Thursday, April 9, 2015

HGB Podcast 39 - Hotel Jerome

Moment in Oddity - The Drunk Zookeeper and the Cobra

The following account comes to us from
"In October 1852 Edward Horatio Girling, an employee at London Zoo, died after being bitten by a five-foot cobra. A post mortem on Girling’s corpse showed the cobra had bitten him five times on the nose. One of these bites had penetrated to the nasal bone and bled profusely. Girling was rushed to hospital by cab, a journey that took 20 minutes. While in the cab his head swelled to “an enormous size” and his face turned black. Once at hospital Girling was given artificial respiration and electrical shocks. Neither was successful and he died 35 minutes after arrival. After ascertaining how Girling died, an inquest investigated how he had come to be bitten in the first place. Early press reports put it down to a homicidal serpent. One suggested the cobra had bitten its victim with “murderous intent”, another had it lunging from the shadows while Girling was delivering food to the enclosure. It did not take long for the inquest to discover that Girling was responsible for his own demise. One of Girling’s work colleagues, Edward Stewart, the hummingbird keeper, testified at the inquest. He claimed to be passing by the snake enclosure with a basket of larks when he saw Girling inside. Apparently showing off, Girling picked up the ‘Bocco’, a mildly venomous colubrid snake, by its neck. According to Stewart: Girling then said ‘Now for the cobra!’ Deceased took the cobra out of the case and put it inside his waistcoat, it crawled round from the right side and came out at the left side… Girling drew it out and was holding the cobra between the head and middle of the body when it made a dart at his face.” Stewart and other witnesses also testified that Girling was drinking ample quantities of gin at breakfast time. A zookeeper named Baker told the inquest “he believed that the deceased was intoxicated”. It was also noted that Girling had little if any experience with venomous snakes; he had only recently started working at the zoo after employment with the railways. Unsurprisingly the coroner found that Girling had died as a “result of his own rashness whilst in a state of intoxication.'"
Now that certainly was odd!

This Day in History - The Battle of Arras

On this day, April 9th, in 1917, the Battle of Arras begins during World War I. The offensive was planned by the British and it was set to begin on April 8th, but it was delayed. Sleet and snow fell on April 9th, but the offensive went forward, led by Field Marshal Douglas Haig. The British went with a frontal assault on Observation Ridge just East of the French city of Arras. The Canadian troops were led by General Julian Byng and they went after the Vimy Ridge and they were very successful by using a creeping barrage and heavy machine guns. The Canadian Corp also used a new tactic in warfare where entire platoons were directed what their objectives were, so that even if their commanding officer was killed, they could press forward knowing exactly what their job was. They achieved a position that gave them visuals of the German rear area on the plain of Douai. They paused there as darkness came. The British were successful too in taking parts of Monchyriegel. This area was full of trenches and many of the trenches were cleared on that first day. These initial successes were followed by stalemate. The Battle of Arras would continue until May 16th. In the end, 160,000 British and 125,000 Germans lost their lives during the battle. There had been considerable advances, but no breakthrough, so the battle was not considered a direct success.

Hotel Jerome

Hotel Jerome is located in the heart of the city of Aspen in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado. The luxury hotel provides high end amenities in a truly historic building. Hotel Jerome was built by a man who wanted it to be a model of excellence for years to come. And it has been that, but it also has been something else. The Hotel Jerome is apparently so luxurious that some guests never want to leave, forever. The Hotel Jerome is haunted.

The precious metal silver is at the heart of the development of many of the mountain towns in Colorado that still survive today. The Colorado Silver Boom began in 1879 when a lode was discovered in the town of Leadville. This followed the Colorado Gold Rush of 1859 and it was more lucrative. When the silver boom was finished, $82 million worth of silver had been mined. The Hotel Jerome has its roots in the silver boom as well. The hotel was built during the heart of the silver boom in 1889 by a man who was heavily invested in silver mining: Jerome B. Wheeler.

Jerome Wheeler was born in 1841 in Troy, New York. His parents, Mary Jones Emerson and Daniel Barker Wheeler, were both from Massachusetts originally. They eventually moved the family to Waterford, New York (Fun fact: home to the largest annual tugboat festival) and Jerome attended school there. He liked engineering and got involved in mechanical engineering and machinery. By the time he was twenty, the Civil War had started and he joined the fight enlisting with the 6th Regiment New York Volunteer Calvary. He was very successful working his way up to Second Lieutenant and then Colonel. An act of heroism got him demoted shortly thereafter. A regiment of Union soldiers was socked in behind enemy lines and in desperate need of supplies. Wheeler's superiors decided that it was too dangerous to get the supplies to these men. Wheeler however was committed to helping them and he went against orders, successfully bringing supplies to the men who were starving. After the demotion, Wheeler left the army. For those interested, the website has an extensive history of Wheeler's service.

Wheeler worked several jobs as a bookkeeper in Troy and then New York City, joining Holt and Company in 1869 where he eventually was made partner. Wheeler met Harriet Macy Valentine during this time and the couple was married in 1870. And yes, the name Macy means that she is related to the family that founded Macy's. She was the niece of Rowland Hussey Macy who started R.H. Macy and Company. Wheeler eventually became a 45% partner in the company and stayed with it until 1888 when competition from other department stores began to grow. He and Harriet decided to make a trip to Colorado in 1883 and they fell in love with Colorado. Wheeler had heard about the vast mining operations in Aspen and Leadville and he decided to buy into them. The name Wheeler would eventually become synonymous with Aspen as he developed many parts of the town.

Wheeler began with building a tramway for an Aspen mine that made the transportation of the ore easier. The silver needed to be smeltered after it was mined and so he built a smelter at the base of the mountain. He started the Croseus Gold Mining and Milling Company, of which he served as President. He invested in the Colorado Midland Railway and built the Wheeler Opera House in Aspen. He also built a bank, a mountain tramway and the Wheeler-Stallard House, which was a home where he never actually lived. And then he built the Hotel Jerome, which bears his name.

The Hotel Jerome was not Wheeler's idea. He first offered to finance the project and loaned $60,000 to two Kansas innkeepers, Bixby and Phillips, who wanted to rival the Ritz in Paris. Wheeler also donated the land upon which the hotel was built. Construction was not going as Wheeler had wanted and costs began to balloon. Bixby and Phillips eventually skipped town and Wheeler took over the entire project and was stuck investing more money, which came to a total cost of $150,000 that equals $1.6 million in today's dollars.  The hotel rose to three stories and was constructed from red bricks and sandstone that came from nearby kilns. Handmade Colorado tile was used to decorate the interior and elaborate wall coverings were installed. The first elevator west of the Mississippi was also installed in the hotel. The completed hotel had ninety guest rooms and fifteen bathrooms. And to top all that off, the hotel was the first in the West to have electricity. The grand opening was celebrated with a ball and banquet and every room was lit by electric lights.

These early years in the late 19th century were booming for the hotel. Stars of the stage and opera, politicans and the very rich all flocked to the Hotel Jerome. The invention of the Pullman sleeping car made train travel a wonderful experience and helped bring in more people to Aspen. Wheeler decided to sell the hotel to a Denver man named Fisk who soon found he could not pay the taxes and Wheeler eventually became the owner again. Hard times were looming though as the silver market crashed during the Silver Panic of 1893. Congress repealed the Sherman Silver Purchase Act a year later and the silver boom was officially over. Colorado Mountain towns began to crash after this with many people leaving town and businesses going out of business. Wheeler was hit hard as well and had to declare bankruptcy eventually in 1903 and he lost the Hotel Jerome in 1910, unable to pay the taxes for the building. He dies in 1918 in Manitou Springs.

A traveling Syrian American drummer, Manser Elisha, had come to Aspen and he took a job as bartender at the hotel. He bought the hotel in 1911 for the amount of the back taxes. With few visitors coming to Aspen, the hotel became a boarding house. A flu epidemic swept through the town in 1918 and the parlor was used as a morgue since it was one of the largest buildings in Aspen. The year 1919 brought Prohibiton and Elisha decided to change the bar into a soda fountain to keep it going. Liquor still worked its way into some of the offerings and a concoction of vanilla ice cream mixed into a shake and spiked with bourbon became known as the Aspen Crud, which is still served there today. The population of Aspen declined and rent at the Hotel Jerome was cheap. The building suffered heavy neglect at this time and was getting run down.

Elisha died in 1935 and left the hotel to his son. The Hotel Jerome was about to find itself in the boom of another industry on its way to Aspen: skiing. U.S. Olympic bobsledder Billy Fiske came to Aspen and saw potential for a ski resort. He bought land and formed the Highland Bavarian Ski Club. The club built the first ski lodge and the first two ski guides for the lodge stayed at the Hotel Jerome during construction of the lodge for five weeks. The U.S. Army's Tenth Mountain Division trained on skis in the nearby area and they traveled down to the Jerome one night where Laurence Elisha let them stay and offered to let the soldiers stay and have a steak dinner for a dollar whenever they liked.

In 1946, U.S. industrialist and philanthropist Walter Paepcke travelled to Aspen with his wife. They saw Victorian charm in the rundown buildings of the town and they bought up many of the properties, which included Hotel Jerome. He started the Aspen Institute and the Aspen Skiing Company. His investing into the Aspen Skiing Company allowed the completion of the longest ski lift anywhere in the world. Paepcke started renovating Hotel Jerome and one of his additions angered the locals. He actually painted the beautiful red brick exterior grey. A pool and poolhouse were added. After the renovations, movie stars started pouring in for vacation. Those stars included Lana Turner, Gary Cooper and John Wayne. But then the hotel hit hard times again and shut its doors in 1956.

John Gilmore of Michigan decides to buy the Hotel Jerome in 1968. The place had been closed for twelve years and it was a wreck. The walls had become unstable and the roof leaked. Gilmore does not have the money to restore the building and he makes attempts to get investors to help him. He is only successful in paving the way for future restoration at zoning meetings. (Fun fact: In 1977, serial killer Ted Bundy escaped from the Aspen Courthouse.) It is not until 1984 that the Hotel Jerome is bought by a group of investors and they begin renovations the following year. The structural system was the first thing to be restored. Heating and plumbing was brought up to code. The grey paint was sandblasted off the exterior of the building and the interior was refurbished to its former glory.

The J-Bar was a popular spot with writer Hunter S. Thompson and it was refurbished to its original appearance in 1998. A ballroom was also added, along with a new rear wing, and guest rooms were refurbished in 2002. When Thompson died in 2005, his memorial was held in the ballroom. This same year, the Gaylord family bought the hotel for $33.7 million. They wanted to add a fourth floor, but the city would not approve the changes and kept delaying, so the family sold the hotel. The new owners would get caught up in the Lehman Brothers fiasco that occurred a few years ago and the owners were foreclosed upon. Jerome Property, LLC had conducted the foreclosure and they took over the property. They were mired for a couple years in lawsuits with city over taxes, but those seem to be gone now and the Hotel Jerome is now under the management of Auberge Resorts. Another renovation was conducted in 2012. This updated the rooms, which now have iPads in the rooms.

The hotel features standard rooms, suites and luxury suites. There is a weight room, two jacuzzis, a heated outdoor pool and spa. The restaurant is managed by Executive Chef Rob Zack and features fresh local cuisine. But the hotel features something else that management does not advertise. This hotel quite possibly is haunted. As a matter of fact, the folks at Aspen Walking Tours claim it is the most haunted location in Aspen.

The ghost that has countless sightings of him is that of a ten year old boy. His family was staying at the hotel in Room 310 in 1936 and the boy drowned in the pool. Some people see him sitting in the corner of a hallway, shivering inside a towel. He then disappears leaving only a wet spot. Sometimes he is walking and leaves behind only wet footprints. He occassionally is seen in Room 310 as well.

Henry O’Callister was a silver prospector who came to Aspen in 1889. He found what he was looking for when he discovered a 1,500lb silver nugget. Feeling as though he were a rich man, he checked into the Hotel Jerome. While he was staying at the hotel, he met Clarissa Wellington of Boston and fell in love with her. Clarissa's father didn't think much of old Henry and he sent his daughter back to Boston. Henry was broken hearted and he squandered the fortune he had made, dying broke. He seems to have returned to the Hotel Jerome and is seen and heard walking the halls at night. He sobs and wails.

The third floor seems to be the most active and hotel staff do not like to work on the third floor for that reason. A long dead chambermaid seems to be doing some of the housekeeping for the staff. Kate Kerrigan joined the Jerome staff in 1892 when she was only sixteen. She was a beauty and many of the male guests took a liking to her. This made the other chambermaids jealous and they would tease her. One evening, the teasing went too far when another maid told Kate that her beloved kitty had fallen into a frozen pond. Kate rushed out to save it and she fell through the ice. She caught pneumonia and died a week later. Kate apparently is still tending to her duties and modern day housekeepers will find beds already turned down for the evening when they go to do that job. Another maid claimed to smell a certain perfume in empty rooms and that she found beds made when she entered rooms to clean.

ChrisAroundTheWorld commented on TripAdvisor about her stay at the Hotel Jerome and linked back to an article on her blog. Here is her account:
"I walked quickly through the building, trying not to catch a reflection in the mirrors. Turns out I should have been more worried about the room. When I entered, my friend Kathryn – who had skipped most of the ghost tour – had some questions for me. “Why did you put the heat back on?” she asked. “When I came back into the room, it was on. And I know I turned it off before I left.” I didn’t touch the heat, I told her. “Hmm, that’s weird,” she answered. We had both been in the room during turndown service, and specifically told the maid not to touch the heat. But that wasn’t the end of the weirdness: “And why did you leave the left sink full of water? Did you wash your face before you left?” Kathryn said. “Because it was filled with soapy water when I came in.” Let the record show that I had not used that sink all day. We examined the soaps in the dish. They were unused. We looked at each other in horror, then Kathryn dove into my bed with a shriek. “Creepy!” she shouted. “Omigod, I am not going out in that hallway by myself again,” I told her. Eventually we did fall asleep in our own beds. But we kept the TV on all night, as well as a light on in the bathroom."
Typical complaints by guests and staff include cold spots, sinks filling up on their own and televisions turning themselves on and off. Are some of the previous guests still here at the hotel in spirit? Is the Hotel Jerome haunted? That is for you to decide?

Show Notes
Aspen Walking Tours featuring ghost tours:

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