Many times, there are hauntings where the apparitions seen have very little backstory or information on why they are haunting the establishment. Sometimes it’s a woman in white, other times it’s a man in turn of the century clothing, but they rarely have names and stories outside of their haunting appearances. That’s not the case with today’s hotel. The most famous spirit in this early 1900s hotel in Seward, Alaska is a woman many people in town knew and appreciated in life, and she’s still hanging around her favorite hotel, even 80 years after her death. Let’s explore the Van Gilder Hotel and the ghosts within.
The Van Gilder hotel was first built in 1916, one of the first reinforced concrete buildings in the bustling town during the Alaskan gold rush. Initially built as an office building, the structure had many jobs throughout its life. The local newspaper was once headquartered in the basement, as well as a law firm and the Alaskan Import company. After being an office building, it was renovated into apartments and finally, a grand hotel on the Alaskan frontier. The third floor served as the home for the Masonic and Odd Fellows lodge, until new buildings were constructed for the groups and the third floor was converted into an opulent ballroom. At one point in the 1950s, the building was leased to the state to become dormitories for the Seward Skills Center.
The three-story building has changed little from its final form as a hotel, keeping the same atmosphere and decor that would have been seen in the 1920s at the height of its popularity. With 27 rooms and a few more in the basement for good measure, the rooms have barely been touched other than modern renovations. The bedrooms still have steel-framed beds and bathrooms decorated in the art deco style for which the time period was known. The building was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1980.
Since the opening of the hotel, rumors in town said the building was haunted by several spirits, none of them with any particular characteristics, as lights turned on and off and occasionally, a room would lock on it’s own, forcing employees to find the skeleton key or force their way into the room, finding it empty and bafflingly ransacked by an unseen hand. The real haunting didn’t begin until the 1940s with a famous murder case in Seward.
A woman named Fannie Guthry-Baehm was staying in a room on the second floor in 1947, though reports vary about which room it was, exactly. Some say room 201, others say 208, but the facts of the story remain the same. Fannie was shot in the head by her husband during her stay at the Van Gilder Hotel, the husband’s temperament already being rage-filled and made even worse by his whiskey habit. The stories about Fannie’s untimely death spread quickly throughout the sleepy Alaskan town, still holding on even after the gold rush had died down.
Fannie is said to still haunt the building where she lost her life. She’s described as a tall, blonde woman in a blue dress from the 1940s, and her apparition is seen all over the hotel, but especially on the second floor where she met her untimely death. One story tells of a guest sleeping in room 202 experiencing what felt like an earthquake, followed by heavy footsteps on the stairs and a scream in the night. When he frantically told the front desk, they explained calmly that he’d experienced the ghost of Fannie, re-living the night of her murder in a loop, which is the most common way her spirit is seen.
One night, a guest reported waking in the night and seeing a tall, blonde woman in a blue dress standing in the corner of his room. As he watched from his bed, the woman turned, walked through the dresser, and out the closed door in the bedroom. The man was so frightened, he didn’t sleep a wink the entire night.
While Mrs. Guthry-Baehm is the most famous and visible of the ghosts in the Van Gilder, there are dozens of other reports of paranormal activity from employees and housekeeping staff, the latter of which insist that perfectly made rooms find their way into disarray with no guests staying in the rooms. Sometimes, the staff would see the outline of someone sitting or laying on the bed after making it, and some even reported coming face to face with a man on the stairs who would suddenly disappear before making it all the way to the next floor.
An Alaskan hotel with a storied past, the Van Gilder Hotel still operates to this day, offering comfortable beds for weary travelers and visitors from around the world. The spirit of Fannie Guthry-Baehm still walks the halls and appears from time to time to those guests, the employees, and visitors to the hotel. Make sure if you go, you request one of the rooms on the second floor so you can experience the paranormal hauntings for yourself, maybe even getting a chance to say hello to the tragic Frannie.
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Born in Death Valley and raised on the prairie, Deborah is a Wyoming-based paranormal researcher and a senior at the University of Wyoming, studying Communication. Her interests lie in folklore, history, rhetorical analysis and research. With an obvious love for ghost stories, frequently those interests combine with her work on Ghostlandia.