One thing I have discovered about ghosts who haunt hotels is that they have excellent taste. It makes perfect sense to me that “The Lady in Green” would still be searching for her husband after all these years amid the opulent French Art Deco splendor of the Netherland Plaza hotel. Her story is a sad one, the story of a deep love between a woman and a man that even death could not destroy. It is also a story integral to the history of the hotel.
As Chicago architect Walter W. Ahlschlarger conceived it in the 1920s, the hotel was an important part of Carew Tower, an innovative multiple-use complex that combined the hotel and its restaurants, department stores, specialty shops, and parking garage into a “city within a city.” Ahlschlager included such modern advancements as indirect lighting systems, internal broadcasting systems, ultra-modern baths (Winston Churchill, a frequent guest at the Netherland Plaza, was so impressed with the bathroom facilities in his suite—now named in his honor—that he had it all copied, down to the last detail, in his own country home in England), high-speed elevators, and a fully automated parking garage in which automobiles literally parked themselves.
The décor of the hotel wedded an Old World atmosphere with the “modernity” of the French Art Deco style, taking its inspiration from Egyptian, Mayan, and Aztec influences. Several areas in the hotel were designed to look almost like Hollywood sets, and visitors today may be reminded of Indiana Jones, The Mummy, or, as concierge T.J. Mobilio said, The Shining.
“The first time I was ever at the hotel I was sitting at the bar, talking with the bartender, and thinking to myself that this place was right out of The Shining. I knew then I wanted to work here,” he said.
T.J. is right. We were sitting at a small table in the Palm Court, the hotel’s restaurant and lounge. Bob Louis, the hotel’s director of sales and marketing, had asked T.J to speak with me and fill me in on the ghostly history of the hotel, since T.J. had made himself something of the hotel’s unofficial historian.
Large plant-like sconces mounted on dark Brazilian rosewood wall paneling dimly light the huge Palm Court. The soaring ceiling is fashioned in a step pyramid shape and is painted with classical murals in Baroque style, illustrating the theme of recreation. A mezzanine surrounded the restaurant and I could see an occasional guest walking by beyond the balustrades. Although there were only one or two patrons at the bar situated at the north end of the room, I could easily imagine ghostly partygoers in formal attire enjoying themselves in the cavernous room.
“And just like in the movie, there is a ghost, right?” I said.
“Yes, the ‘Lady in Green.’ I’ve never seen her, but I know people who have, people who I trust completely and know well.”
“There were a few things,” T.J. said. “One of our servers was making a room service run. He got on one of the elevators and there was an African-American woman there wearing a green dress, more like a formal gown actually. As the elevator rose they talked about how nice the Hall of Mirrors looked. The server said they talked for about thirty seconds. Then he looked away for just a moment and when he looked back, she had disappeared. He was so shaken up by the incident that he took two weeks off from work.”
“He still works here?” I asked.
“Yes, and he thinks differently about our ghost than he did before.”
“When did he see the ghost?”
“A few years ago, but I have even more recent stories. This one was in the last eighteen months. During the week we have a lot of business travelers. One night this stern-looking businessman checks in. He was all business and was tired. He just wanted to go to his room right away. We checked him in and it wasn’t forty-five minutes later that he was back down at the front desk wearing only his boxer shorts, a t-shirt, and socks. He was terrified. He wouldn’t tell us what was wrong—he just wanted out of the hotel. He wouldn’t even go back up for his bags. He never explained it. He just said he was afraid and that
was it. He wouldn’t go back.”
I sat there for a moment looking at T.J., trying to figure out if the young man was perhaps exaggerating—okay, lying—but I didn’t think he was. In his gray concierge suit, he looked serious. Plus, he was able to tell me the story with a straight face, although he chuckled at the thought of the stuffy businessman reduced to a blubbering child.
I figured T.J. was telling me the truth. I also thought that, scary as the businessman’s encounter may have been, how scary would it have been for other hotel guests to see him standing there in his skivvies?
T.J. had another story to tell me.
Airline pilots are frequent guests at downtown Cincinnati hotels, and the Netherland Plaza is home for the pilots and crew of a few airlines. T.J. said that one day one of the pilots came “staggering” out of the elevator and ran to the front desk, saying he had seen a ghost in there with him. At first, the staff though he was drunk, he was shaking so much. After only a few moments, however, they could see that he was sober, though badly shaken.
“He was white as a ghost, if you’ll excuse the pun,” T.J. said. “He said that he was alone on the elevator when he felt a cold breeze blow across the back of his neck. He turned and saw a lady in a green dress. His description of her matched the server’s description to a T. The pilot said that she was there for only a few seconds before she vanished.
“He still stays here when he’s in town. I see him often, but he doesn’t talk about the incident and we don’t ask him.”
That night, as I rode the elevator up to my room on the twentieth floor, I was more aware of the air around me than ever before. I was alone and I noticed how the polished wood paneling reflected my image back to me. But any way I looked at it, no matter how much I squinted, I could not change my reflection into an African-American woman in a green ball gown.
I did have my own scary experience on the elevator, however, when I found myself the only male, trapped in the rear of the elevator by a contingent of ample-bosomed, horn-rimmed glasses-wearing Tupperware salesladies in town for a convention. I still get the shivers thinking about it.
I survived the Tupperware onslaught and met with Carla Ballard, the hotel’s senior national account executive, the following day.
“Yes, the Lady in Green has been seen on the elevators, but she is usually in the Hall of Mirrors or right there, on the eastern mezzanine,” Carla said, pointing to the balustrade high above where we sat in the Palm Court.
Carla was tall and thin with reddish hair. She wore a black suit and skirt and was simultaneously professional and friendly. She had brought me a packet of information about the hotel, which I leafed through as we spoke.
“Who is the Lady in Green, anyway?” I asked. “Does anyone know?”
around the clock everyday to get the job done. As you can imagine,“You probably already know that the hotel was built in 1931,” Carla said, “but you might not know that the whole thing took only one year to complete. Thousands of laborers worked there were some accidents. In one of them, a painter working right here in the Palm Court, which was originally the main lobby, fell to his death. It’s said that once the hotel was finished and open for business, the man’s widow checked in and threw herself out a window.”
“And no one knows her name?”
Carla shook her head. “Nor can we find any historical documentation of her suicide.”
Carla also told me the pilot story and her version matched T.J.’s. She also had two stories of her own. She told me about the night auditor who was on one of the guest floors delivering express checkouts. She said that, even though he was all alone in the hall, he suddenly heard a woman’s voice say, “Excuse me, can you help me?” He took off running downstairs and immediately quit.
“The poor man almost had a nervous breakdown,” Carla said.
She told me about the time one of the hotel’s sales consultants was showing a customer the grand ballroom, the Hall of Mirrors.
“The two of them were standing in the balcony overlooking the ballroom, talking about its accommodations. Suddenly, the customer grabbed the consultant’s arm and held onto it tightly. ‘Did you see that?’ she asked the consultant. Apparently, for just a second, the woman caught a glimpse of the ghost in the room.”
After talking with Carla I decided to check out the Hall of Mirrors for myself. I went up to the third-floor lobby, then walked up the curving staircase to the ballroom’s balcony. Inside, the room was nothing short of palatial.
The balustrade surrounding the balcony was made of German silver—an alloy of copper, zinc, and nickel—and was fashioned into floral garlands and depictions of Pan. Egyptian-style chandeliers hung from the ceiling, surrounding a central mural painted inside a mock dome. Below me, and at the opposite end of the ballroom, was a majestic staircase, backed by an enormous mirror.
There was no one in the ballroom and the lighting, as it is throughout the hotel, was soft and subdued. Romantic in the right circumstances, maybe a bit creepy in others. The light had an amber cast to it, the result of the large mirrors that line the walls in the ballroom and the balcony. The mirrors are backed with 18k gold and are insured with Lloyds of London. It is the gold backing that causes the amber reflection.
I went back downstairs and entered the ballroom from its floor level. There were many tables and chairs in the room, some of them already dressed in white for a wedding reception that would take place there the next day. Despite the size of the room, it was very quiet, still. I walked around, taking my time, letting the aura of the room wash over me. Often I thought I saw someone from the corner of my eye, only to find myself looking at my own reflection, caught in one or more of the many mirrors in the room. Certainly, so many mirrors could be a plausible explanation for seeing ghosts, but as in the elevator, I was seeing myself, not a woman. In fact, the mirrors may be a help to the ghost since so many psychic researchers believe that mirrors may serve as psychic portals to the spirit world.
I didn’t see the Lady in Green that day, but I thought of those who had seen her. The pilot, the food server, the customer. Each of them described the woman in the same manner, and each of them referred to her as being as solid as a real person. No wispy mists for this ghost. She wants to be seen. Why else would she wear a green ball gown? Seeing a ghost, an apparition, in such detail—and being able to talk with it, as did the server—is fairly unusual as paranormal events go.
Being touched by such a ghost is even more rare, yet that is what happened to one guest, according to concierge Mariuxi Robles.
“The man was in the hall, looking for his room. There was no one else there. Suddenly, someone tapped him on the shoulder and asked him for help. When he turned around, there was a lady in a green dress. Then she was gone. He wanted his room changed after that.”
“Have you ever seen her?” I asked.
“No,” she said, “and I don’t think I want to, but I think she’s here.”
“Just a feeling I have,” she said. She was standing in the kitchen of the Belvedere Club on the sixteenth floor, talking to me through the serve-through. She was young and pleasant and spoke with a charming Hispanic accent that she had brought with her from her native Ecuador. “I have to come in early to set up the room for breakfast, and I’m always looking around saying, ‘Is she here?’ It’s really bad in the winter when it’s still so dark in the morning.”
“What would you do if you saw her?” I asked.
“I don’t know. My father, he was a farmer and builder in Ecuador and he lived in the country. He told me, ‘When you see a ghost, don’t be afraid of it, or it will stop you. Just tell it to go away, it doesn’t belong here, and you will be all right.’”
“Your father told you that, he said it just like that? ‘When you see a ghost. . . ?’”
“Yes,” she said with a laugh. “But I don’t know if I’d be that brave.”
The people at the Netherland Plaza acknowledge their ghost and consider it simply a part of the hotel’s history. T.J. Mobilio continues to do research on the ghost and said he would love to see her someday.
“She doesn’t do any harm,” he said, “and we’re proud of her. I’m glad she’s here.”
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