Grab your tophat today. We are putting on the Ritz with a bit of a ghostly twist!
Hotel Nacional de Cuba
Picture the spectral party scene of The Shining. Now throw in your favorite stars of the 30s and 40s. Mix in many of the US’s most wanted Mafia bosses. Just for good measure, add some of the biggest names in politics and literature of the 20th century. Welcome to Hotel Nacional de Cuba and a few of the spirits you will bump into.
Hotel Nacional de Cuba
Credit: Cuba Tech Travel
History and Geography
When Columbus first landed in the New World in 1492, it was in the Caribbean Islands. Spain was quick to begin land grabbing the New World. Explorers followed Columbus to what is now Haiti, the Dominican Republic, and Cuba as well as the other islands in that area. These Europeans found and plundered the riches of the native peoples. The beginning of unrest in Cuba.
Christopher Columbus landing on San Salvador Cuba
Credit: Ocean Explorer
Near modern day Havana, the native people had set aside a dense forest along the Gulf of Mexico. They had called the area “The Forbidden Forest”. It was said that this area was reserved for the dark spirits of the island to freely roam. The punishment for a person found in the Forbidden Forest after dark was a bit of their soul.
The Spanish viewed it differently.
The Haunted Caves in the Forbidden Forrest
Within the Forbidden Forest, or “Vedado” in Spanish, was elevated ground overlooking a protected stretch of coast along the Gulf of Mexico. Because of the new-found wealth of the area, pirates had followed the explorers. The Spanish disregarded the Vedado and built a fort to watch over the protected harbor allowing the Spanish easy access in and out of Cuba and a great vantage point to watch for approaching pirates.
The native people and the Forbidden Forest were overtaken by the Spanish in their greed for land and riches.
Jump ahead to the Spanish-American War.
In 1797, the Santa Clara Battery was constructed on the site. This new construction dug into the earth of the Forbidden Forest and created a maze of tunnels used to supply the fort and as secret escapes if needed. Later this site would play a part in the Cuban Missile Crisis. Today there is a museum in part of the tunnels, Cueva Taganana.
The Tunnels of Cueva (Cave) Taganana
Credit: Isla Local
Let’s do a quick recap - There is a Forbidden Forest full of demons who steal souls, so invaders build a fort in the middle of it and kill the natives and pirates. The same site then is used as a military battery in yet another war.
New idea - Let’s build a fancy hotel there! And that’s what they did.
1933 Press Photo Aerial Hotel Nacional de Cuba 1930s Havana
In December of 1930, the Hotel Nacional de Cuba opened with lavash fanfare. It was grand. Much of the financing and designs came from the US. It was a towering 8 floors with over 400 rooms, 2 pools, and breathtaking views of of the Gulf of Mexico.
However the peace was very short lived.
Catastrophe Haunts Cuba
In October of 1933 the site once again took lives. At that time in Cuba, there was a coup to overthrow the government. High ranking officials of Cuba and other countries tried to hide in the lavish hotel. (Remember, it is still sitting on a network of tunnels.) High ranking members of the military and snipers followed the leaders, as well, into the hotel.
At the end of the siege, 30 rebel soldiers had been killed outside the hotel on the grounds with only 2 deaths inside the hotel. However, the hotel had heavy damage and it was clear to those inside that they had won the battle but were not going to win the war. They were on the losing side. As they surrendered, 12 of the high ranking officials and military were executed.
Multitudes die as published in the New York Times in October 1933
But the hotel lived on.
The Golden Age
The Golden Age of Havana
Credit: Cuba Junky
By the late 1930s, the hotel was back to glitz and glamour under new government rule. It was a crown jewel of the Caribbean. The guest list was a who’s who of Hollywood. All of the A listers of the time. Frequent guests included Gary Cooper, Rita Hayworth, Buster Keaton, Errol Flynn, John Wayne, Walt Disney, Frank Sinatra, Ava Gardner, Johnny Weissmuller, Marlon Brando, and Marlene Dietrich. They mingled with the likes of Jack Dempsey, Winston Churchill, and Ernest Hemingway.
The Hall of The Famous at the Hotel Nacional de Cuba
Credit: Colored Ideas
Hall of Fame at the Hotel Nacional de Cuba
Credit: Smug Mug
But remember that native superstition about it being in a Forbidden Forest and it stealing a piece of your soul?
Mob Preys on the Twisted Domain
The hotel also drew the interest of the Mafia. By the mid-1940s, it was a nest to those who were fleeing the US yet wanted to stay close to their “interests” In 1946 the hotel was the site for the Havana Conference. Mobsters from Italy and the East coast of the US were meeting to discuss policies, rules, and other business. One of the main items discussed was the growth of Las Vegas under the rival mob leadership of Bugsy Siegel. For movie buffs, this meeting is referenced in The Godfather II. The entertainment for the event was Frank Sinatra, who flew in with Al Capone’s cousins. Lucky Luciano served as the host.
Tourists and Cubans gamble at the casino in the Hotel Nacional in Havana, 1957.
Credit: When the Mob Owned Cuba - Smithsomian Magazine
Today, as you walk through the lobby or perhaps enjoy one of their world-famous mojitos in the lounge, you can feel all of these souls. The spirit world is very thick with a wide variety of beings. You might catch a glimpse of one of your favorite old-time movie stars. Or get a whiff of Papa Hemingway’s cigar. Or of spent gunpowder.
The Haunted Hotel Nacional de Cuba
The hotel is still popular with the jet-set but might be a little dated by our standards of luxuries of today. Like an aging queen, it is still rich and regal. But are you willing to risk a piece of your soul to spend the night?
Spirits Lurk the Haunted Hotel Nacional Cuba
Source: Aire De Fiesta Cuba