The Ghosts of Iolani Palace

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The Ghosts of Iolani Palace - Photo

The Ghosts of Iolani Palace

The ʻIolani Palace history is long, harried, and incredibly interesting. A history full of the ghosts of Iolani Palace. Just to put it into perspective, the joint is the only ROYAL PALACE on US soil… that’s a BIG deal when you take into account the nation’s stance on monarchies. 

The place was the royal residence of the rulers of the Kingdom of Hawaii starting with Kamehameha III under the Kamehameha Dynasty (1845) and finishing up with Queen Liliʻuokalani (1893) under the Kalākaua Dynasty.

Want to visit the place? No sweats it’s rather simple, it’s the huge opulent building located in the capitol district of downtown Honolulu; just ask anyone and they’ll point you towards it… or do what our crafty digital brain have been tweaked for, call up the overlord and let him take the baton:

“Siri, ask Google to direct me to Iolani Palace.”

Easy as pie, interagency cooperation.

The History of Iolani Palace


Before we talk about the ghosts of Iolani Palace, let’s talk about the history of the place. At the beginning 19th century, the place where ʻIolani Palace stands was near an old funeral site known as Pohukaina. The ossuary is assumed to be named after a great chief who according to fable picked a cave in Kanehoalani in the Koʻolau Range for his resting place. The land is said to be blessed and protected by his spirit, so, a dynasty of chiefs, rulers, the original Big Kahunas transformed the region into the equivalent of a 90210 zip-code; everyone with a smidgen of royal blood, or prominence, started to set up shop there.  

The buildings weren’t as sumptuous as the palace that later flourished in the area. They were small homes with folding door entrances, decorated tent door of chintz fabric, and carpeted with handcrafted makaloa mats.

Burial Mound

As chiefs, lords, and monarchs passed away, the sacred burial site grew. The place no longer just for that fabled leader Pohukaina, but for the ruling class (aliʻi). 

Years after 1825, the first Western-style royal tomb was constructed for the bodies of King Kamehameha II and his queen Kamāmalu. European and western sensibilities started encroaching into the island. And, more importantly, Hawaiian Royalty and culture were no longer hermetically sealed. Natives, particular the monarchs had started to travel. Kamehameha II trip to London blew her mind; she came back with visions of Westminster Abbey and bee in her carefully coiffed Picadilli bonnet. She passed down this love affair to her daughter.

As more bodies were added, the tiny vaults became packed, so other chiefs and servants were buried in unmarked graves nearby… hence why your reading a blog about the Ghosts of Iolani Palace.

The Iolani Palace

In July 1844, Kekūanāoʻa started developing a huge home at the site of the current palace as a tribute to his daughter Victoria Kamāmalu.  Kamehameha III – daughter of that wandering Royal dignitary that went off to London – bought the property and tweaked it into a royal mansion fit for London big-shots. It would eventually, after many MANY name changes, become the Iolani Palace.

Seat Of Government

Since the unification of Hawaii, Maui had been the seat of the official government. Kamehameha I established his royal seat at Lahaina, Maui in 1802, where he built the kingdom’s first royal residency called the Brick Palace. 

It remained the seat of the government until Kamehameha III, in 1845, relocated the capital to Honolulu… Communing to do her stately duties was a pain in you know where. 

“This momentous decision bridges the schism between the ancient traditions of Hawaii and the new 19th-century outlook of the monarchy and its vision for its people.”

Royal imprisonment and trial

For years things stayed the same… until 1893. 

What happened in 1893? All hell broke loose. 

The Committee of Safety, formally the Citizen’s Committee of Public Safety, a 13-member group of the Annexation Club – which sounds exactly like it sounds – went all cloak and dagger, Pre-CIA, skullduggery on the archipelagos and overthrew the government. The collection was formed of essentially Hawaiian vassals of American origin and American citizens who were members of the Missionary Party, as well as some foreign residents in the Kingdom of Hawaiʻi. 


The club carefully plotted and carried out the overthrow of the Kingdom of Hawaiʻi on January 17, 1893. The main goal of this group – backed by stooges within the US – was to ultimately achieve the annexation of Hawaiʻi by the United States. The thing is that, well, no one told the President of the US. The whole wacky plot was put on the backburner by then-President Grover Cleveland. It wasn’t until a new administration came into power, and the stink and stench of the whole debacle started to wear off that the United States Congress, in 1898, approved a joint resolution of annexation creating the U.S. Territory of Hawaiʻi.

The Committee of Safety in 1893 and troop/mercenaries of the newly formed Provisional Government of Hawaiʻi took charge of ʻIolani Palace. The place was renamed the “Executive Building”. “Government officials” inventoried its contents and sold at public auctions whatever fittings or furnishings or pieces of art were not proper for government services. They made a bundle. 

Meanwhile, Hawaiian was in turmoil. The original plan was for the US government to come in and gladhand the whole affair. What no one was expecting was for a President to see the Goat’s Wedding the group had made and tell his aid de camp: “not even with a two-mile-long stick.” Hawaii was a hornet’s nest and the US didn’t want to poke around it. So now, the transitional government suddenly finds itself with the odious responsibility of, well, having to govern. Not only governing but governing a rather inflamed nation with armed up urgency groups clamoring for their Martini soaked heads. 

Five long years of rebel fighting, guerilla warfare, rebellions, revolts, assassination plots, the whole kit, and kaboodle.

Queen Liliʻuokalani, the deposed monarch, was imprisoned for nine months in a small room on the upper floor of the renamed Palace. Why was she being kept? Well, the new government wanted her as a figurehead; they would promulgate new laws and the Queen would serve as their mouthpiece. 


That same year, stymied and frustrated, mid the second of the Wilcox rebellions, the Queen abdicated, not accepting the group’s demands. She lived out the remainder of her later life as a private citizen and died at her residence, Washington Place, in Honolulu on November 11, 1917.

When Liliuokalani died in 1917, provincial governor Lucius E. Pinkham bestowed her the honor of a state funeral in the throne room of the palace.

The Hauntings of Iolani Palace

Where to begin? 

A palace that was amid a rebellion/coup-d-eta, which many historians label as “a blueprint of how to steal a kingdom.” A palace that’s set in the grounds of an ancient burial mound. A palace that swimming in Honolulu history. A palace that serves as a capstone to a land full of Gods, urban legends, and other supernatural tales. Does the place have ghosts? Hell, the place makes Hogwarts look lowkey. 

Some say the last Queen is still at the Palace and is the main specter ghost enthusiast might encounter there. Reports by both workers of the Palace, directors, guides and tourists alike speak of odd things happening in its corridors. 

Here are some of the things that take place in the Palace:

  • In the blue room of the Palace, is a piano that is secured in a bolted down glass case. The security guards don’t have the key to that glass cage. Nonetheless, the curators and guards can sometimes hear the piano playing. Keys being pressed in random order. 
  • The doors on the Queen’s bedroom is locked every night… and like clockwork, once a month, the alarm to that room goes off. When the guards investigate, the door is cracked open and there’s no one inside. 
  • The Queen had a fondness for cigars and oftentimes the place reeks of them. Visitors have complained of walking down its corridors and getting hit with the pungent smell of tobacco. 
  • Lights appear out of the blue in windows at night. Torches just wandering about.
  • And, finally, there’s a specter in a rich vintage black dress that has been seen multiple times prancing around the palace rooms and its yard.

For more tales of the macabre, check out our top ten blog on Honolulu haunts.