Shanley Hotel History: Presidents, Mobsters, Madams, and Ghosts

Shanley Hotel History

Photo: Max Merrin Copyright © 1973

During the early 1900s, many celebrities and world renown notables came up to the small town of Napanoch to stay at the Shanley Hotel. Napanoch, in Ulster County, is known for its preserved historic charm as its located in the Shawangunk Mountains. Beyond the gorgeous scenery and tranquil atmosphere, the mountains have secrets. No place is this more evident than at the Shanley Hotel, a bed and breakfast Inn that attracts ghost hunters from all over the world.

Before it was The Shanley, The Napanoch Hotel was built by Thomas Ritch in 1845. In 1851 the property changed hands and the Napanoch became Hungerford’s Hotel. In 1895, flames from a nearby house fire burned the hotel to the ground. A few months later a new hotel graced the grounds of this beautiful mountain area. The hotel was built in the Dutch Colonial style and looks a bit like the famous Amityville house only on a grander scale.

In 1906, James Shanley, an Irish immigrant, and successful businessman bought the hotel. The Shanley family knew all the “best people” and hobnobbed with President Roosevelt and his wife Eleanor, who was a frequent guest. Thomas Edison also loved to stay on the property. A curious mix of the rich and famous, gangsters and madams checked in and out of the hotel for decades. The hotel has a secret room with hidden passages to the outside that have now been sealed off. It’s not hard to imagine bootleggers using that space for smuggling liquor during Prohibition. These “speakeasy” rumors have a kernel of truth, as in 1932 the police raided the place and James Shanley and his business partner John Powers had to appear in court on “nuisance” charges, with liquor confiscated from the site. The parties and outdoor sports tournaments went on for decades. The Shanley had the best of amenities for the time—including a bowling alley and a barbershop for guests.

You can visit the remains of a brothel at The Shanley, where a madam’s couch sits on the landing in front of bedrooms. Looking at that antique sofa, you could just imagine her ushering men in and out and telling them when “times up!” In the brothel’s heyday, “time” was kept by how long it took the Madam to finish a cigarette. The joint really was jumping! Many visitors say the hotel has cold spots, and the “Madam’s” seat feels particularly frosty.

The Shanley also had its share of tragedy. Mr. and Mrs. Shanley’s children never lived to their first year, and her sister died in childbirth, leaving her children for her sister and husband to raise. Beatrice Shanley was known as a maternal, kind lady. Many children lived on premises and visited with their parents. It is said that in 1911, a 4-year-old girl, the barber’s daughter fell down a well and died. Four years later, a 6-year-old child was hit by a car across from the hotel. Many say his name is Jonathan, and he is one of the hotel’s most active spirits. He and little Rosie, who died close in time as well as age are good friends and love to engage guests in games like moving a ball around from place to place. A hanging also took place on a tree on the grounds that was later cut down by the owners. Like any other old hotel, intrigue, crime sex, and murder co-existed with the old fashioned good times at this seemingly serene mountain resort. All hotels have “ghosts” of a sort, due to the many lives intersecting within its walls, but the Shanley is special. It tops many lists of “most haunted’” hotels. Some say it is because of the location on a supernatural “vortex” and others say the secret is in the old mountains that surround the hotel.

Instead of hiding the hotel’s checkered past and paranormal history, the current owners, the Nicosia family embraced it. They didn’t know about the haunting until the day after they closed on the property in 2005. Before his death in 2016, owner Sal Nicosia, a builder, lovingly restored the hotel, while preserving much of the amazing artifacts and treasures of the past. Curious details like bullet holes left in the walls of “Oscar and Grover’s Room” give life to the hotel’s rich history. Due to the popularity of ghost shows right after the Nicosia family took over ownership, Sal can be seen on videos giving many guided tours to paranormal investigators. His friendly attitude and valuable knowledge about the hotel’s history made it “the” place to go ghost hunting in upstate New York. Sal Nicosia had a wonderful sense of humor and appeared to take it in stride that the old owner, Mr. Shanley, would often make his presence known. One of Sal’s most entertaining stories is about his cat who didn’t like certain areas of the hotel. This “ghost cat” was later adopted by the child spirits on premises.

Now Sal Nicosia’s fiance, Teresa Abril, continues the proud legacy of The Shanley, running the hotel with the help of her son and the other hotel staff. The hotel is a major attraction, not just for ghost hunters, but for anyone who wants some time away in a cozy Bed and Breakfast. Now, if you want to stay at the Shanley, you can’t bring your own bootleg to drink in the rooms which does make sense as nighttime ghost exploration and drinking don’t mix. They also don’t allow Ouija boards, which also makes sense as you never know whom you are contacting with a psychic “friend” request via a spirit board. They state their rules clearly on the hotel’s website. Despite the hotel’s haunted reputation, it seems the owners wish to keep the ethereal atmosphere as well as the service friendly and hospitable. Visitors say the coffee is always on, and guests who abide by the rules are always welcome to conduct investigations and draw their own conclusions.

On Facebook, I had a conversation with a lady named Anna Marie Scarpulla, who booked a visit at the Shanley Hotel as a birthday present for her husband, a ghost hunting show enthusiast. You can view a video of them “speaking” with Jonathan on the Shanley Hotel Evidence Group page,, one of the many sites where fans of the hotel share their unique paranormal experiences while staying at this haunted inn. From the video Anna Marie posted, it seems that Anna and her husband, Larry O’Connor handled the interaction just right, speaking in a kind, friendly, playful tone to the little boy. They used the “flashlight” technique and got some impressive communication back from the child ghost. Like speaking with any other child, it seems that patience, your tone of voice, word choice, and good intentions can go a long way to foster productive results from the spirit world. Perhaps Anna and Larry should host a paranormal show?

Many posters on travel sites rate the hotel with five out of five stars, saying that a stay at The Shanley is an “experience” they will not soon forget. There are guided tours, events, and presentations at the hotel from time to time, but to do any ghost hunting, you need to book a room. This is true for most famously haunted hotels, such as the Driskill in Austin, Texas and the Chelsea in New York. You can’t just walk into The Shanley’s lobby and break out your trusty EVP meter and expect free access to roam the hotel. To see photos of some of the personally named and gorgeously decorated rooms, visit You can also check availability and book rooms online.

Whether or not you believe in ghosts, the Shanley Hotel at 56 Main Street in Napanoch, NY is highly rated getaway spot famously known for its rich history, beautiful rooms and excellent guest service.

One Response

  1. anna Marie Scarpulla March 16, 2017
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