The Jefferson Hotel — Research Road trips

The Jefferson Hotel opened on Halloween night in 1895. With towering marble columns decorated with intricate fruit and a alligator pond by reception, the posh hotel was anything but typical. From the gentleman’s lounge and smoking room, to the soaring ceilings and stained glass every detail of the property spoke of Victorian splendor. I was lucky enough to spend a romantic weekend at the recently restored Jefferson, a weekend that quickly became a research road trip.

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After a recent renovation the historic property replaced the live alligator pond with marble alligator statues.

If you ask the front desk staff or the concierge they’ll tell you there are no ghosts at the Jefferson. Oddly they all use the same phrase “Isn’t it a shame? Ghosts would be fun.” The repetition seemed forced and when I caught a younger employee on break I learned why. Employees are strictly prohibited from speaking about the ghosts, which can cause a problem for guests.

Six years after the hotel opened bad wiring lead to a fire that nearly consumed the building. While the press reported no fatalities, ghost stories from the sixth floor seem to indicate otherwise. Or perhaps the ghosts come from the March 1944 fire which claimed six lives? In either case, guests report footsteps running up and down the halls, the sound of childish laughter, and televisions that turn themselves on and off in the middle of the night. The staff member I talked to experienced all of these things, each accompanied by the acrid smell of smoke.

The Grand Ballroom hosted hundreds of parties and cotillions. It remains a popular wedding location in the modern era. Apparently one party guest refuses to leave. A security guard described the specter as a tall, thin woman wearing her hair up and a dress with a full skirt. The uninvited guest appears in the early morning hours. She can be seen clearly in the mirrors on the far side of the room, but disappears when the guard walks to where she would be standing.

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The Grand Ballroom’s mirrors, no ghost lurking in this photo. (That I can see.)

There was one ghost story that the employee I spoke to refused to support. A famous comedienne recently claimed to see the ghost of a female slave in one of the hotels guest rooms. The employee pointed out that the hotel was built long after the end of the civil war, so clearly that ghost isn’t real. I’d love to agree, but it seems equally likely that a modern woman wouldn’t know the difference between the dress of a slave and the clothes worn by a African American woman at the turn of the century.

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The staircase said to inspire the famous staircase scene in Gone with the Wind.

With its hand carved fire places, fine leather furniture, and gold leaf accents the splendor of another era remains at the Jefferson. It’s hard to say for certain what else has remained. As an author I can see a thousand ways to turn the Jefferson into a new version of the Overlook (the hotel from Stephen King’s  The Shining). In fact, I  outlined that story before my romantic weekend even ended.

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