Wednesday, February 3, 2016

HGB Podcast, Ep.102 - Skirvin Hotel

Moment in Oddity - Phantom Time Hypothesis

Heribert Illig believes that much of what we know about the Middle Ages is just made up and he calls his theory the Phantom Time Hypothesis. Illig is a German historical conspiracy theorist that believes the Early Middle Ages dating from 614-911 was fabricated through alterations, misrepresentations and downright forgery and that Charlemane himself never existed. Part of the evidence he points to is the fact that Romanesque architecture is seen in the tenth century, so only half a millennium could have passed since the fall of the Roman Empire. He also points to the lack of archaelogical evidence. Who did this and why according to Illig? The Holy Roman Emperor Otto III, Pope Sylvester II, and the Byzantine Emperor Constantine VII, instigated the alterations and they did it so the Anno Domini dating system placed them at the special year of AD 1000. Let's not ignore the fact that more than Europe's history would have to be altered to support Phantom Time. The Papacy history and Islamic history would need changing too as well as many other regions, including Asia, whose Tang Dynasty observations on solar happenings like Halley's Comet are current and match the calendar without Phantom Time. Romanesque styling still makes its way into architecture to this day. So does the history we tell you about on this podcast really exist? How about what Dan Carlin is talking about on Hardcore History? Stuff You Missed in History Class is probably just made up too. Perhaps the time you are in right this very minute doesn't exist. This is all just a figment of your imagination. A big ball of Phantom Time. Now that, certainly is odd!

This Day in History - Prince Mutsuhito becomes Emperor Meiji of Japan
by: Jessica Bell

On this day, February 3rd, in 1867, Prince Mutsuhito becomes Emperor Meiji of Japan at the age of fourteen. Emperor Mutsuhito adopted the reign-name Meiji (meaning enlightened government) and ruled in that name from 1868 to 1912. Emperor Meiji presided over a time of rapid change in Japan, as the nation rose from a feudal shogunate to become a world power. He supported the growing popular consensus on the need for modernization of Japan along Western lines that had developed as a result of the country’s resumption of contact with other nations after a 250-year period of cultural and economic isolation. The restoration of the emperor as sole ruler of a unified Japan came to be known as the Meiji Restoration. Emperor Meiji's advisers believed that the strength of Western nations depended on constitutional government for national unity, on industrialization for material strength, and on a powerful and well-trained military for national security. Most Japanese took to Western technology with enthusiasm. Between 1868 and 1885, Japan acquired postal services, a telegraph system, railways, banks, and steam-powered overseas shipping lines. Universal education was introduced during the Meiji era, which was intended to produce a high level of literacy and knowledge of science, and to infuse children with traditional morality and virtue.

Skirvin Hotel (Research Assistant April Rogers-Krick)


Westward expansion was pulling people from the east into the wild west. Oklahoma City was a boom town from 1898 to 1909 and many people flocked there. William Skirvin was one of those people who came to Oklahoma City and he built a hotel that has survived into today. The Skirvin Hotel was meant to be the most grandiose and fancy hotel in the area. And it was, hosting some of the luminaries of the day. For a time it was abandoned, but today, it is a property of Hilton and still hosting guests from around the world. But the Skirvin Hotel seems to be hosting more than just the living. This hotel is considered by some as the most haunted location in Oklahoma. Join us as we explore the history and hauntings of the Skirvin Hotel.

The 1830s saw things changing drastically for the Native American people. President Andrew Jackson's first major piece of legislation was the Indian Removal Act of 1830. This allowed the government to evict the Native Americans east of the Mississippi River from the lands they were living upon. Most people are familiar with the Trail of Tears. This was the route that these evicted Native Americans followed into what was deemed Indian Territory in the West. Five main tribes were affected and these tribes were the Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Muskogee and the Seminole. They are referred to as the Five Civilized Tribes. The reason for this name is that Native Americans had been encouraged to learn to read and speak English and convert to Christianity and these five tribes adopted those customs deeming them as civilized to the White Americans.The journey on the Trail of Tears was difficult and deadly. It ended in Oklahoma, which was known as Indian Territory. Listeners might recall us referring to Oklahoma with this name in the last episode about the 101 Ranch.

The Western part of Oklahoma was considered "Unassigned Land" and so many pioneers decided to settle in that area, which included Oklahoma City. These pioneers were called Boomers and the government was not happy with them basically squatting on this land, so it held a series of land runs so these pioneers could claim land. A land run is when the government opens up previously restricted land to homesteading. The way the land is claimed is first come first served basically. The Boomers were not necessarily wrong with what they were doing because the Homestead Act of 1862 stated that settlers could claim 160 acres of public land and they considered Western Oklahoma to be public land. After the land run was announced, some settlers tried to stake their claim to the land before it was legal and this group was called the Sooners. *Fun fact: The University of Oklahoma used Boomers as its mascot before changing to Sooners.*

Oklahoma became a state in 1907, shortly after the land runs. Guthrie was the territorial capital, but in 1910 Oklahoma City, which was incorporated in 1890, was declared the capital. Oklahoma City was oil rich and this brought about the oil boom, which brought many people to the city. Many of these oil men would bring about other business and trade for the city

The Skirvin Hilton was originally named the Skirvin Hotel. This is the oldest hotel in Oklahoma City. The name Skirvin came from its founder William Balser Skirvin, known as W.B. It was Skirvin's desire to build a high class hotel that would be considered the finest accommodations in the area. Skirvin was born on November 10, 1860 in Michigan near Sturgis. He grew up on the family farm there. Skirvin's mother died when he was eight and his father left for business, leaving Skirvin and his sister in the care of their grandmother. He lived with her until he was fifteen and then he set off on his own, finally ending up in Kansas selling farm machinery.

Skirvin later got into real estate and when the Oklahoma Territory opened up, he and a partner went in and bought property in Guthrie. He later moved his family, which included two daughters and a son to Galveston, Texas. He survived the hurricane that all but wiped out Galveston in 1900. Six thousand people lost their lives in that storm and one of those people was nearly Skirvin, who risked his life several times to save others. After losing his home in the storm, he got involved in the oil business. This made him a rich man. He relocated to a growing city in Oklahoma named Oklahoma City in 1906. He again pursued real estate and then set his focus on building a hotel. Before that happened, his wife passed away in 1908. He would never remarry, but rumors would arise later that he carried on a relationship with a maid at the hotel he would soon build. The real truth is that he probably had a relationship with his bookkeeper Mabel Luty, but she outlived him.

Construction began on the Skirvin Hotel in 1910 at the corner of First Street and Broadway in Oklahoma City. The architects were Solomon Layton, Hicks & Forsyth and Kahler Slater. Two ten story towers were built with 225 rooms. In 1926, a third tower was added that rose to thirteen stories. In 1930, all three towers were raised to fourteen stories to make them all level. The hotel had a total of 525 rooms after that expansion. The lobby's floor was originally laid with white tile, but in later years carpet covered over the tiles. A newspaper ad in The Daily Oklahoman dated from Sunday October 1st, 1911 for the opening reads:
"The Skirvin Hotel which has just opened its doors to the public at Oklahoma City is the best hotel in the Southwest and the most modern in all hoteldom. A sterling hospitality that is unrivalled in its warmth and sincerity radiates everywhere from this splendidly equipped hotel. The Skirvin Hotel is complete in every detail and absolutely fireproof. The rates are as moderate as will be found anywhere.
 The Skirvin Hotel is ten stoires in height, of pleasing architecture and contains 225 rooms, each with an individual private bath. The lobby of the Skirvin is of English Gothic and furnishes the motif for the decorations and furnishings throughout the interior of the hotel. A comfortable, homelike atmosphere prevails everywhere which first impresses you with its kindly warmth the moment you enter the lobby. The hotel has two large entrances, one from Broadway and the other from First Street. Courteous employees are quick to anticipate your wants and to fill them promptly and quietly.
(Writing really tiny here so hard to see.) Convention Hall, Banquet Room and the Mezzanine Floor are furnished and [can't read] luxurious style. The [can't read] lighting system is used. The Grill Room in the basement and the Cafe on the first floor are sumptuously furnished and [can't read the rest.]
Afternoon tea will be served in the tea room, which adjoins the mazzanine floor. The Tea Room has been daintily decorated by hand in delicate designs and will be the afternoon rendevouz for fashionable people from all over the state. Special care is provided for unaccompanied women and children and a maid attends to their every want and comfort with constant attention.
There is not a more modern kitchen anywhere than that which serves the excellent meals provided at the Skirvin. Everything is snowy white. Absolute cleanliness prevails to the last degree. All the tables, shelving, etc are of white [can't read] metal. Here, as in the cafe, is a superb ventilation system and the cold storage is the latest design. A capable chef is in charge of a corps of seasoned experts who have reduced cooking to a known science.
Mr. Frederick W. Scherubel, general manager of the Skirvin Hotel, has a wide acquaintance with and knowledge of the needs of the travelling public of the Southwest and in this hotel has met their every requirement. No better host nor hotel can be found anywhere."
Peggy Wullich, a desk clerk in the 1940s, said of her experience at the hotel, "It was great working the at Skirvin. I was there when Bob Hope came. It was an elegant place — overstuffed chairs, guests sitting in the lobby, reading the paper. I also danced for Katherine Duffy at WKY in the Skirvin Tower. A lot of people from New York would come in for showings of clothes, and I would model for them. The Skirvin was more elite than the other hotels. The Biltmore was good, but it just didn't compare to the Skirvin.”

Skirvin's daughter was Perle Mesta. She was the American Ambassador to Luxembourg. She was dubbed "the hostest with the mostest" because she hosted the best and most lavish parties in Washington, D.C. for dignitaries. An invitation to one of her parties meant that one had truly arrived and was now a part of the inner circle. Irving Berlin's musical "Call Me Madam" is about Mesta. 

On March 12, 1944, Skirvin was in a severe car accident and sustained several life threatening injuries. He lingered until March 25th and then passed away from his injuries. His necrology was written by Fred P. Branson and ends with "It can justly be said that he was one of the outstanding stalwart citizens of Oklahoma, his adopted State, and his efforts produced marks of progress, which are now, and will continue to be for a long number of years, not only useful institutions, but monuments to his efforts and name."

Dan James, a hotelier, bought the hotel from Skirvin's children after his death. He paid $3 million for the property and held onto it for 20 years. The next 23 years saw the hotel passing through many hands. Some of the famous people that stayed at the hotel included, Jimmy Hoffa, Roger Staubach, Harry Truman, Frank Sinatra, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Elvis, Mikhail Baryshnikov and Bob Hope.The hotel was segregated during much of this time and blacks could only enter if they worked on the custodial or banquet staff.

The Skirvin Hotel was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1979. Nearly ten years later, in 1988, the hotel closed. It stood abandoned for fifteen years, but after a $46.4 million renovation, it was opened once again. Interestingly, before this project, a Native American group came in with a proposal to turn the hotel into a casino. The restoration tried to bring the hotel back to its historical roots by incorporating the same designs in the tiles, ceiling treatments and moldings as the original hotel. Historically accurate windows were installed and the exterior was finished as it had once been. Upgrades were made in meeting rooms to make them state-of-the-art, new elevators were installed, the lobby was updated, new restaurants were opened and guest rooms were updated.

Sadly, an article we read from April 2015 in The Oklahoman reported that the rules that accompanied tax credits that paid to restore the hotel have now expired and the current owners plan to tear out much of the historically restored items, including the tiles in the foyer. This tile dates back to the hotel's opening. While the floor is hard to maintain and similar tiles cannot be found, we hope the change is not related to money and that these owners are not preparing to destroy the history of the Skirvin.

It is thought that during the prohibition years, high class “social escorts” may have made their way to the Skirvin Hotel and made their way past the main desk to service gentlemen guests. Being that the hotel is so big, it would be hard to keep track of what was going on in all 225 guest rooms. It is thought that one of these young woman may have been killed in one of the rooms. Guests of the hotel have said that they have heard the cries and screams of a woman.  Strange noises and items being moved by an unseen presence have also been reported.  Male guests have reported hearing a disembodied female voice proposition them.  Sometimes when a male guest is showering, a naked female appears in the bathroom. One male guest reported waking up to an amorous female entity in his bed. Is this the ghost of one of those high class call girls?

It is also rumored that W.B. Skirvin himself had an affair with a young maid, and a pregnancy resulted.  To avoid a scandal and what would quite possibly be the ruin of his name Skirvin is said to have held the maid captive on the top of the 14th floor, during and after her pregnancy.  The woman was in such distress that she would scream and bang on the door, but no one would help her.  She eventually went mad and jumped out a window to her death with her baby in her arms. Thta's one version of the story. Another version leaves Skirvin completely out of the story, but reports the same story about the maid jumping from the ledge with her baby. Perhaps she was suffering from a combination of postpartum depression, abandonment by her lover and a sense of hopelessness. The name of the maid is unknown and so in the 1970s and 1980s the staff took to calling the apparition Effie. Her apparition has been seen wandering up and down the hallways. She has also been seen standing near the window she jumped from.  One witness said they saw Effie run to the window like she was going to go out and then faded away into nothing.  It is also said that the cries of the baby can be heard and has been known to keep female guests awake.  The cleaning carts have been seen rolling up and down the halls with no staff in site as well.

Starting around 2010, after the Skirvin had reopened and the Thunder basketball team moved to Oklahoma City, other NBA teams would stay at the Skirvin when coming into play.  The New York Knicks claimed creaks and groans caused a sleepless night that then caused them to lose the game against the Thunder the next night.  A player for the Chicago Bulls could not explain why his bathroom door slammed shut and why there were strange noises out in the hallways. A player for the Phoenix Suns woke to find his bathtub filled with water. (We had another haunting in which this phenomenon happened too.) Sports commentator Reggie Miller phoned into the Dan Patrick radio show to talk about the NBA playoffs. He mentioned his experience with Effie the ghost. Miller said when he went to bed he placed his water bottle on the night stand and when he woke up it was somewhere else.  For him this confirmed the legend of Effie.

Jesse Powell was a security guard who worked at the hotel during renovations. He wrote, "I actually worked security during its renovation. I worked while the building was being cleaned and restored. I can tell you for sure that the building is haunted. My partner and I were up on the 6th floor looking out a window and we heard someone running up the stairs. The building had been locked up tightly and no one could have possibly gotten in, so we took off down the hall and up the stairs, me at one end and my partner at the other. We ran all the way up checking each floor and found no one. Many times we heard people in the hallways and looked out and found no one there."

A cook has claimed to hear pots and pans banging into each other at night and upon investigation, found no one else in the kitchen. Guests report other strange oddities. Could it be that some spirits from the past are still making the Skirvin their home? Is the Skirvin Hotel haunted? That is for you to decide!

Show Notes:
Necrology for W. B/ Skirvin: http://digital.library.okstate.edu/Chronicles/v022/v022p363.pdf

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