Some places are considered haunted just because they are long abandoned and are standing in ruins in an isolated location far away from civilization. Then there are some places that are right in the heart of a big city but are labeled as haunted because someone died there in mysterious circumstances. If the death was unnatural or violent in nature, it just gives an extra flavor to an already spicy and deliciously flavored haunted story. One such place is the very well known Taj Mahal hotel that is always filled with people, always crowded, always the centre of attraction yet considered haunted. There is however another such hotel which might not be as famous and center of attraction as the Taj Hotel but has a charm of its own and is also considered among India’s top haunted places.
One of the earliest hotels to be built in India and definitely the first one in Mussoorie was built in 1838, name of which has been long lost with time. The second hotel was built in 1861 and was called “Charles Ville”. These were the times when Indians were probably not even familiar with the concept of a hotel and the concept of a lodge was only known to the rich and royals. Mussoorie must have just been a small village back then and the only possible reason one can think of that made it so popular among British that they built hotels here even before building a road must have been its close proximity to Dehradun which was a major town even in those days.
In 1895, an Irish barrister by the name of Cecil D. Lincoln from Dehradun bought a piece of land in Mussorie on which there used to be an English school called “Rev. Maddock’s Mussoorie School”. It is said that with his brother, Cecil also owned a coffee company called “Arbuckle Coffee Company”. In the next five years, the school building was brought down and in its place came a hotel which was going to stay operational for over a century. This hotel was named as “The Hotel Savoy”.
After the railway reached Dehradun in 1900, Mussoorie became more popular and was the chief summer resort for European residents of the British Raj. It was even more popular than Shimla because Shimla was the summer capital of Raj and had that official environment which the young officers always wanted to avoid. After its opening in 1902, Hotel Savoy became extremely popular as the preferred place to stay for anyone who could afford it. When the town itself was known as “the pleasure capital of the Raj, the Savoy Hotel was called as the place either to stay (if you could afford it) or to be seen (if you couldn’t). Spreading over 11 acres and overlooking the Doon Valley, it was built in English Gothic architecture style mostly in wood with more than 75 rooms out of which 50 are still operational. Its bar, known as the ‘Writer’s Bar’ remained famous for many decades after the independence of India in 1947. The legend has it that the hotel was built even before the road from Dehradun to Mussoorie was completed and massive amount of Edwardian furniture, grand pianos, billiard-tables, barrels of cider, crates of champagne and other materials were all carried uphill by bullock cart. This also included the oak pieces that were later joined to make its dining hall floor that is renowned for its size. In March 1906, the princess of Wales visited India and stayed at Savoy but it was after the First World War that the hotel entered its most popular phase, as it boasted a large imperial dining room and the ballroom which was the talk of the town in its heyday. Several high ranking British officers and Indian Maharajas stayed here and several of them maintained suites here. Wealthy princes used to occupy entire wings. Even the kings from foreign lands like Kings of Nepal, Emperor of Ethiopia, the Crown Prince of Laos, and Nobel Prize winner Pearl S. Buck during their visits to India always preferred to stay at Savoy. Even several dignitaries including Jawaharlal Nehru and the Dalai Lama have spent time in the rooms of Savoy. Its ownership changed several times in the past century and currently lies with “ITC Welcomgroup Hotels”.
This hotel has seen days which every hotel in the worlds dreams of but sadly those days are now long gone. Now it just looks like an old abandoned building standing on a hilltop. There has been a lot of restoration work in past few years and it is still going on but even after being taken over by ITC, the glorious days of the hotel did not really return. Most people do not even know about it and the ones who do know it is because of the several ghost stories floating around related to this hotel. The price range of ITC is enough to scare a middle class family away and the rich ones prefer to stay at a more luxurious hotel if they were paying so much of money. Earlier, before ITC, a lot of people used to visit here mostly hoping to find a ghost but now even they do not come anymore. It has now turned in to more of a heritage hotel which anyways only a certain group of people visit because of the prices.
The reason why this hotel is considered haunted is because of a few mysterious deaths in its rooms. One such death caused so much stir that the famous novelist Agatha Christie used it as a background for her well known novel “The mysterious affair at Styles”. It was the death of a Miss Frances Garnett-Orme. She was a 49 year old spiritualist who came to visit Mussoorie with her companion Miss Eva Mountstephen and stayed at hotel Savoy. Eva Mountstephen also happened to be a spiritualist specializing in seances and crystal-gazing. A day after Miss Mountstephen has returned to Lucknow, Miss Orme was found dead in her hotel room, with the doors and windows locked from inside. An autopsy revealed that she was poisoned with prussic acid, a cyanide-based poison. The murder remained a mystery and a few months after, even the doctor who did the autopsy was found dead because of the same poisoning and within the hotel in a locked room. Miss Mountstephen was later arrested on charges of murder of her friend Miss Orme but was found not guilty in a court case. Both the murders remained a mystery and caused so much buzz that it inspired works of Agatha Christie as her first novel “The Mysterious Affair at Styles”, and also writer Ruskin Bond’s “In A Crystal Ball — A Mussoorie Mystery.”
This however is not the only legend that goes around. As per all the gossip that revolves around this hotel the murders did never stop. A few years later, Betsy Ward was found dead in her bathtub. She was a young woman who had no heart ailment, was in perfectly good health with no history of any heart disease in her family and yet died in her bathtub due to a cardiac arrest. What or who caused the heart attack and how was never found and even this death remained a mystery forever. Another theory states that she in fact died in the bed of her own room which was Room 505 but her body was later stripped naked and put in the bath tub by the person who killed her.
After independence came another murder which too remained unsolved forever. A guest by the name of Mr. Lightener was found dead sitting in a chair in his room, stabbed in the heart. He was in Mussoorie with his wife on honeymoon who at that time went visiting a nearby church. Surprisingly, even this time the door was locked from inside with no one else in the room. Police investigation later suggested that the killer must have entered the room through the window, killed Mr. Lightener and silently sneaked out. Mrs. Lightener was also among one of the suspects but was never arrested or tried for her husband’s murder.
In 1951, a hotel employee was found hanging inside a vacant room. This death was initially considered as a suicide but there was no suicide note found and the deceased was a newly married, happy with his life. Strangely enough, 5 years later another employee, a cleaning lady, was found hanging in another room. This time too there was no suicide note and the girl was a newly married, happy with her life. Both these deaths remained a mystery and the cases were closed as suicides.
Murders, suicides or accidental, these deaths were never considered as “solved” and hence people came up with the next best conclusion for all the mysterious deaths by tagging the hotel as haunted. There have been several ghost sightings reported at Savoy and several theories took shape over a period of time. The earliest theory was that this hotel was built on a land that was forcefully taken from its previous owner. It is said that Cecil Lincoln did not actually buy this piece of land but forced the owner to literally hand it over at a dirt cheap price by dragging him in the court on fraud charges. The owner of “Rev. Maddock’s Mussoorie School” was a priest by the name of Reverend Maddock. He used to run a charity school for local village kids but Cecil liked the location of the school and thought it fit for his hotel. Reverent Maddock however was not interested in selling hence Cecil dragged him to the court and being a barrister himself, easily won the case. After he received the possession of the land and construction of the new hotel was in full swing, Reverend Maddock’s body was one morning found in the hotel’s premises. He was shot dead and it is believed that his spirit still haunts this place. People who have seen him say that he ran at them yelling “Get off my property” before vanishing in the air. Years later, during a renovation, a gun was found sealed inside a hotel wall and was believed to be the very gun that Cecil used to kill Reverend Maddock. Why he did it after he has already received the property from Maddock is however not known but in order to hide his crime, he placed the murder weapon, his gun, inside a wall that was still being built.
Another spirit that is said to be haunting Savoy is of Betsy Ward. She died in Room 505 and several witness have observed the television of the room turning on and off all by itself in the room, and have heard music coming from inside the room when there was no one in there. In addition to these incidents, doors on the inside of the room have been opened seemingly on their own.
As per another incident, it is said that Mrs. Lightener returned to the hotel in her old age, to celebrate the 25th anniversary of her wedding at the place where her husband was found dead. In 1987, while she was staying at the hotel, she asked one of the waiters to get some sugar for her tea. When the waiter returned to her room along with another guest, they heard Mrs. Lightener speaking to someone inside the room. When the door opened, they were both quite amazed to witness a full body apparition of a man that appeared to be dressed in attire that was common in England in the 1950s. The spirit saw them and simply vanished right before their eyes. It was then that the widow expressed the fact that it was her deceased husband that they had just witnessed.
In another such incident, an employee of the hotel often found his belongings spread out and disorganized despite the fact that he had them put away and organized just minutes ago before he stepped out of the room. He claimed to have experienced extreme cold in the night hours and an occasional cold spot during the day and expressed the fact that he has often felt that he was not alone. It was suspected that it was the spirit of deceased Reverend Maddock who was giving him a hard time in order to get him to leave the hotel.
However, the most common ghost sightings are of the spirit of Ms. Orme who was poisoned here at the hotel. Several guests and hotel employees have mentioned seeing a white apparition wandering the corridors, staircase and the roof of the hotel. People who came face to face with the ghost said that she looked at them as if she was lost which led people to believe that even in death, she was looking for the person who poisoned and killed her.
The most interesting fact that I came across is that there is another hotel in America by the same name,. It is located in Kansas City, in the state of Mussorie, is built in the same style, was built in late 1800s and is also considered haunted. Co-incidence or is this where Cecil Lincoln got the name of his hotel from? It is indeed quite possible that he named the hotel in Mussorie after the hotel in Kansas City and because of the same names; all the ghost stories are now getting mixed up. The same stories that I mentioned above, of Betsy Ward and Mr. Lightener are associated with Hotel Savoy of Kansas City. Both of these people actually died in the American Savoy, not Indian but over the time, this lore attached itself to both the hotels. I am not sure if the employees too actually died in the American Savoy. There is in fact just one death recorded in Savoy of Mussorie, that of Miss Frances Garnett-Orme. How did the other stories started and got related to the Indian Savoy is definitely beyond me. Even the gun that was found hidden in the wall is actually an incident from the American Savoy, not the one located in India but somehow a story got invented that this was the murder weapon used to kill the owner Reverend. There was in fact no gun ever found here and no one knows if the Reverend was in fact murdered or not. Same is the fact related to the employee whose belongings were found scattered. This too is an incident from the American Savoy. The best possible explanation or reason that I could find on why the Indian Savoy is considered as one of India’s most haunted site is because of it shares the name with another “so called haunted” hotel. About all the people who claimed of having seen a ghost in Indian Savoy, all I can say is that either it was just a fragment of their imagination or a good gossip. There are several stories of people claiming to have seen Betsy Ward, Mr. Lightener and several other ghosts here but my question is, how you could see these ghosts in Indian Savoy when they are believed to be haunting the American Savoy?
Ghosts or no ghosts, it remains for a fact that Savoy was indeed a magnificent hotel but what now remains is merely a meek reflection of its golden era and even this reflection is over shadowed by all the scary stories. You still cannot however deny the fact that it is still a beautiful hotel located on a beautiful location. If you are to visit here, please do not do so in hopes of finding a ghost but rather, in hope of finding peace and serenity.