The Haunted Delta King
Forever stagnantly floating along the Old Sacramento Waterfront, The Delta King sits in waiting, harboring its dark secrets. It has the prestige, looks, and history fit only for such a vessel with a name that is beholden to its title. Today, the 255-foot-long riverboat is stationary and operates as one of the finest hotels along the Sacramento waterfront. In its previous incarnation, the Delta King spent its days cruising down the California Delta. But many who entered the cruise ships never made it back to land.
Countless suicides occurred here, murder suspected in many cases. Because of these tragic and often scandalous events, the formerly mobile steamship is considered haunted by those who work and visit aboard The Delta King.
Stories of a small girl, likely murdered, running through the corridors are common. A strange man in a suit is generally seen following in the darker corners of the vessel. The theatre rooms, shadows of their former selves, have also been the site of much activity.
Remember to take a ghost tour with US Ghost Adventures the next time you visit Sacramento.
The Historic Delta King
The Delta King was built alongside its royal counterpart, the Delta Queen, in Glasgow, Scotland in 1925. Construction of these steam-powered cruise liners cost $1 million dollars each and took a crew of 135 men to accomplish. They were assembled in Stockton, California, and upon entering the waters of the Sacramento River, became the largest vessels traveling inland American waters.
50 percent larger than their competitors, they were designed with the utmost sense of elegance and pride. Composed of a galvanized steel hull with a wooden superstructure, they were considered technological wonders of the day and some of the finest in United States history.
The monarch steamboats cut an hour’s time off the journey from San Francisco to Sacramento – a journey that still took ten and a half hours, quite a long time from the modern perspective. However, guests were treated to the finest amenities, entertainment, and nightlife the 1920s could provide.
May 20th, 1927, marked the dedication of the two steamers. They would depart from San Francisco on June 2nd and 3rd and arrive in Sacramento the next morning. These voyages continued for a decade until the Golden Gate Bridge was built in 1938, interrupting their waterways. These mostly went off without a hitch.
November 2nd, 1936, this all changed when the Delta King’s engine failed and docked on the rugged rocks of Alcatraz. This event worked the prisoners up, as many believed it was a calculated plan to aid in their escape. But nobody gets off the Rock.
In 1940, the pair were drafted into World War 2, serving as YFB 55 and YFB 56. The Delta Queen was purchased in 1948 by Captain Tom Greene, who entered it into the tourism industry, taking tourists up and down the Mississippi and Ohio rivers for overnight cruises. The engine of the Delta King was stripped to accommodate the outdated engine of the Queen and was then towed to various locations, going as far north as Canada. In 1984, it was pulled out of San Francisco Bay and converted into the hotel you see today.
Suicides on The King
While most of the voyages aboard the Delta King were filled with merriment, the long nights of gambling, dining, and drinking took a toll, and some ended in a less-than-frivolous manner. The Delta King seemingly racked up a proportionally large amount of suicides in the 13 years it spent along the river.
The first and most well-known was the death of Miss Dorothy Millette. She was the wife of an MGM studio executive and producer, Paul Bern, although few knew of their marriage. Bern had also married starlet Jean Harlow in July of 1932. Harlow had starred in one of the first “talkies,” Howard Hughes’ “Hell’s Angels,” which was the highest-grossing film of its time, racking in $2.8 million dollars upon release.
Their star-studded courtship ended in tragedy when Bern committed suicide in their Beverly Hills home two months later. At the time, only the ones closest to Bern had knowledge of Millette, and many believed she had died in a sanatorium years prior. Due to her poor mental health, Bern had been sending her the equivalent of $5,000 in modern money every month. But they never divorced, and when this evidence came to light, many suspected foul play on Millette’s part.
However, Millette was nowhere near the crime scene at the time, housing herself in San Francisco and concocting her own plans. She boarded the Delta King on September 6th, 1932, with no plans of returning, jumping overboard as the ship set sail. Her body was found washed up in Walnut Grove shortly after on the 14th.
She would not be the only one to take a final leap off the Delta King. Police, while searching for Millette’s body, would find the body of a man believed to have jumped at least a month prior. The victim was described as wearing a blue suit and a black necktie, with the key to room 104 found in his pocket. To this day, he has not been identified.
The Steamboat of Death
While his spirit may likely be accounted for, the ghost of a young girl remains a mystery. The young girl and her footsteps are often heard and seen by workers of The Delta King. Many believe the man may have murdered the poor girl, perhaps by accident, and committed suicide shortly after.
The theatre rooms tend to be particularly haunted with a variety of spirits. In 1933, a distressed dairyman from Los Angeles named Leroy Deskin threatened his estranged wife to jump overboard. His body was never found. In 1934, a man was found hanging in his cabin, a bottle of poison and heart stimulants nearby. He registered under a pseudonym, and the only clue to his identity was the business card of a bottling plant in San Francisco. They were never able to verify his identity.
It is likely that during the hard and dubious years of the Great Depression, many took note of Dorothy Millette’s suicide and followed suit. Their spirits, along with that of the poor young girl whose name remains unknown, now haunt the hallways and theaters of the floating hotel.
Want to discover the hauntings of The Delta King yourself? Book a stay on your next visit to Sacramento. While you’re there, be sure to take a tour with US Ghost Adventures to see what other dark secrets California’s capital keeps hidden.