Friday Night Frights: The Ghosts Who Haunt Hawai‘i’s Historic ‘Iolani Palace
Is this historic landmark haunted by royalty?
This story originally appeared online in October 2015.
Photo: HONOLULU Magazine archives
Every year, thousands of tourists from around the world flock to visit the historic ‘Iolani Palace, once home to the Hawaiian monarchy. This National Historic Landmark in downtown Honolulu is ripe with memories and artifacts, and, not to mention, ghost stories. We consulted with storyteller Lopaka Kapanui, owner of Mysteries of Hawai‘i, for tales of ghost sightings on the palace grounds.
Want a glimpse of Queen Lili‘uokalani? Stop by the palace grounds around 5:30 a.m. and you just might see her ghostly figure. At least, that’s what the palace security guards tell Kapanui. “I don’t know how constant the sighting is, but it’s consistent enough for security guards to confirm that it does indeed happen on the grounds of the palace,” Kapanui says. Guards even report hearing the piano mysteriously playing in the Blue Room.
Some with a royal bloodline connection to Kalākaua and Kapi‘olani claim to hear chanting or Hawaiian music playing when they enter the upstairs bedroom, where Queen Lili‘uokalani was once imprisoned for nearly eight months following the overthrow of the Hawaiian government.
Kapanui recalls bringing a group on a guided ghost tour in downtown Honolulu on a Sunday evening in 2006. The group stopped by the King Kamehameha statue across the street from ‘Iolani Palace. Kapanui claims that, from that vantage point, he spotted the silhouette of a Hawaiian woman peering out from the window of ‘Iolani’s second-floor bedroom, where Lili‘uokalani was imprisoned. Her ghost, perhaps? “Trick of the light? My imagination? I can’t really say,” Kapanui says. “It was there—it did happen.”
‘Iolani Palace officials won’t confirm these mysterious occurences. “All the stories I have heard are hearsay and several or many degrees of separation from the individual who claims to have sighted a former resident,” says ‘Iolani Palace historian Zita Cup Choy in an email.
There’s a fenced-in area on the palace grounds that marks the former burial site of Kamehameha II and Queen Kamāmalu. They died of measles shortly after a trip to England. Between 1825 and 1865, the site served as a final resting place for Hawaiian royalty. After a new Royal Mausoleum was constructed in Nu‘uanu Valley, 18 coffins were removed from the ‘Iolani Palace and transferred to the new burial site. There’s a “Kapu” sign warning visitors to stay away from this sacred and forbidden area.
According to the former Honolulu Advertiser, Queen Kapi‘olani planted two banyan trees on ‘Iolani Palace grounds when the palace opened in the 1880s. The banyans later grew into a whole grouping of trees. It’s rumored these 135-year-old trees house the spirits of the dead. Not all the ghosts spotted on ‘Iolani palace grounds are royalty. Kapanui says these trees harbor spirits of those who didn’t have families to care for them.