Thursday, May 27, 2021

Ep. 387 - DeSoto House Hotel

Moment in Oddity - Charfield Railway Disaster (Suggested by: Mike Rodgers)

In this episode, we will be talking about a Lady in Black spirit and synchronistically, we have another story here about a Lady in Black connected to a couple of mysteries connected to a train crash. A passenger train was heading from Leeds, England to Bristow on a foggy night in October of 1928. The train was traveling fast and scheduled to arrive early at a railway station in Charfield, Gloucestershire, which it was just supposed to pass through. A freight train was backing off the track when the Leeds train arrived and there was a horrible collision that killed 16 people, burning them so they were unrecognizable. Family members managed to identify the victims, save for two children: a girl of 12 and a boy of 5. Nobody ever came forward to identify or claim the children. No one knew where these children came from and they were buried together in a common grave with no names on the tombstone. While the country worked to identify the children, investigators tried to figure out how the crash happened. The Leeds train was in perfect working order. The conductor and fireman both survived and claimed that all the lights coming into Charfield had been green, while the signal man said he had turned them to red. And even though there was fog, there had been no fog signal man. No one was ever charged and the cause of the crash remains a mystery. The third mystery connected to the crash entailed a woman in black who would arrive by limousine and place flowers on the grave of the children two or three times a year. She was frail and wore a veil, so no one ever saw her face. Some people claimed that she was a ghost who would disappear and that the car sometimes disappeared too. These things remain mysteries connected to the the Charfield Railway Disaster and that, certainly is odd!

This Month in History - Brooklyn Bridge Opens

In the month of May, on the 24th, in 1883, the Brooklyn Bridge Opens. John Roebling was a pioneer in steel suspension bridge design and he solved a major problem with them that caused failure. New York State accepted Roebling's design for a bridge that would connect Brooklyn and Manhattan. This would be the world's first steel suspension bridge and spanned 1,595 feet. Roebling wouldn't live to fulfill his duty as chief engineer. A boat smashed his toes while he was doing compass readings for the bridge and he died of tetanus three weeks later. He would be the first of two dozen people who would died building the bridge. His son Washington would take over and two granite foundations would be the first parts of the bridge built. The bridge took fourteen years to complete. Thousands of residents turned out for the dedication ceremony that was headed by President Chester A. Arthur Governor Grover Cleveland. Washington was injured by the bends while working on the bridge and partially paralyzed, so it would be his wife Emily that would take the victory lap across the bridge. She rode in a car with a rooster, which was a symbol of victory. By the end of that first twenty-four hours of being opened, 250,000 had walked across the Brooklyn Bridge.

DeSoto House Hotel (Suggested by: Amanda Allen and Jennie Douglas)

The DeSoto House Hotel sits at the corner of Green and Main Streets in downtown Galena, Illinois. This building has claims that it is the most haunted hotel in Illinois and with a history that includes President Abraham Lincoln, that reputation seems fitting. This was a beautiful hotel hosting grand balls until the economy hit it hard, but it has risen once again to provide the finest in accommodations. And with a Lady in Black who wandered the dining room so much that they left a hole in the wall for her, who wouldn't want to stay here? Join us as we share the history and hauntings of the DeSoto House Hotel. 

Galena, Illinois was once the principal river port of the Upper Mississippi Valley. The hills, bluffs and valleys make this area very scenic and with nearly 85% of Galena's buildings being on the National Register Historic District, this town should be on everyone's bucket list. The Sac and Fox tribes were some of the first people here and they mined the lead deposits found here. French traders arrived in the late 1600s and they established a trading post. Others came for the lead deposits and in the early 1800s, Congress established the Upper Mississippi Lead Mine District. This is where Galena got its name because that is the technical term for sulphide of lead.

By the 1850s, Galena became a shipping port with the Galena River flowing into the Mississippi River. The population grew to 14,000 and Galena was shipping 54 million pounds of lead a year. The Illinois Central Railroad brought a line through town and hotels were built to accommodate the travelers.  The Galena Hotel Company was formed by a group of investors and they made their first project the DeSoto House, which they named for Hernando de Soto who discovered the Mississippi River.

The DeSoto House Hotel opened on April 9, 1855 as the “Largest Hotel in the West” and featured five stories with 225 guest rooms, a 300 seat dining room and other smaller dining rooms, Ladies' Parlors, Gentlemen's Reading Room, a saloon, huge kitchen with the modern appliances of the time, gas lights, offices, retail stores and a bowling alley. John C. Parks stepped up as the first proprietor of the hotel and the deal he made with the hotel company was that he would furnish the building in exchange for a two year rent-free contract. He spent $15,000 on furniture made from rosewood, velvet carpeting, satin damask curtains, marble-topped tables and a beautiful rosewood hand-carved piano.

Both Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas visited the hotel and spoke from a balcony that overlooked the main street. Lincoln was there on July 23, 1856, and he campaigned for John Fremont who was seeking the presidency. Stephen Douglas was a senator when he spoke from the same balcony on July 25, 1858. Fifteen thousand people held a rally in front of the hotel when Lincoln ran for president. President Lincoln wasn't the only president connected to the hotel. William Jennings Bryan was also a guest here. Ulysses S. Grant was from Galena. This was his hometown and when he returned home victorious from the Civil War, 25,000 people lined the streets to welcome him and a grand reception ball was held in his honor at the DeSoto's ballroom. When Grant ran for president, Rooms 209 and 211 became his presidential campaign headquarters.

These were big historic moments for the hotel. Good times. But the hotel would have some major issues. The first thing to befall it was a fire on June 2, 1859 that destroyed a dozen rooms on each floor. The entire hotel was damaged from the smoke and water. Ten years later, a boiler down in the basement exploded. The owners at the time decided to call it quits and auctioned off all the furnishings and by December of 1870, the hotel was closed. The closure wouldn't last long as W.H. Blewett purchased the hotel in 1871 and he redecorated the hotel and refurnished it to better reflect that time period. Some well known guests during this period were balloonist Silas Brooks, Duprey and Green's Minstrels and General and Mrs. Tom Thumb. The top two floors of the hotel were removed in 1880. Hot and cold running water would soon follow and bathrooms were added to all floors. When economic times were down, the hotel served as a boarding house. 

New renovations would be completed in the 1970s, but the hotel would still find itself facing demolition. There was an outcry from the town people and Mayor Frank Einsweiller began an effort to fund a complete restoration, which would take seven years to gather $7.8 million in funds. This renovation took place for a year between April 15, 1985 and April 19, 1986. When this was done there was a four-story atrium Courtyard dining room, the Generals' Restaurant with original brick walls and beamed ceilings named for nine Civil War generals that were from Galena, the Green Street Tavern, 55 guest rooms with private baths, ballroom, specialty shops and conference and banquet rooms. The front lobby has this great wrap around front staircase that you can imagine Lincoln once walked up and down. The furnishings and decor harken back to the Victorian era.

This town that time forgot has not been forgotten by its previous residents. Ghosts wander many places in Galena and several ghost tours are offered. The DeSoto House Hotel has lots of ghost stories connected to it with the first ones dating back to the 1800s. In one newspaper article, a woman claimed that a black figure came to her window. Guests for years have caught the scent of cigar smoke and strange perfume. Disembodied voices are heard in the hallways and full-bodied apparitions in period clothing have been seen. The third floor seems to have the most activity with Room 333 being the most haunted, although the Green Street Tavern gives it a good run for its money with its Lady in Black who wears a period dress. People claim to hear sounds from the fourth and fifth floors, which no longer exist.

The story behind the Lady in Black is that she has regularly been seen walking into a wall near the fireplace in the Green Street Tavern. She even seems to have been captured in this photo:

Contractors were repairing plaster in the restaurant after a flood and discovered a doorway behind a wall. The place in the wall that the Lady in Black would walk into. So they decided to leave this area of the wall open and put plexiglass over it. Then they hung a sign next to it reading:

Guests claim that the hotel is haunted, but in a nice way and most stories seem fairly benign. Connie wrote on the Midwest Wanderer website, "The desk clerk I spoke with said she never believed in the paranormal until her experiences at the DeSoto House.  First was a cold chill followed by a bright ball of light that zoomed past her as she worked on the third floor late at night, with no explanation as to where the light could have come from.  Then there were the reports from several guests that they felt someone sit on the edge of the bed.  The reports were always from guests staying in the same room."

A woman named Mary wrote, "My husband and I stayed at the Desoto House 2012 and I can tell you that I did think someone sat on the bed next to me. I was so surprised to see no one was there when I looked up from my phone. I called out to my husband and he was in the bathroom at the time. There was definitely someone with me but I couldn’t see or hear anyone. Creepy feeling. Later that same night when we were getting into bed I reached out to shut off the lamp and before my hand got near the lamp the light went out. That did it for me. I knew someone was in our room with us. Our room was on the second floor. We never heard a sound or voices but that was enough for me to be sure there was someone with us that night."

On the Illinois Haunted House website, "I love Galena in general, and always wanted to stay at the Desoto House. I had always heard about the haunted history, and thought since I was finally staying there I’d bring my Spirit Box for fun to investigate a bit. Sometimes it’s hard to make out voices on the SB 7, but these were some of the clearest responses I have ever heard/gotten. Was really cool just sitting in my room communicating. Turned my skeptic girlfriend into a believer real quick! Can’t wait to go back! Don’t remember the room number unfortunately, but the whole town has spirits. Was just last year 2019. All around a great place to spend the weekend! "

Lynn wrote, "My husband and I stayed here in January about 5 years ago. I can’t remember if we stayed on the second or third floor. We too had a couple of strange things happen. The first night I turned the TV off manually and it came back on– twice!! The second night I woke up and saw this strange light slowly moving around the coffered ceiling! It wasn’t a ball of light, more like wave of light. I must not have been too scared though cause I went back to sleep!"

Christina wrote, "We stayed nearby over this past weekend, but stopped in the Green Street Tavern for lunch. I hadn’t read about any of the haunting stories or anything in advance. As we were waiting for our lunch, something distinctly brushed my cheek. I was astonished that there wasn’t something actually touching my face. I thought it must be a few long hairs grazing me (my hair is very short), and even wondered if the woman behind me had swept her hair back off her shoulders inadvertently brushing my cheek, but my significant other said nothing/nobody had come near me. Just a moment later, as I was still trying to figure it out, the same sensation occurred near my collarbone on my chest. I was startled and kind of unsettled, but it made me laugh almost uncontrollably – very out of character for me to begin such a giggling jag."

Gale Schultz, food and beverage supervisor at the Desoto House Hotel, claims she saw the Lady in Black. She said, "I was walking with another server one day and I stopped dead in my tracks and I saw her just walk right past me and go up the stairs. And I turned to the server and she said 'Oh my God, I just saw that too.' So she did see the lady in black as well." Schultz described her as wearing black clothes and she had a smokey type of figure.

Elizabeth wrote, "I stayed there with my husband about a year ago. In the middle of the night I was woken up by the feeling of my husband getting into bed on the right side of the bed, laying down next to me, and putting his arm around me. i bought it was a little strange since he always sleeps on the left side of the bed and isn’t much of a cuddled when he sleeps. But I didn’t think too much of it and drifted back to sleep for a bit. I woke up a little while later and was surprised to see my husband back on “his” side of the bed. In the morning I asked if he had gotten up during the night at all and switched sides of the bed and he said he didn’t. He isn’t prone to sleepwalking. It was very strange. Definitely could have been a dream on my part but it was so vivid!"

Mary Earl wrote, "First of all i want to say i would never stay at any other hotel in Galena! It`s smack dab in the middle of town so you can literally park your car in the attached parking garage and start having fun. Second i`d like to share a paranormal experience i had on the first floor ladies restroom. I was in the stall and the restroom was empty except for me. Suddenly i was shocked to hear an infant crying since i didn`t hear the door open and anyone enter. Then as the baby continued to cry i heard a womans voice hushing the child, i came directly out of the stall and to my surprise no one else was in there with me! I later heard from the desk clerk that what i had experienced was a paranormal happening and others had reported it happening to them also. I feel very happy that i got to experience the phenomenon!"

Sue wrote, "Last month we stayed in room 331. No action either night but the morning we were leaving, a light went out on its own. we tried to fix it and couldn’t. Then it went on, and off, and on, and flickered for a minute before staying on. Our friend was in the shower at the time. She came out and told us she felt a presence in there and asked it to turn the lights on and off, or even just flicker them, to let her know someone was there. She was so bummed out nothing responded to her continued requests when she had such a strong feeling. We were SHOCKED when she told us the requests she was asking, while they were actually occurring in the room instead of the shower! CREEPY!"

Vera Wrote, "My husband & I stayed at the DeSoto this past summer. Cannot remember our room number, but our corner room faced the Main Street. I got up middle of the night to use the bathroom. After returning to bed, I had difficulty falling asleep, feeling like something strange was going on. At first, I didn’t want to open my eyes, but thought, “That’s silly.” I opened my eyes, and saw a very thin woman in a black, somewhat sheer dress, walking past the foot of our bed. I actually tried to scream out my husband’s name, but was unable to utter a sound. The woman kept walking, towards the street side wall, but glanced at me, just as she disappeared through the wall."

Stacy wrote: " I fell asleep early, but was awakened by a vivid dream and the feeling of something hovering over my bed, it seemed black and frilly-like. In my dream I was running through an old building with tons of doors and I was getting lost and calling out for my sister-in-law. Then as I woke up I felt or saw a black figure hovering over me. I quickly jumped up- went to the rest room, grounded myself, and went back to bed! I was startled for a few moments. I didn’t wake my sister-in-law, but the next morning I told her that I had a scary dream about a black ghost. She laughed and said, “oh so it wasn’t Casper”? I replied, no it was black, and that was one freaky dream!!! I didn’t find out until two nights later that the hotel was famous for “The Lady in Black”, ghost. We took a ghost tour and learned about the many ghosts of the Galena hotel, and the infamous “Lady in Black. I was pretty freaked out for a for a few days, and I can’t explain it….. but I was visited by something that night. I can still see the figure as I awakened from my dream. I could not see a face, but it was over the end of my bed and seemed black and frilly, like a curtain, or dress. An experience that I have never had before, and so very vivid to me."

There is a ghost tour that starts in the lobby of the DeSoto, which seems to be a good indication that some paranormal activity is going on here. Is the DeSoto House Hotel haunted? That is for you to decide!

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