Thursday, January 3, 2019

Ep. 288 - Tutwiler Hotel

Moment in Oddity - Alien Hand Syndrome
Suggested by: John Michaels

Have you ever felt like you are out of control of your body? Or at least a part of your body? I'm sure many of you have found yourself suffering a nervous twitch in a muscle or eyelid or some other weirdness. Now imagine that it is a limb that you have no control over. There are people who experience their limbs acting seemingly on their own and they feel helpless to stop it. This condition is referred to as Dr. Strangelove Syndrome or Alien Hand Syndrome (AHS). The part of the body most often affected is the left hand and mpst commonly, a person having an issue with AHS will find their hand reaching out and grabbing objects without them actually wanting to manipulate the object. It just happens on its own. And the sufferer usually has to use the hand they have control of to stop the other hand from doing what it is doing. This would seem quite comical, like something from the vaudeville stage, if it weren't a real condition. Most cases of AHS occur in people whom have had the two hemispheres of their brain surgically separated. Sometimes the affliction results after a stroke, infection, aneurysm, migraine or brain surgery. Alien Hand Syndrome certainly is odd!

This Month in History - Zulu War Begins

In the month of January, on the 12th, in 1879, the Zulu War began. This was a war between the British Empire and the people of Zululand in South Africa. The British troops were lead by Lord Chelmsford and the Zulu were lead by the man who became their king in 1872, Cetshwayo. The Zulu were unwilling to submit to British rule and Cetshwayo formed an army of 60,000 men. The British also wanted the Zulu to provide labour in the diamond fields of Southern Africa. The British led two invasion during the war that lasted for nearly six months. The Zulu had early success, but the second invasion ended with a decisive defeat of the Zulu. Nearly 7,000 Zulu were killed during the war. Cetshwayo was the last king of an independent Zulu Kingdom and infighting would split those left after the war. Cetshwayo died a few years later.

Tutwiler Hotel (Suggested by: Jonathan Geisel)

The Hampton Inn and Suites in Birmingham is an upscale hotel with a long history. This is the former Tutwiler Hotel and the former Ridgely Apartments. This was not the original Tutwiler Hotel. That one was built in 1914 on a different spot and eventually demolished in 1974. The Tutwiler was built in a grandiose style to attract the steel industry to come to town for conventions. This worked and Birmingham soon became a convention destination. The city felt the loss of the hotel when it was demolished and so it was decided to renovate the historic luxury Ridgely Apartments and reopen it as the new Tutwiler Hotel. And it is this location where the namesake for the hotel is reputedly still hanging around in the afterlife. Join me as we explore the history and hauntings of the Tutwiler Hotel.

In episode 142, we featured the Sloss Furnaces, which are located in Birmingham. In that episode, we talked about the city of Birmingham and how it became a center for industry after the Civil War based on the fact that iron ore, limestone and coal were abundant here. As a symbol of that industry, the city made a 55 foot cast-iron statue that was displayed at the St. Louis World's Fair in 1904. They named it Vulcan and today it can be found in its own park and has recently been refurbished. Vulcan is the second-tallest metal statute in America, after the Statue of Liberty. Birmingham was founded in 1871 by the Elyton Land Company. The shareholders of this company were the founders of Birmingham and included southern entrepreneurs. It would only make sense that an entrepreneur would want to build a hotel to convince the American Iron and Steel Institute to have its annual convention in Birmingham. That entrpreneur was Robert Jemison, Jr.

Robert Jemison, Jr. was said to be the greatest real estate developer of Birmingham’s 20th century and a local paper called him “Mr. Birmingham.” And just a brief list of the places he built, backs up this claim. These locations include Mountain Brook Club, Mountain Brook Village, Empire Building, Stallings Building, The Old Mill, Elmwood Cemetery, Redmont Gardens Apartments, Mountain Brook Grammar School, Mountain Brook Riding Academy, the Newberry Building, the Ridgely Apartments and the original Tutwiler Hotel. Jemison was born in Georgia in 1802. In 1826, his family moved to Alabama and he joined them. He turned his eyes to politics and served in the Alabama state legislature from 1840 to 1863. He was a Confederate States Senator from 1863 to 1865. Jemison made most of his money from his plantations and he owned over 100 slaves across six plantations. Obviously, the Civil War hit his interests hard and he lost his mansion and many other businesses. That didn't stop him from continuing to want to build things and in 1913, he came up with a plan for the Tutwiler Hotel.

There was a lack of “adequate modern hotels” in the city of Birmingham at that time. But obviously, Jemison was in need of major capital. He approached George Crawford, president of the Tennessee Coal, Iron, and Railroad Company, and asked him to become the president of the hotel company. Crawford said he would as long as Jemison would oversee the finances and construction for this new hotel. Once that was set, the two men knew they needed to find someone with money. They went to see the head of the Tutwiler Coal and Coke Company, Major/Colonel Edward Tutwiler, (served in Confederate army during Civil War) whom had also once been the superintendent of several of the Sloss Furnaces' mines. They were hoping he would invest in the hotel and he agreed to the tune of $1,850,000. Tutwiler asked that the hotel be named for his family. Another investor was W.P. Harding, but apparently not at a high enough level to have the Harding added to the name.

A lot was found on the southeast corner of 20th Street and 5th Avenue North and the contracting firm Wells Brothers & Company of New York City began construction in 1913. The design was created by two architects, W.L. Stoddard and W. Welton, and was unique in that there were no rooms that were completely in the interior. All bedrooms were on the outer side of the building so that ample sunlight would stream inside. There was a large beautiful lobby with balconies overlooking it from two mezzanine levels. There were two entrances to the lobby; one was a marble public corridor that was at the center of the 20th Street facade, and the other was a ladies’ entrance on the 5th Avenue side. Originally there were 343 rooms and eight large rooms that opened to make the “Grand Ball Room” which could accommodate 1,200 people. The United Hotels Company became the lessee of the hotel and they brought in trained employees and furnished the hotel when it was completed in 1914.

More than 8,000 people dressed in their formal wear turned out for the grand opening. The Tutwiler would become famous for hosting big events like a press conference for Charles Lindbergh and actress Tallulah Bankhead’s post-wedding bash and other celebrities and politicians over the next 60 years. Before long it was known as an "Outstanding Hotel of the South." Birmingham became a convention city thanks to the hotel and the Tutwiler did indeed host the American Iron and Steel Institutes convention.The hotel even managed to weather Birmingham's decision to become a dry city in 1915 and turned the hotel's drinking bar into a milk bar. (On a side note, I decided to Google milk bar and Tutwiler to get an idea of what exactly was served at a milk bar. My results educated me on the fact that there is a Tutwiler Prison in Alabama and that female inmates have a lactation room designated for them there.)

The beauty of the hotel eventually faded and by the 1960s it was becoming rundown. A facelift was attempted, but the hotel just paled in comparison to the other buildings in the downtown area around it. In 1974, The Tutwiler was imploded to make room for the First Alabama Bank. For the next twelve years, The Tutwiler Hotel was absent from the city. In 1985, the city of Birmingham was awarded the Urban Development Act Grant that gave them $895,000. They combined this with $12 million in private funding and was spearheaded by Temple Tutwiler III, Major Tutwiler's great grandson, to go forward with a plan to renovate the Ridgely Apartments and convert them into the new Tutwiler Hotel. As stated earlier, Robert Jemison had also built this building. The Ridgely Apartments were originally a 9-story luxury apartment building at 2021 Park Place near Linn Park. The project was developed in 1913 by Jemison and Tutwiler. The building is made from brick with limestone and terra-cotta details and was designed by Tennessee-born J. E. R. Carpenter. The new Tutwiler opened for business in 1986. The hotel underwent another even more extensive renovation that was completed in 2007 at a cost of $9.2 million. There are 149 rooms with 53 suites, a fitness center, signature restaurant and business center. This renovation was undertaken by hotel developer Bill Murray of Integral Hospitality Solutions. Interwest Capital now owns the hotel and is managed by New Orleans-based HRI Lodging and known as the Hampton Inn & Suites Birmingham-Downtown-Tutwiler.

And that is where the story would end for the Tutwiler, except for those nagging claims of a ghost in the hotel. It would seem that Major Tutwiler was not willing to let go of the buildings that were a part of his history. The Ridgely Apartments may not have been the original Tutwiler, but they had a connection to him other than him just funding the building of them. Tutwiler lived in the luxury apartments. And it would seem he has decided to stay and perhaps he feels even more at home since the building took on the name of the Tutwiler Hotel. Guests and staff have all told storeis of experiences with a spirit that most believe belongs to Tutwiler. In 1995, a bartender claimed to have many experiences. He had gotten in trouble with management after they claimed that he had left the lights on in the bar for over a week. He was stunned when they called him in for a lecture about proper lock-up procedures. He said that he always turned the lights off when he left. That evening he flicked off the lights, but returned a little later to make sure they were off. He found them on. He turned them off again and returned later to find them on yet again. This happened four times that evening. And then it happened for five nights in a row. Then the weirdest thing happened. When he returned to check the lights on the sixth night, he found a multi-course meal with wine and candles waiting for him.

From that point on, the staff have taken to running through a ritual to appease the spirit of Major Tutwiler. The staff address the ghost of Major Tutwiler every night at closing with the words: “Good night Major! Please turn the lights and stove off, and don’t make a mess!” No one has found a multi-course meal waiting for them again and the lights generally remain off throughout the evening. But Tutwiler may not be the only spirit here. Guests report hearing knocking on their doors in the middle of the night, usually on the sixth floor. These knocks are usual loud and rapid and when guests go to the door, they find no one there. This ghost has been nicknamed The Knocker and is believed to be a male spirit because only women staying in a room alone have had these knocking experiences. But I've read other accounts that claim a young girl is responsible.

Kim Johnston, founder of SCARe, Spirit Communications and Research of Alabama, who has investigated The Tutwiler, said,  “I can confirm there is a little girl’s spirit who haunts several floors there. We caught audio of a little girl saying ‘knock, knock’ in a sweet little voice.” During World War I, a family lived on the sixth floor—a father, mother and little girl. The father was a soldier and killed in battle. Shortly after, the mother died of tuberculosis. That left the little girl an orphan. It’s possible the child ended up in a nearby orphanage, which burned down soon after and there is the theory that she died in that fire and then returned to her former home. Edward Wolfgang Poe who runs the Birmingham Historic Touring Company said, “Staff have seen on security cameras a little girl in a long dress and pigtails skipping up and down the halls on the sixth floor. They see people walk by without acknowledging her. Some have seen her turn and walk into a room without opening a door.”

So is the spirit of Major Tutwiler here? Are there other spirits poking around this historic building? Is the Tutwiler Hotel haunted? That is for you to decide!

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