Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
An old hotel is sometimes just the thing to really experience the history of a city. From the high marble arches to the gargoyles staring down from the walls, it is clear that the old adage of “they just don’t make ’em like they used to” applies. But at night, sleep can be elusive in particular rooms. Did you really just hear a baby cry? And who whispers in your ears? Why does that maid’s cart roll down the hall without its maid to push it, and who is the woman who remains just out of sight, affording only glimpses as she disappears into locked rooms? The answers are part of what gives old hotels their character, their personality, and what gives them the dubious distinction of being haunted.
Historic hotels are truly one of the last national treasures left in the USA. From visiting and staying in one of these, one can get a glimpse not just of what it would be like to have a live-in maid, but also of the past. To stand in a building and realize that it is more than a hundred years old is humbling, and to imagine the people of that time roaming the halls is even moreso. But in some cases, one doesn’t have to imagine the past, as it regularly rears its head and reminds you of just who put the building there in the first place. The lives of everyone who passes through the doors can be felt and, in some rare occasions, seen. And while Oklahoma City is well known for many things, there are places where it should be known for something else entirely: its ghosts.
William Balser “Bill” Skirvin was not an Oklahoma native, though he did take part in the famous Oklahoma Land Rush of 1889 before moving to Galveston, Texas. Once there, he amassed a fortune in oil in nearby Alta Loma. It wasn’t until 1906 that Skirvin and his family decided to return to Oklahoma city, and to the land he owned. With money from oil pouring in, Skirvin continued to invest in land until, in 1910, he decided to build a hotel at what is now the corner of Park Avenue and Broadway.
Originally intended to be only six stories tall, Skirvin was swayed by the architect, who convinced him to make the building eleven stories in height, making more than two-hundred rooms between the twin towers of the building. The structure was grand, featuring running cold water in every room and possessing not only its own water and electricity supply, but also was among the first to have “iced air” pumped throughout the hotel. Its marble lobby and posh amenities were more than anyone in the region had ever seen before, and the Skirvin Hotel became the crown jewel of the city, as well as the place for any kind of social gathering. Skirvin moved his wife, five children, and their virtual zoo of pets into the hotel where the family took up most of the ninth floor and the pets occupied the rooftop area.
The hotel attracted all kinds of customers, both good and malevolent. Politicians slept in rooms beside criminals, ranchers in rooms beside buckskin-clad Indians, and every other type one could imagine. A famous bank robber, Al Jennings, announced his bid for governor from the hotel lobby, all with Bill Skirvin looking on and money rolling in. Business was so good, in fact, that by 1923, expansion was in order, prompting the construction of a third tower. Several other renovations followed, resulting in raising all the existing towers to fourteen stories in height, and raising the number of rooms to more than 500.
Across the street, Skirvin began building Sirvin Tower, another hotel/apartment building which was connected to the hotel by means of a tunnel. However, the building was never completed to his satisfaction, as hard times befell the city, and Skirvin died in 1944. His children, one of which was Perle Mesta, the international “Hostess with the Mostess,” made the decision to sell the hotel to Dan James, the owner of the luxurious Black Hotel. James continued expanding and modernizing the hotel for many years to come, attracting patronage of presidents and celebrities alike.
In 1963, the hotel was sold to a group of Chicago-based investors, who then sold it to H.T. Griffon in 1968. Over the next eleven years, business began to drop off, leaving many to believe the landmark would fall victim to the same fate as many other old hotels in the city, and the wrecking ball couldn’t be far behind. Then, in 1979, a group of investors launched a campaign to remodel and restore the old hotel, bringing it back to its former glory. In 1980, it was recognized as being included in the national registry of historic places. Despite all this, the hotel closed again in 1988, this time, seemingly for good.
Not everything in the past of the grand old hotel was bright and shiny. There is, according to legend, at least one point where the past took a decided turn toward the dark in the form of an illicit affair between Bill Skirvin and a cleaning maid. According to the legend, their union brought forth a child and, in a fit of despair at her lover not leaving his wife and children, the maid committed infanticide and suicide by taking her baby and leaping from a seventh story window. Whether true or not, stories still circulate from guests and employees about “Effie,” who roamed the halls, and many guests complained of not being able to get a good night’s sleep because of a child crying. Moreover, Effie seems to prefer the male visitors, as many reported being propositioned by a disembodied woman’s voice. Others claim to have had the naked apparition join them in the shower before disappearing.
Though certainly the most prolific (and entertaining) spirit, Effie is not the only phenomena reported. Objects have been sighted moving by themselves and strange noises have been heard, all attributed to the past guests and to the flamboyant owner of the hotel. Outsiders who ventured into the building during the time it was abandoned reported seeing objects move unaided and hearing voices.
In 1988, the old hotel closed and sat abandoned until 2001, when the government of Oklahoma City took it upon themselves to save the old hotel. A $46 million dollar renovation began, allowing the fine old lady to reopen to guests. It is now part of the Hilton family hotels, and still boasts some of the best amenities in the state of Oklahoma. As to Effie, no one can really say. Only time will tell if she decides to make any more of her male guests uncomfortable, or if her baby’s cries will wake anyone else up in the night.
Most of the activity in the building is reputed to occur on the seventh and ninth floors, but there has been phenomena reported also in the main lobby. It may happen during the day, with far too many people around to see or hear the apparitions, but most activity happens at night, while the hotel sleeps. The guests may rest, but it seems that Effie and her baby never will.
See you in two weeks!
— Scott A. Johnson