Sunday, March 18, 2012

Vinoy, Women and Song—Vinoy Renaissance Hotel (Haunt Brief)

501 Fifth Avenue Northeast
St. Petersburg, Florida

Big news! Tween idols Justin Bieber and Selena Gomez actually stayed in a hotel somewhere!

Even bigger news! The hotel was the haunted Vinoy Renaissance Hotel in St. Petersburg, Florida!

Evidently, this is what passes for news on celebrity gossip sites. But it’s enough for me to write a Haunt Brief on it.

Lately, my concentration has been drawn to Florida and I’ve noticed that much of Florida’s haunted history lies in its hotels. From wooden edifices in small towns like Apalachicola’s Gibson Inn to St. Augustine’s monstrous monuments to the Gilded Age in the forms of the Hotel Ponce de Leon, Hotel Alcazar and Hotel Cordova; all the way to the towering grandeur of the grand hotels of the 1920s such as the Biltmore in Coral Gables and the Vinoy, all of these are haunted by a myriad of spirits.

The Vinoy Renaissance, 2008, by Ebyabe. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Of the grand resort hotels from the 1920s, many have very similar histories. These hotels were built to take advantage of Florida’s burgeoning reputation as a vacation spot, a trend started by Henry Flagler in the latter days of the nineteenth century. These resorts attracted many of the great names of the period ranging from silent film stars to politicians to sports heroes. Many hotels experienced issues during the Great Depression and some were purchased by the military for use as hospitals during World War II. Some, like the Biltmore, lingered as hospitals for a while after the war. Those that reopened as hotels after the war had difficulty competing with the motels springing up to take advantage of auto traffic and the state’s new draw, Walt Disney World. Most hotels spent some time abandoned and during that stage paranormal activity was noticed in the empty structures. Recently, most of the grand palaces have been restored and returned to service as first-class luxury hotels.

Bieber and Gomez are just the most recent in a long and varied list of celebrities that have stayed in the Vinoy’s storied halls, a list that includes Calvin Coolidge, Herbert Hoover, Jimmy Stewart and Babe Ruth. In fact, this hotel figures into baseball history as hosting the St. Louis Browns in the 1920s when they trained in nearby Tarpon Springs. Nowadays, the hotel hosts Major League Baseball teams in the area to play the Tampa Bay Rays. Among some of these players, there are stories of the hotel’s darker reputation.

Just last year when the Florida Marlins were in town to play the Rays, relief pitcher Steve Cishek reported on his Twitter feed, “Currently crapping my pants…can’t sleep…my room is def haunted.” He later said he heard a thump in the bathroom that sounded like a bar of soap falling, though nothing was out place when he checked.

One of the first and most widely reported stories dates to 2003 when relief pitcher Scott Williamson, who was playing for the Cincinnati Reds at the time, claimed to have had a bizarre experience in his room. He awoke to see an odd light coming from the pool outside. He then experienced an odd tingling sensation. Rolling onto his stomach he said he felt that someone sat on his back, making it hard for him to breathe. He rolled back onto his back and saw a man in period clothing standing near the window. “he was just looking right at me. It was almost like he was trying to get a point across to me or something. I jumped up and turned on the lights but he was gone.”

The Pittsburgh Pirates were the next team in town to stay at the hotel. It was strength coach Frank Velasquez’s turn to experience a figure in his room. He heard and sound and looked up to see a man standing near the window of his room “just staring” at him. The coach turned his head and closed his eyes, but the figure was still standing there when he looked again. On that same trip, two other Pirates coaches had odd experiences: the hitting coach awoke to find that the door to his room was standing wide open after he had closed and locked it while the bullpen coach reported an old dime falling out of the ceiling while he showered.

In 2008, the TAPS team from TV’s Ghost Hunters investigated. Staying mostly on the fifth floor where the activity seems to be concentrated, they uncovered some haunting evidence. One of the most interesting pieces of evidence came from a room where one of the investigators slept overnight. Just after setting up cameras throughout the hotel including one in that particular room, the closet door opened by itself. The investigators made a priority of investigating this phenomena and discovered that the closet door did not open with ease, so there was no obvious explanation to the event. Even more haunting was what happened after the investigator, Jason Hawes, went to bed for the night. He was later awakened by a loud male voice demanding that he “just get out.” Hawes awoke after the voice called out which was all caught on tape. About 20 seconds later the voice again demanded that he get out.

These events are only a small part of the record of activity within the hotel. In fact, one article on the hotel mentioned that the activity was minor but quite frequent.

There are some legends that have surfaced to explain the activity. A female spirit in the hotel has been identified as the spirit of the wife of the hotel’s founder. One male spirit is said to be that of a businessman who killed himself in the wake of the 1929 stock market crash. Needless to say, there are spirits in this celebrity hideaway.

Big news! Justin Bieber and Selena Gomez may not have had any experiences within this hotel!

Oh well…

Sources
Baxter, Kevin. “Dodgers Report: Hotel isn’t one of their
     favorite haunts.” Los Angeles Times. 25 June 2007.
     Hotel is Haunted?Gather.com. 11 March 2012.
Jenkins, Greg. Florida’s Ghostly Legends and Haunted History,
     Volume 3: The Gulf Coast and Pensacola. Sarasota, FL:
     Pineapple Press, 2007.
Klinkenburg, Jeff. “Renaissance Vinoy Resort marks 85 years
     of history.” St. Petersburg Times. 17 December 2010.
Kruse, Michael. “St. Petersburg’s Vinoy hotel haunted, major-
     league baseball players say.” Tampa Bay Times. 29 February
     2012.
Rebman, Kimberly P. Haunted Florida: A Guide to the Departed
     Soul. Bloomington, IN: Authorhouse, 2008.
Strikler, Lon. “A History of Hauntings at St. Petersburg’s
     Renaissance Vinoy.” Phantoms and Monsters Blog. 20 June
    2011.

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