Saturday, April 9, 2016

HGB Ep. 117 - Grove Park Inn

Moment in Oddity - London Bridge Comes to U.S.
by: Bob Sherfield

Many people may be surprised to find that, after the Grand Canyon, one of the most popular visitor attractions in Arizona is a structure that started its life several thousand miles away in London. How did London Bridge end up in Lake Havasu City? Was it an error on the part of the buyer as urban legend sometimes claims? Or was it a clever way of selling a structure no longer fit for its purpose. This isn’t the bridge which caught fire in 1212 killing a reported 3000 people, nor the medieval bridge on which the severed and tarred heads of executed traitors were displayed and certainly not the bridge immortalised in the children’s nursery rhyme. This bridge dates from 1831 and had come up for sale due to the fact that it had become unable to cope with the traffic demands of 1960’s London. Subsidence problems were causing one side of the bridge to sink at a rate of an inch every 8 years and by 1967 it was nearly unusable. So the City of London decided to put it on the market. Robert P. McChulloc, a Missouri-born oil and aviation entrepreneur and chainsaw tycoon, purchased the bridge for $2.5 and then spent another $7 million dismantling and transporting it to the US. McChulloc had two reasons for purchasing the bridge. He had founded Lake Havasu City, a planned retirement community in 1964, and wanted it to link to an island on the Colorado River, attracting buyers as well as acting as a tourist draw for his new development. By Oct 1971, the bridge had been reconstructed, and a lavish opening party took place, with a gala dinner held in a tent 40ft high, weighing nearly 20 tons. Its walls were decorated with pendants, coats of arms, shields and the entrance was lined with suits of armour. The bridge's relocation inspired a 1985 made for TV movie, Bridge Across Time, starring David Hasselhoff in which the spirit of Jack the Ripper is transported to the US in the stones of the bridge. So, had McCulloch been aware he was purchasing Tower Bridge? Probably not, but the fact that London Bridge now spans the Colorado River certainly is odd!

This Day in History: General Lee Surrenders to General Grant
by: Kristin Swintek

On this day, April 9th, in 1865, Confederate General Robert E. Lee surrendered to Union General Ulysses S. Grant ending the Civil War. In early 1864, President Lincoln made Grant the commander of all Union armies. Grant made his headquarters with the Army of the Potomac and put Major General William Sherman in command of most western armies. Sherman moved his armies from Chattanooga to Atlanta defeating Confederate Generals Joseph E. Johnson and John Bell Hood along the way. On September 2, 1864, Atlanta was taken by Union armies, guaranteeing the reelection of Abraham Lincoln as President of the United States. After leaving Atlanta, Sherman reached Savannah, Georgia in December of 1864. His armies were followed by thousands of freed slaves; there were no major battles along this march. After months of increasing pressure on Lee’s army it was thinned by many casualties and desertion. By December, Lee’s army was much smaller than Grant’s. The Confederate’s last attempt to break the Union’s hold was at the Battle of  Five Forks (also know as “the Waterloo of the Confederacy”) on April 1 and they failed. The Confederate capital fell to the Union XXV Corps, which was made up completely of black troops. With their capital now lost Lee evacuated his army. Lee did not originally intend to surrender but had planned to regroup at the Appomattox Court House to gather supplies and continue the fighting. Grant chased Lee, got in front of him and Lee’s army was surrounded upon reaching the court house. Realizing the fight was hopeless Lee surrendered at the McLean House in Appomattox, Virginia. As a sign of respect and with the hope of restoring peace, Grant made a untraditional gesture allowing Lee to keep his sword and horse. This surrender came 5 days before President Lincoln is shot in the Ford Theater by John Wilkes Booth on April 14. The President died the next day and was succeeded by Andrew Johnson. President Johnson officially declared an end to insurrection on May 9, 1865

Grove Park Inn (Suggested by listener Gina Guinn, Research Assistant Steven Pappas)

Grove Park Inn in Asheville, North Carolina is one of the more uniquely designed hotels in America and it fits its setting in the mountains of North Carolina perfectly. Those mountains have a number of claims to fame. People come from all around to see the leaves change colors in the fall, to take part in winter sports such as skiing and snowboarding, and to hike its dozens of trails on the beautiful Blue Ridge Parkway. Nestled in the mountains, lies the city of Asheville. This growing city is home to over a dozen craft and major breweries, the University of NC at Asheville, and The Biltmore Estate - which we previously covered on the podcast in episode 81. Just down the road from the estate, sits the historic Grove Park Inn, which faces Sunset Mountain. The guest list includes the rich and famous and many presidents. But it's one guest in particular who has endured through all the decades. She is a mysterious woman in pink who has a penchant for appearing out of nowhere and disappearing just as quickly. And she brings an icy chill with her. Join us as we explore the history and the hauntings of the Grove Park Inn.

Before the Europeans arrived in America, the land which Asheville now sits on belonged to the Cherokee Nation. They controlled the majority of the western part of North Carolina until their numbers were greatly diminished by the arrival of Europeans bringing weapons and disease. In 1784, Colonel Samuel Davidson and his family decided to settle in the Swannanoa Valley and built a log cabin in the North Carolina mountains. Not long after the completion of their home, Colonel Davidson was lured into the woods by a group of Cherokee hunters and was killed. His wife and child, along with a female slave, fled on foot to a fort 16 miles away to seek refuge. Davidson's twin brother William, along with Samuel's borther-in-law, formed a group to retrieve the Colonel's body and avenge his death. After a campaign in which many Cherokee were killed, they returned to the area with their families and settled the town of Morristown, North Carolina. This would go on to be renamed Asheville in 1797, after the North Carolina governor Samuel Ashe. The Ashe family had been very active in politics and Governor Ashe had served in mulitple capacities before becoming Governor. *Fun fact: Governors in North Carolina at the time served for a one year term and they had a term limit of three.*

Edwin Wiley Grove was born in 1850 in a small town in the state of Tennessee. He served in the Civil War and then began to chase his dream of working in the pharmaceutical field. He moved to northwest Tennessee, to a town named Paris, when he was twenty-four. He began working as a clerk in Dr. S. H. Caldwell and A. B. Mitchum’s pharmacy located in the courthouse square in Paris. Grove was a hard worker and motivated, two things that would help him become a leading entrepreneau. Dr. Caldwell took notice and brought Grove on as a partner. By 1880, Grove was able to buy the partners out and he put his name on the pharmacy, renaming it Grove’s Pharmacy. Grove experimented with different concoctions and he held in the back of his mind the idea that if someone could figure out how to make Quinine tasteless, that person would become rich.

Quinine is found in the bark of the Cinchona Tree, which is found mainly in Andean forests in South America. It has medicinal qualities that reduce fevers, swelling and pain. One of the main diseases that it is used in the treatment of is malaria. Malaria is not much of a danger in America anymore, but at one time it was and quinine was in high demand. In fact, Malaria was called the scourge of the South. Ed Grove started working on a tasteless form of quinine and he was successful in 1885. He managed to formulate a tonic that suspended quinine in a flavored syrup that needed to be shaken vigorously before taking. He called the formula, "Grove's Tasteless Chill Tonic." It was not exactly tasteless, but it was far more palatable than other quinine remedies and it was an immediate success. Based on this, Grove met with a group of investors and they all formed the Paris Medical Company to produce the Chill Tonic. By the late 1890's the tonic was a staple in many houses and sold more bottles than Coca-Cola. After 20 years, Grove had sold more than 1.5 million bottles.

Grove was now a very wealthy man. He believed the area near Asheville had medicinal benefits and began buying tracts of land and farms. He intended to change the face of the city and demolished some TB hospitals during this process. He began work building neighborhoods, but then decided that he would like to build a hotel. He partnered with his son-in-law Fred Seely and the two looked for a suitable architect. Grove didn't find anyone who had a plan he liked. Seely came to him with a set of plans he had drawn up himself and Grove was so pleased that he told Seely that he was in charge of building the hotel. The men chose an area on Sunset Mountain. Seely promised to have it built in a year. In 1912, construction began on the Grove Park Inn.

The hotel has a very unique look because it was built from granite stones. Keep in mind that this is being built on a mountain in the early 1900s. Meaning that everything had to transported by mules, wagons and ropes. Some of the granite boulders weighed as much as 10,000 pounds. Four hundred men were employed and they worked ten hour shifts, six days a week. The frame of the building was made from concrete and steel and then workers formed the walls with the granite stones, building them much like a puzzle fitting pieces that would go together perfectly. Seely kept his promise and the Grove Park Inn officially opened on July 12, 1913. William Jennings Bryan was the Secretary of State at the time and he gave a speech at the grand opening.

The lobby is known as the Great Hall and measures 120 feet across with 24 foot high ceilings. Two grand granite fireplaces are in the lobby and they are famous for not only their size, but their unique style. When the hotel first opened, those two fireplaces were the main heating source. The two Otis elevators have been featured in Ripley's Believe It or Not and are located within the fireplaces. This design was originally meant to hide the noice of the mechanisms. The goal of the inn was relaxation and they tried to dissuade unnecessary noise. So much so, that children under 10 were not welcome, running water after 10pm was discouraged and if conversations got too loud in the lobby, staff would hand people cards asking them to quiet down. The roof has 5.5 inch thick poured concrete over an elaborate web of twisted steel and red clay tiles were laid over that to give the roof a thatch like appearance and this design makes it completely weather proof. There is also an expansive porch overlooking Sunset Mountain.

The furniture was mission style and designed by the Roy Croft Artisan Community. Six hundred hammered copper light fixtures were made as well as 400 oak crafted chairs and an 8 foot grandfather clock. Many of these can still be seen at the hotel today. The grandfather clock sits at the main entrance and features a hammered copper face. Quotes are inscribed on rocks throughout the Great Hall as inspiration. Over the years, the Grove Park Inn has boasted quite the guest list. The names of those who have stayed at the hotel are too numerous to list them all, but it has seen stays from Thomas Edison, Harry Houdini, William Shatner, Henry Ford, Helen Keller, William Jennings Bryan, 10 US Presidents (from FDR to Nixon to Obama) and many other famous people. F Scott Fitzgerald stayed in the hotel for two years as he wrote and visited his wife in an asylum nearby. This is also the location where William Howard Taft resigned from the US Supreme Court in 1930.

Ed Grove died at his Battery Park Hotel in Asheville in 1927. His body was sent back to Paris, Tennessee, where his funeral was held and he was laid to rest at the Paris City Cemetery. His death certificate simply listed his occupation as “capitalist.” Because of his development of Asheville, he became known as the "Father of Modern Asheville." Luckily, he was not alive to see the hotel fall into a slump after World War II. The only reason the inn was not torn down was because it would have cost too much money. During WWII the hotel served as an internment center for diplomats who were associated with the Axis powers. It also served as an army redistribution center and a rehabilitation facility for navymen returning from war. In fact, the Philippine Government operated in exile on the grounds during the war.

In 1955, Dallas businessman Charles Sammons bought the hotel and he restored it. *Fun fact: Mrs. Sammons wnated to bring her dog to the inn with her, so she would hide it in a baby carriage.* In 1973, it was named to the National Register of Historic Places. As the inn was restored, two wings were added. In 1998, another massive renovation started and the $50 million spa was added at that time. In 2012, a $25 million renovation was begun, which updated guest rooms and added the Edison Craft Ales and Kitchen Restaurant. Omni Hotels and Resorts bought the hotel in 2013 and they are the current owners. *Fun fact: Later in the 20th century, the Supreme Court of the United States even planned to relocate to the hotel in the event of a nuclear attack.* The inn does offer history tours.

Many historic hotels have more than just long and interesting histories. Many of them house the spirits of lost souls. Do they stay because the hotel holds fond memories for them? For some, is it because they died at the hotel? Whatever the case, many hotels claim to have ghosts and the Grove Park Inn is one of those. The most famous ghost here is not the Lady in White, but rather the Pink Lady. In the 1920's, a young woman staying in room 545 stepped out on her balcony and somehow fell two stories to the Palm Court atrium floor. When witnesses ran to her body, they found that she had perished and that she was wearing a beautiful pink dress. There have been many eyewitness reports of the Pink Lady in the history of the hotel. It would seem she has been seen in various forms as well. One form she takes often, is that of a pink mist that is nearly the size of a woman and is seen floating through the hall on the fifth floor or in the lobby. She is also sometimes seen as a full bodied apparition of a young woman in a pink ball gown. Most who meet the spirit claim she is a kind spirit. One guest claimed to receive a full embrace from the lady. Another guest claimed that when the lady appeared, she held her hand because the guest had been afraid.

The hotel staff have become accustomed to her presence. Encounters that staff have experienced with the Pink Lady include several of them seeing all the lights on the sixth floor turn on and then off and then the lobby's lights did the same. The hotel was closed and locked for the winter when this happened. Two accounting employees were attending an office party that went into the wee hours of the morning. Around 4am they claim, “We heard someone come in the back door. We looked up and she went by real fast- a woman dressed in party clothes. We thought it was a guest, so we got up to help her. Then she was gone.” The manager of the Grove Park Inn's nightclub Elaine's claims to have seen the Pink Lady several times in the past five years and said, “It’s like a real dense smoke, a pinkish pastel that just flows.”

The Pink Lady likes children and appears to them more than to adults. This could just be that children are more sensitive. If a child is ill, she is seen speaking softly to them and gently stroking their hands. One guest who was unaware that the Pink Lady was a spirit at the hotel, left a note when he checked out that he would like the staff to thank the woman dressed in pink who had spent time playing with his children. Another guest who was a professor was sitting in the main lobby with his two year old son. The child napped and when he woke up he asked his dad where the nice lady had gone. There had been no lady around them.

The ghost of the Pink Lady is also said to enjoy playing small pranks. She's been blamed for lights, air conditioners, and other electrical devices turning on and off by themselves. She seems to enjoy rearranging objects in the rooms. It's also been said that she'll occasionally wake up a sleeping guest with a good tickling on the feet. A former police chief claims that he was sitting on his bed making a phone call when he felt someone sit down next to him on the bed. People report cold chills when walking through the hallways and some researchers who were going to conduct an investigation in Room 545 decided against it because of the extreme chill that met them upon entering the room.

For those of you who follow the paranormal closely, you probably have heard of paranormal investigator Joshua P. Warren. He dug into the Pink Lady phenomenon because he lived in Asheville and even wrote the book "Haunted Asheville." He interviewed 20 people who had experienced some kind of interaction with the Pink Lady. His research began in 1996 and he went back 50 years with his interviews. One of those people was a painter who worked for the Inn for 30 years. He said, “Back in the late ’50s or early ’60s, the hotel used to shut down during the winter months, and that’s when we caught up on painting. One cloudy, gloomy day back then, I was checking on some of the guys’ work. As I got closer to 545, I got cold chills that got worse the closer I came to the door. It got so bad, I couldn’t work up the courage to go in at all. In fact, to my last day at the hotel, I never did go back there; sent my boys in instead.”

The Engineering Facilities Manager had an experience as well and told Warren, “One day in early 1995 I was on my way to check a recent bathtub resurfacing in room 545. As I approached the room, my hair suddenly lifted from my scalp and stood on end on my arms. Simultaneously, I felt a very uncomfortable, cold rush across my whole body. I didn’t go in, haven’t gone back and don’t ever intend to.” The interesting thing about these accounts is that neither man knew about a connection between room 545 and the Pink Lady and neither knew of each other's experiences. It was based on their experiences and scientific evidence that room 545 became a part of the narrative. This lends more credibility to the story.

With the hotel being in such a beautiful area, it is no wonder that the most famous guest at the Grove Park doesn't want to leave, even in death. Is it possible that a young lady in a beautiful pink dress still walks the hallways here? Is the Grove Park Inn haunted? That is for you to decide!

Special note: We'd like to acknowledge the Omni Hotels for embracing their haunted history! From their blog:
"If you’re a fan of the unusual and unexpected, plan your fall trip with one of our haunted hotels in mind… Some of your favorite Omni Hotels & Resorts have long had friendly visits by guests from the other side."

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