Thursday, July 16, 2020

HGB Ep. 345 - The Biltmore Hotels

Moment in Oddity - Jeremy Bentham's Dead Body

Jeremy Bentham was a guy ahead of his time. He was a libertarian who believed in individual freedom, the decriminalization of homosexuality, rights for women, animal rights and the abolition of freedom and capitol punishment. He supported all of this in the 18th century and early 19th century. That's pretty interesting, but even more interesting is his life after he died in 1832. Bentham also believed in being of use after one died and so he wanted his body used for instruction. He wanted his body preserved and rolled out at parties. The planning that went into this started long before he passed. Bentham would carry glass eyes with him that he wanted inserted into the sockets of his head after he had been preserved. As was instructed, Bentham's body was dissected in front of his friends. Several others attended as autopsies were controversial at the time. The skeleton was put back together, but there was an issue with the head. An ancient method of mummification used by the indigineous people of New Zealand went horribly wrong and left the head looking mangled and absolutely terrifying. The head also was so misshapen, it couldn't be attached to the body, so a wax head was commissioned. Today, Bentham's body is on display as a skeleton dressed in a suit with a wax head at the end of the South Cloisters of the main building of UCL inside a wooden cabinet. The real head was rarely put on display, but as recently as 2018 it was also on display at UCL at the Octagon Gallery. Jeremy Bentham's wishes for his dead body and what actually became of those wishes, certainly is odd!

This Month in History - First Income Tax Bill Signed Into Law

In the month of July, on the 1st, in 1862, President Abraham Lincoln signed the first income tax bill into law. Due to Covid-19, the filing of income taxes was postponed until this month in 2020. It seems almost fitting since this month was when the first income tax became law. The Union needed help to fund their efforts during the Civil War and it was decided by Congress that an income tax would help. Reports claimed that $320 million would be needed to and the sale of public lands and other taxes would raise $300 million, but Congress needed to find a way to get the other $20 million. The bill they passed imposed a 3% tax on incomes between $600 and $10,000 and a 5% tax on higher incomes. The law was amended in 1864 to levy a tax of 5% on incomes between $600 and $5,000, a 7.5% tax on incomes in the $5,000-$10,000 range and a 10% tax on everything higher. This helped to fund the war and in 1872 the law was declared unconstitutional and repealed. And to our great joy, the Bureau of Internal Revenue was established by an act of Congress.

The Biltmore Hotels

The are many hotels in the United States that carry the name Biltmore as part of their title. Three of them are well known for being one of the most haunted locations in their respective states. One of them is the Millineum Biltmore in Los Angeles, which will be an episode of its own one day. Another is the Providence Biltmore and based on its ominous past, that is not surprising. The fancy lobby belies the legends that claim that a Satanist not only financially backed the hotel, but performed rituals within its halls. There are tales of Prohibition fights and murders and people have literally disappeared from the hotel. The stories about this haunted hotel have inspired the likes of Stephen King and Robert Bloch. The Biltmore Hotel in Coral Gables also has tales from the days of Prohibition and has a long list of spirits said to be haunting its halls. Join us as we explore the history and hauntings of the Biltmore Hotels in Rhode Island and Florida!

Let's first look at the Biltmore in Providence. Providence, Rhode Island has a really symbolic name. Providence is defined as God or nature providing protection and even direction for one's life. You have probably heard older people use the terms "divine providence." The man who founded the town in 1636, felt as though providence had guided him to this spot as he fled religious persecution in Massachusetts. That man was preacher Roger Williams. He purchased the land from the Narragansett tribe and established a community of people who believed in political and religious freedom. This was a great spot because it was on the water and would enable Providence to become an important seaport that would enable exploration across the ocean to bring back imports and was a key port during the Revolutionary War. Rhode Island was the first colony to declare independence from England before the war. But being this close to the water has also left the city open to damage from hurricanes and it has been hit hard a couple of times. The rivers of the city have added to the beauty and people can walk the cobblestone paths along them or ride gondolas on them. In the center of the downtown area, one will find The Biltmore Hotel.

There is no missing The Biltmore Hotel. The red brick building stands 18-stories, making it the ninth tallest building in the city, and it has the word Biltmore spelled out in large letters across one wing of the hotel. The hotel was designed in the Federal Beaux-arts style by the architectural firm Warren and Wetmore, who also designed Grand Central Terminal in New York City. This was part of the Bowman-Biltmore Hotel chain that was owned by John McEntee Bowman and Louis Wallick. You might be wondering where the Biltmore part of the chain got its name and it actually was inspired by the Vanderbilt Family's Biltmore Estate. And the name Biltmore was part of over ten historic hotels around the country. This Biltmore opened on June 6, 1922 with nearly 600 rooms. The interior is elegant with embellished ceilings and a grand center staircase leading to the second floor and a brass and gold glass elevator, with a gorgeous chandelier hanging in the center of the lobby. The elevator wasn't installed until 1978 and actually no longer works. There is also a large rooftop grand ballroom with large windows giving a great view of the city.

In 1947, Sheraton Hotels acquired the property and a few years later, Hurricane Carol flooded the lobby with eight feet of water. A plaque commemorates the high-water mark in the lobby. Gotham Hotels took over in 1968 and renamed the hotel, Biltmore Hotel and Motor Inn. By 1975, the hotel was closed and abandoned and remained that way for four years, eventually facing demolition. But this was a historic hotel and the citizens didn't want to see that happen, so Mayor Buddy Cianci got the property designated as a landmark. A group of local businessmen purchased the hotel, renovated it, adding an exterior glass elevator, and reopened it in 1978 as The Biltmore Plaza Hotel. The hotel would continue to pass through several hands from Dunfey Hotels to Omni Hotels to Hilton and even The Providence Journal, the local newspaper. The modern version of The Biltmore no longer carries that moniker and has updated the inside to a chic and colorful interior, featuring plaid and tweed, now known as the Graduate Providence, a boutique hotel with around 300 rooms. The Graduate Group of hotels bought the property in 2019. All of the donuts in the artwork pay homage to the fact that Providence has the most donut shops per capita of anywhere in the United States.

So that's the extent of the official history. The odd and paranormal history about the hotel and the city of Providence is quite different. There are claims that this was a city governed by Satanists, which is quite ironic considering its name. Whether that is true or not, reputedly the person who financed the building of the hotel was Johan Leisse Weisskopf, a Satanist. He had two things he specifically wanted added to the hotel: chicken coops on the roof for holding sacrificial birds and dugout hot springs in the basement for purification rituals. There was also a dining room known as the Bacchante Dining Room with nude waitresses. This became a real party place in a time of Prohibition. The likes of F. Scott Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong and Douglas Fairbanks would all come to hang out at The Biltmore. Eventually mobsters moved in and ran a speakeasy from the basement. Wine was served in crystal goblets for patrons who were not government officials for a quarter. Government officials drank free for obvious reasons.

Now many might think that the murders and rapes that are said to have taken place at the hotel, would have happened when the Satanists were conducting rituals in the hallways and the basement. But that doesn't seem to be the case here. The politicians and police officers who were allowed to drink for free here seem to be the ones conducting the crimes. Between the years 1920 and 1933 six police officers were accused of being involved in the murders of eight people that happened at the Biltmore. There was a mayor who was accused of murder, a cardinal molested a young girl and drowned her in a tub and a governor was accused of raping six women and killing one. There are also stories that people disappear from the hotel. The most recent disappearances were said to have happened in 2008 and were Erving F. Bishop and his daughter Emily Bishop, who was 4 years old. They were tourists from New Jersey and had gone walking late in the hotel because Emily couldn't fall asleep. They were reported missing around 4am by the girl's mother. We looked everywhere for newspaper reports and could find nothing, so we aren't sure if this is just something posted to a blog or if it really happened. Much of what has happened at this hotel is hard to pin down.

The Providence Biltmore was named "Most Haunted Hotel in America" by the American Hotel & Lodging Association. On top of that, this place served as inspiration for The Overlook Hotel from The Shining and The Bates Motel from Psycho. Neither of those places seem to resemble the hotel, so one starts to think that it must be the stories of the place that serve as inspiration. The Stock Market crashed in 1929 and many people lost everything they had and felt as though suicide was the answer. One such man was staying at The Biltmore and threw himself from the 14th floor. To this day, guests claim to see the figure of a man falling from the upper stories of the building. The murder victims of the politicians are said to haunt the hallways of the hotel. The sounds of raucous partying with glasses clinking are heard after hours when the bar is closed and disembodied voices laughing and talking are heard.

Experiences reported on the Ghosts of Providence Blog:

From 2010, "I was there for 2 weeks... on a job with a crew of 50.... i could not sleep and woke up every night at 3am... then I had what I thought was a dream ... a women pressing on top of me... i freaked out, dialed my coworker sleeping on the upper levels and slept in her room the rest of the weeks...this place is haunted!

Prop Girl wrote, "Oh My Goodness!!! I've been here since Monday and I had a nightmare that something was pressing down on ME! I was suffocating in my dream and woke up completely gasping for air! It was room 906. I switched rooms right after."
From 2012, "Wow, I only got to this page because of my experience at this hotel. I woke up initially at 1:15am because something touched my eye lid. i closed my eyes and put my head back on the pillow again. Instantly something touched my eyes again. I freaked out and turned the light on. I finally fell asleep. Then I woke up at 3 something in the morning with what felt like a man pressing down on me. I could not move, breath or open my eyes. I finally let out a scary screeching sound that woke up my husband (who was on the other end of the king size bed). I made him move right next to me cause that was the only way I was comfortable. I didn't sleep the rest of the night."

Another person claimed in 2011, "I stayed in room 833 last Wednesday night. I had never heard of the Biltmore being haunted. I did have an unusual experience. Before I went to bed, I shut the security lock (the one that is a long piece of metal above the regular locks). In the morning, when I was leaving to get my coffee, I noticed that the lock was open. Thinking I may have just forgotten, I didn't think much of it. When I got back to the room, I closed the door and made sure I shut the security lock before taking my shower. When I got out of the shower I checked the door and sure was open! I will not be going back!"

And then in 2013, the same thing was reported, "My wife and I stayed here one night in May 2013. I wondered if anything was going to happen or if we would see anything but quickly forgot about it once I got tired and we went to bed. The next morning, my wife walked to the bathroom to take her shower when she noticed the top door latch lock was open. She closed it and took her shower. When she got out, I heard her ask me if I went out. I hadn't and asked her why she asked, she explained what she had seen and done and showed my the (once again open) latch lock! We both remembered me closing the latch lock and dead-bolting the bottom lock as I had to push the door a bit with my foot to line the dead bolt up to lock it. Right as we closed the latch lock...again, I looked down and saw that the dead bolt lock was UNLOCKED! Very strange and spooky!"

Another from 2011, "I swear to all of you that I stayed there in June of 2001 for 6 nights and there was a ghost in my room. I saw her image twice and I freaked out. When I checked out, the front desk clerk informed me that I was not the first person to see a ghost at the hotel. It was really scary. I never believe people when they tell me they see ghosts but after that experience I am now a believer."

Ashley wrote in 2016, "My husband and I stayed in room 326 for the last 3 nights. Our friends got married at the Biltmore this weekend. My husband is from Louisiana & talks about seeing ghosts when he was a child, I've never seen any and have been skeptical. The first night we got in at 1a because our fight was super delayed. While we were unpacking quickly before bed, my husband did a double take looking at the doorway of our room, said he just saw sometime walk by (into our bathroom). I ignored because I like to stay naive about this questionable "ghost world". The first 2 nights, we took Ambien, so I'm uncertain if anything happened or not. Last night, we got in bed at 2a. I woke at 430a to water running & our tv really loud. I thought someone above or around us was showering & I could hear the water in the pipes. I turned off the tv & stayed in bed, listening to the water run-waiting for them to finish showering so I could go back to sleep. I finally got up to pee & realized our bathroom sink was the water running. I turned it off, confused & jumped back in bed. The tv had turned back on while i was in the bathroom. I woke my husband & asked if he had gotten up or had turned on the tv, he said, "no". I woke an hour later to the same thing, water running/tv loud. I turned off the water & left the tv on so I could focus on whatever show that was on HGTV to settle my nerves. I purposely waited until after we checked out to now look up whether there were any reports of the Biltmore Providence being haunted. I'm not sure what the hell happened in our room but suggest ghost enthusiasts to check out room 326 if that's what you are looking for. It was a beautiful hotel but I'm good with not experiencing any further questionable activity there.
Now on to the Biltmore Hotel here in Florida. Coral Gables was founded by a poet. This is a town outside of Miami and was developed by George Merrick who had inherited citrus groves from his father in the 1920s. He wrote of his vision for Coral Gables, "I dream of the home of the Fairies and Fays, on the isles of the calm southern sky, Of the fanciful turrets and towers ablaze, In the flood of the rays from on high." The architectural design of much of the city is Mediterranean Revival and this is certainly reflected in the beautiful Biltmore Hotel. George Merrick had this upscale hotel built to attract people to come to his new city. He teamed up with John Bowman who had built the Providence Biltmore and they poured $10 million into the project. The architects were Schultz and Weaver. The hotel opened in 1926 with two eighteen-hole golf courses, a polo grounds, canals with gondolas, a large swimming pool, several large ballrooms and a tower patterned after the Giralda in Seville, Spain. The interior featured hand-painted frescos on the barrel vaulted ceilings, marble columns, travertine tile floors and carved mahogany furnishings. This was the tallest building in Florida until 1928.

The Biltmore opened with a widely attended gala where champagne was flowing heavily and guests could enjoy the Charleston and fox-trotting on the ballroom floors and walking through the lush gardens. And the list of famous people to stay at the hotel is vast with names like Judy Garland, Bing Crosby, Ginger Rogers, Al Capone, President Franklin D. Roosevelt - who even made this the southern White House for a time - and the Duke and Duchess of Windsor - that would be Edward VIII and Wallis Simpson. The hotel came to be known as a place for aquatic competitions, particularly synchronized swimming. Johnny Weismuller even broke a world-record in swimming at the pool before he went on to play Tarzan in several 1930s movies. There was even alligator wrestling here. These activities kept the hotel afloat during the Great Depression. When World War II broke out, the hotel became the Army Air Force Regional Hospital and this brought big changes with the floor being covered with linoleum, windows were blacked out, operating rooms were added and a morgue was set up on a lower floor. The medical theme would continue after the war as the University of Miami School of Medicine took over the building and then eventually this was a Veteran's hospital in the 1960s. That closed in 1968.

This once gorgeous upscale hotel that had been the place to stay in the Roarin' Twenties was then abandoned and it remained that way for five years. The City of Coral Gables took possession of the building through the Historic Monuments Act and Legacy of Parks Program to save it from being demolished, but they did nothing with it and it sat for another ten years. In 1983, Coral Gables finally started restoring the hotel and poured $55 million into the rehabilitation. It reopened as an upscale hotel once again, but that didn't last for long as the end of the 1980s took a big hit to the economy. The hotel shuttered again. In 1992, Seaways Hotels Corporation bought the Biltmore and poured another $40 million into restoration, updating everything for a modern world and resurfacing the swimming pool with polished marble. Interior designer Lynn Wilson worked her magic inside. Eventually a culinary academy would open here and the hotel has maintained its elegance up until our modern time.

The hotel is nearly 100 years old and in that time, it has seen much death, particularly when this was a hospital not only during the war, but after. We had medical experiments and autopsies done here while this was a medical school. And then veterans had to make do with the low level of care they received here and one can imagine how depressed they probably were. And the hotel itself was left abandoned for many years. This makes for a fine mixture that could lead to hauntings and there are many ghost stories connected to the building. Psychics claim that there could be over a hundred spirits within the halls of the hotel. During the abandoned years, people who lived nearby or golfed at the nearby golf courses would claim to hear sounds coming from the empty building. Sometimes it sounded as though there were a party being hosted. The lights would flicker or just turn on even though no one was supposed to be in the building. There were so many complaints to the police one year, that they decided to stakeout the building and make a raid. They expected to find drug traffickers or at the very least squatters. When they busted into the building, they were shocked that they found no one, not even an urban explorer. That was in 1979.

Maintenance workers have claimed to have issues with the lights turning themselves off and on and they can't figure out what is causing the problem. One such worker told Dave Lapham in his book Ghosthunting Florida that he had once heard a great crash in the evening that sounded like a vase being slammed into a wall or the floor and when he went to investigate, he found no broken vase. He found absolutely nothing that would have caused the crash. He was also told the story of a young couple who boarded the elevator and before they could push any of the buttons, the door closed and the elevator rose to the 13th floor even though the number was not pushed. This was a special suite and the door would only open with a special key, but the elevator door opened. It sat open for several minutes, so the young lady playfully stepped off. The minute she exited, the doors closed and the elevator went all the way down to the lobby even though her husband frantically started pushing buttons to get the elevator to return to the 13th floor. He couldn't get the 13th button to light up because the special key was needed. He ran to look for a bellhop in the lobby and at first the bellhop wouldn't believe him because no one was staying the suite, so the elevator could not possibly have stopped at that floor, much less, opened. The two men went up to the 13th floor and found the wife terrified. She told them that she had been enveloped in a cold cloud of air that carried the scent of a cigar and that she heard laughing and talking. She felt as though someone had been standing near her.

Could this woman have experienced one of the more famous spirits at the Biltmore, Fatty Walsh? Fatty Walsh was one of the most notorious and powerful gangsters in Miami during Prohibition. That 13th floor suite had once been home to his illegal casino and speakeasy. That is most likely what the young woman heard as she waited for her husband to rescue her. One evening, a disgruntled gambler shot Fatty. Or he might have been murdered by a hit man. Either way, Fatty died in that casino on the 13th floor and he now haunts the place. Many people have smelled the scent of cigar smoke in the hotel and there is sometimes a woman or two who complains about being touched inappropriately by somebody she cannot see. There are tales of the gangster writing on foggy mirrors and likes to play with the lights. There is a rumor that President Clinton was staying in the 13th floor suite in the 1990s and he wanted to watch a big game on the television only they couldn't get any reception. The other rooms in the hotel had no issues. They brought another television into the room and still could get nothing but snow on the TV. The entourage ended up having to leave, so the President could see the game. Maybe Fatty wasn't big on having a politician in his suite.

There is a lady in white at this location. She is seen in white because people think she was wearing white at the time of her death. She lost her life when she fell from a fifth or sixth floor balcony. She was staying at the hotel with her family and when she had looked away for a moment, her young son had climbed up onto the railing of the balcony. She quickly ran to the balcony and grabbed him, but in doing so, could not stop her momentum and she spun around and fell backwards over the rail and down to her death. Today, guests and employees claim to see a residual haunting of the woman, sprinting towards a balcony and falling over it. But this ghost may not just be residual because she has been seen in guest rooms as well and sometimes even sits on the edge of beds. The front desk occasionally gets calls in the middle of the night with guests complaining about a strange woman in the hallway or in their room. The woman seems to be very sad and when she is seen running towards the balcony, the look on her face is abject fear.

Richard Winer wrote in the Sun Sentinel in 1986 about the experiences of a couple of security guards, " as George Warren and his partner stared at the TV screens, what they saw was unmistakable: The tracks from a wheelchair streaked across the monitor. It was impossible! No one -- let alone someone in a wheelchair -- could enter that room without setting off the alarm. The men raced down to the museum. There, imprinted in the rug, were the unmistakable tracks made by a wheelchair. But no sign of a wheelchair was found. The tracks in the rug remained for weeks, Warren says, before vanishing like dust in the wind. And there's more, like the night last spring, when frightening yells and screams drifted down from the upper reaches of the long-empty Biltmore. Another security guard, making his rounds, stopped dead in his tracks on the 12th floor as screams continued to filter down from the 13th floor. Charging up the stairs, the guard penetrated the blackness with a flashlight. As he reached the 13th floor -- dead silence. The screams ceased as suddenly as someone being smothered. Then the guard's flashlight went dark. Standing alone in the darkness, he banged the light against the palm of his hand and called out in a shaky voice, "Who's there? Who's there?" Receiving no response, the trembling man groped his way down the steps. Suddenly, his flashlight came back on, and the screams started again. Turning around to head back up to the 13th floor, again his flashlight went dark. That's it, he decided, let the ghosts howl all they want. I'm not going back up there."

Both of the Biltmore Hotels we covered on this episode were grand hotels at one time that fell into disrepair and abandonment. Today, they are once again hosting guests and it would seem ghosts as well. Are these hotels haunted? That is for you to decide!

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