Excelsior House is the oldest hotel in East Texas according to the National Register of Historic Places. Since it opened in the 1850s, it has welcomed some of history’s biggest names through its doors: Ulysses S. Grant, Oscar Wilde, Rutherford B. Hayes and Lady Bird Johnson. They all checked in. But does every guest who visits ultimately check out?

The Jessie Allen Wise Garden Club, which restored the Excelsior House between 1961 and 1963, would prefer you not ask that question, says writer Sally Anne Lewis of Suite101.com. “They feel it lowers the tone,” she says.

Still, one can’t escape the reports that flood the Internet and keep the gossip mills turning. ForgottenUSA.com states that the Excelsior House is “haunted by a headless man on the second floor and a woman in black who has a baby.”

The phantom woman has appeared and frightened many guests, according to TripsResearch.com. Other sites like HauntedAmericanTours.com report that “some say she is…a thief and will steal cash if you leave it on top of a table if you turn your back.”

Steven Spielberg
Steven Spielberg reportedly had a close encounter at the Excelsior House. (Photo by Jemal Countess/Getty Images)

Lewis wrote in her article “Excelsior House Hotel, Haunted Hotels and Jefferson, Texas” that none other than director Steven Spielberg experienced the haunting firsthand.

According to rumor, Lewis states, Spielberg stayed in the Jay Gould room where he tossed his briefcase on a chair, only to have it fly right back at him. In the wee hours of the morning, a small boy awakened the director, asking if he was ready for breakfast. Spielberg allegedly gathered his crew that very minute and checked out of the hotel. He wrote and produced the film Poltergeist soon after.

In “An Excellent Stay With A Ghost At the Excelsior House Hotel,” writer Debe Branning chatted with housekeepers only to learn that they believe three rooms in the hotel are haunted.

In Banning’s report, she states that a woman visiting from Shreveport was staying in the Rutherford B. Hayes room a few years back. The woman claimed that although she was alone in the room’s four-poster bed, unseen hands tore away the covers.

Perhaps the most popular legend surrounding the Excelsior House, however, is that of Diamond Bessie. This story is actually perpetuated by the community during the annual play of “The Diamond Bessie Murder Trial,” held every May during the Jefferson Historical Pilgrimage at the Playhouse, which is also owned by the Jessie Allen Wise Garden Club.

According to lore, Diamond Bessie is the nickname given to Bessie Moore, aka Annie Stone, a young prostitute who was fatally shot in the woods outside Jefferson on Sunday, Jan. 21, 1877. She was killed by her husband, Abraham Rothschild, the son of one of the prominent families of the day.

Some visitors to the Excelsior House have claimed to experience chance encounters with Diamond Bessie, who as far as anyone knows never actually stayed at the hotel. Still, numerous accounts have been related like the one of “The Perfumed Lady” on GhostInMySuitcase.com, where visitors encounter an apparition that smells strongly of perfume.

Excelsior House Hotel
The Excelsior House exudes old world charm. (Photo courtesy TexasExplorer98/Flickr)

As Lewis states, “It is easy to fancy that [Diamond Bessie] visited someone at the hotel” and therefore “her spirit may haunt the area as she was murdered by her husband out of greed for the many diamonds she wore.”

Still, whether the legends are true or not, the Excelsior House is one of Jefferson’s timeless gems. With its classic architecture and stunning antiques, it along with the Jefferson Playhouse and the Ruth Lester House, are the perfect place for parties, receptions, meetings and weddings.

So next time you’re in Jefferson, stop by and take a look around. But if you get a strong whiff of perfume as you traverse the lobby or spot a headless man as you meander down the halls, remember to scour the Internet for the story. Because the Garden Club, well… they’re not talking.

We Want to Hear From You!

Know a person, place or event we should highlight on our Small Town Tour? Send your suggestions to smalltowntour@kkyr.com.

More From Kicker 102.5