captain King spent the last months of his life, wrote his will disposing of his great wealth, and bade farewell to his friends in his suite at the Menger. On April 15, 1885, King’s funeral was held in the Menger’s parlor. Today, the room in which he stayed is called the “King Ranch Room.” He is often seen entering his old room, going right through the wall where the door was once located before it was remodeled. Display cases and photographs on the walls of the first-floor lobbies provide a glimpse into the Menger’s colorful past.

Another ghostly spirit of a woman is often spotted sitting in the original lobby of the historic hotel. Wearing an old-fashioned blue dress, small wire-framed glasses, and a tasseled beret in her hair, she sits quietly knitting. On one occasion, a staff member stopped to ask her, “Are you comfortable…may I get you something?” only to be answered with an unfriendly “No” before the woman disappeared.

Another guest reported emerging from the shower to see an apparition dressed in a buckskin jacket and grey pants, who was busy having a heated conversation with an unseen presence. The entity demands to know, “Are you gonna stay or are you gonna go?” three times before vanishing.

Other entities have been known to “help” in the kitchen area, as various utensils have seemingly floated through the air. Utensils are often seen transporting themselves from one area to another without the help of human hands.

Alamo at Night

The Alamo at night by Kathy Alexander.

Adjacent to the Alamo, some of these ghostly visitors to the hotel are attributed to the many that died during the Battle of the Alamo. Heavy footsteps and kicking are often heard, and old military boots are spied by the guests and staff.

Other spiritual guests are said to have been some of the many who have stayed there over the years, as well as those who were recruited into the Rough Riders. Though the number of entities counted at the historic Menger Hotel is high, all are said to be harmless to staff and visitors, doing nothing more than sometimes starling a guest or an employee.

The first choice of San Antonio ghost hunters is the hotel located downtown, immediately adjacent to the Alamo and the Rivercenter Mall.

The Menger Hotel
204 Alamo Plaza
San Antonio, Texas

© Kathy Alexander/Legends of America, updated November 2022.

The Menger Hotel, David Alexander, February, 2011.

The Menger Hotel, David Alexander, February 2011.

Also See:

Battle of the Alamo

Ghosts of the Alamo

Ghost Children upon San Antonio’s Railroad Tracks

The Haunted Gunter Hotel

Mission San Antonio de Valero – The Alamo

San Antonio – A Mecca For History Buffs