One night in Rob Portman's haunted hotel

I pass a busy maid, who immediately spots my voice recorder and notepad.

"Are you a ghost hunter?" she asks me, and offers a word of caution.

"The doors to the TV case pop open all the time and it's not the latch," she warns. "Because I've had the maintenance man check the latch."

The phone in the haunted room doesn't work either—rarely does—and yes, the maintenance guy has checked that too.

I'll be mostly alone all night. There are only a few people staying in the entire hotel, including one person with me on the haunted floor who will be sleeping in "The Ronald Reagan Room" at the far end of a long hallway straight out of The Shining.

Supernatural advice

Before my trip, I spoke to ghost enthusiasts for tips on what to expect. I found Chris Woodyard, author of a series of books called Haunted Ohio, who appears to be the foremost expert on paranormal activity in the Buckeye State. Her main advice: Shut up and listen.

"I strongly discourage people from trying to deliberately communicate, but if you want to be open to her, that's fine," Woodyard told me when I asked about hearing from the girl's ghost. "If a ghost wants to talk to you, it will. You've probably seen these guys on TV shouting and taunting. That's just silly...If you believe there's actually a person there, then that's just plain rude."

It's helpful advice, because I was probably just going to shout aimlessly into the darkness until I scared myself anyway.

Staffers who refuse to step foot on my floor

Before the sky darkens, I settle into a table at the hotel restaurant, prepared to quiz the staff about their own experiences with the haunts of the Golden Lamb. My waitress shows me a hand with a nasty scar that stretches across three fingers, which were sliced open when a porcelain sink collapsed on her in the basement. She had just finished telling her colleagues about how all the ghost talk was hogwash when the sink came crashing down.

Now she's a believer. And she keeps her distance.

"I won't go upstairs, I won't go downstairs, I won't go in the tunnels, nothing," she says. "No, thank you. Everybody knows, they don't ask me any more because I'm not going."

By the end of my stay, I met three staff members who refused to venture to the top floor.

After dinner, De-De Bailey, the assistant general manager who has worked at the hotel for 35 years and who describes herself as "the largest skeptic" in the building, joined me for coffee to prepare me for the night ahead. She had her own unexplainable brush with the underworld when she was alone in one of the dining rooms a few years ago. Bailey swears she heard someone sigh behind her, but turned around to find no one there. Later that night, 40 glasses were destroyed when they suddenly fell from the cupboard and crashed onto the ground.

"I can't explain that one," she said.

Testing fate

It's time.

I'm alone, and it's past midnight on the top floor of the Golden Lamb. The handful of guests staying overnight have retired to bed. The night auditor sits by himself downstairs listening to piano music from the kitchen.

I sit, and wait.

Suddenly, the peace is broken by the sudden sound of Thump! Thump! Thump! above my head. It stops for a moment and then starts again. I had heard stories of past guests saying they hear footsteps in the same room. This must be it.

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