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Rooms With A Past

The History and Mystery
of the
MENGER HOTEL

by Docia Schultz Williams
Republic of Texas Press, 2000


Reviewed by John Troesser
There's a reason why they made the movie Grand Hotel and why writers use hotels as backdrops for everything from murders, assassinations and political conventions (sometimes the same thing) to more innocent and mundane events like honeymoons, anniversaries and family reunions. It's because hotels are more than a neutral ground - they're where we live when we're not at home. You've got to admit it beats staying with relatives.

San Antonio has long been Texas' number one tourist attraction. It's a colorful town in a colorful state and the Menger Hotel has always been worthy to play host to some of San Antonio's most colorful visitors.
Menger Hotel, San Antonio TX 1905  post card
The Menger Hotel
1905 Postcard courtesy www.rootsweb.com/ %7Etxpstcrd/
Alamo Plaza showing Menger Hotel proximity to Alamo, San Antonio TX
Alamo Plaza showing Menger Hotel's proximity to the Alamo
1915 Postcard courtesy www.rootsweb.com/%7Etxpstcrd/

The book is conveniently divided into two parts: Part one contains 11 chapters dealing with the history and the second part has seven chapters dealing with the guests (and staff) that haven't yet checked out.

The Menger is the oldest Hotel west of the Mississippi that has been in continual operation. Starting as a modest boarding house operated by an immigrant cooper and his equally hard-working wife, it has changed hands surprisingly few times. Each change of ownership is given it's own chapter of the book.


Notable Guests


There's a chapter devoted to "historic and interesting trivialities" and one given to "notable guests". Another chapter contains Hotel recipes and some of the historic menus that are pretty hard to believe for such seemingly primitive times. Scattered through the pages are stories of how the bakery chef became the founder of Richter Bakery and Buttercrust Bread and how hunters would exchange venison or even bear for lodging.

Resident guests included Richard King, founder of the King Ranch, Pola Negri, silent film star, Gutzon Borglum, the sculptor who designed and started Mount Rushmore and Adina De Zavala, the woman responsible for saving the Alamo.

Borglum, the sculptor actually carved statues in the courtyard of the hotel and at one time the pool area contained tropical flora and fauna that included alligators.

Military men were quite fond of the Menger and famous guests included Phil Sheridan, Wm. Sherman, Robert E. Lee, John Pershing, George Patton, Leonard Wood, Jimmy Doolittle, Tommy Thompson and William Simpson.

One lowly enlisted man stationed at Ft. Sam Houston in the 1950s deserves mentioning. His name was Shearn Moody Jr. and he found that soldiers who owned property in San Antonio could live "off-post." He told his company commander that he wanted to live at the Menger Hotel and the Captain patiently explained to him that he'd have to own the hotel if he wanted to live there. Specialist 4th Class Moody patiently explained to the Captain that that was the case.

Civilian notables included Oscar Wilde, O. Henry, Sidney Lanier and Frances Parkinson Keyes. Carry (also spelled Carrie) Nation visited the Menger and of course we all know that Col. Theodore Roosevelt recruited his "Rough Riders" from his HQ in the Menger Bar.

Presidents included Ulysses S. Grant, Benjamin Harrison, "Teddy" Roosevelt, "Woody" Wilson and "Dwighty" Eisenhower.

The ghosts range from Sallie White, of the housekeeping staff, to Richard King himself. There's a ghost for nearly each era, including a Spaniard, a Confederate Officer, a man in buckskin and one in a top hat.

Menger Hotel, San Antonio TX post card
The Menger Hotel
Postcard courtesy www.rootsweb.com/ %7Etxpstcrd/

Notable Ghosts

Ghosts without stories include chambermaid ghosts that are felt smoothing down beds with guests still in them, ghosts that are smoking cigars (in non-smoking rooms!), and polite ghosts that say, "Pardon me" when they pass. Some ghosts are seen and not heard and some are heard but not seen like the persistent woman with the quavering voice who wanted room service. Her repeated and demanding calls came from an unoccupied part of the hotel - from a room that had been closed for years.

Like in most of her books, Docia Schultz Williams includes some of her poetry. Call us old-fashioned, but we like her poems. For one thing, they actually rhyme.

It's hard to find a book with such entertaining stories encompassing such a variety of personalities. It's certainly a good gift book for people who enjoy history, non-fiction, ghost stories, hotels, personalities, Texas, San Antonio or any combination thereof.


John Troesser
First published October, 2000

See also: Old Bill the Menger Alligator by Michael Barr
More Texas Books
Related Topics: Alamo | San Antonio | San Antonio Hotels |
Ghosts | Rooms with a Past | Texas |






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