Tuesday, August 20, 2013

The Biltmore Hotel

The Biltmore Hotel is a Jazz-age luxury hotel in Coral Gables, built in 1925 with a gala opening in January 1926. In its glory days, it hosted such luminaries as the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, Ginger Rogers, Judy Garland, Bing Crosby, and Al Capone (when he wasn't staying at the Don CeSar). President Franklin D. Roosevelt even had a temporary White House office set up there for his vacation trips. Johnny Weissmuller, the actor best known for portraying Edgar Rice Burroughs' Tarzan, gave swimming lessons to tourists in the hotel's jaw-droppingly huge swimming pool.

Unfortunately, during World War II, the War Department turned the hotel into the Army Air Forces Regional Hospital, and in so doing sealed most of the windows with concrete, and covered the lavish marble floors with crappy government-issue linoleum. After the war, the military kept its clammy grip on the place, and it remained a veteran's hospital until 1968. From there it languished as an abandoned building, but saw much use as a spooky shooting location for movies and television.

In 1987, the Biltmore was restored to its original splendor as a 5-star hotel, and remains so to the present day. But in the intervening years, numerous legends have accrued about the place being haunted. This is probably in part due to the creepy look the place took on during its stint as an abandoned hospital (much in the vein of the probably-not-really-all-that-haunted Waverly Hills in Louisville). It may also be that less-than-attentive wannabe-ghostbusters are confusing it with that other Biltmore Hotel in Providence, Rhode Island - the one that was designed by Satanist Johan Leisse Weisskopf and partially inspired Stephen King's Overlook Hotel in The Shining. And then there's the allegedly haunted Biltmore Estate in North Carolina. Be that as it may, there's a story now often told about a "Woman in White" ghost - supposedly of a woman who committed suicide jumping from a tower window - and the ghost of mobster Thomas "Fatty" Walsh, who was murdered on the hotel’s 13th floor in 1929.

Malarkey or not, the local "ghost tour" types are having a field day running with the legend, and to them and their legends I say, enjoy.

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