A Chilling Night in a Haunted Hotel
A lot of people come to the town of Jefferson, because of its history. Most come to the Jefferson Hotel, because of its haunted history. I know that now.
Don and I spent one memorable night in the 172-year-old building. It was chilling. Literally.
A Warm Welcome?
The owner Pam, seemed pleasant when I booked over the phone. We chatted about room options and I gushed with enthusiasm about staying in the curious/creepy Doll Room. I told her how eager I was to meet her and the hotel. But we never had a chance to visit in person.
There were lots of outside greeters when Don and I arrived on a balmy afternoon, last April. The giant metal knight and reclining sphinx won me over right away.
No People Greeters
We were also welcomed by an elephant lounging on a cart and some characters, perched above a door.
We headed to the main entrance, guarded by cement lions. The door was locked so I knocked... while a comical-creepy-eyeball-camera watched us from above. There was no answer, so I called Pam's number. She said she and her husband were out, but she'd send someone down.
Jam Packed Lobby
Minutes later the door opened, to reveal the face of Pam's father-in-law. There was a pause that made me half wonder if I would be asked for a password. (None needed) Richard opened the door and the lobby was revealed. I reacted with a sort of giddy gasp. This was my kind of wackiness! I glanced to the right corner and spotted a gargoyle lamp, a dragon, a hanging acrobat...
I looked left and spotted a somewhat playful religious display. Mary, Jesus, angel, clock... and an ornate confessional. Was this for fun? I was suddenly reminded of playing Communion as a kid, with Necco candy wafers. As an adult, it seemed I could play Confession, at The Jefferson!
Richard stepped behind the caged lobby desk and handed some paperwork through the opening. As he handed me a pen, I was jolted by the sudden sound of music coming from another room. Richard explained that his son Jeromy had rigged the player piano in the ballroom, to play at random times.
The ragtime piano made me laugh. I couldn't wait to meet Pam and Jeromy. I wanted to chat with these collectors of oddball treasures. I appreciated the sense of humor behind some of their clever displays. But when Richard asked me to sign the paperwork, I began to wonder. I skimmed the endless list of rules and thought, No patchouli or strong smelling essential oils allowed? No curling irons? No cooking or trashing the room? Did I actually need to be told that I would be charged for new linens if I threw up on them? Who wrote these rules?
I was glad that Richard offered us a little tour. We followed him down the first floor hallway. (Much brighter in my photos) I had so many questions! Richard pointed out numerous whimsical, curious and creepy objects. There seemed to be a story behind every item. But I found myself getting more curious about Richard's son and daughter-in-law, than all the stuff.
Jeromy and Pam, purchased the hotel during the pandemic. They'd been looking for a house to buy in the area, to hold all their collectables. They ended up buying a hotel instead. Where did they keep all this stuff before?
As we walked, Richard pointed out the carpet. "It's the same carpet that you see at the the Stanley Hotel... from The Shining." That wasn't nearly as curious as the idea that Jeromy and Pam bought this already haunted hotel and moved in with 2 of their 5 kids and ALL their treasures. Living in a hotel would be an adjustment for any kid. Living in a hotel full of ghoulish decor and stories of death? Not sure about that.
I was happy to wander and absorb as a visitor. I'm someone who loves antique stores and flea markets and kitschy stuff and even abandoned, creepy buildings. But I was happy not to be a resident. I was feeling a tiny bit overwhelmed by all the stuff. Maybe if other guests had been in and out, it would have felt different.
I asked if any other guests would be staying. Richard wasn't sure. (We saw none during our stay) Don and I were amused by the quirky-wacky museum atmosphere, but is that what lured other guests? It became clear from chatting, that most guests weren't like us, they were drawn here by the ghost stories! Ghost Hunter Guests. Is that a thing?
As we headed upstairs, I studied the candlesticks holding up the railing. Creative touch!
I turned back to take in the view of the loaded lobby. My eyes were suddenly drawn to the eyes of the man in the portrait, above the white and gold couch. Yep. Those eyes were moving. Love that little gimmick! More fun than scary.
There was a lot happening on those creaky stairs. The upside-down chimp reminded us with a sign, to watch our step. But he should have warned us to wear hard hats.
Luckily the rosaries dangling from the ceiling didn't drop. And what was with all the crosses and crucifixes? I wish I'd asked about all the religion that was tied into the decor. Exorcism maybe? Hope not.
There were 12 rooms upstairs. I believe 4 of them were being used by the family. What would it be like to be a kid living here? Would you ever have your friends over to hang out? I would rather be Eloise at The Plaza.
As we moved towards the rear of the building, I felt like I was in a carnival fun house.
I couldn't stop shaking my head and chuckling as I took in the sights around me. Every direction I turned, offered me a busy eyeful! It was like turning the pages of one of those "I Spy" books.
Every once in a while, I'd spot some nutty, oddball thing that reminded me of my own childhood home. My parents were antique collectors. We had lots of curious old masks and puppets. I'm also 65, so that meant I recognized many vintage toys, from my youth. My brother had a mechanical Charlie Weaver Bartender figure. He had ONE. I spied at least 4 in the cabinet.
I Spy Moment
My brain could only absorb so much. I let my eyes be drawn to the fun things, that connected me to my own past.
My favorite I Spy Moment, was when I noticed a wooden giraffe standing beyond a row of wooden seats. I had a giraffe just like it as a child. I remember hanging my pjs on the giraffe's lollipop tail.
Richard showed us stairs leading to the attic. I think he said something about using ghost hunting equipment, up on that third floor. Don and I weren't invited up there, but we weren't exactly ghost hunter guests. I was beginning to believe that maybe Don and I were the rare guests, who are more interested in history than horror.
I learned that Jeromy has made good use of his electrical engineering background, at the hotel. By combining technical skills with paranormal passions, he and Pam have worked to make, sell and rent their special equipment, like night vision cameras. They've welcomed many ghost-hunting experts and enthusiasts in their 1.5 years, in hotel biz. Interesting.
Many of the hall treasures were displayed in cabinets and cases. How did Jeromy and Pam acquire all these things? Suddenly I felt like we were spending the night in a Ripley's Believe it or Not Museum.
Richard was serious and soft spoken as he shared stories about objects and props. He also told stories about the ghostly encounters his family had experienced in the hotel.
Props from Films
There were quite a few "film stars" in the hall. Richard was eager to show us the doll, inside the giant gum ball machine. It had been in a slasher film called "The Funhouse". Haven't seen it.
High on a shelf, was a carving of 3 children. Their eerie expressions were almost spookier than the encased skull, below. The trio of heads had been been purchased in some Hollywood auction. Another prop, used in the movie, "The Haunting".
Faces Peering Out
Inside a popcorn machine, a red light glowed on some other movie prop. I hope someone will recognize it and tell me what it is. I couldn't absorb all the info Richard had to share.
A sad looking doll looked up through the glass, from a hole in the floor. This figure was no movie star. Jeromy and his daughter found her, when they were renovating a couple years ago. She was hidden beneath some floorboards and the name Rose was written on her back. Rose was put back in the floor, but she can see out now.
Surprises on Different Floors
My head was swimming with so much info, by the time we reached the room with the trapdoor. We were on the second floor and I was trying to make connections with what we'd seen on the first.
So the trapdoor, is connected to the hidden stairs, that are accessible through the wardrobe, that we saw in the downstairs hall? Oh my brain!
We'd seen a phone booth on the first floor. Richard had invited us to use the phone, to talk to the dead. We didn't try.
On the second floor we found a sneaky little viewing screen that Jeromy had rigged, so you could watch people in the phone booth below. There was a way to hear the person on the phone and speak back to them... and freak them out, I guess.
At the end of the hall was Room 19, the room with the most paranormal activity. Again, I don't even care or worry about that stuff.
But it was a little more worrisome to know that the wedding dress on display had belonged to Lydia, a young bride in 1912, who hung herself on the 12-foot high bed, after she was jilted. There are more stories of death related to this hotel, but this is the only one backed up by a newspaper story.
#7 Magic Showcase Theatre
We were able to peer into a few of the other rooms. The doors were open, but velvet ropes kept us from getting too nosy.
Room 7 seemed a lot happier than #19, unless you're scared of clowns. About half the population claims to be afraid of clowns. So not a happy room for them. I didn't get a photo of the Mirratorium Room, with 3 queen beds and about 100 mirrors. Who books a room like that? Maybe the kind of guests who need to be given a long list of rules about how to behave?
Room 14 Finally!
Eventually Richard showed us to our room. The lettering on the sign, made me feel like we were entering a magical little toy shop. The objects that greeted us outside the door were magical all right.
The smiling Eddie Doll inside the glowing cabinet, looked like he might just jump out of that case. The bonnet-wearing-babe on the tricycle, looked harmless. But she had been a bit rigged. If you stood and watched her long enough, her head turned with a surprise jerk! Doll magic at work!
Don and I stepped inside, where we were suddenly surrounded by 4 Pepto-Bismol-pink walls and over 100 dolls. Before Richard left, he told us to feel free to move the dolls around if we liked. I laughed at that suggestion.
Richard stood there a minute while I hooted over this doll and cringed over that doll. I cracked up when I spotted the doll standing with her face in the "corner" of the bed. "Oh she's been a bad girl." Richard said. With a hint of a smile. Yikes.
Richard left us to enjoy our room. The first doll we moved, was the door-guarding doll on roller-skates. She was in our way.
Then I slowly closed the door and turned to react with Don. "Holy cow! This is SO MUCH CRAZIER than I expected! The internet pictures didn't come close..."
Just Us and the Dolls
It was nice to be alone and take in our surroundings, without anyone watching. (except those dolls) We looked and laughed and shook our heads. Our little 181-sq-ft room, was filled with about 150 faces.
The doll on the horse was probably the friendliest. There were more sober faces than smiling faces. But even smiling dolls look scary when they're hanging upside down.
There were a number of angry dolls and at least 4 that appeared to be ventriloquist's dummies.
There were dolls in weird places. One was in a little bed, jutting out from the wall. A little tot was swinging above us, on the light fixture.
A laughing doll was attached to the inside of the bathroom door. A Chatty Cathy doll climbed across the ceiling. That made me laugh, because I had one as a kid. She talked, but she had no climbing skills.
There was a sickly doll, that I can't explain. Over the doorway, a babydoll with dollhead-hands, burst through an old frame. Clever and terrifying.
Don & the Bad Girl
I continued to examine each doll, while Don took a break to ease his healing back. (fracture issues) I paused from "admiring" the dolls, so I could admire my incredibly sweet hubby, surrounded by dolls. He is such a good sport.
Weeks before when I had told Don about The Jefferson, he'd been such a trooper. "Sure! Why not?" I can't think of anyone else who would have done this hotel/doll room adventure, with me. Even with a bad back Don was game. But his smile didn't last long, when he turned and noticed "The Bad Girl" doll nearby. He frowned and stood up to move the doll to a more honorable place in the room. "Did you notice that the Bad Girl doll is black?" He asked. Disturbing.
After a short while, we stopped focusing on the dolls. We were tired and the room was just plain uncomfortable. There was only one chair and I had to move dolls to sit. Then Don announced what I'd already noticed. "It's freezing in here!" There was no thermostat, so I headed for the window. But I couldn't get to it, with all the dolls.
I hunted for an extra blanket, but found the closet and dresser drawers empty. Except for a pair of men's underwear. I'm not kidding on that. I was not amused.
Where to Sit?
I left Don in the refrigerated room and searched the hotel for a warmer place to hang out, before dinner. There was a lovely throne in the downstairs hall.
There were chairs around a Monopoly table. But they didn't look ideal for a man with a back fracture.
Crystal Palace Ballroom
All was quiet in the hotel while I explored. The ballroom actually looked pretty bright and inviting. The French chandalier and the German stained glass panels were impressive.
If only we'd had friends in town, we could have had a quick party. The ballroom rents for 50 dollars an hour on weeknights. Bargain!
The painted walls were curious, with blue sky and puffy clouds.
The player piano was quiet as I passed. But I could see the music sheets, suspended to the ceiling. Another Jeromy creation.
Activity Near the Tree!
It was about 5:30 when I heard a little activity near the front of the ballroom. The door to the right of the giant tree opened.
Suddenly Jeromy and Pam entered from the street, carrying a few loads from their car. They acknowledged me, but never paused from their work to chat. I raved about the doll room and gushed about all the surprises. Suddenly I felt like a teen hoping to get an autograph. There wasn't going to be a conversation. They were focused on their new purchases and I was sort of in their way. I moved on, without mentioning the cold room.
I dashed upstairs and headed down the hall, past the rooms that belong to the family and I found the veranda. Ahhh! A blissful 80 degrees.
I got Don and we grabbed drinks and cheese from the car.
We sat on the metal glider and thawed out. Stepping outside gave my brain a chance to recover for a bit. Without all the stuff, we were able to relax and wonder about this old building, back when it had been a cotton warehouse 170+ years ago.
What was this place like, when it became a hotel in 1910? How about when it was a funeral home or a speakeasy or a brothel? It even held a roller rink at one time. I love old buildings and historic hotels. It was good to thaw out and appreciate again.
Don and I found a great Irish pub for dinner. We returned after dark, feeling much more positive. We stepped inside and I saw one of the teenagers asleep on the lobby couch.
We passed by the Crystal Ballroom and could see it had become the family hang out for the evening. The big screen above the stage was showing an episode of Ghost Hunters. Lights from a disco ball, danced around the room. I wish I'd been brave enough to snap a photo of the odd scene. But I did greet the family when they looked up. There were no invites, but it was tempting to ask, "Do you mind if we sit on your pews and watch with you a while? Our room is freezing!" Or I could have gone further with stories of the underwear... or thin bedding or no cups in the bathroom. But we just escaped upstairs.
We opened the door to Room 14 and a blast of chill nearly knocked us over. I begged Don to let me go complain or at least get hot coffee. But Don was ready to just crawl under the covers and let morning come.
I headed for the bathtub and turned on the hot water. Suddenly nothing amused me anymore.
I didn't find the head at the base of the toilet, at all comical. The mouth spurting water into our sink didn't get a laugh from me either. I was just annoyed.
Mermaid & TV
The heated water warmed the space slightly. Don grabbed the remote from the crocheted doll and got the TV working for a while. The internet was too poor for success with Fire Stick.
Then I remembered the mermaid doll I'd bought at a gas station the day before, in anticipation of our stay. At the time, I thought it would be a playful surprise for the housekeeper or owners, when they discovered an additional doll after we left. I had lost my playful humor, but I tossed the doll in the tub for a photo. But I didn't leave it behind. No one earned my silly mermaid joke.
I'm a hot sleeper, but I wore socks and sweats to bed. I ignored the doll staring at me when I turned off the light. These dolls weren't scary or funny anymore. I was too cold.
We woke before 6 and threw on our clothes. I had Don take a photo of me with roller-skate doll before we tiptoed out of the room. The website says there are 50 security cameras in the hotel. I wonder if those cameras captured our expressions as we headed out, rolling our sleepy eyes.
The hotel was full of curious and creepy surprises. I was game for that. I didn't expect a comfy bed or a Keurig coffee maker. The icy cold room wasn't even the real problem. We could have confronted them about that. But the whole stay felt confusing. We were enthused and delighted guests at first. But before long, we felt like we were imposing guests, who had invited ourselves into someone's home. They were putting up with us.
Maybe on another day, things would have felt more positive. Maybe on weekends, they put on their hosting hats and engage a bit. Or maybe if we'd been eager ghost hunters wanting to rent equipment...
Well, we just won't know because we won't be trying this one again. Glad we went. Glad I slept in a doll room once. Glad Don and I can laugh about it now. But no need to return.
My New Year's Resolution for 2014 was to start documenting some of the memorable overnights I've had in some very odd and curious motels and hotels. Like the adventures in my Dining Blog, I have learned to enjoy the surprises that happen when you step out of the comfort zone, far away from the well-known chains.
I began with a few entries recalling my very first home away from home memories from my youth. Then, I started sharing about some of the quirky and unforgettable motels, hotels and inns that my husband and I have discovered in recent years.
The best part about this challenge was making some lists with Don and getting on the road in search of new overnight adventures. I gave myself a 2-year goal to write up 90 stories and the goal was met. Now we just keep on adding!