Monday, September 9, 2013

Huntington's Suicide Hotel and the Ghosts of the Express Printing Building

Park Tower, Randal Brown Collection
So...the term "suicide hotel"  obviously seems a little dramatic, and you're probably wondering what the heck it has to do with a local printing company...a haunted local printing company, at that!  Honestly, I haven't really put together all the pieces myself, but I hope you enjoy reading about the wild journey that led me to both of these locations from the 700th block of Fourth Avenue in downtown Huntington!

It actually all started at another investigation...

During an HPIR investigation of another historic building in the Huntington area, our Ovilus started saying some strange things.  While in Dictionary Mode, it surprised us all when instead of saying something normally found in a dictionary, it spit out the name Edwin.  We had some other interesting things happen that evening that seemed to be associated with this entity that we now called Edwin, so when I got home after the investigation, I began the research process into finding out whether this guy really did exist, and if he did, who he could be and why was he there.

I started with a simple search on the West Virginia Division of Culture's website, looking for anyone named Edwin who died in Cabell County between 1920 and 1940.  I didn't find anything that might relate to the case we were working, but I did find something of interest that immediately drew me in:  On July 30, 1938 Edwin M. Godby, a divorced dentist from Clarksburg, took his own life.  The 41 year old shot himself in the head at a place called the Park Tower Hotel in Huntington.

I don't pretend to be an expert on Huntington's history, but I thought that I would have at least come across this location before.  But, never having heard of it, I turned to Google.  The first entry that popped up was a Find-a-Grave entry!  The entry was for a 21 year old gentleman named Ronald E. Barr.  Barr was a traveling glass salesman from Wellsburg, WV.  On October 9, 1935, Barr took his own life through an overdose of Sodium Amytal.  He did so at the Park Tower Hotel in Huntington, WV.

So within a few minutes time, I had gone from having no knowledge of the Park Tower Hotel, to finding out only two pieces of information about it:  that it was located on the corner of 7th Street and 4th Avenue, and that two people had committed suicide there.  Therefore, I facetiously nicknamed it the Suicide Hotel!  Later, I went on to do some library research and found out a little more about the history.  The Park Tower Hotel was built around 1927 by renowned architect Levi Dean.  70 guestrooms boasted private baths, while 53 rooms were available without.  George Arrington was the proprietor for many years and was a proud manager for the "fireproof" hotel.  A 1928 Marshall yearbook ad claimed that visiting sports team to the college always stayed at the Park Tower because it was clean and homey...and at rooms available for $2 or less a night, was an economical choice!  Over the years, the Engineers Club of Huntington also met here.  Unfortunately, the hotel would quickly lose its charms.  It later became known as the Milner Hotel, and had a rather seedy reputation up until the 1980s.

Park Tower after the 1937 Flood. Source


*Side Note:  In 1924 Congress passed legislation promising anyone serving in WW1 a bonus of sorts; they were to receive $1.25 for each day served overseas and $1 for each day served in the United States.  These payments were to start in 1945, but in 1932, many of these veterans were feeling the effects of the Great Depression.  Destitute, they banded together  and ascended on Washington, D.C. Calling themselves the Bonus Expeditionary Force, they demanded their payment be made early.  Much to the dismay of Huntington officials, who were already having a hard time feeding its own citizens, the fight of the BEF was brought to Huntington, and Doak Carter set up headquarters in the Park Tower Hotel.*

Anyway, this was a cool location with some tragic history, but since the building was torn down in the early 1980s and there were no actual ghost stories known, I never added it to the growing list of Haunted WV locations.  I kept it in the back of my mind, though...

Sometime before all this happened, I had been introduced to another Huntington location said to be haunted:  The Express Printing Building, located across from the courthouse.  Geoffrey Foster, a local paranormal investigator, had written a book about some of his personal experiences and local haunts...and the Express Printing Building was a location where he personally lived and experienced paranormal activity.  According to Foster's book, Ghosts of West Virginia, the most common occurrence in the three-storey building's upstairs apartment complex is hearing heavy, phantom footsteps in the hallways.  Other activity included the sounds of dishes rattling in the sink in the author's own apartment, and a collection of Happy Meal toys in a friend's finding themselves taken off a shelf and apparently played with!



It was believed that these hauntings could be a result of a fire that broke out in the back of the building...a fire that took the lives of a small child and a homeless man who had passed out on the back staircase.  The staircase in particular became a hotbed of activity, with several people having the experience of someone unseen following them up the stairs, breathing heavily, and even brushing up against them.  At the time, I didn't really pay attention to the address of this location, but knew it was across from the Cabell County courthouse.  With so many other things going on, I never got a chance to research the location further, and like the "Suicide Hotel," it got relegated to the back of my mind.

Then, last year, I needed a printer in a hurry to whip of some preview copies of my own book, Haunted Huntington, Volume I.  I chose Express Printing because it was local and I had heard good things about them.  The owners were wonderful people and they did a great job, VERY quickly, for me and seemed very interested in the subject matter of the booklet.  I only got to chat a moment with them, but they claimed to have never had any ghosts in the bottom floor of the building, where the shop was located.

Anyway, it wasn't until a week later when I was picking up my books that I came to a startling realization.  The address for Express Printing was in the 700th block of Fourth Avenue, with just a small building separating it from being on the actual corner of 7th St. and 4th Avenue.  I wracked my brain trying to remember where I had heard that address before:  it was the address of the Suicide Hotel!

There's no real reason to believe that perhaps the many souls and/or energies that permeated the Suicide Hotel moved over to Express Printing when the building was torn down, but the coincidence of how I found out about the hotel and how it does relate, at least geographically, to a reported haunting, is just one of those weird things that this field always finds me in the middle of!

Black and white photo and some historical information for the Park Tower Hotel, courtesy of Huntington: The Edwardian Age's Modern Movement (2005) by Don Daniel McMillian.

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