Biltmore's ghost of a chance

Published Dec. 22, 2004|Updated Aug. 29, 2005

For years, some at the Belleview Biltmore Resort & Spa have reported ghostly apparitions who wander through the halls, poltergeists who bang on doors and flip on lights, and transparent elevator operators who seem quite cordial.

A Clearwater couple think one of them likes to mug for the camera.

Joseph and Yvonne Houston say they were quite spooked recently when they picked up some pictures they had developed at a CVS pharmacy photo center.

In one photo, a misty, white image appears above and to the side of the couple as they stand at the base of a stairway in the 107-year-old hotel.

"We said, "What in the world is that?' " said Joseph Houston, a 55-year-old golf instructor. "It looks like it is looking right at us."

The picture was taken with a Kodak disposable camera about 11:30 p.m. on Dec. 4, the Houstons said. They were attending a holiday party and handed the camera to a woman, who snapped their picture.

Since getting the photos back, they have come up with a theory: The ghost is staging an earthly protest against the impending demolition of the hotel. Developers say they have a contract to purchase the property and plan to redevelop it.

"I think this spirit knows if the hotel gets torn down, it will lose its home," said Yvonne Houston, a 55-year-old aesthetician originally from England. "It doesn't want to become a homeless ghost, so it wanted to show everyone it lives there."

Mike Sanders, a Clearwater historian and preservationist who has documented the hotel's history, remains skeptical.

"It's a charming story, but I personally don't put much credence in it," he said.

The former owner of a 12th-century British hotel, Yvonne Houston said she was discussing the future demolition of the Belleview Biltmore with her husband of seven years as they strolled down the hotel corridor that evening.

"I think it knew I felt passionate about preserving the hotel," she said. "I was saying that America has so little history, so why destroy it. The British tend to try and save buildings. I think the spirit heard me. It knew we were sympathetic, and it followed us."

Kathy Rauschenberg, director of public relations for Kodak, said this is the first inquiry she has received about a ghostlike image appearing on a print from a disposable camera.

"These cameras are sealed properly so the film is not exposed," she said, responding to an e-mailed image of the picture. "I do see an image, but I can't tell you what it is. It doesn't look like a film flaw, and the rest of the picture looks like it was exposed under normal conditions."

The Belleview Biltmore's manager, Martin Smith, also looked at the picture.

"I couldn't tell you what it is," he said. "There is clearly something there. It looks like some kind of light or cigarette smoke, but there is no smoking allowed there."

When told about the couple's speculation that the apparition may be seeking to illuminate the plight of homeless ghosts, Smith said, "That's a wonderful thought."

He said he personally doesn't believe in ghosts and spirits, but he said, "People say if you don't believe, you don't see them."

Tales of paranormal activity taking place in the hotel have been so widespread, the Belleview Biltmore was the subject of an episode on haunted hotels for the Travel Channel's Weird Travels series. "There are certainly places that you can see where the ghost stories come from," said Chris Bray, field producer for Authentic Entertainment, which produced the segment. "Especially the fifth floor. It's one of the more spooky places," Bray said. "During the day, it's such a beautiful property, but definitely at night it takes on a different character."

Joseph Houston said the experience has made him a believer.

"I never went for that sort of thing, but now, I guess I do," he said. "I just wonder why it chose us."


Some of the ghosts who are believed to haunt the Belleview Biltmore include:

Maisie Plant, who married Morton Plant, the son of founder Henry Bradley Plant. Legend has it Morton Plant spotted Maisie at the hotel and was smitten at first sight. She was supposedly married to another man at the time, so Plant paid her husband $8-million to disappear. Maisie still wanders the halls, looking for her pearls.

A bride who leaped to her death from her fourth-story balcony after hearing that her newlywed husband was killed in a car crash. She may be the woman who has been spotted looking out from windows on the fifth floor, which has been blocked off for years.

A dapper, 6-foot-3 gentleman who sometimes rides the elevator with hotel staff, and tips his top hat when people get on or off.