Just before Christmas, Davenport Hotel bellman Michael Peterson felt something while he was helping a guest to his room. "I was pulling a heavy bell cart," recalls Peterson. "Suddenly, it was being pushed by someone. I felt the biggest chill up my back. I was just spooked."
Peterson remembers exactly where he was on the night he was visited by a ghost. "I was on the East Wing of the 10th floor, on my way to room 1015," says Peterson. "I've gone back to that spot, trying to figure out what happened. I don't normally believe in ghosts, or anything, but I believe something was there."
Our ghosts are playful," laughs Tom McArthur. After hearing Peterson's story, he invited me to spend New Year's Eve at the Davenport to see and hear all the ghost stories. "As an official spokesperson of the hotel, I can never say, 'We have ghosts or don't have ghosts,'" says McArthur. "But based on what enough people have told me, we might."
The evening begins with McArthur telling me about some of the history of the hotel. "Your visit is well-timed," says McArthur. "Ninety years of human history are in this building. You're here on a bookend: Our first New Year's celebration began on the last day of December in 1914."
Since the Davenport reopened in 2002, one story has been told more than others. "A woman walks through the mezzanine in vintage 1920s dress," McArthur relays. "I didn't pay much attention to the story until we found an article from the 1920s in the Spokesman-Review. It reported that a woman walked through some doors, out unto the lobby skylight and fell to her death."
Not all the ghost stories being told by Davenport employees have such obvious connections to people from the past. Maintenance worker Harvey Hudson remembers being on the fourth floor one night.
"I heard a loud noise, and saw that a terrace door had flown wide open," says Hudson. "I walked out. There was nobody there. It wasn't a windy night." Hudson was spooked. The terrace door that had flung open was made with heavy metal and glass, and was latched. "There's no way that door could've opened by itself," says Hudson. "I'm a grown man, but I didn't go back there for a week. I can't explain it. It gave me goose bumps."
Kara Trail, the supervisor of the flower shop, was getting the hotel ready for Christmas one evening. She walked into a completely empty ballroom late one night. "Suddenly, I felt really creepy and noticed there was dead silence," she says. "Then I heard a shuffling sound. I looked at the curtains, but they were fastened at top and bottom -- not moving. Later a coworker told me, 'Oh, that was just people dancing.'"
"We believe strongly in ghosts here," says Sharon Hunter, one of four concierges at the hotel. "I haven't had the visit for some time, but in my first year and half, every single shift I would feel like somebody was approaching." Hunter remembers having this strong sense she should look up, which she would do. Nothing. "Always I would feel a presence around me, almost like a shadow," says Hunter, who believes now "it might've have been Mr. Davenport" encouraging her to pay attention to approaching guests.
And that's just where many of these ghost stories seem to end up. According to the legend of the hotel, Louis Davenport once said, "I never want to leave here." In 1951, he died in his beloved hotel that was already past its prime. In 1967, his wife Verus died in the same suite. Even though Suite 1105 has new dry wall, wiring and plumbing, the physical space where the Davenports died is still there.
"Construction workers and electricians were working on the 11th floor before the hotel opened," says McArthur. "The windows were sealed and closed. There was no cross breeze. One of them said, 'Isn't this where the Davenports had their personal suite?' At that moment, the wiring started swinging to and fro." McArthur claims the workers told him "It couldn't be explained, the timing was so coincidental, as if to say: 'Yes.'"
There have also been stories from guests who have stayed in Suite 1105. "A year ago tonight, a couple from Alaska told us they'd been down with their noisemakers a the New Year's Eve party," says McArthur. "When they retired to their room, they put the noisemakers on the counter, only to awake in the morning and find them on the floor. They put them back on the counter and went to breakfast. When they returned, the noisemakers were back on the floor. A third time they put them on the counter and went shopping downtown. When they returned, the maid had cleaned their room, and it was spotless, except that the noisemakers were back on the floor."
There are also stories coming from the basement, at the elevator landing just outside Spa Paradiso, where the old Barber Shop used to be. Various staff members have reported seeing a gentleman dressed in formal attire with what appears to be a white towel hanging over his arm. Thinking he's lost, they get up and head toward the glass doors that look out towards the elevator. By the time they open the doors, he's gone.
"If you understand the history of the hotel, his appearance makes sense," says McArthur. "In the old days, many who stayed in the hotel were rich enough to have their own butler. The servants would make sure the master was served, then retire to their room in the basement. This formally dressed butler might've been looking for a familiar space, waiting to be called by his master who has long since left the building."
McArthur believes Louis Davenport's "legacy of supreme hospitality" is what really haunts the building, but he holds open the possibility that something supernatural is also at work. "The law of physics says energy is neither created nor destroyed," he says. "If you believe that, where does all this human energy go? Maybe it's still alive, in this same physical space that has all this human history."
Publication date: 1/06/04