I was 27 in 1997 when I joined three friends -- Steve, David, and Stephanie -- on a long-weekend road trip to escape the July heat of Washington, DC. We drove west through Maryland, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Ohio to visit prehistoric burial mounds and sites associated with the French and Indian War. Late Saturday evening, our second day, we arrived in Marietta, Ohio. Due to a convention, the only rooms available were at the historic Lafayette Hotel -- a riverboat hotel constructed in 1918 at the confluence of the Ohio and Muskingum Rivers. With David's corporate discounts we were able to secure rooms at decent rates, and we were pleased with our great fortune to spend the night in such a grand, well-preserved, historic hotel.
Unfortunately, we arrived late enough that the hotel restaurant was no longer serving food. Our search for dining in Marietta's historic downtown proved fruitless. When my friends decided to have drinks at a saloon with overly loud country-western music, I opted out. But upon returning to my room I was restless. Unable to sleep, I dinned at the vending machine and decided on a quiet drink in the Lafayette's Riverview Lounge.
When I took a seat near the corner of the bar (with my back to the lobby entrance) it was probably 11:30 PM. Besides the bartender, the only other occupants were a middle-aged couple at a small, low table in the far corner and two hotel employees flirting over after-work drinks. With its high ceiling and massive bar, the enormity of the lounge seemed to absorb the couples' voices creating a hushed, impenetrable atmosphere. Other than the movements of the bartender cleaning up, the lounge was very still.
I drank a Jim Beam and Coke then started a second (I've since moved on to more palatable cocktails). I felt entirely relaxed and at ease. I sat -- not thinking about anything -- just appreciating my growing fatigue, the bourbon, and the beautiful atmosphere of the Lafayette. When it happened, I was neither intoxicated nor asleep and dreaming; I was in a state of complete relaxation in which my mind was not consciously focused on anything. While looking straight across the side of the bar, I noticed a pale haze moved along the left periphery of my vision.
At first, I was unable to identify or clearly discern the pale, vaporous image, but suddenly I realized this was a woman. She wore an Edwardian dress pulled tightly about her waist with either a sash or wide ribbon. Her long-sleeved dress (or skirt and blouse -- I'm not sure which) had subtle, narrow vertical design lines and a high collar. Her hair was pinned up in the style of the beautiful Gibson Girls. She and her dress were colorless, yet oddly, I thought the woman was a brunette. She was the classic "lady in white".
As soon as I realized it was a woman, I turned my head, but otherwise did not shift. She moved across the lounge from somewhere near the middle-aged couple. She traveled on a straight, undeviating path toward the lobby -- which brought her closer to me. As she moved, I realized she was transparent because the wall and carpet faintly showed through her skirt. But what startled me most was how she moved. She did not walk, but glided without effort. When I looked down and expected to see her shoes, she was hazy and less tangible near the floor. She did not touch the carpet as much as she seemed to hover above it.
She was fixated on the door to the lobby and never once moved her eyes or head from her goal. I did not break eye contact with her, but she seemed wholly unaware of me. She came within about 10 feet of me and was approaching the lobby threshold when she suddenly and completely vanished. At the very instant before she disappeared my reeling wits finally caught up, and my mind shouted excitedly, "It's a ghost!" It was at this precise moment -- the instant of my realization -- that she vanished. The entire episode probably lasted 10 seconds -- just long enough for her to cross the large room.
Immediately I looked back across the lounge hoping that someone else had witnessed this, but everyone was looking away. At first, I sat in disbelief. I tried to debunk it and contrive an explanation -- that headlights from a car glimmered on the bar mirror and my mind created this fantasy -- but as I looked out the windows and watched the mirror, I realized I could not explain away so easily what I had witnessed. I finished my drink and the bartender poured another -- my last of the evening. I asked him about the history of the Lafayette. When it opened in 1918, the Lafayette was built on the foundation and incorporated the walls of the Bellevue Hotel (1892-1916) that had been gutted by fire. When I asked about the function of the room before it became the lounge he seemed surprised that I knew the room once served a different purpose. During the 1980s the bartender said that the current lounge was created from space that he thought was originally the women's sitting room in 1918.
I did not tell my friends of the lady in white until after our trip ended -- largely for fear that they would not take my experience seriously. When I finally told Steve, we called the hotel. The manager told us of the Lafayette's unheralded reputation for the paranormal. Guests and staff often report stirrings in their peripheral vision, elevators moving without passengers late at night, strong sensations of being watched, and objects moved about rooms on the third floor. Traditionally, these events are attributed to S. Durward Hoag, a dedicated owner and tireless manager of the hotel. Obviously, it was not Hoag who I saw and unlike other accounts, my experience occurred in the lounge. From the vantage of a decade, I wish I had told my friends immediately and I wish we had stayed another night. I would love to know what important errand this lady in white was on and if anyone else has encountered her.
I am sure skeptics will scoff at my story. No one else at the bar that night can substantiate what I witnessed. Admittedly, I was tired and having a second drink on a somewhat empty stomach. And my story is not very original. Anglo-American culture is replete with tales of beautiful, tragic ladies in white. By contrast, those who believe we live in a haunted world will say that I encountered a residual haunting that replicated some moment in time. I do not know why I saw the lady in white -- only that I did. Some day, perhaps, science will explain it. In the meantime, I can only insist that I was neither drunk nor slumbering in a dreamscape. For those few fleeting seconds I was privileged to witness the inexplicable and, to this day, I cherish the experience.