I slither ahead of Dear Brad, bound the dead weeds and sticks that cover the bottom few stairs leading to the open doorway. Tentatively, I step into the room and I’m stupidly surprised at my own reflection when the massive mirror picks it up. Should I cast a reflection if I’m not really here, not so much adding to the history a place as recording it? I imagine I’d feel the same about any reflection, in any old building I explore. But– with the exception of the laundry in the House in TinyTrainTown– mirrors are generally the first things to go in an abandoned structure. They break so easily, with such a gratifying shattering sound.
“Hello…?” I call out, loudly enough that it echoes. I’m not expecting a reply at all. I’m just listening for shifts in sound, shifts in weight, something to indicate there is someone nearby or on the floors above who heard me. “Is there anyone here? I’m a photographer… erm… a writer? I’m doing a piece on the history of the Mountains…?”
Again, nothing. “I’m not sure we should be in here…” whispers Dear Brad, having crept up behind me while I’m calling out.
I look at him, head cocked to one side and eyebrows raised. “Of course we shouldn’t. Let’s go.”
(Let me interrupt my own monologue here to say– I know. This was an incredibly stupid, illegal thing to be doing. But, hey… when opportunity leaves the door wide open– literally– sometimes you should take the risk and run with it.)
We creep up a narrow, white washed well of stairs and tentatively peer through the door at the top.
And find ourselves in some other kind of world. This is is the delicate guts of one of the state’s most opulent hotels, built purely for the purposes of decadence and indulgence.
And oh my… it is beautiful.
The roof is alabaster smooth, perfectly finished to meet walls with molded and carved plaster cornices, more artistry in the sweep of decorative practicality than in the construction of my entire house. Hallways are polished wood, floors carpeted in running rugs of deep wine burgundy with olive trimmings, thick timber kickboards where walls and floors meet. There are tiny rooms here and there, tiny hallways twisting off left and right. The further we venture, the bolder we become, pushing open heavy, solid wooden doors to either closing them again quickly and moving on in nonchalance, or to stop and gasp, press the shutter button on my camera and then bathe in what once was, what almost still is and what, if new owners suceed, will be again one day soon.
This hotel is a gorgeous place. The upstairs rooms are spacious and sunny, huge and sprawling. Some are empty of everything, some have become store rooms for curious collections of hotel hubris– fans and bedsteads, linens and bedside tables, boxes of documents and crockery. There are rooms still furnished in their entirety, a thin ghostly coating of dust dulling reflective surfaces. In one room there is a bed, made but rumpled, as though someone slept there just the night before and housekeeping has not yet come to call.
If this where a dream,this would the part of the building you would be trapped in, trying to run… running, perhaps, fast as you can, every corner you turn ridiculously, horrifically, leading you into the very same hallway full of very same eerily sunny rooms that you have just run through, eyes wild with fright, feet not even moving, not even close to touching the ground beneath you.
We slip back down a fight of stairs, back along the hall, further from the open door through which we entered. It feels like being in the midst of a children’s treasure hunt on a massive scale, an enexpected gift with a thousand tiny, loosely wrapped packages to search through. Hallways, narrow and wide, long and short; stairwells that lead you up one flight to a polished wooden landing, up two flights to another wing of pristine cream and eggshell hallways, more wings of eccentrically cluttered or cheerfully barren hotel suites. Stairs that sink down into a dark basement; short thuds of stairs that lead you only the same floor you’re already on but sunken slightly in order to accommodate the topography of the hotel’s inconvienant mountain top locality. Everywhere are signs of decadence left silent– glittering chandeliers. Intricately molded ceilings and hearths. Marble fireplaces. Ornate cast iron gas heaters made slim to sit as flush with the pressed metal walls as possible, warming the chill of winter wooden floors on the softly manicured feet of ladies. Huge mirrors with tarnished gilded frames brace long stretches of hallway walls, fixed interminably to their spots years ago and untouched by time or vandals. We pass a large, curved room, dappled glass windows across its length on the hallway side, French doors and wall to floor plate glass on the opposite, positioned to soak in a breathtaking, lusciously rampant view.
‘The Shipley Room’ reads the sign above two lacquered, dark walnut doors… it’s identical to the one in the bag I’m carrying with me. The door handles are brass, worn at the top from years of hands twisting them open, over a century of gentlemen holding the door graciously for ladies as they pass. But not for us, not today (I try not to tell myself that Dear Brad, bless his cotton socks, wouldn’t have bothered to hold the door open for me anyway, whether this room was filled with revelers as it was, or only the ghosts of them as it is now, much as I know it to be true). These doors are locked and there is so much more to see here, so many more things to drink in, that it doesn’t occur to me to mind at all.
We pause, drawn into the salon in the fashion the architecture intended– this is, perhaps, the essence of a ’drawing room’. It’s central to lobby and restaurant, the ballroom and casino, and stairwells and gently curving walls seem to sweep people into the wide foyer at the room’s entryway. The doorway is huge, eight foot across, and the fore-walls only partitions, really, a cut out space gr
adually glancing wider as it moves in to it’s axis with the walls sitting at shoulder height at the doorway entry, welcoming rather imposing without an actual door to close of this social space. It’s designed to flow and funnel people toward it, to cater for large, slow moving crowds tipsy on entertainment and night air.
This room centers on the bar at one end, wide and smooth and tucked into an alcove in the wall designed just for that purpose, another social trick of old-fashioned design. A swinging kitchen door is concealed to the left. Windows step high to let the sun in and add to the ambiance without brilliant views causing unnecessary distraction from the delicate past time of polite conversation. Opposite the bar is another of those gigantic gilded mirrors, creating the illusion of more space– and more people– than there actually is. The fireplace is one of the biggies I’ve ever seen, tucked into an angled mantle in the middle of the room in order to spread its warmth both sides of the curved walls. Juxtaposing such careful, deliberate planning and design are chairs, hundreds of them piled eight foot high, an ugly statement in the open places. There’s an occasional heavy, rustic black wood table nestled amongst them– stark fat toadstools in a spiny forest of black aluminum.
Just a few feet further down the main hotel corridor and we reach the hotel lobby, remarkably plain and modern in comparison to where we’ve just been– this is, obviously, not a place designed for loitering or mingling. It’s business and functionality, bellboys on minimum wage rustling in from behind the scenes like apparitions to move luggage to rooms before guests place their key in the lock, creating the illusion of homeliness- your things, of course, they’ve been here all along, just waiting for you to catch up.
The ballroom takes my breath with the hugeness of it, the entire vastness of it’s space. A fireplace- always fireplaces in the Mountains. Another longer, less obiqiutious bar. Chandeliers dangling from the ceiling like costume jewels made of solitaires; a raised platform for a band to play bluesy tones in a an acoustically perfect setting.
There’s one or two final doors, at least one sweeping entryway left to discover before we reach what will be the end of the line– not that we know that right now, the stillness of the hotel lulling us into a false sense of security, it’s air of homely comfort persuading us to stay longer, rest a while, take in the beautiful views, like a siren’s whisper. I stop to open the first door, and find myself thrilled to discover that just within is another door, this one heavier, with lead–lit glass panels in the higher half etched with the words ’Day Spa’. There’s a tingling thrill of touching history– the spa, the place where guests would soak up the majestic hydration this hotel was built around. The legend it was built upon, a monumental institution on top a cliff in the middle of unexplored hinterland.
The cynic in me is well aware that, in all likelihood, inside that door, I would have found naught but sanitized commercial disappointment– a day spa in the modern sense, bathroom fixtures and white basins and pedicure chairs.
I never got to find out, either way. At that moment, Dear Brad (d*ckhead) takes it upon himself to try the ornate–but–still–probably–recently–installed–fire–doors that mark the end of the hallway. The small olive plaque screwed into the wall next to them simply says ’Casino’. Dear Brad jumps back in over-confident shock as, three inches open, the door triggers the security alarms, and some kind of peaking hell splits audibly open above us.
It’s so loud I can’t think and somewhere beneath me the five year old in my mind is hysterical, hands over her ears and shrieking; that shattered smoke alarm of PTSD screaming at me that something is wrong here, something is very wrong here. Adrenaline peels off my consciousness in strips as I run, long strides made easy by my pumping heart. Past the ballroom, the lobby, the bar and the Shipley Room. It’s then that both Dear Brad and I become confused, lost and disorientated– there are too many stairs here, too many ups and downs and it begins to feel like a game of snakes of ladders. We pass the bedroom with the crumpled bed for the second time and I spot a small, dusty security camera in the corner of the hallway. And I laugh. Dear Brad looks at me and shakes his head, not finding it funny at all, but really, there doesn’t seem much else for it at this point.
Mirth controlled, we backtrace steps and find the original dusty staircase we came up (Narnia, but not quite…. the book before, The Magician’s Nephew, jumping in puddles and running through attics… It felt more like that). Down again, back through the spierwebbed exercise room; the shrieking, panicked alarm growing fainter and further away as we reach the door to the outside. Dear Brad pulls the door closed, latches it shut, and we leave, me still snapping pictures, both of us attempting to appear naively innocent and slightly baffled and curious by this unknown bleating warning sound in the distance– playing the part of unaffectedly tourists, sight see–ers stopped to stretch our legs. We nonchalantly slip back over the fence, return to the car. Stand next to it and smoke cigarettes for twenty minutes, waiting for security or police or… someone. No one comes.
I go back once more, early the next morning and alone, Dear Brad having departed (he sent me a text later on, though, remember? Lovely…). I follow the same path, only bypassing the road front entrance and sneaking to the side, where the outbuildings begin. I’m expecting not much at all, expecting the door Dear Brad latched on the way out yesterday to be closed still, probably locked tight by a security guard whenever they ended up getting here.
I turn the corner cut into the rock… and the door is open again. Wide open, just as it was when we first saw it.
I try to ignore how weird that is. I ready my camera, jump the overgrown thickets on the stairs, and step over the threshold.
The alarm, the same neon blue flashing sound from yester
day, it peals and shrieks again, immediately this time around. And I leave quickly, as we did yesterday, but without the panic and the laughter and the running.
Weird. Dear Brad and I… we just found ourselves extremely fortunate, it seems. This hotel– and whatever secrets she may hold– are much more protected than they appear.