You picture Abraham Lincoln descending the sweeping curved staircase, stovepipe hat in hand, following his speech orated from the hotel balcony in 1856. Or perhaps you imagine General Ulysses S. Grant being greeted by townspeople attending his welcome home reception following the Civil War. The DeSoto House Hotel in Galena, Illinois, was truly a grand establishment in the mid-1800s, the five story hotel the center of both social and political events. Then with a fire and a boiler explosion ten years apart and an economic decline when railroads replaced steamboats, the DeSoto House fell into disrepair. Fast forward to today, the hotel is fully restored, the top two floors removed years ago and private baths added to all rooms, but reminders of the hotel’s glory days remain, like the sweeping lobby staircase and some of the guests who apparently never completely left.
I stayed in the DeSoto House for two nights, and I admit I never saw an apparition, but I stayed on the second floor. I understand it’s the third floor that experiences most of the hauntings. The desk clerk I spoke with said she never believed in the paranormal until her experiences at the DeSoto House. First was a cold chill followed by a bright ball of light that zoomed past her as she worked on the third floor late at night, with no explanation as to where the light could have come from. Then there were the reports from several guests that they felt someone sit on the edge of the bed. The reports were always from guests staying in the same room.
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Although most of the hauntings are on the third floor, the lower level dining area has its own ghost. For years employees reported the sighting of a lady in black period dress walking down the stairs and disappearing into a wall. In 2011 Galena experienced a flood that destroyed the drywall in the hotel’s lower level. When they removed the drywall, they found a brick wall with a doorway opening in the very place that the Lady in Black was said to disappear. Instead of putting drywall back over that area, they covered it with plexiglass and added a sign above it noting the story of the Lady in Black.
Staying in a hotel in which important historical figures stayed can give you a sense of awe. But knowing some of the guests from over a hundred years ago may still be lurking in the hotel, you feel a totally different emotion. Fear? Angst? Excitement? It depends. How adventurous are you, and how much do you believe in the paranormal?
If you stay at the DeSoto House Hotel
The DeSoto House Hotel is located at 230 S Main Street, Galena, Illinois.
Find the best deal, compare prices, and read what other travelers have to say at TripAdvisor
Have you ever stayed in a haunted hotel? Tell about it in Comments below.
Disclosures: My visit to Galena was hosted by VisitGalena, and my stay at the DeSoto House Hotel was complimentary. However, all opinions are my own.
This article contains an affiliate link, which means I will receive a small commission if you book a room using this link.
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49 thoughts on “Haunted DeSoto House Hotel, Galena IL”
I always think of Galena and wine & shopping, not ghosts! Looks like a great hotel though….hope to make it to Galena sometime soon myself.
I always thought the same about Galena: wine, shopping and Grant’s home. I didn’t know about the DeSoto House ghosts until we had the hotel reservation. I suppose all of the history rich river towns have their share of ghosts, some more than others. I think it adds an element of excitement, although I may change my mind if I ever do see a ghost.
I’ve wanted to visit Galena, IL since reading about it many years ago in a Midwest travel magazine. Like Adam, I’d always heard about the shopping and wine there, but I hadn’t heard about this haunted hotel. Putting it on my mental Midwest bucket list 🙂
I’ve stayed in, and written about, a couple of similarly supposedly haunted places…although I haven’t spotted any ghosts in my travels to date. The Lodge at Punderson State Park in Ohio is particularly known for its ghosts, and I stayed there a few times for writers’ conferences. One of our group reported feeling someone/thing sit on the edge of her bed in the middle of the night…and she -was- staying in the older, supposedly haunted wing of the place.
I thought I’d be scared staying in a haunted hotel, but I wasn’t. That is, until I got up in the wee hours. I couldn’t step into an area of the room that was still in the dark.
My husband and I stayed at the Desoto House 2012 and I can tell you that I did think someone sat on the bed next to me. I was so surprised to see no one was there when I looked up from my phone. I called out to my husband and he was in the bathroom at the time. There was definitely someone with me but I couldn’t see or hear anyone. Creepy feeling.
Later that same night when we were getting into bed I reached out to shut off the lamp and before my hand got near the lamp the light went out. That did it for me. I knew someone was in our room with us. Our room was on the second floor. We never heard a sound or voices but that was enough for me to be sure there was someone with us that night.
Wow, creepy. And here I thought I was “safe” on the second floor. I will say I felt a little creeped out at night with the possibility. I usually get up in the wee hours and start working, with just a little light on my computer so I don’t wake my husband up. But the chair I would have sat in was in the total dark, and I couldn’t bring myself to sit there.
My husband and I stayed here in January about 5 years ago. I can’t remember if we stayed on the second or third floor. We too had a couple of strange things happen. The first night I turned the TV off manually and it came back on– twice!! The second night I woke up and saw this strange light slowly moving around the coffered ceiling! It wasn’t a ball of light, more like wave of light. I must not have been too scared though cause I went back to sleep!
Wow. Kind of funny how when it happens, it sometimes isn’t that scary. At another haunted property I stayed at, I swear someone touched my arm at 5 a.m. and shook me gently, like they were trying to wake me up. Of course, I was woken up from a sound sleep, so I couldn’t tell if it was real or a dream. But it sure as heck felt real. The funny thing was, it didn’t freak me out. Now if I would have seen someone or heard a voice, I’m sure that would be a different story.
Many years ago I stayed at a condo on Maui. I had lived there for a couple of years. I visited after moving from the island because I missed it. I woke up in the morning and was trying to decide whether to get up or go back to sleep. I turned over on my side and felt something touch the bed in front of my face. I then layed on my back. The ceiling fan was off and no windows were opened. Something was watching me, I could feel it. I was not afraid because I felt it was a little spook, and we have to worry more about the flesh and blood, then a spirit. I never experienced this before. Whatever was watching me was off to my left. I was not afraid, but was aware of it. All of a sudden there was a woooosh off of the sides of my face. I guess the spook decided to take off. I live in Galena now and I love the Desoto house. I told my boyfriend that I bet it is haunted. If we stay at the hotel I am going to ask for the third floor. I feel lucky that I experienced this because this proves to me that people go on in spirit form. Very nice to know.
What an eerie experience! Definitely keep us posted of your DeSoto House experience if you go.
I will remember to ask for something on the third floor, for sure.
We stayed in room 328 which I found out the next day was across from the most haunted room in the hotel.
That night we were watching TV and weird some weird scratching over the television… Turn the volume down on the scratching went away… The next day my girlfriend went to the washroom and she thought they called rush of really cold air go by her it kind of freaked her out… That’s my story
Wow, there have been so many eerie stories about that hotel. Truly haunted.
My husband and I stayed at the De:Soto House Hotel this past summer of 2015 and we had some strange experiences. We stayed on the second floor and it was very quiet because it was a few days before the 4th of July weekend. When I started to doze off, I heard what I thought was a train in the distance. Also, in the middle of the night I heard loud voices in the hallway. It was around 3 or 4 a.m. It sounded like a man and woman talking very loudly. I justified it in my mind that they were checking out. I also smelled a faint odor of cigar smoke and my husband thought some extra pillows tossed in the room had moved. The strangest part though was that we both had vivid dreams. I dreamt a little girl kept calling me to come with her and my husband dreamt that I was murdered by a bank robber! In his dream we were not married and I was a bank employee ; he was a customer. Very strange from a guy who never remembers dreams. Can’t say exactly what was going on but it was bizarre! On the plus side, the food at the General’s Restaurant is delicious, rooms are very clean, and the staff is friendly and polite .
Correction ..we stayed on the third floor in the Schuyler Colfax room.
From my understanding, the third floor is where most of the paranormal experiences occur.
Wow, what an experience. It would be interesting to find out if there had been a violent bank robbery in the past. Others have mentioned smelling cigar smoke, too.
We stayed nearby over this past weekend, but stopped in the Green Street Tavern for lunch. I hadn’t read about any of the haunting stories or anything in advance. As we were waiting for our lunch, something distinctly brushed my cheek. I was astonished that there wasn’t something actually touching my face. I thought it must be a few long hairs grazing me (my hair is very short), and even wondered if the woman behind me had swept her hair back off her shoulders inadvertently brushing my cheek, but my significant other said nothing/nobody had come near me. Just a moment later, as I was still trying to figure it out, the same sensation occurred near my collarbone on my chest. I was startled and kind of unsettled, but it made me laugh almost uncontrollably – very out of character for me to begin such a giggling jag.
I stayed there with my husband about a year ago. In the middle of the night I was woken up by the feeling of my husband getting into bed on the right side of the bed, laying down next to me, and putting his arm around me. i bought it was a little strange since he always sleeps on the left side of the bed and isn’t much of a cuddled when he sleeps. But I didn’t think too much of it and drifted back to sleep for a bit. I woke up a little while later and was surprised to see my husband back on “his” side of the bed. In the morning I asked if he had gotten up during the night at all and switched sides of the bed and he said he didn’t. He isn’t prone to sleepwalking. It was very strange. Definitely could have been a dream on my part but it was so vivid!
My husband, young daughter and I stayed at the De Soto a couple of years ago. I can’t remember which floor or the room number – but there was a picture of a doctor in his civil war uniform on the wall. The 3 of us slept in the bed together with me closest to the wall – with a gap to walk between the wall and bed. In the middle of the night, as I slept with my back to that wall and facing my daughter – with my husband on the other side of the bed, I was awakened by several sharp nudges to my back. I immediately sat up because it was so hard. I thought it was my husband but there was no way he could have reached all the way over our daughter to my back that was facing the other direction. I put the covers over my head and right after that I felt someone sit down on the bed next to me. I knew it was a ghost but just couldn’t yell out or get myself to try and wake my husband up. It was really a strange feeling. The next day we took pictures in the room and there are definitely “orbs” in all of the pictures. I could feel the nudge – or like a finger poking me – for days after that. Really creepy.
Wow, Jill, that really is creepy. I’ve never experienced anything that strong. The closest I’ve come (at a different hotel) was waking up to the feeling that someone was gently shaking my arm, like they were trying to wake me up. The funny thing is I didn’t feel creeped out. I don’t know if it was real or a dream, but it sure felt real. I can’t imagine still feeling nudges after I’m fully awake. I think that would scare me to death.
My husband and I visited the hotel while walking around Galena. I was taking pictures of the presidents who spoke off of the balcony of the hotel when I captured this image behind me. I didn’t realize what I caught in the picture until after we returned home. I then emailed the picture to Amelia of Amelia’s Haunted Ghost Tours which she thanked me for the image. I wish there were a way for me to share on here!
Hi Tasha. I’d love to see the picture. If you post it on Facebook and tag @MidwestWanderer, I can share on social media. Or if you want to send it to email@example.com, I can share, if you would allow me to.
My wife and I stayed on the 3rd floor and she claims that it felt like someone sat on the bed during the night. I on the other hand slept very well and had no events happen.
I’m hearing more and more stories of events like that at the DeSoto House, Aaron. Scary…
First of all i want to say i would never stay at any other hotel in Galena! It`s smack dab in the middle of town so you can literally park your car in the attached parking garage and start having fun. Second i`d like to share a paranormal experience i had on the first floor ladies restroom. I was in the stall and the restroom was empty except for me. Suddenly i was shocked to hear an infant crying since i didn`t hear the door open and anyone enter. Then as the baby continued to cry i heard a womans voice hushing the child, i came directly out of the stall and to my surprise no one else was in there with me! I later heard from the desk clerk that what i had experienced was a paranormal happening and others had reported it happening to them also. I feel very happy that i got to experience the phenomenon!!!!!
Wow…Thanks for sharing your experience. I don’t know how I would react if I actually had a paranormal experience like that.
I’ve stayed on the 3rd floor twice, in two different rooms. The Bayard Taylor room (326) I believe, gave us a few interesting moments last year. After returning from shopping, the musty smell we had all day was replaced by a heavily flowered perfume in the room. After dinner, the room had the smell of cigar smoke. Kiddingly, we told the spirits that we would stay awake until 3 am, when the action happens supposedly. Of course we fell asleep. At 3 am I was awakened by my fit bit lighting up and going crazy with vibrations that occur with texts or phone notifications. So out of it, I took it off and covered it so I could sleep. In the morning, I asked who would have the nerve to call or text at 3 am, then realized the time it occurred. I checked my phone, and no notifications came through at 3 am.
Last month we stayed in room 331. No action either night but the morning we were leaving, a light went out on its own. we tried to fix it and couldn’t. Then it went on, and off, and on, and flickered for a minute before staying on. Our friend was in the shower at the time. She came out and told us she felt a presence in there and asked it to turn the lights on and off, or even just flicker them, to let her know someone was there. She was so bummed out nothing responded to her continued requests when she had such a strong feeling. We were SHOCKED when she told us the requests she was asking, while they were actually occurring in the room instead of the shower! CREEPY!!!!
My husband & I stayed at the DeSoto this past summer. Cannot remember our room number, but our corner room faced the Main Street. I got up middle of the night to use the bathroom. After returning to bed, I had difficulty falling asleep, feeling like something strange was going on. At first, I didn’t want to open my eyes, but thought, “That’s silly.” I opened my eyes, and saw a very thin woman in a black, somewhat sheer dress, walking past the foot of our bed. I actually tried to scream out my husband’s name, but was unable to utter a sound. The woman kept walking, towards the street side wall, but glanced at me, just as she disappeared through the wall. As a side note, the hotel is beautiful, & dinner at the restaurant was fabulous.
Thanks for sharing, Vera. I’m amazed at how many paranormal experiences occur there.
I didn’t stay there but did have dinner in there upper restaurant and went to the third floor I did feel a chill but when I went ahead of my group I felt someone walking with me and I looked over and there was no one there I also visited the room that was a embalmint room and it sounded like people were talking and people bumped into me but no one was near
Wow, creepy. Embalment room? We’re not familiar with that. Tell us about it.
Me and my sister-in-law stayed at the De Soto Hotel in the Fall of 2017. We spent one night there before meeting the rest of the family for a girls trip. Once the family came in to town, we moved to a new hotel in Galena. The De Soto was lovely and I didn’t know that it, or Galena was famous for having ghostly experiences. We ate at the General’s Lounge that evening it was delicious. We went back up to our room on the second floor because we were tired from driving all day long from Minnesota. I fell asleep early, but was awakened by a vivid dream and the feeling of something hovering over my bed, it seemed black and frilly-like. In my dream I was running through an old building with tons of doors and I was getting lost and calling out for my sister-in-law. Then as I woke up I felt or saw a black figure hovering over me. I quickly jumped up- went to the rest room, grounded myself, and went back to bed! I was startled for a few moments. I didn’t wake my sister-in-law, but the next morning I told her that I had a scary dream about a black ghost. She laughed and said, “oh so it wasn’t Casper”? I replied, no it was black, and that was one freaky dream!!! I didn’t find out until two nights later that the hotel was famous for “The Lady in Black”, ghost. We took a ghost tour and learned about the many ghosts of the Galena hotel, and the infamous “Lady in Black. I was pretty freaked out for a for a few days, and I can’t explain it….. but I was visited by something that night. I can still see the figure as I awakened from my dream. I could not see a face, but it was over the end of my bed and seemed black and frilly, like a curtain, or dress. An experience that I have never had before, and so very vivid to me. I still loved the hotel, and would like to go back someday to see if I am visited again. Now that I am aware of the history, I don’t think I will be as scared.
How scary/cool! I’m surprised you were brave enough to get up and and run to the bathroom, Stacy. I certainly wouldn’t have been.
I will remember to ask for something on the third floor, for sure.
My husband, son and I stayed in a room on the second floor of the DeSoto by the door that goes to the staircase. Two times we smelled a very strong men’s cologne in the hallway by the stairs. It was confined to a space of about four feet and did not seem to dissipate. It was very noticeable, not like a whiff of a passing man and not something any man would wear today!
On another experience in Galena we went to the old Cemetary on a ghost tour. The guide gave us dowsing rods to see if we could communicate with any ghosts. My son and husband had no responses to their questions. But I carried on a long yes and no conversation with someone! I felt a strange electrical buzzing when I had the rods! It was incredibly weird and scary! These experiences happened in January 2019.
Wow, cool but eerie. Thanks for sharing your stories, Christine.
Two weekends ago my wife and I stayed in room 301 (Schuyler Colfax room). As I was relaxing on the bed in the evening, I felt a presence on my left side which caused me enough discomfort that I called out to my wife, who was in the bathroom. She sat next to me but did not feel the presence nor the incessant “tingling”. The focus of the tingling shifted to my right side and back. When the feelings began to dissipate after about 10 minutes, my wife got up to return to the bathroom. Almost immediately the presence returned to my left side only much more powerfully, causing me to actually gasp out loud. My wife returned to my side and in short order, the tingling subsided completely. Later that night, around 2:00AM, I felt someone sit on the window side of the bed near my waist. It was very pronounced and only lasted a few seconds before the bed returned to normal. It was an unforgettable night which left me with many more questions than answers.
Oh my gosh, David, that is so creepy. I don’t know how I would react if something like that happened to me. Thanks for sharing. –Connie
We are staying in room 331 next weekend-I heard that is one of the rooms that experiences alot of activity-I’m super pumped!!
Whoa…you’re brave, Laurie! Let us know how it goes.
We’re staying at the DeSoto House next weekend.. not sure if I’m excited or terrified! LOL. I had no idea this hotel was haunted. My husband has had many paranormal experiences and almost ‘attracts’ them.
It seems that some people are more likely to have paranormal experiences than others. Be sure to let us know how it goes, Rachael.
My boyfriend is taking me for my birthday this weekend! So excited, been reading about the history of the building and different sightings of the paranormal activity there.
a few years ago I stayed at the share Hotel in Mountainaire,NM. it is haunted. i asked to stay in one of the “haunted rooms” in the morning I stepped into the hall way and the door to the room slammed shut. When I opened the door I found that the carpet was new, and the door rubbed on the carpet. it took a bit of effort to moe the door because of the carpet height. i am sure it was Pop Shafer letting me know to leave. Then I found out that he died in that room.