story by Lynn Cook
photo by Dana Edmunds
“There is a crooked room in Waikiki,” says Tony Bissen with a mischievous grin, “and it isn’t what you are thinking.” As the Moana Hotel’s historian and storyteller, he loves this tale: In 1918, wings and a sixth floor were added to the elegant Victorian hotel’s original 1901 building. The trusses for the rooms were cut too short and when heavy porcelain toilets were stacked there, waiting for installation, the beams sank.
“There are actually two crooked rooms,” he says. “Even today, if you drop marbles there, you’ll have to chase them!”
A Maui boy, Tony got his first taste of the travel industry in the 1950s when he spent a summer diving for coins thrown into Honolulu Harbor by passengers on the luxury Matson liners. Always a two-job man, he went on to work for nearly thirty years for Continental Airlines, was a parachute rigger for the Air National Guard, a “rod-man” working reinforced steel in construction and a tour driver. In 1995, needing a new challenge, he took on the research and development for a documented history tour at the Moana.
In a sense, his life has come full-circle to those early Honolulu Harbor days: The Moana was built by Matson to house its cruise passengers; Tony’s museum is in the hotel’s second floor gallery.
“Little did I think back then I would someday be giving tours of display cases holding steamer trunks, formal dining attire and those funny, long-legged, turn-of-the-century bathing suits they once wore.”
But these are more than just static point-and-look tours. As Tony steps into the “history room,” a black-and-white video comes to life. As jerky film of old Waikiki rolls behind him, he recounts tales of celebrities, great events and even the mysterious 1905 demise of the guest in Room 120—none other than Mrs. Jane Leland Stanford, the “Mother” of Stanford University, whose ghost, it’s rumored, is one of several on permanent vacation in the hotel.
The free tours are open to the public and run each Monday, Wednesday and Friday at 11 a.m. and 5 p.m.