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Who is Kate Morgan?

Only known photograph of Kate Morgan. Courtesy of Terry Girardot

 

    Many people over the past century have asked themselves that very question.  Kate Morgan was the beautiful woman who was found dead on the steps leading to the beach at the Hotel Del Coronado.  Few facts are known about her death, and even less about her life.  Her story has captivated me and I strive to find any factual information on Kate's life, death and any clues as to why such a lovely young woman would end her life so tragically.  I would like to share what I've learned so far in the hopes that she may touch your lives as well.

Her Life

    Kate Morgan was born Kate Kathleen Farmer in Hamburg, Iowa, September 23 1865.  Her mother, Elizabeth Philamena Chandler, is said to have died during child birth when Kate was born.  (I found information that states Elizabeth died on September 23, but the year was 1868. I'm not sure if her death date is off, or if Kate's birth date is off.  Or the story of Elizabeth's death could be fictitious.) Kate was the younger sister of Mary Farmer, who passed away when Kate was approximately  one.  Kate's father, George Washington Farmer, sent Kate off to live with her grandmother, Matilda (Savage) Chandler and her grandfather Joseph Wilson Chandler.  On August 7, 1879 when Kate was about 13 years old, Matilda, the only mother Kate knew, died. She was 63 years old. On the 1880 Census documents, Joseph Chandler reported Kate as living in his household at the age of 13 years.  One year after Matilda's death.  When she was about 18 years of age, Kate married Tomas Ernest (Edwin) Morgan shortly after Christmas December 30, 1885 in Hamburg, Iowa.  Nine months after the couple were married, Kate gave birth to a baby boy, Tomas E Morgan.  He was born on October 31, 1886 and died November 2, 1886, just two days later. 

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Tom Morgan and his second wife Jennie Devore, married one year after Kate's death.  Photo courtesy of Terry Girardot.

    Not much can be found about the couple between the time of their son's death and Kate's own death.  According to a book by Allen May, Kate and her husband rode the rails swindling unsuspecting men out of money, Kate posing as the beautiful younger sister to Tom.  Nothing can be found to back up this story and it was most likely a fictional tale.  According to the News Paper reports of the time, Kate often referred to her young husband as a gambler, but there is no proof to indicate that he was in fact a gambler or that the two worked the rails making money off of unsuspecting men. Kate had developed such an intricate web of stories about herself and her life that, in my opinion, her dismissing Tom as a gambler may have been the only way Kate could explain not being with him.  It is known that Kate would find work as a domestic, or house maid,  with several families.  She worked for a couple of families on the West Coast and was reported to be a responsible, devoted employee.  Her last known job was a domestic in Los Angeles, CA working for a Mrs. Grant under the alias Kate Logan.  She had also worked for a relative by the name of W.T. Farmer of Hanford, CA who had sent a letter to  the San Diego Authorities upon hearing of Kate's death.  Excerpts of the letter are below as taken from a Los Angeles Times article dated Wednesday, December 14, 1892..

Dear Sir: Your message received yesterday.  I am more than Surprised to hear of the tragedy.  If it was Kate Morgan you can rest assured that it was no case of suicide, for the reason that she had no cause for committing such an act.  When she left me I told her if she needed anything to send to me, and I would assist her.  Her people are well-to-do.  Her husband, Thomas Morgan, has been traveling in the interest of some manufacturing company.  His home is Hamburg, Iowa.  I have known them for a good many years.  She wrote me soon after her arrival in Los Angeles that she has secured a situation at Mr. Whitney's, a banker, on the West Side.  She had when she left here quite a sum of money, one large flat-top trunk, two leather satchels, and a lady's gold watch.  She said she was going to deposit her money in a national bank for safekeeping...Her relatives are Henry Broomback and Thomas Morgan, Hamburg, Iowa; Joe W Chandler, her grandfather, and John Samuella, Riverton, Iowa.  I cannot help but think there is some mistake about its being Kate Morgan.  She was troubled with rheumatism while here, and went to Los Angeles on account of its fine climate, with intention of living there if she liked it.  You say you have positive evidence that it is her.  What is it? She has a second cousin living in this county.  She certainly would have written to someone if she contemplated the awful act.

 

   Her Final Journey

     Kate left her the home of her employer L. A. Grant, in Los Angeles on November 23, 1892 on a few day's leave.  She had been very closed-mouthed about her past while working for the Grants.  After having drawn up some legal papers, she boarded a train and headed for San Diego.  A witness, Mr. Joseph Jones of Boston, later stated that he had been on the train with Kate and that she was traveling with a male companion.  The two were heard using "high words" and bitterly quarreled during the ride for some time.  The fight ended with Kate begging the man to forgive her repeatedly.  The man appeared to be angry with Kate, and disembarked the train in Orange, CA.  Kate continued on to San Diego without him.  (Notice name of guest signed in directly under Kate, aka Lottie A Bernard, Detroit, in the Hotel Register below).

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Hotel Register

    Kate arrived at the Del on November 24, 1892.  The desk clerk signed Kate in an she was assigned room 302.  She gave the name Mrs. Lottie A. Bernard at the time of registration.  The clerk found her appearance odd and had told a few other employees about Kate.  Kate told her Bellboy Harry West that she was suffering from Neuralgia, or nerve pain and spasms.  Several times during her stay, Kate would go to the front desk to inquire if her luggage had arrived. She told the clerk that her brother "Dr. Anderson" was to meet her at the Del and he had her luggage claim tickets.  She inquired daily on the arrival of her brother.  He never came.  Kate did not have a brother, so one would suspect "Dr. Anderson" was her lover.  

    Kate made trips to the hotel Drug Store looking for pain medication, she ordered alcoholic beverages and appeared to be in great pain all during her stay.  She told hotel employees that she was suffering from stomach cancer and her case was hopeless.  When encouraged to see a doctor, Kate would decline saying that her brother, the doctor, would be arriving soon and would look after her.  

Her Death

    On the afternoon of November 28, 1892, Kate took a train ride into San Diego and purchased a .44 caliber pistol from Chick's gun Shop.  She said she wanted to purchase it as a Christmas gift.  She wanted to know if it was difficult to use and Mr. Chick, the shop owner showed her how to use it.  After Kate had left, a bystander told Mr. Chick that he believed she was "going to hurt herself with that pistol."

    At 6:30pm that evening, Harry West, Kate's bellboy recalled seeing her on the hotel Veranda, looking out toward the Ocean.  It was a stormy night.  Between 7:00 and 8:00pm, Kate asked the desk clerk one final time whether there were any telegrams or letters for her.  No word from her "brother" had come.  

    The following morning, Kate's lifeless body was found laying on the steps leading toward the ocean, her clothing cold and wet from the night's rain, and a pistol by her side. 

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Death Certificate

Her Mystery Begins

    Kate's sad story seemed to touch many.  The papers all across the nation had reported the death of the mysterious young woman at the Hotel Del Coronado.  Her identity was a mystery.  The reasons for her death an even bigger mystery.  Women seemed to identify with Kate.  They sympathized for her and most of the mourners who came to see her at the funeral home were women.  They saw in her a bit of themselves and grieved for her pain and suffering.  

Coroner's Report

    It took several weeks for someone to finally claim Kate's body.  Her husband, Tom, received a telegram in Nebraska about her death and request to claim her remains.  According to a distant relative of Tom Morgan, his response was along the lines of "She got out there on her own, she can get back on her own."  A statement that shows there was deep resentment between the two.  An indication that she had left him for another man perhaps? 

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Telegram sent to Tom Morgan. Photograph courtesy of Terry Girardot

 Her Grandfather, Joseph Chandler, the man who raised her since childhood, finally sent word to the San Diego authorities.  His affections seemed no warmer than her husband's.  "Bury her and send me statement, J. W. Chandler" was all it said.  The scandal of her means of death must have been terribly embarrassing for her entire family.

 

 

Her Spirit Returns

    Almost immediately after Kate's death, reports of strange happenings were reported by hotel guest.  At first, the stories were hushed whispers that were covered up for fear of loosing business.  Through the years, the stories became more outspoken, and interest in Kate's life renewed.  People claim to have seen Kate in the hotel, on the beach by the stairs, and in her room (currently room 3327, after several remodels)

Kate's Room

   

 

Visions of The Del Coronado Through Kate's Eyes

Pictures Courtesy of Faculty of Architecture, Melbourne University

bar.jpg (174938 bytes) Babcock and Story Bar    bridalroom.jpg (135611 bytes) Bridal Suite    hotellobbyseatingarea.jpg (163264 bytes) Hotel Lobby

readingchessroom1887.jpg (170787 bytes) Reading and Chess Room    whitedraweringroom.jpg (201801 bytes) White Drawing Room    exterior.jpg (83413 bytes) Exterior Photo

 

 

Resources:

Most of the information I've gathers on this page has come from documents that I've found on genealogy websites such as www.Ancestry.com, www.Familysearch.org or www.Genealogy.com.  

I've also used information I've obtained through email correspondence with Terry Girardot, author of the book "The Ghost of the Hotel Del Coronado, The True Story of Kate Morgan", and a distant relative of Tom Morgan, Kate's husband.  He has been working for years trying to bring to light the truth about Kate Morgan, and her husband Tom.  Tom has been the victim of many accusations over the years thanks to one book put out by Allen May.  I, myself, read May's book and found it to be full of false statements and rather outlandish claims.  I would classify it as a poor work of fiction.  Unfortunately, many people take his book as truth and the story of Kate and Tom has become a sort of urban legend.  Hopefully with people like Terry and myself investigating the truths of the Kate Morgan Mystery, we will be able to put these stories to rest once and for all.  I have read Terry's book, and feel it's full of truths that one would never find without extensive research.  It's a compilation of all the facts he has obtained through diligent research on the Morgan and Farmer families.  The legend of Kate and Tom has grown so out of control that the facts seem to be pushed aside.  Terry's book brings the facts back to the foreground.  I'm grateful there is one publication out there that was put together solely for the purpose of discovering the truth. 

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1880 Census reports showing Kate Morgan living with her Grandfather Joseph Chandler.

Large File

History of Freemont County Iowa 1881  On this site you will see the biography of Kate's Grandfather Joseph Chandler.

Kate Morgan Family Tree

Grandmother Mattilda Savage Chandler's Gravestone

Also found the book "Beautiful Stranger: The Ghost of Kate Morgan and the Hotel del Coronado" written by the Hotel del Coronado Heritage Department very helpful.  They provided a wealth of information in this book that would be difficult to locate otherwise.  The book can be purchased at the Hotel or online at their website by clicking here

Del Lobby

    Kate left many questions behind when she left this world.  Who was Kate Morgan? What brought her to Coronado Island? And most intriguing of all questions, why did she end her young life? There are many theories out there as to Kate's situation.  I, myself, have a few theories that I'm currently investigating...  

Theory 1: Kate's Lover

    I often wondered what would make a young lady such as Kate so despondent, as to take her own life.  And why would she need an alias?  I have searched endless records and documents trying to make sense of it all.  It's become an obsession of sorts.  One theory I have is that Kate Morgan, young and unhappy in her marriage, had an affair with another man.  The fact that she was never with him suggest she was lonely and in need of companionship.  I believe she desired a divorce from her husband, Tom.  She met another man, or perhaps someone she knew as a child in Iowa.  They had an affair and she became pregnant.  She agreed to divorce Tom and her and her lover decided to go to the Hotel Del Coronado to celebrate the holiday.  The couple were seen arguing loudly on the train and  Kate's lover got off in Orange, CA.  I assume this was the time Kate informed her lover of the pregnancy.  Before he departed the train a witness reported that Kate was apologizing to the man repeatedly and was asking for forgiveness.   Kate continued on to Coronado.  Once there, she informed the desk clerk that she was to meet her brother Dr Anderson at the hotel.  She checked for him regularly during her stay.  I assumed Dr. Anderson was Kate's lover, as she there is no evidence that she had a real brother.  Kate soon realizes that Dr Anderson has changed his mind about the relationship as he has failed to appear at the Del and she induces a miscarriage.  She had no hope of being accepted in society as divorced and pregnant.  She requested liquor and a drug used to induce miscarriage was found in her hotel room after her body was discovered.  After a couple of days of unbearable pain from the miscarriage and the realization that her new love had left her, Kate decided to end her young life.  She burned all papers which may have identified her as Kate Morgan and shot herself on the beach.  

Theory 2: Kate's Lover/Murderer

    When researching Kate's death, one can't help but wonder if she was murdered.  Sure the signs of suicide are all around her.  She was "ill", alone, and had a generally odd sense about her.  But I can't help but think of the bullet wound.  Kate bought a .44 caliber hand gun, which was found next to her body the day she was discovered on the steps to the beach.  At the coroner's inquest, it was determined that the bullet hole found in Kate was made from a .38 or.40 caliber gun.  It has been said that a .44 caliber bullet would have caused much more damage, leaving her face unrecognizable.  The bullet wound Kate suffered was just a small entry wound near the temple.  There was no exit wound.  So, one starts to think that this was more than a suicide...for argument's sake, I've included this theory.  Perhaps Kate's lover truly believed Kate was pregnant by another man, and not himself.  He may have been a jealous man and, after several days of contemplation, he decided to take revenge on Kate.  Or perhaps, he decided it would shame him if word were to get out that he fathered a child with a married woman.  Maybe the lover was married, himself.  The fear of being publicly humiliated by the scandal lead him to murder.  Possible, but unlikely.

 

My search is far from over and I hope to update this page as often as I can.  If anyone can provide any additional, factual information, please feel free to post it on this guest book and I will do my best to correct/post it.  Also feel free to post any experiences you may have had while at the hotel that leads you to believe Kate's spirit remains.




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