Another Ghost in the Mirror: Marilyn at the Hollywood Roosevelt?

May 31, 2011

Reminiscent of the Lowe Hotel’s “haunting” (discussed in two previous blogs) is an earlier case I investigated at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel in June 2000. (I have also stayed at the hotel on other occasions—once when I was in southern California to make a giant Nasca-geoglyph recreation on an area ranch for National Geographic Television.) Over the years, I kept meaning to write up this case; obviously, an appropriate time has now presented itself.

Among many ghostly phenomena claimed in former promotional material from the hotel (accessed April 22, 2000) is the story of “Marilyn Monroe’s Ghost in Mirror.” It is one of a collection of brief ghost stories related under the heading “Tall Tales,” which perhaps gives an idea of the seriousness with which we should approach the report.

In any case, the initial sighting was in mid-December 1985, shortly before the hotel reopened following a two-year restoration. “With the opening so close,” the account reads, “all office workers, managers and secretaries spent the day cleaning, sweeping and dusting.” Indeed, several of the “tall tales” have their origin around this time, suggesting a bout of psychological contagion, whereby one report sets up expectations in others, prompting them to have questionable perceptions and experiences. (This is also the cause of many UFO and monster “flaps.”) Ghost stories might also have been hyped for publicity purposes (but current management has apparently dropped supernaturalism from its promotional materials).

As it happened, while a staff member named Suzanne Leonard was cleaning the tall, framed mirror (then located in the general manager’s office) she saw “the reflection of a blonde girl right where her hand was dusting.” She looked around to find no one there, “yet when she looked back at the mirror, the reflection was still there.” She did not say the girl resembled Marilyn Monroe, but the manager later told her the mirror had come from the star’s former suite near the pool, and the identification has stuck. (The mirror was since relocated to the area outside the lower-level elevator. See accompanying illustration which I created for fun, bringing to the site a Marilyn cutout folded in my suitcase.)

How do we explain the ghost in the mirror? As at the Lowe Hotel (discussed in previous blogs), the Hollywood Roosevelt employee was performing a routine chore and, in the resulting reverie, may have had an apparitional experience (in which an image from the subconscious becomes superimposed on the visual scene). I do not know if apparitions are more likely to happen when a mirror is involved—i.e., if there is a scrying effect (scrying involves gazing at a polished surface such as a mirror or crystal until reportedly, a cloudiness appears, followed by clairvoyant images. [See Rosemary Ellen Guiley, Encyclopedia of the Strange, Mystical, & Unexplained 1991, 533-34.]) However, in such an experience, when the person shifts his or her gaze (as happened with the “Marilyn” sighting), the “spell” is usually broken and the illusory image dissolves. That it did not in this instance could suggest that another factor was involved.

I suspect that in the constantly changing surface swirls and streaks caused by her cleaning, the percipient briefly saw a simulacrum—that is, an image resulting from the brain’s tendency (called pareidolia) to perceive recognizable images in random patterns—such as seeing pictures in clouds, inkblots, or the like. That the image appeared “right where her hand was dusting” seems to support this hypothesis. If the simulacrum effect was involved, it probably combined with the apparitional experience to trigger the appearance of the “blonde girl” who was not reflected in the mirror but who appeared on it—before, of course, being dusted away!

As an example of the utterly shoddy “research” that is often done on such cases by ghost-mongering types, consider the account by Richard Senate in his Ghost Stalker’s Guide to Haunted California (1998, 13-14). Giving no sources for his alleged facts, Senate erroneously attributes the mirror sighting to a “maid”; wrongly places its occurrence “near the elevators” (where the mirror was relocated); incorrectly reports that, when the percipient turned back to the mirror, “The image of the beautiful blond [sic] was gone”; adds imaginative details to the original vague and apparently monochromatic image (“that silky golden hair, those crystal blue eyes, those lustrous lashes, the pouting red lips”); has somehow learned that the domestic was not “dusting” but “polishing” the mirror; and so on. Other sources imply additional sightings of Marilyn in the mirror, as well as of other deceased guests in other mirrors in the Roosevelt’s hallways, as what began as single incident becomes mythologized (see Dennis William Hauck, Haunted Places: The National Directory, 1996).