Thursday, June 6, 2024

HGB Ep. 541 - The Hotel Chelsea

Moment in Oddity - Skeletons Under St. Augustine Winery (Suggested by: Justin Rimmel)

After hurricane Matthew hit St Augustine, Florida in the fall of 2016, there was an interesting discovery in the following months. Under the flood damaged flooring of a restaurant and taproom located in Fiesta Mall, skeletal remains were found. Archaeologist Carl Halbirt only had to remove a few shovels full of dirt before finding human bones. The skeletons were believed to date back to some of the earliest colonists of St Augustine, which was the first established settlement of the United States. Halbirt believes that the bodies were buried under the floor of the Church of Nuestra Senora de los Remedios. This was the earliest documented parish church in the United States. In total, seven skeletons were uncovered within a 6 by 12 foot area. Despite their discovery, the remains were reburied under the floor of the A1A Ale Works restaurant, which leaves this location on a short list of 'must dine' locations in one of our favorite cities. Enjoying a nice meal and good brews while seated over early colonists' graves, certainly is odd.

This Month in History - The Gaspee Affair (Suggested by: Emily Petrarca (Puh traar kuh))

In the month of June, on the 9th, in 1772, American colonists attacked and burned the HMS Gaspee after it was grounded on a sandbar. Known as the Gaspee Affair, the Royal Navy customs schooner was tasked with enforcing the Navigation Acts and other unpopular customs laws imposed by the British government on American ports. The HMS Gaspee had been chasing a smaller, lighter vessel called the Hannah when it was stranded due to low tide. After hearing that the Gaspee was beached, the colonists who were frustrated with the taxes and zero-say in legislation, organized over a dozen smaller vessels to row out to the stranded schooner. Remarkably, no one was killed. The entire crew was safely evacuated prior to the ship being set ablaze with the vessels' Captain, Lieutenant William Dudingston having only been wounded in his leg. This act of treason was one that would begin the events that led to the Declaration of Independence and the American Revolution. Today, the Gaspee Affair is remembered by an annual reenactment of the burning of the HMS Gaspee, a colonial encampment, along with a block party, local craft fair and of course a parade.

The Hotel Chelsea

The Hotel Chelsea refers to itself as "A Rest Stop for Rare Individuals" and indeed, it has hosted some famous creatives. Today it is a luxury hotel, but when it began, this was one of the first forays into attracting the upper class to rent apartments in New York City. The interior was grand and the upper floors were specifically designed to attract artists. The hotel has stood for nearly 150 years and has not only provided housing for some unique people, but it hosts many spirits. These include punk rocker Sid Vicious and his girlfriend Nancy Spungen. Join us for the history and hauntings of the Hotel Chelsea! 

Patti Smith summed up the Chelsea best when she said, "I loved this place, its shabby elegance, and the history it held so possessively...So many had written, conversed, and convulsed in these Victorian dollhouse rooms. So many skirts had swished these worn marble stairs. So many transient souls had espoused, made a mark, and succumbed here." And as we have found through our research of the ghost stories, many have decided to stay. The Chelsea sits at 222 West Twenty-Third Street in New York City. The hotel was named for the neighborhood and was conceived by the Chelsea Association. Construction began in 1883 under architect Philip Hubert who designed it in the Queen Anne Revival and Victorian Gothic architectural styles. When completed in 1884, it stood twelve stories with a high mansard roof and featured red brick, flower-ornamented iron balconies and 100 apartments. Innovative features included electricity, steam heating and hold and cold running water. There were three passenger elevators and two steam-powered freight lifts. The structure was grand, the tallest apartment building in NYC at the time, and quite different from the furniture store that had stood on the lot previously.

The interior originally had marble flooring that has been replaced with mosaic-tile floors today. There was also mahogany wainscoting and an elaborate fireplace and mantle in the lobby. There were three dining rooms for residents that were decorated with stained glass and carved gargoyles. A reception room had plush-and-velvet carpet and white maple. A central staircase was topped by a skylight and had art and photos lining the walls with marble stairs and iron railings. The first floor not only had this lobby, but there was a restaurant and four storefronts that included a barbershop, fish-and-meat shop, grocery and bakery. We're not sure what the original restaurant was, but in 1930 it became Batchelder's Restaurant  and then in 1955 it became the El Quijote and remains that today. The walls featured murals inspired by the book "Don Quixote" and had red-vinyl booths, marble terrazzo floor and chandeliers. The restaurant could originally seat 220 people, but it was greatly reduced in a recent renovation to just 65, so its an intimate dining experience now. The Chelsea added the Cafe Chelsea bistro in 2023.

The Chelsea started out as apartments and was one of the first apartment buildings to offer penthouses. This was a housing cooperative and many of these were meant to attract something other than the working class and several were built by Philip Hubert and called Hubert Home Clubs. This would be his most successful. Apartments ranged from 800 to 3,000 square feet with the penthouses featuring as many as 8 to 12 rooms depending on what source one uses. Bigger units were on the outside, while smaller units for unmarried residents were inside near the stairs and elevators. Every apartment had its own bathroom and most were ornately decorated with onyx and marble. Sixty-seven apartments had their own kitchens. Several apartments on the ten and eleventh floors were duplexes featuring living space on the first level and studio space on the second, so they were reserved for artists. There was no issue with filling the apartments. Two-thirds were owned by Chelsea Association stockholders and the other third were rented out and there was a long list of people waiting to get in. 

Things were good for several years, but the theater district moved away and houses were being built in northern Manhattan, attracting the middle-class further out and the 1893 economic crash hit the co-op hard. By the early 1900s, the Chelsea started accepting more short-term residents or visitors. It was officially converted into an apartment hotel in 1905 with 125 units. Some of the short-term guests that stayed here were survivors of the sinking of the RMS Titanic in 1912. The Co-op leased the hotel to Knotts Hotels in 1921 and this company split up some of the apartments and added kitchenettes to those that didn't already have them. They closed the dining rooms after that was completed. Knotts Hotels held onto the lease until 1941. Over time, more apartments were split and that left 300 rooms available.

In 1941, the Chelsea Association went bankrupt and the Chelsea Hotel Company bought the hotel and they hired a syndicate of Hungarian immigrants to run operations. They updated the electrical and plumbing and once it was reopened, it entered a bohemian era. The old glamour was gone as linoleum was laid for floors and the walls were painted and the skylight above the staircase was covered. By the 1960s, the neighborhood around the Chelsea was filled with cheap bars and low-rent office space. People started referring to the Chelsea as the Dowager of 23rd Street. Stanley Bard managed the hotel in the 1960s and he made a real effort to attract artists to the hotel. He was easy going and charged rent according to how much he liked a tenant. Stanley would accept artwork as payment and he would let residents combine apartments. It was during the 1960s and 1970s that rock musicians would start joining the artists at the Chelsea. By this time, there were 400 rooms and the interior was falling apart. The late 1970s, the hotel had an open brothel running and drug dealers running the hallways. Crime was rampant inside and fires broke out, one of which killed a resident in 1978.

The punk subculture arrived in the 1980s and the building continued to fall into decay, even losing a balcony that injured a couple of passersby. A third generation of the Bard family took over managing. From the 1990s to the early 2000s, most of the people staying at the Chelsea were long-term residents. In 2007, the hotel's board of directors ousted the Bards and BD Hotels were hired to manage the hotel. They opened a basement lounge and restored the ballroom on the 12th floor. Managing the hotel was really difficult with owners evicting tenants and tenants harassing management. BD Hotels was fired and Andrew Tilley was hired. He lasted seven months before quitting. The hotel was sold to Joseph Chetrit in 2011 and he prepared for extensive renovations. he bought the hotel for $80 million and got an $85 million loan for renovations. Residents were unhappy and filed several suits over the next two years. King & Grove Hotels managed the hotel and in 2016, BD Hotels was back. There were more lawsuits, more stalled renovations and no one could have imagined that eventually this building would become a luxury hotel. A soft re-opening took place in March 2022 and by mid-2022, the hotel was completely opened. There are still a few permanent residents living here, but most of the Chelsea is a regular hotel.

The list of famous creatives that have stayed here is lengthy. The journalist Pete Hamill characterized the hotel's clientele as "radicals in the 1930s, British sailors in the 40s, Beats in the 50s, hippies in the 60s, decadent poseurs in the 70s." The names of the famous include Mark Twain, Arthur Miller, Tennessee Williams, Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, Jackson Pollock, Andy Warhol, The Grateful Dead, Janis Joplin, Lou Reed, Dylan Thomas, William S. Boroughs, O. Henry, Thomas Wolfe, Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison, Leonard Cohen, Harry Smith, Sam Shepard, Patti Smith, Bob Dylan, Dee Dee Ramone, Dennis Hopper, Bette Davis, Jane Fonda, and Madonna. The Chelsea inspired many songs as well. There's Leonard Cohen’s song "Chelsea Hotel #2." One of the refrains goes, "I remember you well in Chelsea Hotel, You were famous, your heart was a legend, You told me again you preferred handsome men, But for me you would make an exception." The "you" he was singing about was Janis Joplin. Lou Reed wrote "Chelsea Girl" in 1967. Jefferson Airplane recorded "Third Week in the Chelsea" in 1971.  And there was also Joni Mitchell’s "Chelsea Morning." Andy Warhol shot the film "Chelsea Girls" at the hotel in 1966. Ethan Hawke directed "Chelsea Walls" in 2001. 

Dee Dee Ramone wrote the novel "Chelsea Horror Hotel" in 2001. The description of the novel reads, "Dee Dee Ramone doesn't quite know what he's getting himself into when he and his wife Barbara move into the Chelsea Hotel with their dog Banfield. The room he's staying in might be the very room where his old friend Sid stabbed Nancy. Dee Dee spends most of his time trying to score drugs and walking Banfield, with whom he can magically communicate. Meanwhile, he can't stand his neighbors and though he shies away from violence, he wishes everyone were six feet under. Dee Dee gets involved with the transvestite lover of one of his gay fellow addicts. When Barbara finds out, things get out of hand. All the while Dee Dee is tormented by the living and dead demons that plague the hotel, along with the ghosts of his old dead punk rock friends Sid Vicious, Johnny Thunders, and Stiv Bators. And that's when the Devil himself decides to join the party." 

Here's some crazy stories reported about the hotel. Composer George Kleinsinger wanted to turn his studio into a jungle so he imported twelve-foot trees from Madagascar and Borneo. He added exotic birds, a monkey and an eight-foot-long snake. Dancer Katharine Dunham liked to hold dance rehearsals in her studio and one day she decided she wanted to add some realism to her Aida rehearsal and she brought two full-grown lions up in the elevator. She was invited to get out of the hotel shortly after that. 

There is a lot of dark history and several deaths that have lead to Chelsea being haunted. The Chelsea’s dark history goes back to the early 20th century. In 1912, Titanic survivors were briefly put up there, given the hotel’s relatively close proximity to the Chelsea Piers. The New York Times reported in 1908, "WOMAN DIES IN HOTEL; TOOK DRUG FOR SLEEP; Miss Almyra Wilcox Leaves Affectionate Letter Telling of Her Sufferings. NOT SUICIDE, CORONER SAYS Believed She Was from Castleton, Vt. -- Had Jewelry, Furs, and Fine Clothing." Artist Frank Kavecky took his own life in 1909 after being robbed of funds belonging to the Hungarian Sick and Benevolent Society. A rich silk merchant's daughter named Etelka Graf cut off her hand with small sewing scissors and threw it under her bed and jumped from a fifth-floor window in 1922. She landed on a third floor balcony breaking her ankles and left arm. She survived. (Daily News From New York March 6, 1922)

Dylan Thomas was a Welsh poet. Many of the listeners are probably familiar with his poem "Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night": Do not go gentle into that good night, Old age should burn and rave at close of day; Rage, rage against the dying of the light." Thomas stayed in Apartment 205 on his last three visits to the United States. The final stay would be his last as Thomas collapsed outside the White Horse Tavern in New York’s Greenwich Village. Rumors claimed he had slammed 18 shots of whiskey, but that may not be what killed him. He was taken to the hospital and never came out of a coma and when he was admitted, he was suffering from pneumonia. The pathologist found three causes of death: pneumonia, brain swelling and a fatty liver. Playwright Arthur Miller was living at the Chelsea in 1962 when Marilyn Monroe died. Edie Sedgwick set her room on fire in 1967 while she was high on a speedball. Charles R. Jackson, author of The Lost Weekend, committed suicide there in 1968. A photographer named Billy Maynard was beaten to death in his room in 1974.

And then there was Sid and Nancy.  Sid Vicious was born as Simon John Ritchie in Lewisham, London in 1957. His father, John Ritchie, abandoned him and his mother Anne and she made money selling marijuana. In 1965, Anne married Christopher Beverley, but he died of kidney failure six months later. Anne and Sid moved around a bit. By 1973, Anne was addicted to heroin and Sid was attending Westminster Kingsway College and torturing and killing cats on the side. Sid was going by his middle name of John and he joined up with three other guys who were all named John to make a group named The Four Johns. It makes sense that they decided to take on nicknames to differentiate themselves. Sid was bitten by one of the John's hamster who was named Sid, so they started calling him Sid Vicious. That John's nickname became Johnny Rotten and another John became Jah Wobble. Johnny Rotten and Sid started busking for money and then in 1975, Rotten formed the Sex Pistols with Steve Jones, Glen Matlock and Paul Cook.

Sid co-founded the group Flowers of Romance in 1976. He was doing an assortment of drugs by this time. In 1977, he took the place of Glen Matlock in the Sex Pistols. It was said that "Johnny Rotten was the voice of punk and Vicious was the attitude." Vicious' first gig with the Sex Pistols was in April of 1977 and it was shortly after this that he met Nancy Spungen who was an American groupie living in London. She was also a heroin addict. Nancy made money as an exotic dancer and drug dealer and once she and Sid got together, it was nearly impossible to separate them. This wasn't a match made in heaven. The couple fought often and many times it became physical. Vicious often lived up to his name and beat her. There was a two-week US tour in January 1978 and Nancy was blocked from coming. The band broke up on January 14th and Vicious flew from San Francisco to New York on January 19th.  By the time the plane landed at JFK Airport, Sid was passed out in an alcohol and drug coma. He went to the hospital, got out and immediately hooked up again with Nancy. The two went to Paris and then London and returned to New York where they holed up in Room 100 at the Chelsea. Sid performed in a side band he formed and the couple continued their drug use. 

On October 12, 1978, Nancy was found stabbed to death in Room 100. The night before, Sid and Nancy had hosted a party in their room and Sid took enough drugs to leave himself comatose. Around 11am the morning of the 12th, Sid was wandering the hallways and Nancy was found dead on the bathroom floor with a single stab wound to her abdomen. The murder weapon was identified as a Jaguar K-11 hunting knife, a knife Nancy had bought for him a few days earlier. Sid at first confessed that he killed Nancy and later said that he couldn't remember what had happened. Later, he claimed that Nancy fell on the knife. Sid was arrested and charged with second degree murder. Nancy's murder remains a mystery today. The knife had been in plain view and could've been used by a party guest. Lawyers for Sid put forward the idea that Nancy caught a guest stealing their money from a drawer where they hid it. While out on bail, Sid tried slashing his wrists with a smashed light bulb and when that didn't work, he tried to jump out a window. 

As dysfunctional as his relationship was with Nancy, he really seemed to love her and just wanted to die so he could be with her. He did die on February 1, 1979 of a drug overdose. Sid's mother said the Sid and Nancy seemed to have had a suicide pact. She found a note in his leather jacket that read, "We had a death pact, and I have to keep my half of the bargain. Please bury me next to my baby. Bury me in my leather jacket, jeans and motorcycle boots. Goodbye." Sid couldn't be buried next to Nancy as she was buried in a Jewish cemetery. His mother asked if his ashes could be sprinkled on Nancy's grave and the answer from Nancy's family was a resounding, "NO!" Rumors claim that his mother sprinkled the ashes there anyway.

There seems to be many spirits walking the halls of Hotel Chelsea and with all that the building has witnessed, it is no wonder. A night security guard who worked in the building was named Timor. He shared a ghost story about a sex worker named Victoria who had died at the Chelsea from AIDS. She liked to dress like Betty Boop and wore her hair in a similar way. Shortly after Victoria passed, a woman staying in her former room asked Timor if she could get a different room. She told him that she had been looking in a mirror and saw Victoria staring back at her, Betty Boop bangs and all.

Another story goes back to the Titanic survivors who stayed at the Chelsea. One of them was a woman named Mary who lost her husband and she was very depressed about that. The story goes that she hanged herself on the fifth floor and now people claim to run into her on the western end of the building. Mary likes to look at herself in the mirror, so people have nicknamed her the Vain Ghost. The Chelsea Hotel Blog wrote in 2010, "On Sunday’s 'Celebrity Ghost Sightings' program on the Bio Channel, Michael Imperioli revealed that he had been visited by a ghost named Mary while staying at the Chelsea 14 years ago. This led us to wonder if anyone else had encountered Mary, apparently a rather old ghost, during their time at the Chelsea.  We asked one of our sources, a huge fan of the Chelsea who keeps up to date on all the happenings—past and present, natural and supernatural—at this deeply weird hotel, and it turns out she had already been contacted about the show.  She writes, 'Hi, folks. Someone who saw the television show about Mary the Chelsea Hotel ghost sent me this question: Do you know anything about the young woman named Mary that was living at the Chelsea? She lived on the 8th floor and hung herself when her husband died on the titanic. I guess she has been seen there. I forwarded it to the friend who visited the Chelsea -the one who spoke with the spirits there--and asked her whether she recognized this one. Here's her response: I think yes-she was in front of a mirror-checking out herself-mirror was not in this world-elaborate-she in hat with plume-hair large and Gibson girlish-she seeing if she was looking ok-and acting like we were disturbing her boring self absorbed nature...perhaps? I remember my friend describing this person at the time, on the 8th floor. Then, my friend said she was looking in the mirror forever--never stopping. She described her as very vain."

And here is what Michael Imperioli shared on Celebrity Ghost Stories: Michael Imperioli had lived in the Chelsea for two months when he had his paranormal experience. He lived on the 8th floor and he was riding the elevator up to it one night around three in the morning. He stepped off the elevator and noticed the light in the hallway was dimmer than usual. Michael said that he then heard the sobbing of a woman coming from the opposite direction so he turned around and looked at the end of the hallway and saw the figure of a woman in the corner kind of hunched over with her head down and she's crying. The woman was wearing a very long black dress that looked like something from a 100 years ago. He asked her if she was okay and then he heard a loud pop behind him. The light bulb in the fixture behind him had popped. Now half the hallway was dark. Michael turned back around and the crying woman was gone. After he told a couple neighbors about the incident, they told him about Mary and the Titanic. 

Nadia is another ghost that guests sometimes see roaming the halls. She had jumped from a window to her death. Nadia came from one of the rich families that lived at the Chelsea. Nadia met a good-looking songwriter and decided to elope with him. That man turned out to be an alcoholic and he eventually left Nadia alone with their two children. She came back to the hotel with her tail between her legs and begged her father to allow her to move back in. He said she could as long as she did chores around the house and got a job to help bring in money. Apparently, he must have been having money troubles? Nadia eventually couldn't take it anymore and ended her life. She's not only inside the hotel, but people sometimes she her on the sidewalk on 23rd Street and they know she's a ghost because she is transparent. There are stories on the Internet that mix Nadia's story with Etelka Graf and say this is the Severed Hand Spirit, but Graf didn't die.

Paula wrote in 2010, "I have stayed in the Chelsea pretty regularly (including a 3 month visit in late 2003). Of course you can feel the history of the place everywhere, but in August 2008, I stayed for a week. I had to move rooms for my last night, and was put in room 624. I could not sleep there; I could barely move or breathe. SOMETHING was in the closet. As I lie in bed in the middle of the night, I neither saw nor heard a ghost. But somehow I felt like there was something in that closet. In a half-dream state, a strange feeling came over me and suddenly I knew what the spirit was: A man, a writer, who had hanged himself in the closet and was FURIOUS at the Chelsea for not including him in the publicized list of artists who had died there. Around dawn, I tried to open the closet door and the knob would not turn; it was not broken - it was as if someone was holding it from the other side. I have done some research and come up with no info, but I will never forget that terrifying night. However, it hasn't scared me away from the best hotel in NYC.

Artist Jennifer Elise Schaperow reports, “There was definitely something going on, on the 10th floor. I could feel the energy. I’ve had some moments where my hair just stood up and I knew I had to run and get off that floor. One time [circa 1997], my roommate saw the ghost of a man standing in our kitchen in the middle of the night, around two in the morning. It was crazy. It scared me.”

Dylan Thomas might be haunting the place. Wales Online reported in November 2009, "A TERRIFIED tourist has reported seeing the ghost of Dylan Thomas – in the haunted New York hotel where he fell into his fatal coma. The horrified guest at the world-famous Chelsea Hotel, scene of the poet’s alcohol-fuelled final days, claimed she saw the poet’s bug-eyed head floating in front of her bedroom mirror. The guest’s chilling complaint, which followed a sleepless night punctuated by phantom footsteps and a creeping sense of fear, was posted on Chelsea Bloggers, a website dedicated to the 125-year-old inn. “I suddenly looked up and right in front of the bedroom mirror, I saw a head in mid-air,” said the woman, identified only as “Anna”, "The head seemed to grimace at me, and I will never forget the eyes staring me down, almost bug-eyed. The face seemed to be wearing some kind of theatre make-up, bright red lips drawn on very carefully, white face paint, and ear-length tightly coiled black hair. I have an idea of who this man was after looking at images of the famous that lived there and departed to the afterlife. The picture I observed made my stomach sink… it was the same face, that same grimace, and those same sad and large eyes. It looked like Dylan Thomas’s face.”

And Sid and Nancy have both been spotted in the hotel. Matthew Swayne's "Haunted Rock & Roll" pg. 102-104.

The Hotel Chelsea has been made new again and more than likely has lost much of its bohemian charm, but that doesn't mean that something from the past doesn't still remain. Is the Hotel Chelsea haunted? That is for you to decide!

No comments:

Post a Comment