Haunted Asheville - Part 2

The fourteen story Battery Park Hotel was built by E.W. Grove in 1924, eleven years after he opened the famous Grove Park Inn. In the summer of 1936, the economy of Asheville was just starting to pick back up from the great Depression, with many travelers filling up the local hotels to capacity. On the night of July 15th, Helen Clevenger, a nineteen-year-old college student traveling in the mountains, retired to her room around 10:30 pm after having dinner with her uncle William and some friends. As was the practice of her religion, Bahá’í, she did not lock her door.

A bellboy on duty noted that there was a mysterious man creeping about the hotel, a man that fled the lobby and leapt from the hotel porch in the rain, jumping about fifteen feet down to O. Henry Avenue below. The next morning, when Helen’s uncle went to wake her, he found Helen on the floor of her room with a gunshot wound to the chest. Her face was badly beaten and there was a .32 caliber pistol casing next to her body. The thunderstorm the night before had been so severe, no one reported any gunshots, possibly disguised by the thunder.

The murder caused a great stir, with New York detectives being flown in to solve the case and The New York Times covering the case almost daily for the first month. Two months into the investigation, police officers arrested Martin Moore, a twenty-two-year-old former hotel bellhop described by The New York Times as a “Negro Giant”, standing at 6‘3”. Moore originally had an alibi stating that he was at a birthday party that night, but later confessed to officials, twice. Moore went on to say in his trial that his confessions were forced, and several sources reported his confessions had been beaten out of him by zealous police officers, looking to make a good name for themselves.

Moore was facing two capital murder charges and the motive stated was robbery, although nothing was taken from the room. Moore was convicted within four days and sentenced to die in the gas chamber. In November, Moore’s attorneys pled for an appeal, but the NC Court wouldn’t hear it. On December 11th, 1936 Martin Moore was executed in the gas chamber for the murder of Helen Clevenger. It was said that his last words were, “I did not kill that girl.”

Numerous past employees have stated seeing apparitions in their building. Helen could be seen roaming the halls, most specifically on stormy nights, and in her former room. Locals would also say they could see a red misty glow through the window of that room. Also, the spirit of a man was often seen in the pantry, the figure of another person who was murdered in the hotel.

During the 1980's, a private developer converted the old hotel into apartments for senior citizens. Some of the residents today will tell you the place is not only haunted, but cursed, due to the injustices done to Mr. Moore. They still report seeing figures in the hallways, as well as the shadows of falling bodies outside their windows, as many have been said to have committed suicide, jumping from the roof of the old hotel.

Some locals believed that it was the son of the manager who was to blame, with Moore being set up to protect him. There was also a strange connection that has never been fully confirmed, revolving around F. Scott Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald had been staying over at the Grove Park Inn on what lines up as having been the very same evening as the murder. He had just admitted his wife to Highland Hospital in Asheville for emotional disorders. Their marriage had been tumultuous, dotted with affairs and alcoholism. He himself was suffering from pain and depression after an accident in which he broke his arm. He had not visited her for days and it was said he was acting wild, restless, was drinking to excess, and was threatening to shoot himself. A bellboy had to wrestle a pistol away from him at one point. F. Scott Fitzgerald was also about 5’9” in height.

Highland Hospital was founded in 1904 by Dr. Robert S. Carroll. The facility offered treatment to those suffering from mental health issues or “nervous disease,” as it was referred to at the time. Originally known as “Dr. Carroll’s Sanatorium,” its name was changed to Highland Hospital in 1912.

In the late 1800's, Asheville started to establish a reputation as a place of healing. In the following years, the city had developed a status as one of the best places to treat tuberculosis and, as a result, began installing many medical facilities in close proximity to each other. There was a spike in tourism, which in turn attracted wealthy doctors. This became the primary reason for the growing amount of sanitariums which were much more expensive and exclusive than the public hospitals.

Among the other hospitals being built, Highland Hospital began to garner a credible reputation, known for its progressive treatment of mental illness. The patients had to exercise, they had to eat properly, and there was a farm that the patients were required to work on. The campus included landscaped grounds for patients to recover through means of "diversion" and "productive occupation."

Over the years, the Highland Hospital complex has seen many famous individuals. Among its patients was artist and writer Zelda Sayre Fitzgerald — wife of writer F. Scott Fitzgerald. Her time at Highland was frequent and very well chronicled. She would spend months at a time in Asheville, seeking treatments, often at Highland Hospital. In 1948, the hospital gained national attention when nine patients perished in a fire.

The source of the fire was believed to be from an electric coffee urn in the kitchen of the hospital’s central building. While the facility had adequate fire escapes, the building did not have a sprinkler system. Firemen were also hampered in their rescue by heavily screened porches and windows shackled with chains as a precautionary measure to keep patients from jumping out.

Almost 30 women had made it out of the building as firemen, police, nurses, doctors and townspeople rushed to the rescue. However, seven women were trapped on the upper floors who would not make it out alive. Among these seven women was Zelda Fitzgerald. Two other women who were removed by firemen died a short time later. This was the third fire in the hospital in less than a year.

Fitzgerald had been staying on the top floor of the Central Building, which was the floor occupied by the most-troubled patients. The Central Building was also the only wooden building on the property. The strong bars barricading the windows indicated that the patients on the top floor were those with the most serious conditions. It has even been reported that she was locked in her room and chained to her bed, awaiting electroshock treatments the next morning.

A criminal investigation would follow in which it was reported that the coroner’s jury concluded that “there was negligence, but not to the extent to be classed as culpable negligence.” One of the nurses who testified was said to have discovered the kitchen table afire, its flames rising about a foot, creating the appearance of “one of those fiery hoops animals jump through in circuses”. When asked why she hadn’t tried to put it out, the nurse cited fear: She had never witnessed a “destroying” fire before. The kitchen’s dumb-waiter shaft was lined with plaster and mason boards, which helped accelerate the flames throughout the building.

Others are not convinced it was an accident. Various sources cite that one Night Supervisor, Willie Mae Hall, a former patient at Highland Hospital, was said to systematically give a double sedative to those patients she did not like, locking their bedroom doors in the Central Hall dormitory. Many believe it was her who set a fire in the kitchen, and had been obsessed with fire in the past.

The psychiatric wing was rebuilt shortly after the fire and today functions as an office plaza. Staff at the building have reported strange and unexplained activities. Disembodies voices are heard on the grounds, doors open and shut on their own, and full bodied female apparitions are often seen walking the grounds. One photographer captured the photo of what appears to be the figure of a woman in red, running towards the women’s dormitory.

Willie Mae was never formally charged for her part in the Highland Hospital fire. She later turned herself in at another asylum, claiming she was afraid she would start another fire.

Built in 1847, the Reynolds Mansion sits along Reynolds Mountain, built for Daniel Reynolds and his wife, Susan. Over 150 years later, the mansion still stands--one of fewer than ten remaining antebellum brick homes in western North Carolina.

While the mansion remained in the Reynolds family until the 1960's, it uses varied from generation to generation. Soon after the first renovation, remaining family operated the mansion as a rooming house. Reynolds, who also owned a funeral home in Asheville, was even said to have had clients embalmed from time to time in his home. In the 1920's, they capitalized on Asheville's growing reputation as a health destination and the mansion was rented out as an osteopathic sanitarium.

When the current owners bought the mansion, it was in extreme disrepair. Over the years, it had suffered serious deterioration of its porches, extensive rainwater damage, and general neglect. The new owners fully restored the home, recreating its nineteenth-century style and making as few additional renovations as possible, reopening as a bed-and-breakfast.

Visitors staying in Reynolds Mansion over the last few decades have reported many strange occurrences, such as unusual noises in the middle of the night, doors unlocking on their own, shadows moving along the wall, the faint scent of perfume lingering in some rooms. The soft echo of a child’s voice can also be heard some nights. There have often been ghostly figures seen around the house as well.

Based on reports, there may be several spirits haunting the mansion, including Reynolds’ daughter who died from Typhoid fever, and Annie Lee Reynolds, who was said to have died inside the house from either depression or tuberculosis. It is from the third floor where the majority of the ghostly activity seems to emanate. A few people have witnessed the apparition of a woman at the top of the staircase. It is believed to be Annie Lee, based on her style of dress and as she is often seen moving from the staircase, down the hall, and into what was her old bedroom.

What is even more strange is that guests staying at Reynolds Mansion have often described having impressions during their dreams that a presence had tried to communicate with them. One woman had described what she had dreamed: a man had been standing by the bed and arguing that the door between this room and the library adjacent to it must remain open. The next morning, she learned that the room had actually been Daniel Reynolds' master bedroom.