"When I'm asked 'Are you afraid of the dark?', my answer is 'No, I'm afraid of what is in the dark.'" - Barry Fitzgerald
I broke my toe. Now, I realize that isn't a very sophisticated beginning to this month's GroveZine, but it's been a constant problem this month, and probably has occupied my thoughts as much as anything else. Prolonged pain has a way of grabbing your attention! Yep, I broke my toe. Over the course of my life, I've probably stubbed a toe a thousand times - occasionally very hard, and I've yelled "Ouch! I think I broke my toe!" (or some more colorful, descriptive phrase). This month I came to understand that I'd probably never actually broken a toe before. This time, I definitely did.
We'd made a quick trip to Eureka Springs, Arkansas, for a few nights at one of our favorite haunted hotels, The Crescent. The room had a heavy, period-type bed, and you can see the bottom of a bedpost in the photo. One morning on the trip I'd just gotten out of the shower and was walking around the bed, when I stubbed my toe on the base of the bedpost. It hurt... and I mean it hurt BAD. When I looked down at my right foot, my fourth toe - the one next to my little toe, the one that equates to the "ring finger" of my hand - was sticking out at a very weird angle. After the feeling went from blinding pain to a heavy ache, my next thought was, "Wow, my toe looks really weird - I have to take a picture of this for the GroveZine!!!" My wife assured me that a photo of my displaced toe would be in terribly bad taste and would freak out half the readers, so I instead just snapped a picture of the bedpost... and then moved the toe back into place.
I went online to see what could be done - they do have an E.R. at Eureka Springs, after all - but all the online sources said that for one of the small toes, there's not a workable protocol. We just went to the store and bought some first aid tape, and I taped it to the toes on either side. I've been wearing it like that for a couple of weeks now, watching my foot turn from a greenish blue, to purple, and finally back to normal. Sort of.
It's been an experience that I don't want to repeat, so I'll be more mindful to wear my house shoes when I'm navigating rooms with furniture that I'm not used to... because... I broke my toe!
And now, the curse of Diamond Bessie... this book may never be finished! As you know, I announced my new book Diamonds and Death: The Tragic Tale of Diamond Bessie Moore a month or so ago. After a couple of delays because new information kept popping up, it was finally finished, edited, and just days away from being ready to go. I was at the museum last week for a meeting (I'm on the board), and we have a huge walk-in vault there that's full of photographs, papers, and historic things that just need to be sorted through. One of the other board members was getting a photograph out of the vault, and he came out carrying two notebooks, legal-size, about 2" thick each. He said, "Did you know that these were in there?" I looked at them and they were all sorts of legal documents about the Abe Rothschild trial - subpoenas for the witnesses, indictments handed down by the grand jury, etc. I'm pretty sure that I've seen most of those things, but I had to be sure... so I've stopped publication of the book (again), and I'm going to spend the next few days in the archive room of the museum seeing if there's any new information in there that I didn't already have. This book is driving me crazy... but I hope that the end result will be worth it!
I mentioned one of our favorite hotels, the Crescent, a little earlier. For this month's ghost stories, I want to focus on another one of our favorite hotels, the Excelsior House here in Jefferson... specifically, the Jay Gould room there. To begin with, my wife and I have always been aware of Jefferson - after all, we both grew up about an hour from here in a little East Texas town called Hooks. We even used to play Jefferson in High School football. We never knew about its history & beauty, however. After college, we were living in the Dallas area and in 1995 we were looking for a little weekend getaway, and someone suggested Jefferson. We also saw an article about it in the Dallas Morning News, so we decided to pay a visit to our old football rival... we immediately fell in love with the place.
The Morning News article was titled There Were Ghosts Among the Hotel Guests, and it was written by columnist Kent Biffle about a friend's stay in Excelsior Hotel's Jay Gould room. His friend woke up in the night and had to go to the bathroom. Once he was inside, he shut the door, and then reported: "I noticed that the door was starting to open slowly. I shut it, and it latched firmly. Later, when I returned to the door, I found I couldn't turn the knob. Something or someone was apparently gripping it on the other side, tightly. I called to my wife, 'Come on - very funny!' The pressure let up and the knob turned easily. I flicked off the light as I opened the door. Across the room, standing beside the bed was the figure of a woman dressed all in black, with a black veil. For one split second, I thought it was my wife, but she was in bed, wearing a white nightie. The apparition vanished. I became aware of the scent of perfume in the room. I stood for a moment, slightly shaken, but then got into bed and lay there wondering."
He went on to say, "I awoke to the odor of cigar smoke. I heard what sounded like someone riffling newspaper pages. I sat up, but didn't see anything. The sound stopped. Next came a knocking sound from the headboard near my head. Then I heard fingernails being dragged across the headboard, right above my head. I did go back to sleep - and woke up again to noises in the bathroom. I even heard the toilet flush. I reached over, and my wife was still beside me. The knocking resumed, this time quite persistent. I really thought I was beginning to lose my marbles. I drifted off to sleep again."
The next morning they went down to the front desk and he told the desk clerk about his experiences, and she turned to another employee and said, "These folks had visitors in the Gould Room last night." The clerk went on to say that her son, who also worked at the front desk, had once heard a guest's report of a woman in black rocking in the rocking chair with a baby. He accompanied the guest back up to the room, opened the door, and witnessed the apparition for a moment before it faded. Her son told her that when the figure vanished, the chair continued its ghostly rocking for a few seconds.
Steven Spielberg is probably the most famous person to have an experience in the Jay Gould Room. He and a couple of companions were traveling across East Texas in the 1970s scouting locations for his movie Sugarland Express, and spent the night at the Excelsior House; Spielberg had the Gould room. He said that when he got into the room, he felt a disturbing feeling that someone was standing behind him and looking over his shoulder. As he walked around the room, he stepped into an area that was ice-cold within the otherwise warm room. He had other experiences in the room, and at 2AM, rounded up his friends and said, "We're leaving!" They drove twenty miles to Marshall, Texas, and checked into a modern hotel, even though his friends were upset with him for upsetting their evening's sleep. Spielberg told the story to reporter John Anders of the Dallas Morning News, and discussed it again with Bianca Jagger and Andy Warhol during an 1982 interview for the Atlanta Journalism.
After all this information, of course my wife and I were excited about our trip, so we booked the Jay Gould room at Excelsior House, and headed for Jefferson. The first thing that we did was to take the guided tour of the hotel, which was led by a young lady who appeared to be a local high school student. It was an informative tour that we really enjoyed, and when we got to the Jay Gould room upstairs where we would be spending the night, our guide pointed out the rocking chair in the room. "One day I was going through the rooms before check-in time to make sure they were all ready, and when I opened the door of this one, that chair was rocking by itself, just like someone was sitting in it!"
When we went to bed, I positioned myself so that I could see the chair perfectly, and would hopefully wake up if some unseen person started rocking in it. All that happened the first night was that we got a great night's sleep. No apparitions, no chairs rocking, no cigar odors, nothing. Still, it was a nice room. What happened the next night was a little more interesting, though. To make a long story short, we encountered a mysterious cloud of perfume that was walking up and down the hallway downstairs. If you want to read the detailed account of our experience, click on this link.
After our trip, we read another account by a lady named Lexie Palmore, who owned the Graceful Ghost steamship on Caddo Lake with her husband for a number of years. She had stayed at Excelsior prior to moving to the area, just like we did, and told journalist Jim McMillen about her experience at the hotel. As Mr. McMillen pointed out, Lexie has the credentials for logic and no-nonsense thinking... she is beyond impeachment. She is an artist, has owned a museum and a steamship, and is the only woman in the nation credentialed to pilot a steamship on the Mississippi River. In fact, she was a professional pilot on the Delta Queen on the Mississippi and Ohio rivers. When she came to Jefferson from her then-home in Tyler, though, she stayed at Excelsior while in town... and had an interesting encounter in the Jay Gould room.
She reported, "During the night something happened that was very realistic. There was a man standing by my bed. He was wearing a kind of coat and clothes they wore back in the late 1800s. He had a beard, and he was standing over my bed. I don't really know how tall the guy was. He was standing there, just standing, wearing a hat. There wasn't a whole lot to be seen as far as a face. If he hadn't had a beard, if he had been clean-shaven, I could say something, but the face was pretty much indistinct. I wasn't really afraid. Normally that would terrify me - some strange man, standing by my bed. If it was a real man he could hurt me. I would normally be sweating bullets. But it wasn't a real man, it was a spirit, and I was not afraid. You know, the most strange thing about it was that it didn't scare me. That night at Excelsior Hotel, I became a person with a ghost experience. A man from out of the past, from long ago, stood at the foot of my bed and looked at me."
To wrap up this discussion on the Jay Gould room, we had a couple who visited Jefferson at the end of the month - technically, the first few days of July, I guess - and came to The Grove for the Sunday tour. After it was over, they began to share their experiences in the Jay Gould room with me, and I asked if I chould pass them on to the GroveZine readers - I knew that you folks would love to hear it. They were kind enough to not only allow that, but to email me their experiences in their own words. So here's an Excelsior story that happened just a few days ago...
My wife and I were looking forward to spending the Fourth of July Weekend in Jefferson. The charm and history of Jefferson invariably provides a weekend full of variety; in particular we were eagerly anticipating our first stay at The Excelsior Hotel and spending the night in the Jay Gould Room. Most of you are probably aware that movie producer Steven Spielberg was not able to make it through the night in the Jay Gould Room.
Our weekend adventure started with a tour of the beautiful and immaculately furnished House of the Seasons. We were the only ones on the tour, so we heard information that a large tour may not hear. There were ample photographic opportunities. Upon completion of the tour my wife was reviewing the photos. A black and white photo of the exterior of the home with a silver frame around the picture was in the set. My wife had not taken any black and white photos and does not have an app that would add a frame to a photo. The photo then disappeared from the set. I mention this because it will be important later on the trip.
At this point, we checked into The Excelsior and proceeded upstairs to the Jay Gould Room. When we arrived at the room, the door was open. We looked at the nicely furnished room and left our luggage. We then embarked on antique shopping, an excursion on the Graceful Ghost Steamboat tour of beautiful Lake Caddo, a delicious catfish dinner at The Big Pine Lodge, and for the finale, the spectacular firework show in Jefferson. Our son, his new fiancé (He proposed to her before the fireworks show) and one of their friends accompanied us that afternoon and evening.
After the fireworks show, we invited the young adults to see the Jay Gould Room at The Excelsior. Interestingly, when we arrived at the room, our son’s fiancé and his friend stepped inside the room and immediately stepped out. They reported a bad scent and an oppressive, negative feeling inside the room. No one else detected this. They said goodbyes and we settled in for the evening and made preparations to go to sleep. The room had two double beds; we selected the one next to the windows. I was on the side towards the center of the room; my wife was on the side next to the windows.
My wife immediately fell asleep. I didn’t sleep for a while and was aware of a presence. It was not menacing, but it didn’t feel friendly. I would feel chills then being really hot. I have read several of Mitchel Whitington’s books and reminded myself that most visits are friendly. I finally fell asleep and experienced some disturbing dreams. One had an image of a lady, with the side of her head with a deformation. I wasn’t aware until chatting with Mitchel later on Sunday, that Diamond Bessie was shot in the head. My sensation was I would not be harmed while awake, but something could get to me in my dreams. At that point I switched sides of the bed with my wife. I immediately felt a sense of relief. My wife was then having a very restless sleep on the side I was previously on. We both then slept until sunrise.
She reported after having changed sides, on four occasions having the sensation of someone running their hand through her hair. She said it felt like a vortex of unfriendly, threatening spirits were in the room. The descriptor was that every spirit in Jefferson had congregated in the room. She saw faces and images. She mentioned if I had not been there she would have left the room. The daylight was a welcomed sight for her.
We were discussing the night’s events. I mentioned the image of the lady I saw in the dream. She said that was one of the images she saw in the room. When I went in the bathroom that morning, I noticed the mirror had a silver frame, exactly like the one in the photo of the House of the Seasons. She reported the night before that the bathroom mirror was too high for her to use, the next morning it was at a level in which she could use it (the mirror had not been moved, and her barefoot height had certainly not changed...). It was an eventful night. It appears that the closer a person is to the center of the room, the more activity one experiences. Her comment was she would never stay in the Jay Gould Room again. As we were leaving the room, we passed by the Lady Bird Johnson Room; the door was open so we went inside. The room was very nicely furnished and felt open and refreshing, a stark contrast from the Jay Gould Room.
We ended our weekend in Jefferson with a tour of The Grove. Mitchel was a very gracious host; he provided an informative and entertaining presentation of the history of The Grove and the supernatural occurrences. It was a nice end to the weekend. If you have not toured The Grove, it is a must do in Jefferson. That is a brief synopsis of our Fourth of July in Jefferson. Every trip offers new insights and additional adventures for future trips. Hopefully one day, we will live in a historic home in Jefferson, and be able to have our own Jefferson adventures and stories.
I hope that you enjoyed this "Jay Gould room" edition of the GroveZine. I would actually love to stay there again, because we haven't in so many years (you never think of staying at a hotel in your home town). Not that I haven't been there - just a week or so ago I pulled up to Excelsior House and got out of the car, when a couple of my friends, Bob Avery and Chuck Spencer, called me over. "You showed up at just the right time!" they said. Like me, they are husbands of ladies in the local Garden Club, who actually own the hotel. It turned out that the bathroom of the Jay Gould room was being remodeled, and they needed help carrying the toilet components up the stairs. With a little effort, we got the new fixtures into the room, and the contractor took over and gave the bathroom a first class overhaul. I love the Excelsior House Hotel, and especially the Jay Gould room!
Here's what's coming up around Jefferson...
7/30-8/9/2015 - Country Music Concerts... Texas Sounds International
8/15/2015 - Jefferson 4th Annual Civil War Symposium
8/22/2015 - Jefferson Gun & Knife Show
9/12/2015 - Classic Car Show
10/9-10/11/2015 - The Original Bigfoot Conference 2015
10/9-10/11/2015 - Burn Run Benefit Bike Rally
11/7/2015 - History, Haunts & Legends Fall Paranormal Conference
12/3-12/5/2015 - Jefferson's Candlelight Tour of Homes
1/22-1/24/2015 - Quilts on the Bayou annual quilt show
...and much more throughout the coming year!
In the last GroveZine I mentioned the annual History, Haunts & Legends fall conference on November 7. Like I said before, there's an incredible slate of speakers, as you may have already seen on Facebook, and the conference promises to be a very enjoyable day. It is a great opportunity for a paranormal weekend in Jefferson - book a haunted room at the Claiborne House, the Delta Street Inn, the Excelsior House (maybe even the Jay Gould room), or the Jefferson Hotel; come to the conference held all day on Saturday; attend the investigations on Saturday night; and then come tour The Grove on Sunday morning at 11. It's the perfect chance for a ghostly weekend in Jefferson... come join us, but start making your plans and reservations now!
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