Out of Southern California’s three most haunted destinations (the Whaley House and the Queen Mary comprising the other two), the Mission Inn in Riverside is the most unexpected. It is the most unexpected not because it is or it is not haunted, but because, well, it’s in Riverside. While I have nothing against Riverside – after all, it is was just named the eighth coolest city in America by Forbes Magazine – it is not a place that makes you think of unique architecture, or strange buildings. And yet, Riverside is indeed home to one of the strangest buildings in California (second only to the Winchester Mystery House): the Mission Inn.
The Mission Inn began as a normal hotel under the ownership of Christopher Miller; but in 1902, ownership passed to his son, Frank Augustus Miller, who changed the name to the “Mission Inn”, and began adding on to the hotel in a variety of design styles until his death in 1935. The hotel has Moorish Revival architecture, Spanish Colonial architecture, Spanish Gothic architecture, and also is considered the largest Mission Revival style building in the United States. The hotel is a unique architectural work of art; and it is also a building that exudes a strange, horror-movie vibe as well. Perhaps because of its brooding gothic elements, or because of the the artifacts within it, the hotel has acquired a reputation of being haunted. There are a number of stories about ghosts in the hotel; however, the most popular stories about the hotel being haunted are related to the following areas: Frank Miller’s Room (located in the Northeast Corner of the Fourth Story); Alice Miller’s Room (located in Southeast Corner of the Fourth Story); the “catacombs” being haunted; and the hallways of the hotel generally being haunted.
As I mentioned when I was discussing the Queen Mary, @losadventura and I have seen too many B-Grade horror movies, so we decided to also investigate the “ghosts” present at the Mission Inn over the course of one weekend. The first difficulty to beset our investigation was that we could not find confirmation that the “catacombs” – a rumored series of tunnels under the Mission Inn, stretching to Mount Rubidoux even exist – or existed. The sources online regarding such tunnels seemed to be full of mostly speculation, and no concrete information about how to access such tunnels (or if they really exist). When I arrived at the hotel, I made a number of discreet inquiries of various hotel personnel about the tunnels; and was treated to a number of strange looks and denials about such tunnels (or as the internet says “catacombs”) existing. Despite receiving no viable information about whether the catacombs existed or how to access them, we made a valiant attempt to find any secret passages leading to the tunnels/catacombs, without trespassing onto various areas of the hotel we were not allowed into. I’m sad to say that the end result of all of this investigating and stair-climbing to the basement levels of the hotel was absolutely nothing. To this day, I can’t tell you if the catacombs exist – or if they are “haunted”. While I want to believe they exist, and that they are full of ghosts, buried treasure, or are just a cool underground maze, I’m leaning more and more to believing that this is nothing but an urban legend about Riverside and the Mission Inn. If you have contrary (hard) evidence that I’m wrong about this, feel free to let me know, but until then, I’m going to say that while the truth may be out there – the catacombs of the Mission Inn probably aren’t.
In terms of hallway ghosts, @losadventura and I went up just about every hallway in the hotel during the day and during the night. This was in part because the hotel is a really interesting place to explore with lots of interesting architectural styles; and in part because we were really trying to see if it was haunted. Again, I’m going to have to be skeptical here, and report that other than some weird looks from hotel guests and visitors, we discovered nothing out of the ordinary, other than the crazy architecture of the building.
Finally, in terms of Frank Miller’s and Alice Miller’s rooms, we also came up with nothing. Frank Miller’s room is locked by the hotel and off limits to guests and visitors; and when we looked in the windows at night, we saw nothing scarier than a lot of dust in the rooms. Alice Miller’s room, on the other hand, is actually a guest room; and while you can stay in it for a night or multiple nights, we did not. As we were respectful hotel visitors, we did not do anything crazy outside of the room for fear of disturbing the actual guests inside the room. However, by the “Aunt Alice” door, which is rumored to make strange noises, have cold spots, and generally be a portal to a nether dimension, we found – and felt nothing as well.
My final verdict on the Mission Inn is that like the Whaley House, and Queen Mary, it is probably not haunted (again, people with hard proof, feel free to e-mail me), but like those two spots, it’s a great place to visit because it is unique and historic; and if you happen to experience something different than me when you are visiting it, that will be an added bonus for you.
Directions: The Mission Inn is located at 3649 Mission Inn Avenue in Riverside, California. Trust me, there is no way you can miss it, as there is nothing in Riverside that looks remotely like it.
Fun Fact: In addition to the parrots at the Inn, historic artifacts, and many presidential visits, I find it interesting that Ann Rice, the author keeps a suite of rooms there on a yearly basis. Who knows, perhaps she draws her inspiration from the (non) existent ghosts.