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1892 Gaslight True Crime Mystery/Famous Ghost Legend

Victorian era mysterious death, national scandal, & enduring enigma.

click for special topic site: Coronado Mystery

Coronado Mystery.—1892 true crime/famous ghost legend at the Hotel del Coronado—a mystery John T. Cullen solved at last. Click on the banner to visit a special dedicated website and learn many details. The author has three books out—see below.

Long-standing Enigma: Why did the Beautiful Stranger really die? She checked in under a false name for unknowable reasons on Thanksgiving Day 1892, at the world-class Hotel del Coronado (today a U.S. National Historic Landmark). Beautiful, glamorous, mysterious, and odd—she died of a gunshot to the head a few days later on the hotel's seaward steps during a fierce night storm. Famously, legend has it that her ghost haunts the Hotel Del.Click for the dedicated website and three books by San Diego author John T. Cullen.

Three Books by John T. Cullen. Lots of fascinating detail & amp; info at this dedicated website: Three books/print & e-book editions: (1) Nonfiction: Dead Move; (2) Fiction:Lethal Journey, closely based on the scholarly historical research in Dead Move.

Why Dead Move? Of the thousands of visitors to San Diego-Coronado each year who stay at the Hotel del Corondo, at least half the guests ask questions about the famous ghost story. A few are courageous enough to spend the night in her former room (originally 320, today 3327). Typically, they call the desk in a panic in the middle of the night, after seeing all sorts of ghostly phenomena (like curtains blowing in a breeze, though the window is closed; flickering lights; etc.). The hotel is used to having guests call in sheer terror. Moving them to a new location without checking them out and re-registering them is called a Dead Move. Seems like a very appropriate title to jazz up a rather thick, extremely detailed research work (nonfiction)

Lethal Journey. For a quick, intense thriller (noir 1892 gaslight suspense) that gives you an overview, read Lethal Journey. It is based on a combination of both John T. Cullen's scholarly research and the rousing legend (Tom Morgan as a gambler, whom furthermore the spurious book of Alan May in 1987 parlayed into a murderer as well while allegedly Mr. May had dinner every night with the ghost in her former room; which gives you an idea of the amount of ridiculousness associated with a ghost story like this). Closely based on the nonfiction research in Dead Move, Lethal Journey is a quick primer on Victorian morays, death by gaslight, scandal in top hats, and beautiful drama. The dead woman was not Kate Morgan, as usually assumed, but Lizzie Wyllie, a gorgeous and elegant young (pregnant, "ruined," doomed) runaway shopgirl from Detroit. After authorities realized the registry name (Lottie A. Bernard) was a fake, the first I.D. on the body was of Lizzie Wyllie. Then, as part of a coverup to protect the hotel's owner, John Spreckels, his operatives in San Diego altered the facts and left us with a muddled, confusing ghost story whose heroine was actually the dark and unsavory grifter (Kate Morgan) who orchestrated this deadly failure, a blackmail scheme against John Spreckels.

Two Books in One. Combined in one volume (Coronado Mystery) you can read both Lethal Journey and Dead Move. Details at the website. Available in print and e-book editions at all major retailers.

A Women's Story. Lizzie was a true-life tragic heroine, embodying that highest Victorian ideal, the Fallen Angel. Learn about Victorian attitudes toward women, and shudder. In Read-a-Latte articles to come, I will write about the Beautiful Death (as it applied to young women) and other morbid aspects of a lost world. Lizzie became the true Fallen Angel, unlike the fictional Tess d'Urberville by Thomas Hardy (just one example of a genre that preoccupied every Victorian author, painter, and composer for much of a century). More on that soon.

Three Tragic Women: Beauty, Queen, and Crown Princess. As you'll learn in John T. Cullen's books, the case of what the Hotel del Coronado officially terms The Beautiful Stranger is not only a gripping, major San Diego story, but in fact reaches across the United States and the world. Kate Morgan and her accomplices (John Longfield, Lizzie Wyllie) were attempting an ill-conceived blackmail plot against the hotel's owner, which went horribly and fatally wrong. John Spreckels, the hotel's owner, was at that moment in the White House with personal and family friend President Benjamin Harrison (first president to stay at Spreckels' hotel not long before). Spreckels and Harrison were desperately trying to devise strategies for saving the monarchy in Hawai'i, where Spreckels' father Claus had enormous sugar cane plantations. A breath of scandal in Victorian times would have endangered Spreckels' delicate mission, hence the coverup by Spreckels' Pinkerton operatives at a time when the town had no real police force to speak of (just one chief and six patrolmen; no detectives). There are at least three tragic women in this wrenching tale: Lizzie, our Beautiful Stranger; Queen Lili'uokalani of Hawai'i, brutally deposed by U.S. corporate interests led by the Dole family (pineapple kings); and Crown Princess Victoria Ka'iulani, named for England's Queen Victoria with whom she was staying at the time of the 1893 coup that terminated Hawai'i's monarchy and sovereignty. Read about Crown Princess Victoria, a ravishing beauty of Hawai'ian-Scottish ancestry, who died (of a broken heart, it's said). She was known as the Peacock Princess. She grew ill and weak amid all the stress, and tragically died at age 23, having been continually savaged in the racist, dishonest U.S. corporate Yellow Press as a 'dusky' cannibal with a bone in her nose; the corporate pro-annexation propaganda demeaning her aunt, the Queen, was even far worse. The monarchy was overthrown in a brutal coup just weeks after events at the Hotel del Coronado. The Spreckels family (no angels either, to be sure) lost their vast Hawai'ian sugar plantations, taken over by their deadly rivals the Dole family (pineapple kings, who created a brief, fake 'republic' ruled by one of them, before annexation as a U.S. territory by 1898). In a final, dramatic touch of high tragedy, legend has it that Crown Princess Ka'iulani's beloved peacocks on her own palace grounds would not stop screaming in anguish night and day, until gamekeepers had to go out and shoot all the poor birds.

Apology Postscript 1993. As a long-delayed postscript: In 1993, a rare bipartisan, joint resolution in a divisive age (U.S. Public Law 103-150 was passed by both houses of the Republican-dominated Congress and signed the same day by President Bill Clinton on November 1993, the anniversary year of the Hawai'an overthrow. The resolution apologizes for U.S. actions on 17 January 1893, just seven weeks after the crisis at the Hotel del Coronado involving the three conspirators, of whom one (Lizzie Wyllie) died. Lots more info on the blackmail attempt in John T. Cullen's three books.

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