The Hauntings of The Hot Lake Hotel
Nestled next to the sulfur waters of Hot Lake Springs in La Grande, Oregon is a seemingly idyllic slice of Old West Americana.
The red brick building with its stately white columns echoes back to an earlier time, when healing waters were all the rage and ladies carrying parasols strolled the grounds. But lurking beneath the serene exterior is a history colored by elements of supernatural and strange.
Once known as “the Mayo Clinic of the West,” Hot Lake Hotel was constructed in 1907 and purchased in 1917 by Dr. W.T. Phy, who added modern medical facilities, including a hospital, surgery, and X-ray room, to the hotel and created a popular resting spot renowned for the supposed medicinal properties of the spring’s thermal waters. People came from throughout the country to partake of the spring’s purported healing properties, and patient ailments ranged from rheumatoid arthritis to fatal cases of syphilis and tuberculosis.
After Dr. Phy’s death in 1931, the hotel fell into decline, and in 1934 the wooden structures of the building burnt down, leaving only the red brick exterior. Although rumors that the hotel served as an insane asylum after 1934 are unsubstantiated, that it was used as a nursing home in the 1950s is well documented. It was ultimately abandoned in the 1970s, until it was purchased privately in 2003. Following substantial restoration work, and the collapse of the entire west wing in 2008, the hotel finally reopened in 2010 and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Among the most commonly reported supernatural phenomenon are numerous reports of unearthly piano music. In its early days, the hotel acquired a piano owned by Robert E. Lee’s wife—a piano which was already reputed to play by itself before the hotel’s acquisition of it. In the early days, guests would report hearing the eerie music, and though the piano was later removed by a former owner (who committed suicide), the music can still be heard.
Another popular story involves a gardener who committed suicide on the grounds. It is said that he hung himself behind the hotel, and to this day reports circulate that he wanders the grounds.
A gazebo located near one of Hot Lake Spring’s many lakes is frequently the subject of reports of voices whispering—perhaps the voices of long-ago lovers finding a stolen moment alone? Along the lakes’ shores, many people report seeing the shadowy figures of long ago guests strolling.
Along the highway leading to the hotel, a thick fog oftentimes appears, and stories abound of ghostly apparitions emerging from the mist. Prior to the highway, the hotel was connected to the town of Richmond by a four-mile rail line built by Chinese workers who may still lurk along its path.
In the hotel, doors open and close by themselves, footsteps pound across the upper floors, and strange voices echo down the halls. Stories to explain these ghostly occurrences range from claims of vacationers who passed away to patients who were the victims of horrendous experiments to the departed spirits of the building’s former nursing home residents.
Although the current owners of Hot Lake Hotel eschew all mention of the hotel’s supernatural reputation, many residents of La Grande have their own anecdotal evidence to add to the more infamous stories of the hotel’s ghostly denizens. A visit to the site is sure to leave the guest with the unearthly impression of sulfur-laden hot springs, swirling mists, and the sense that the door between the past and the present swings open at Hot Lake Hotel with unnerving frequency.