In August of 1989, Alan May, an eccentric criminal defense attorney from San Francisco, learned of the ghost who haunted the Hotel del Coronado from a business acquaintance.
Intrigued, he asked the Hotel Communications office for any information they had and was given, among other material, a copy of an article written by Richard Carrico that had appeared in the
Heritage Section of San Diego Home and Garden (October, 1983). Carrico’s story said Kate married Tom Morgan, a vagabond gambler, when she was 16 and traveled the West with him. Abandoned by
the card shark, Kate lived first in Visalia and then in Los Angeles.
A few days before Thanksgiving, 1892, she checked into the Hotel del Coronado and told all who would listen she was waiting
for the arrival of her ‘brother.’ After realizing her husband was not going to come for her, and after aborting the child she was carrying, she took the ferry to San Diego, bought a pistol, and used it to end her existence. After her suicide, “her anguished spirit drifted back down the long corridors, ascended two flights of stairs and came to rest, back in room 302.”
Carrico said the room had been renumbered after a major renovation and was now room 3502. May spent the night in the room, hoping the ghost would make an appearance. When she did not, May concluded he was in the wrong room; he located the original hotel registry and discovered Kate’s room was not 502, but 302. After researching the original floor plans and revised plans from 1930, May deduced the correct room and asked to be moved to it.
He claimed to have seen a ghost that night, when he slept in Room 3312. He said his experience was witnessed by several hotel employees, and at least one of them has confirmed his account of the episode. He stayed in Room 3312 several more times that month, and claims to have again been visited by the ghost. He said he believed the apparition was appealing to him to solve the mystery of who she was.
He obtained a copy of the Coroner’s Inquest from the San Diego Historical Society and found the newspaper articles from 1892 at the San Diego Public Library. With the assistance of an employee of Mount Hope Cemetery, he was able to locate the unmarked grave of Kate Morgan, and arranged to have a monument engraved and placed on her grave on September 20, 1989.
By September 29th, he had typed out his first draft of Kate Morgan, Who Are You? It was a simple story of his encounter with the ghost and his search for the material described above. In November of 1990, he went to Hamburg, Iowa, interviewed several people, visited Tom Morgan’s grave, and in December, he published The Legend of Kate Morgan: The Hunt for the Haunt of the Hotel del Coronado. In 1991, shortly before he died, a third version, The Legend of Kate Morgan: The Search for the Ghost of the Hotel del Coronado was published.
Various authors have written about the legend of Kate Morgan, each story differing from the others in small details and each with its own errors. In one, Kate was born in Dubuque rather than in Hamburg, Iowa. Her date of birth is given to be anywhere between 1864 and 1868. Some say she killed herself in her room and not near the beach. Others say she did not commit suicide at all, but was murdered by her husband. A few still erroneously claim the room she haunts is 3502 instead of 3312.
Over the years, May’s book seems to have become the cornerstone for all contemporary versions of The Del’s famous ghost. Much of it is wrong.
May was a noted criminal attorney with several high profile cases, and as such, he was adept at suggesting scenarios to introduce reasonable doubt. Whatever facts he uncovered about Kate Morgan, he used them only insofar as they helped him weave a tale – good reading to be sure, but not the truth.