The Ghost of Park Avenue West

There is no place that is more quiet than a hotel on Sunday night after the holiday—when everyone has gone back to their hometowns. Talk about your silent night—all the anticipation is dissipated, all the hopes stilled. Life returns to the long, quiet now, the timeless soft pulse.

That is when the true surprises take place…when no one is looking, when no one expects anything.

The Familiar Haunts

When I got a job at Park Place Hotel in the 90s doing the front desk on graveyard shift, I didn’t realize that I would be joining an exclusive club of Downtowner Front Desk alumni, whose members occupied my position up to 30 years before I did.  Periodically someone would saunter up to the desk with a knowing look and casually let it drop that they, too, did desk clerk duty some number of years ago.

They were usually on their way to the bar in the back of the hotel, and not infrequently, they really didn’t need to be visiting another bar so they talked volubly of things that, under more sober conditions, might have been left unspoken. The conversation was polite and pending until sooner or later they came to the real point of the encounter: they asked me if I had seen the ghost.

The Downtown Motor Lodge went through a few names in its lifetime, and hosted quite a number of big-name acts through the years in the ballroom on the lower level.

When the hotel was built in the early 60s it was called the Downtown Motor Lodge, but we all called it the Blue Dolphin because of the sign out front, and even from the first day it opened there was a ghost who dropped into the Main Lobby around 2 AM.  She was said to have been from prior ages when the corner lot site on Park Avenue West was occupied by the home of the Weaver family.

No one knows exactly which Weaver person she was, or why she may have stuck around after her demise, but she was always seen to be dressed in the voluminous garments reminiscent of 19th century ladies apparel, and was most often seen in parts of the hotel that were closest to what would have been the front porch of the Weaver residence back in her time.

I always hoped I would see her. I wandered around that big old place when it was empty looking for her, talking encouragingly to the empty hallways like she might be just around the corner. But it never happened.

I’m not sure why I cared really—I suppose after all the whispered warnings about the ghost, I would feel slighted somehow if I didn’t see her. Seeing a ghost seems like one of those natural phenomena—like the geysers at Yellowstone—that you’re supposed to experience once in your lifetime while you still have a body.

To be honest I’m not really sure what the whole ghost thing is all about—I imagine it is just wanting to have some sort of tangible evidence that after we walk through the dark portal there is something—anything at all—on the other side. It is far too disappointing to think that this life is all there is; that this dinged up, patched together world we have is really only the best we could have done.

If life is fair at all then there have to be do-overs.

The Corner of Park Avenue and Sturges is where the home once stood of the Henry and Helen Weaver family.

Helen was descended of Richland County pioneers, and had a very civilizing influence in Mansfield: helping to initiate the first Public Library, and other cultural institutions.

It was often noted that her grace as a hostess was unparalleled, and through her doors walked all the brightest lights of local and state politics, addressing her committees for civic improvements.

Time Out of Joint

Everyone who reported seeing the Park Place ghost said she looked a little lost or confused.

If the ghost was Helen Weaver, then her disorientation is not difficult to imagine because the world outside the confines of her time and place is so drastically different now.

 In the 1880s through the 1920s, when she knew the corner of Park and Sturges, it was a lovely tree-lined brick road, and her home was an axis of graceful society receptions. How bewildered she must have felt when the rather ungraceful, bulky square Blue Dolphin supplanted the integrity of her realm.

Both of these photos (1911 & 2014) were taken in front of the Weaver home/Park Place Hotel.

Post Holiday

That year Christmas fell on a Friday. I always volunteered to work the holiday nights because everybody else wanted to be home and it didn’t mean that much to me. Christmas Eve, and Christmas were both very busy with out-of-towners come home; and then Saturday was extra boisterous at the bar with loud voices in palpable relief. By Sunday night the place was completely emptied out and quiet as a tomb.

I was watching a movie in the lobby about 2 AM when the phone rang, and as I strode quickly back to the desk I glimpsed a woman at the door to the stairs as I hurried past. That lobby door to the stairs had a window in it, and she was peering through, looking lost like she was searching for the ice machine. I’d certainly seen that look before on the faces of disoriented guests.

When I got off the phone I went to check on her to see if I could point her in the right direction, and suddenly remembered that there was no one checked in to the hotel. I was the only one there. And it dawned on me that I had finally seen Mrs. Weaver.

It is often true that the most significant moments in your life happen when you’re not paying attention.

Auld Lang Syne=Old Long Since

I went past that corner today and the air was just foggy enough to blur the lines of the streetscape. The Hotel is long gone, there is a grassy knoll and a piece of parking lot at Park and Sturges. Even with all that open space I still see the hulking mass of brick and glass leaning out over the street.

It’s like the ghost of an image, imprinted on the air as real in my mind as solid brick. And I wonder where Mrs. Weaver went when the hotel came down and this world moved on to the next version of our reality.

Time and the city are like a dream, with multiple decades superimposed one upon another. I guess that’s what a ghost is—just a dream that didn’t wake up.

All those hundreds of house-keeping maids, restaurant waitresses, kitchen help, bar tenders, and –most especially the front desk clerks– wonder where the ghost of the Downtowner hangs out today now that there are no more halls to haunt.

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