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Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s The Chelsea Hotel PDF Print E-mail
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Written by Dr. Karen Stollznow   

Built in 1884, the Hotel Chelsea resides at 222 West 23rd street and is anHotel Chelsea official New York landmark. In the days before the Empire State Building, the twelve-story Chelsea Hotel was the tallest structure in the city until 1899.

Former owner and manager Stanley Bard collected a colony of fascinating tenants and guests, including actors, writers, artists and musicians. “The Chelsea” is hardly five-star, but the bohemian hotel has been home to Mark Twain, Jimi Hendrix, Bob Dylan, Allen Ginsberg, Tennessee Williams, Jack Kerouac, and Sarah Bernhardt, to name just a few. The walls are decorated with artworks by well-known artists; often taken as payment when they were starving artists.

The hotel is so beloved that Leonard Cohen wrote the songs “Chelsea Hotel” and “Chelsea Hotel #2” in honor of the place, and Andy Warhol filmed “Chelsea Girl” there, a movie about residents of the hotel. Most other claims to fame are exaggerated, or untrue. It is untrue that Arthur C. Clarke penned part of 2001: A Space Odyssey here, although Stanley Kubrick did write the screenplay for the movie there. It is told that William Burroughs wrote “Naked Lunch” in a room in the hotel; however, it is well known that he wrote the book during his time in Tangier, Morocco.

The Chelsea is known as a center of artistic and cultural activity, although it was also the scene of drugs, alcohol addiction, death, and depression. The hotel is probably most infamous for being the scene of a murder. On October 12, 1978, Sid Vicious, former bassist for the Sex Pistols, had a violent fight with his girlfriend Nancy Spungen. She was later found stabbed to death and lying in a pool of blood on the bathroom floor of their room.

Janis Joplin apparently once said, “A lot of funky things happen in the Chelsea”. She was probably speaking about the hip parties and psychedelic drugs, man, but some today interpret this as paranormal “things” happening in the hotel.

Since August 2011, the Chelsea has been closed for renovations, although some believe that phantom tenants still remain. The place doesn’t advertise itself as haunted, but it is believed to be yet another of the “Most Haunted” places in New York, to rival Amityville (which isn’t very hard, really). Visitors and guests feel “cold spots” and claim to hear eerie footsteps, whispers and conversations, ghostly music and the sounds of phantom parties. People say they see lights come on and off, moving or disappearing personal possessions, and apparitions.

The Chelsea is believed to have a number of resident ghosts. A woman known only as “Mary” has been seen wandering the grounds of the hotel. Michael Imperioli who played “Christopher” in the TV drama The Sopranos believes he has encountered her. He was staying on the 8th floor of the hotel, and when he returned to his room one night he spotted a woman sobbing at the end of the hall. She was wearing the obligatory uniform of ghosts: a long white, period-style dress. He asked her, “Are you okay?” and then she disappeared into thin air. It is said that Mary was a survivor of the Titanic although her husband died in the disaster. The alternative version is that her husband had been a passenger on the Titanic. He was one of the unlucky many that died when the liner sank, and the devoted widow still awaits his return.

Welsh poet Dylan Thomas allegedly haunts Room 206, where guests have seen his floating face. Legend has Thomas drinking himself to death in this room on November 3, 1953, bragging that he had just downed 18 glasses of whiskey. In reality, the barman who served him that night said he didn’t drink even half that amount of alcohol. A few days later he was admitted to St. Vincent’s Hospital, where he died on November 9, in a coma. He died of pneumonia, although he also suffered from a fatty liver and swelling on the brain.

Charles R. Jackson, author of The Lost Weekend, was also a tenant. It is said that he committed suicide in his room, which he now haunts. A little research shows that Jackson’s death was indeed ruled as suicide. He died of barbiturate poisoning, but he didn’t die in his room at the hotel, he died at St. Vincent’s Hospital on September 21, 1968. He suffered bouts of tuberculosis for most of his life, which fueled an addiction to alcohol and pills.

Loud music and heated argument can be heard coming from Room 100, where Nancy Spungen died. It is believed that a Sid Vicious “portal” exists in this room, a curtain that allows Vicious to move between this world and the next. He is also said to haunt one of the elevators. Sid Vicious is often “seen” about the halls of the hotel, although strangely, there are very few reports of Nancy’s “ghost”, although she was the one who died there.

During a recent visit to New York with fellow investigator Matthew Baxter we visited the Hotel Chelsea. The foyer was bare and shabby, especially when compared to old photos of the hotel in its halcyon days. We said “hi” to a group of staff behind the front desk, and I couldn’t resist asking, “Many people think this place is haunted. Have you guys experienced anything here?” One of the guys responded with, “No. Nothing’s ever happened to me. But Jeff had something happen. Tell them your story Jeff!”

Jeff comes over and proceeded to recount one of the most unconvincing ghost stories ever. “Yeah, I was up on the sixth or fifth floor and this ghost tripped me. I fell down and it pushed me down.” At this point the other two employees were failing to conceal their laughter. “Then the ghost threw a sheet over my head and I couldn’t see.” Matthew asked, “Is this the story you tell to all the dumb tourists that ask about the place being haunted?” Jeff cracked a big smile and said, “Yeah, there ain’t no ghosts here.”

 

Dr. Karen Stollznow is a linguist, author, skeptical paranormal investigator and a research fellow for the James Randi Foundation. You can follow Karen on Twitter here.

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