Navigation with Ghosts, Part 2

I have been reminded that I promised my reader more about Washington DC Omni Shoreham Hotel “Ghost Suite”. So, despite my poor record-keeping, here is Part 2.

The story goes, according to the hotel flier, that shortly after 1933 when the Doherty’s occupied the 8thfloor suite—and stayed there until 1973—tragedy struck.

The Doherty’s housekeeper Julia (or Juliette) Brown was a hotel employee—the Executive Housekeeper. She oversaw the care of the family, doing whatever Executive Housekeepers do. Although the exact date of her death is not known, the story goes that late one night, she attempted to call the front desk. When a hotel engineer went up to the Doherty’s 8th floor suite, he found the phone speaker lying on the floor, having fallen from the dead housekeeper’s hand.

Henry Doherty was not a lucky man. His step-daughter Helen Lee Eames Doherty, reported as either an adoptee or as the daughter of Grace, his wife, was introduced into society at a gala event exceeding all expectations, causing a stir in Washington DC elite in the volume of guests, food and drink and a lot of Depression-based criticism. Interestingly, the debut was staged not at the Shoreham but at the Mayflower Hotel, a posh establishment near DuPont Circle.

Sadly, Helen Lee’s life ended soon after, in the very same suite where the housekeeper died. This unexpected event inspired speculation about drug use and suicide.

At least this is the story ghosthunters and interested guests are told. There’s an announcement in a March, 1936 Times Magazine of Helen Lee Doherty marrying a Danish sportsman in Managua, Nicaragua, at the Nicaraguan president’s home. Further search of the New York Times archives reveals that Helen Lee Eames Doherty Lassen—she divorced the game player—died in her 50’s in Denmark after a brief illness.

The identity of a second Doherty suite death is not easy to find. Nevertheless odd things happen in the suite, closed in 1973 and reopened in 1997 as the Presidential Suite. There have been incidents of noise and piano-playing—there is no piano. On the 8th floor televisions and lights turn on and off, maid-carts roll down the hall with no one pushing; in one well-discussed incidence, a hotel engineer was showing the suite to some guests and found all the drawers pulled out and all the cabinets open. Leaving to ask a housekeeper about it, when they returned everything was shut up tight.

Guests have also reported brief draughts, as if someone has just rushed past, and have seen both a little girl and an elderly lady in a sweeping gown walking the halls.

When I saw the suite, it was a plainly decorated 4000 square foot living space of two bedrooms, a sitting room, dining room, kitchen, and private bath for each room—nothing special or eerie about it. When the concierge told me that Michelle Obama had stayed here, I thought that was pretty cool.

Obviously the old housekeeper Juliette is haunting the space. Likely spending her entire life working in hotels and achieving the highest honor of Executive Housekeeper, this story belongs to her, not to drug addiction or suicide. Still miffed that she died before she would rearrange the linens or organize party preparation, she just can’t let go. Maybe she played the piano for relaxation. Maybe she turns on the TVs and lights, to make verify that they still function as they should.

Maybe she opened all the drawers looking for a missing sock.

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About Jill Zeller

The author of numerous short stories and novels, Jill Zeller lives near Seattle, Washington, with her patient and adoring husband, two English mastiffs, and one self-centered tuxedo cat. Her works explore the boundaries of reality. Some may call it fantasy, but there are rarely swords and never elves. More to the point, she prefers to write as if myth, imagination and hallucination were as real as the chair she is sitting on as she writes this. Maybe it is because she was raised as a Christian Scientist. Jill Zeller also writes under the pseudonym Hunter Morrison

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