By Zofia Smardz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, October 29, 2010; 3:15 PM
"About once a month, somebody asks me if this place has ghosts," says the hotel employee who has delivered a bottle of champagne to our room. He says this in response to my asking him if the place has ghosts.
Hey, it's a perfectly reasonable question. It's October, after all. And this is the Linden Row Inn, a 70-room boutique hotel carved out of seven graceful, historic Greek Revival townhouses in the heart of downtown Richmond. It's an old, antique-filled property, with enormous 12-foot-ceilinged rooms and winding staircases that list charmingly toward the banisters. It has an Edgar Allan Poe connection. It's just the sort of place where you can easily imagine encountering a spectral vision in crinoline in an upstairs hallway or floating on the long, romantic veranda on a moonless night. At least, I can.
And we've heard ghostly rumors even before arriving for a recent overnight. The place is haunted by the spirit of Poe's mother, who briefly stayed in one of the houses, reported a relative who'd read this tidbit somewhere on the Internet. Well, hmm, let's see. The houses were built in the 1840s and '50s. Elizabeth Poe died in 1811.
Beware the Internet, I say.
The actual Poe connection, per the hotel literature, dates to the days before the houses, when the grounds were just a garden of roses and linden trees. After Mrs. Poe's death, her young son Edgar lived across the street for a time with his adoptive parents, in the home of one Charles Ellis, and spent happy hours frolicking among the flowers with the Ellis children. Years later, the story goes, he memorialized this childhood playground as the "enchanted garden" in his mournful (surprise) 1848 poem "To Helen."
Nobody says Poe's ghost is still hanging around, but surely the inn has something supernatural to offer. I mean, there were slave quarters in the back, and a succession of girls' schools pre- and post-Civil War, one run by the widow of a Confederate general.
Well, yes, our champagne-bringer allows, the hotel apparently brought in some ghosthunters a number of years ago who "did pick up something" in the dining room. Hmm. The dining room in the former stables? A ghostly steed, perhaps? (I have to say that, abuzz on Sunday morning with guests scarfing muffins and make-your-own waffles at the complimentary continental breakfast, the dining room seems a pretty prosaic haunt for any spirit with an ounce of romance in its ectoplasm.)
But then the staffer says this: "There is one room that gives me an eerie feeling whenever I go in." My ears prick up. He tells us the number, and my sister and I exchange a glance. My room is far down the row, but she and her husband are only a few doors away from this unnerving chamber. "And anyone who checks in there," says our storyteller as he heads out the door, "they usually leave right quick."
Well. I asked for it. Suddenly, the approaching night seems a little shivery, and not just from the cold. Which was the first thing my sister noted about the room my husband and I have been assigned, and you know what they say about ghosts and cold air. (Fear not. It was just my husband cranking up the AC.)
Fortunately, our room is big and square (some are 400-500 square feet), with no little nooks or crannies out of which scary visitors might materialize. The period furnishings are tasteful if spare, and only the old, dark wardrobe against one wall gives me pause. I give it the once-over, though, and it's empty but for clothes hangers and an iron, and a small TV on the upper shelf. On the way out to dinner, I eye the rocking chairs on the veranda overlooking the garden for any telltale movement, but they're as stock-still as kids in a game of Statues.
Still, when I wake up in the wee black hours in our king-size bed, I can't bring myself to cross the carpeted expanse to the bathroom. It's not that I think anything might be lurking in that pretty, recently renovated granite and tile space. It's just the idea of getting there. I lie awake, my eyes darting around the room. Thank goodness for the digital clock on the nightstand with the two-inch-high illuminated numbers. A great night light. Finally I drift back to sleep, one part of my brain thinking, "What is that odd clicking noise?"
The next morning, I figure it had to do with the air conditioning. At breakfast, my sister reports that nothing untoward happened at her end of the row, either. But afterward, as we're heading up one of the winding staircases to our fourth-floor digs, another guest passes us and heads straight up to. . . oh my goodness. The room.
We stop and hold our breath. He knocks.
We lurk on the landing, waiting.
A second passes. Another. One more. And then - the door opens, and . . .
Another ghost story gives up the ghost. Sigh.