Wednesday, August 31, 2016

HGB Ep. 146 - The Lowe Hotel and Mothman

Moment in Oddity - Urine Turned into Potable Water

Scientists in Belgium have created a solar powered machine with a unique ability. It can turn urine into drinkable water. The scientists conducted an experiment at a music festival that lasted ten days. In that 10 days, they managed to capture 1,000 liters of water from the urine of several partygoers. The urine is collected in a tank where it is heated by solar power in a boiler. The liquid is run through a membrane that distills 95% of the ammonia from the urine and pulls out the potassium and nitrogen for use as fertilizer. They plan to use this former urine that is now water in the production of Belgium beer. So next time you order a Belgium beer, be careful. It might taste a bit odd!

This Day in History - Edgar Rice Burroughs Born

On this day, September 1st, in 1875, Edgar Rice Burroughs was born in Chicago. Burroughs was a failure at nearly everything he attempted. He flunked out of most schools, finally finishing at a reform school. He failed the entrance exam to get into West Point. He was sent off to Fort Grant in Arizona where he was told to catch Apaches, which he never managed to do. He tried being a cowboy and then a shopkeeper and then a gold miner and then finally an accountant. Nothing seemed to work for him. He wrote stories and drew cartoons to beat back the Depression that was setting in from all his failure. In desperation to make money for his growing family, he sent off one of his writings that was really only half a novel. The editor liked it and asked for the rest. That story was "Under the Moon of Mars" and is considered the turning point of 20th century science fiction. Then came "Tarzan of the Apes" and as they say, the rest is history.

The Lowe Hotel and Mothman (Suggested by listener Katie Dunlap)

Photo courtesy of Katie Dunlap

At the corner of 4th and Main in Point Pleasant, West Virginia stands the historic Lowe Hotel. This hotel dates back to the early 1900s when it was built by two brothers. The hotel was needed to serve the heavy traffic and trade from the nearby Ohio and Kanawha rivers. Across the street from this grand structure is a peculiar statue. Rather ugly. It features a creature known as the Mothman. Point Pleasant is home to the legend of the Mothman. There are legends about the hotel as well, including many rumored hauntings, one of which might be a member of the Hatfield Family who was involved in the Battle of Matewan. Join us and our listener Katie Dunlap as we explore the history and hauntings of the Lowe Hotel and explore the legend of the Mothman!

Point Pleasant is located at the confluence of the Ohio and Kanawha Rivers. The French explorer Pierre Joseph Céloron de Blainville claimed French sovereignty over the Ohio Valley and buried a plaque in modern day Point Pleasant making a claim for this area to be a part of New France. The only problem is that Britain already had a foothold and the Native Americans preferred them to the French. The French and Indian War solidified the British hold over the area. Fort Blair was erected in 1774 and Colonel Andrew Lewis who was the leader called it Camp Point Pleasant. Relations had soured with the Native Americans and that same year, the Battle of Point Pleasant occurred. Lewis led 1,000 Virginia militiamen against Shawnee Chief Cornstalk and his confederation of Algonquin. The militiamen won and this is considered part of Lord Dunmore's War. The name Point Pleasant stuck and the new Fort Randolph was established. The settlement received an official charter in 1794. The town became the county seat of Mason County in 1804.  The city was incorporated in 1833.

Point Pleasant had been home to the Silver Bridge, which had been built in 1927. It connected West Virginia to Ohio. The bridge was declared a "shining example of man's engineering ingenuity." That all came crashing down on December 15, 1967 when the bridge collapsed like a child's erector set. The bridge had held bumper to bumper Christmas traffic and those cars fell into the icy Ohio River. Forty-six people lost their lives that day. Some claim there was a warning that this disater was going to take place and it took the form of something that has come to be called the Mothman. This legendary creature came to more public awareness in the 2002 Richard Gere film based on the book the Mothman Prophecies.

Sightings of the creature known as Mothman began in 1966. The first happened on November 12th and it involved a group of five men working in a cemetery near Clendenin, West Virginia. The men were horrified when they spied a human shaped winged beast take off from a nearby cluster of trees. It flew directly over them. They reported what they had seen and soon more sightings were reported. On November 15th, two young couples had been out for the evening and they drove past an abandoned TNT plant near Point Pleasant. They were startled when they saw a human shaped creature that they described as nearly seven feet tall standing near the plant. They could tell that it had wings folded against its back. They sped off, but saw the thing again on a hillside near the road. The winged creature spread its wings and flew alongside the car and kept up even though the car was traveling at 100mph.

That same night, another group of four witnesses would tell the sheriff they saw the same bird-like humanoid. Ninety miles away, a man named Newell Partridge claimed to see two red circles that looked like bicycle reflectors near his hay barn when he pointed a flashlight in that direction to see what was making his dog go nuts. The dog ran towards the thing and Partridge went to get his gun, but was too scared to go outside. Two days later, his dog had still not returned. Partridge would later read the other eyewitness accounts in the paper and there was a report that a large dog had been seen lying on the ground near the TNT plant. When the couples drove by again, the dog's body was gone.

The witnesses were all well known people and the town took their stories serious. These people had clearly seen something very strange. The TNT plant was used to store explosives during World War II and it had woods all around, so it was a perfect place for the Mothman to hide out. Marcella Bennett was visiting her friends, the Thomas family, in November. She had her baby girl with her and as she was pulling her from the car, she noticed something out of the corner of her eye. She turned and saw a big gray human-like being with glowing eyes that stood over six feet tall. She dropped the baby in fear. She scooped her daughter up and ran for the Thomas' door. The Mothman followed her onto the porch and after she entered, peered through the windows. The terrified group called the police, but the Mothman had disappeared by the time they arrived. It would take months for Bennett to recover from the encounter.

The sightings and other strange events continued for a year. The reports stopped around the time of the bridge collapse and many claim that the Mothman either had something to do with it or it served as a warning of impending doom. There were people who claim it was just a Sandhill Crane in the wrong place. While we can attest that these birds are large, have a strange call we liken to a Velociraptor dinosaur and can be aggressive, they do not look anything like a human. There were several UFO reports at the same time in Point Pleasant's history. The whole incident is very strange, but one thing is for certain. Point Pleasant has embraced this legend. There is the Mothman Museum with the Mothman statue outside and every year there is the Mothman Festival in September. (In 2016, it's September 17th & 18th and celebrates the 50th anniversary of the first sighting.)

Across the street from the Mothman Museum is the Lowe Hotel. It was originally named the Spencer Hotel and was built in 1901 by the Smith Brothers, Homer and Griff. They chose the name Spencer in honor of their friend J.S. Spencer. It makes sense because Spencer was a financial backer of the hotel and the name Smith is well, the name Smith. Griff was the older of the two brothers. He was born in 1867 and Homer was born in 1868. Griff was considered a ladies' man and worked in politics early on, first for the West Virginia Secretary of State and then for the IRS Commissioner. He left politics and D.C. to join his brother in the hotel business.

The Lowe Hotel was four stories tall, built on land that Colonel Andrew Lewis had owned. The first floor was meant to be a place for the community featuring a barber shop, bank, billiards room, ladies reception area and a bar and grill. The brothers spent $65,000 on construction and another $10,000 to furnish the hotel.  The kitchen was on the mezzazine between the first and second floor and there was a dining room. Guests stayed on the second and third floors and a grand ballroom was on the fourth floor. Rumors claim that gambling and prostitution were embraced here.

The Stock Market crash hit the brothers hard and they sold the hotel to the Lowe family in 1929. The Lowe family renamed the hotel using their name and that is what it is known by today. They stopped the backdoor illegal activities. The hotel passed on to a son in 1945 and when he retired, he put the hotel up for sale in 1987. Ruth and Rush Finley bought the hotel in 1990. They have upgraded the hotel, but keep it furnished and styled in a way that takes guests back to an earlier time. Some claim it is like taking a trip back through the Twilight Zone and we would agree. An old charm hotel right across from the Mothman Museum just screams Twilight Zone. It's not surprising that John Keel stayed at the hotel while he was investigating and writing his book, "The Mothman Prophecies." (Katie shared the biography of the Finleys, which was a really nice touch.)

West Virginia has been considered a strange and haunted place all the way back to the times when the Native tribes lived on the land. They would report strange phantom lights and bizarre creatures. Particularly in this area of southeastern Ohio and western West Virginia. There are claims that this area is a portal or window to something else. And then there is the Cornstalk Curse. Chief Keigh-tugh-gua was murdered here. His name translated to "Cornstalk." In 1777, during the Revolutionary War, Cornstalk visited Fort Randolph with a warning. The British were mobilizing the native tribes in the area to attack the fort. Chief Cornstalk was one of the lone holdouts, but he explained to the colonists at the fort that he knew soon that his people would be forced to join the British. Captain Arbuckle was alarmed when he heard this and he took the chief hostage.

Photo courtesy of Katie Dunlap
The chief was treated well. A few days later, two soldiers went outside the fort to hunt and they were ambushed. One man was killed and when his body was returned to the fort, the other soldiers were enraged. They broke into the quarters where the chief was being held with three other men and they murdered all four. The chief was shot eight times. The town of Point Pleasant really struggled and a historian named Virgil A. Lewis wrote in 1808, "Point Pleasant did not flourish for many years [after the turn of the century]. There was no church for more than fifty years and society was at a low ebb. There was a popular superstition that because of the fiendish murder of Cornstalk there in 1777, the place was laid under a curse for a hundred years." The legend holds that as Chief Cornstalk was on the floor dying, he uttered this curse, "I was the border man’s friend. Many times I have saved him and his people from harm. I never warred with you, but only to protect our wigwams and lands. I refused to join your paleface enemies with the red coats. I came to the fort as your friend and you murdered me. You have murdered by my side, my young son.... For this, may the curse of the Great Spirit rest upon this land. May it be blighted by nature. May it even be blighted in its hopes. May the strength of its peoples be paralyzed by the stain of our blood." Disasters and tragedies have plagued the area since.

Is it this confluence of tales of portals and curses that has led to reports of hauntings at the Lowe Hotel? The hotel is reported to play host to a plethora of spirits. The mezzanine features a tale about a ghost that many believe is the spirit of Juliette Smith. She was the Lowe family's middle child and she was a beautiful girl with long flowing hair. She fell in love with a boy and in typical fashion, her father disapproved. He forbade her from seeing the young man and he married another, leaving her heartbroken. Between the first and second floors is home to one of the most famous of the Lowe ghosts.  A beautiful, but disheveled young woman is seen dancing to music only she can hear.  She is barefoot, wearing a nightgown, and has long, flowing hair.  No one is sure how she died. She is reportedly seen wearing a nightgown and dancing. When the show Sci-Fi Investigates stayed at Lowe while filming a special on the Mothman, a member of the crew who was a skeptic, claimed he saw the apparition of Juliette. Some people leave a single long-stemmed rose on the mezzanine to coax her out.

The third floor seems to be the most haunted area of the hotel. Room 316 has reported sightings of a spirit named Captain Jim. This is a nice three room suite, so perhaps there is room for the living and the dead here. A woman staying in that room in 2005 was startled when she returned to her room and found a man standing at the window wearing what looked like a ship captain's outfit, staring out at the river. She demanded to know what he was doing in her room and he said he was waiting for a boat. It was then that she realized he had no legs. She ran as would we! There was a Captain James O'Brien who worked on a steamship here in 1915.

Another spirit on the third floor is the spectre of a former maid. Guests feel cold spots in the hallway and in their rooms and claim to hear disembodied whistling with a female lilt. Cleaning supplies are found laying around and the staff claims to have not left them. (Likely story *wink wink*) Maybe they aren't lying because the supplies are never the current products the hotel staff uses. There is also another male spirit on the third flood who appears wearing 1930s style clothing in Room 314. One of the witnesses saw a postcard with the likeness of a former Sheriff of Matewan. The witness was sure that was the spirit they had seen. That man was Sid Hatfield. And yes, that Hatfield of Hatfield vs the McCoys.

Sid Hatfield was a descendant of the leader of the Hatfield family involved in that infamous raucous. Sid himself was involved in another raucous: The Battle of Matewan. Sid became a miner when he was a teenager. In 1919, he became Police Chief of Matewan. He was staunch supporter of the United Mine Workers of America. Coal companies ran the lives of miners forcing them to live in their housing and shop in their stories. They worked the miners in harsh conditions and for long hours. So along came unions to help the workers. A group called Baldwin-Felts Detectives would go around and punish any workers who joined unions, beating them up and throwing their furniture into the streets. Twelve men led by Albert Felts came to town to evict a bunch of miners.

Sheriff Hatfield made sure the process went smoothly, but later that evening, things took a turn for the worse. The townspeople were angry about the evictions. The sheriff and mayor were not happy either. They rounded up a group and confronted the Baldwin-Felts men. No one knows for sure what happened next, but bullets went flying. The mayor was mortally wounded. Seven of the Felts men were killed including Albert Felts. Two miners and the mayor were killed on the other side. State troopers seized control of the town, but no charges were brought against anybody. The following year, Hatfield and his deputy were shot and killed.

There is a residual type haunting on the second floor of the Lowe Hotel. This one features a young girl about two or three-years-old. She rides a tricycle in the hall as a full bodied apparition and makes no eye contact and does not respond to anyone. She will then just disappear. The sounds of a tricycle are heard in the hallways as well and no one will see anything to cause the noise. Some believe this is an imprint of one of the Lowe's children who would play in the hotel. People claim to hear music coming from the empty ballroom.

A woman reported after staying in 2015:
"The best time was this last week when we returned with our 6 month old son and my Mom. We stayed in room 220, the suite. We all stayed in the two bed room with my sons bed between us. Between two and four in the morning I was awaken several times by the feeling of someone touching my knee (not under covers as it was hot). I would wake up, look around, see nothing (as we kept a light on for our son) and check blankets were not on me at all. This happened about three times. I can best describe it as it felt like a small child tapping my trying to get my attention. When we all woke up about 8am the next day, my Mom reported that she kept feeling someone touch her as well in the bed across the room."
Lori K wrote on TripAdvisor of her stay in 2009:
 "My boyfriend and I stayed at The Lowe this past weekend while we were in town for the Mothman Festival. I loved it! We had two strange experiences there. On Friday night we had a hat rack fall over in the middle of the night and on Saturday our TV came on by itself."
The Lowe Hotel sits in a town with an active and strange history. Did the Mothman really exist or was he just the result of active imaginations? Was this just a large bird? Could the historic Lowe Hotel harbor some energy that is carrying over from the past? Do members of the Lowe family still remain here in death? Do some previous guests still remain in the afterlife? Is the Lowe Hotel haunted? That is for you to decide!

Photos provided by Katie Dunlap:

Dining Hall

Lobby and Mezzanine

Second Floor Parlor

Second Floor Hallway

Lowe Hotel Room

Third Floor Hallway

Stairs to Upper Floor

A "Real" Room Key!

TNT Bunker


Inside Exploded Bunker

Katie with Mothman Statue

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