When it comes to horror stories, hotel stays could be their own subgenre (The Shining, anyone?). A new book, which all started with one designer’s near-ghostly experience certainly makes the case.
It all began last year when Sam Bompas, cofounder of London experience design studio Bompas & Parr, booked a stay at the Wellington Hotel in Boscastle, England (near the Museum of Witchcraft and Magic, naturally). After booking, he read a review that claimed the very room he’d reserved was haunted. While he didn’t experience anything supernatural, it put him on a mission to find more of these stories. They’re now compiled in the agency’s new book, Ghost Stories of Tripadvisor.
While ghost stories might seem hard to believe, a recent Ipsos poll shows that nearly half of Americans believe that ghosts are real. And those that experience them during their travels recount the stories like any 21st-century guest would—with snarky online reviews. That’s clear in the new book, which compiles nearly 40 reviews from the popular travel site, paired alongside images of the hotels.
Sam Bompas has three favorite reviews in particular. The first is from Malmaison Oxford Castle, a boutique hotel in Oxford, England. The hotel received a four-star review despite what the reviewer called a “really nasty ghost” that appeared in front of the door, facing him like a shadow. “I didn’t want to freak out, even though the vibes that he was giving out were very evil,” said the reviewer. “Not good.” For Bompas, it shows how arbitrary reviews can be. Sure it’s haunted, but doesn’t it still deserve four stars?
Another particularly chilling review came by way of Nevada’s Overland Hotel & Saloon. A guest wrote that a shadowy specter pinned his brother down on the bed with a pillow until he couldn’t breathe. “My brother went through Navy Seal training, and isn’t scared of anything . . . but this time he was REALLY SCARED!” Three stars. “Within the ghost stories, you’ve got mannerisms that you’d find in a typically crafted story,” says Bompas. The writer often sets up a story by qualifying they don’t believe in ghosts but . . . and then share their own experience.
Bompas’s other favorite is the review from the aforementioned Wellington Hotel. In an experience they “wouldn’t wish upon anyone,” the reviewer claimed they felt someone walk up to the bed beside them—then felt a rush of cold air, and they were completely paralyzed for about 30 seconds. One star. Unfortunately for Bompas, who hoped to catch the ghost in action, he didn’t get the same experience at the Wellington.
So is there a design aesthetic that’s particularly prone to hauntings? Not exactly, but Bompas does note a few commonalities. Historic buildings are more likely to be haunted, he says. Second, the building is often no longer in its glory days but might still have a bit of charm. And lastly, hotels that have been repurposed from castles, prisons, and the like lend themselves to spooky clientele.
But there’s another reason hotels might be prone to supernatural experiences, according to Bompas, namely, infrasound. It’s a super low-frequency sound often emitted from things like HVAC systems and industrial refrigerators that you wouldn’t be used to at home. When the sound reaches around 19 Hz, the resonant frequency of the human eyeball, it can actually affect your other senses. Bompas & Parr created an infrared speaker to test this for their Voice of God exhibition a few years back, and they did in fact, experience really uncomfortable side effects, like sweating, palpitations, and chills, “all of which could be attributed to the supernatural,” he says. (Bompas says he experienced a metallic taste in his mouth and the feeling that someone’s hand was on the back of his neck.) He stresses that this is just a theory. Another possible reason for sightings could be disrupted sleep patterns, he says. And if you’re prone to believing superstition, you’re more likely to think a draft has ghostly origins to begin with.
So are the stories recounted here just spooky coincidences? While Bompas says he’d love to launch a global ghost hunters event of his own, for now he can’t say whether these spooky specters are fact or fiction. They are most revealing, he says, about the person telling them.