Thursday, July 23, 2015

HGB Podcast, Ep. 58 - The Baker Hotel

Moment in Oddity - The Death of President Zachary Taylor

President Zachary Taylor was one of the few American presidents to die in office. He had been in office for a little over a year when he arrived back at the White House for dinner after a long day of festivities celebrating July 4th in 1850. He was hot and very hungry. He found a nice spread before him and he hungrily ate raw fruits and vegetables like cherries, cucumbers and corn and drank down some ice cold milk. It was not surprising that later he felt a tad ill, but what started as general stomach discomfort became severe nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. Fever set in and doctors were called. They gave the president opium for his pain and quinine to reduce his fever. It was to no avail and President Taylor died. It was always assumed he died of gastroenteritis. Clara Rising, a retired professor, became intrigued by Taylor's death and she decided to dig deeper. She soon came to believe that President Taylor had been murdered and that the culprit was arsenic poisoning. Back in the 1800s, there was no security at the White House like what we have today. The Civil War was about to erupt and the country was angry. Taylor was not a fan of slavery while his vice president, Millard Fillmore, was pro-slavery and would sign a compromise allowing slavery in western states after Taylor's death. This was something Taylor had fought against. The President's body was exhumed in 1991 and tested. Traces of arsenic were found, but not enough to have killed him. The medical examiner did not rule out that some other kind of poison could have been used, but the death was ruled natural causes once again. Clara Rising was ridiculed. We may never know for sure what killed the president, but the idea that a theory by one retired professor caused the president to be exhumed and tested, certainly is odd.

This Day in History - Battle of Harlaw

On this day, July 24th, in 1411, the Battle of Harlaw was waged in Scotland. This was a battle of the clans. A large region of northern Scotland was up for grabs named the Earldom of Ross. One clan was led by Donald who was the Lord of the Isles and the other clan was led by the Duke of Albany, Robert Stewart. Donald first marched to Dingwall and captured the Dingwall Castle during the Battle of Dingwall. The Earl of Mar, Alexander Stewart, gathered a force and met the Donald clan in Harlaw. July 24th in 1411 was a Friday and it was the eve of the Feast of St. James. Weapons used by both sides included swords, battle axes, short knives, spears, maces, shields, bows and arrows. Nine hundred of the Donald men were killed, while the Mar force lost five hundred. The battle was fierce and history has nicknamed it the Red Harlaw. Historians claim the Battle of Harlaw was the hardest fought battle that ever took place on Scottish soil. Most families lost their chiefs and every man in the clan. In the end, neither side was really a winner. The fighting over the area continued for centuries.

The Baker Hotel

Mineral Wells, Texas is most famous for the mineral springs that are there. In the early 1900s, the city became a place for those seeking healing from the curative effects of the mineral springs. To provide lodging for these guests, a hotel was built named for its builder, the Baker Hotel. There are more than just mineral spirits hanging around the Baker Hotel. There are allegedly ghosts in this hotel. Join us as we explore the history and hauntings of the Baker Hotel.

Forty-five miles west of Fort Worth, Texas lies the city of Mineral Wells. The city is smaller in population and retains the old fashioned charm of years gone by in its downtown area. The city became known for the mineral springs that are there and that is why the city was named Mineral Wells. It has long been believed that hot springs and mineral water have healing effects. Long before the white men discovered these healing waters, Native Americans were gathering in these places. It was shortly after the Stock Market crash that led to the Great Depression, that T. B. Baker opened the Baker Hotel.

Theadore Brasher Baker was born in 1875 in the state of Iowa. He moved to Texas and became a hotel tycoon. His Baker Hotel Company would eventually own the Gunter Hotel that we covered in podcast episode 47. He designed and built several hotels in Texas, including the Baker Hotel in Dallas and the Hotel Texas in Fort Worth, and became one of Hilton's top competitors. He was approached by the citizens of Mineral Wells and they asked him to design and build a hotel for the city to accommodate tourists and ensure that profits stayed with the city and its shareholders. The Baker Hotel was completed in 1929. Two weeks later the Stock Market crashed.

The area where the Baker Hotel was built had been the former home of the The Crazy Hotel. That hotel had burned to the ground in 1925. The Baker Hotel was lavish and rose to fourteen stories and had 450 rooms. The rooms on the twelfth floor and above were reserved as apartments and they all shared the rooftop solarium. The Baker was modeled after Arkansas' Arlington Hotel and the two shared the same designer, Wyatt Hendrick. The first ever swimming pool at a Texas hotel was here at the Baker. T.B. Baker had made a trip out to California during construction and he decided that his hotel must have a swimming pool. It was built over the basement at the front of the hotel and was filled with water from the mineral springs.

The hotel was built in the Spanish Colonial Revival style and had two grand ballrooms. A beauty shop, gymnasium and bowling alley were also added. Most tall buildings were reserved for the big cities, so the Baker Hotel was very unique. The amentities for the hotel were top bill and innovative. Turning the key in the lock of the door caused the fans and lights to automatically turn on and off. Ice water was circulated to all rooms through a hydraulic system. The 1940s brought in air conditioning for the entire hotel. The Sky Room at the top of the hotel featured the music of Big Bands as did the first floor Brazos Room. The famous and politicians enjoyed staying at the Baker. The future President Lynden Johnson stayed there as did Judy Garland, Lawrence Welk, Clark Gable, the Three Stooges, Marlene Dietrich and some claim Bonnie and Clyde laid there heads here for rest a night or two. A great article featuring old pictures as well as the current state of the abandoned hotel can be found here and Slate also featured the abandoned Baker here.

T.B. Baker ran into financial difficulties in 1933. In March of that year, Baker had to write the stockholders to inform them that no dividends would be paid that year, so that creditors could get their money. The Baker Hotel Company was sued and the Gunter Hotel was handed over to different management. The other hotels faced similar fates, but the Mineral Wells' Baker Hotel remained with the Baker family. T.B. seems to have decided to step out of the business spotlight at this point and he went on to live a quiet life, dying at the ripe old age of 96. His nephew Earl had wanted the hotel business and took back control of the Gunter Hotel. He then went on to grab the rest of the hotel business and spent much time in court fighting with T.B.'s sister. Ownership of the Baker Hotel Company is murky, but it would seem that Earl controlled most of it in the end.

The Baker Hotel did well through the Depression, the 30s and especially during World War II when a military base opened nearby, but by the 50s, the popularity of the hotel was in decline and the appeal of the mineral water had died down. Earl shuttered the hotel in 1963 and eventually suffered a fatal heart attack in the Baker Suite in 1967. Attempts to renovate the hotel are underway, partly funded by the citizens of Mineral Wells. This is going to require many years and nearly $54 million. As of June of this year, $28 million had been collected including money from foreign investors. The project is moving forward, but very slowly.

There were many deaths at the hotel and the spirits of these people seem to continue on at the Baker. A woman who enjoyed the scent of lavender, committed suicide in the hotel. She had been the mistress of the hotel manager, who some claim was Baker himself, and he finally broke things off admitting that the two would never be together and so she was distraught. She jumped from the top of the building. The scent of lavender is detected in the hallways on occasion, particularly on the seventh floor. It is believed she had a room on this floor. A night porter saw her apparition for the first time in the 1950s. Maids would find glasses with lipstick on the rims in the woman's former room when no one had been staying in the room.

One of the assistant managers of the building was named Ronny Walker. He had several experiences. One evening he heard the clickety clack of high heels coming around a corner toward him. He called out the name of the female manager and got no response. The sound of the shoes faded away. He went to see who had made the noise and found no one. When he asked the manager later, she said she had not been in the hotel. Another time, the lights kept tripping on and off on the seventh floor. Ronny went up to fix the breaker box. He heard something walking towards him, but he could not see anything. He decided to address the spirit out loud and he explained that he was not trying to hurt the spirits there and he just wanted to fix the fuses. There were no more issues with the lights tripping on and off after that.

The laundry rooms were in the basement of the hotel. A young man who worked in the hotel invited a buddy to join him down in the laundry room, so they could chat up the laundry girls down there. His supervisor caught wind of the fraternization and went down to the laundry to investigate. The young man was given a heads up and he jumped into an elevator quickly. The doors were closing as his friend followed and he was pinned by the closing doors, which killed him. His apparition has been seen near the elevators.

The Brazos Room has also been a scene of unexplained happenings. A group of World War II veterans was enjoying a tour with their wives when suddenly one of the couples stopped in the middle of the Brazos Room and told everyone that they could hear the sounds of dishes being washed. Pretty soon everybody could hear the tinkling of silverware, clinking of glasses and clattering of dishes. Then they heard voices and music. Keep in mind that this was an abandoned building. It was as if a time slip had happened.

There is the spirit of a little boy here according to a psychic. In 1933, he and his parents were staying at the hotel while the little boy was undergoing treatment for leukemia. He died there at the hotel. A shaggy dog has accompanied the child ghost at times. Some people claim they have seen a little boy in a wheelchair. Is this the same child?

A drunk woman tried to jump into the pool from the twelfth floor. That did not go well. A cook and a maid had been having an affair at the hotel. They fought and the maid threatened to out the affair to the cook's wife. He was enraged and grabbed a knife. He stabbed her to death in the pantry. Her spirit has been seen in the dilapidated kitchen.

Mr. Baker died in the hotel and he seems to have stayed in the afterlife. He lived on the tenth floor and has been seen there several times. And he seems to be joined by a red head wearing white. So yes, we have our lady in white yet again. This could be the same woman that hangs out on the seventh floor too.

Many people stayed here in life and now many continue in the afterlife it would seem. Are disembodied sounds living on in the present or is there some kind of time loop here? Have the emotions of death by murder and suicide caused the spectral essences of some to remain? Is the Baker Hotel haunted? That is for you to decide!

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