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The Hotel Blanche

Spectral Gangsters, Wailing Women and a Shadowy Demon behind a Forbidden Door

 

 “Some places are strange, that’s no surprise, but this place has something really weird to it … Something just not right. You’ll know this when you walk by it late at night, and if you get the chance to go inside, you’ll know it for sure…I guarantee it.”

 

               This email response; which I received a few years ago from a former security guard at the Blanch Hotel, gives his overview and feelings about this strange location. He also offered a sampling of some of some chilling accounts in later communiqués that would have me researching this most interesting landmark from a personal standpoint. In the end, I had discovered a truly unique and hidden landmark that offered a worthy cache of Floridian folklore and inquiry from the psychical point-of-view. During my investigative process, I was able to utilize both scientific equipment, and the aid of a psychic to route out some fascinating information about this once stylish hotel of yesteryear.

               Though few locations I research take me across the oceans to Europe or the British Isles, I find that some of my best and most direct research opportunities take me across my own state of Florida to search out those elusive spirits of legend and oral tradition. Fortunately for me, I have had some of my best luck in both my paranormal inquiries and in the collection of urban legends while living here, and it was during one of my many investigations in North Florida that I came upon the most interesting, if not a bit frightening Blanche Hotel in Lake City.

                Although the majority of Lake City is fairly modern by most accounts, the Blanche Hotel, simply known as The Blanche by residents of this area, is one of north Florida’s silent reminders of a more cultured era. Located at 212 North Marion Street, this huge building once served as the cornerstone of Floridian hospitality for many years. Designed by architects Frank Milburn, and Henry W. Otis, this three-story hotel is of the masonry eclectic façade designs, so common of the 1880s, a structure that occupies a whole city block. In its heyday, this hotel served as Lake City’s primer hotel, catering as the primary social facility for much of the northern state. From 1902 to the 1950s, The Blanche was the seat of luxury in the small township, offering its refined amenities, and dining to local and traveler alike, as well as host to historic parties, and social functions for close to five decades. Because Marion Street transverses through many of Florida’s once busy roadways, The Blanche became a major stop-off point for weary travelers, especially during the first part of the century. As this roadway connects to major highways that lead from Chicago and New York, right on to routes westward to California and the mid-west, it’s easy to see why so many drivers would end their day’s long drive in a nice hotel for a respite. Indeed, those famous and infamous alike would make The Blanche their vacation home for many years.    

              Over the decades however, this once charming hotel, like many other great hotels, would experience many hardships and downfalls that would have they’re doors closing seemingly overnight. Tight budgets, the great depression, and two world wars took its toll on most of the United States, but Florida would be one of the worst hit, leaving the majority of its grand hotels abandoned and boarded up, with vacancies only for rodents and the down-and-out. As time marched on, and the state matured, small college towns like Gainesville only a few miles away, transformed into giant metropolises, and in the process, made the smaller, more country-like towns like Lake City, Live Oak and Micanopy more obscure to travelers. It was just a matter of time for the Blanche Hotel’s charm to wane in significance to that of the new and improved hotel giants throughout the Sunshine State.  

              Today, The Blanche is not in service as a resort, and although there have been rumors of its rebirth to a hotel once again; little fact to that rumor has been discovered. The hotel offers its space for commerce and trade, as well as for other domestic uses, such as for privet business, a restaurant and even specialty stores. There are various government-level offices occupying the hotel, such as for congressmen and lawyers, but the majority of the space here remains completely vacant. The Blanche and its active past is no more than a ghost today, just a faint image of its once jubilant presence.  As with any hotel, inn or lodging, there will be tragedies and sad occasions, and The Blanche is certainly no different in that respect. Though the history is spotted in some aspects, leaving exact times and dates a mystery to this researcher, a few such tragedies have been documented over the years. In fact, during the past 100 years of service of one kind or another, we know that there were several murders, deaths by natural causes, and at least one suicide. Because finding the exact details to these events are close to impossible, we will have to rely on Lake City’s local legends and oral traditions to assist in the supernatural lore that we have come to know over the past century. Even though there is a curious lack of hard evidence to support many of these tragedies, those renting space here, as well as the building’s staff and visitors have had their own up-close and personal evidence — proof that cannot be denied.   

 

A Haven for Ethereal Gangsters and Weird Phenomena

 

              The Blanche is one of Florida’s more obscure haunted places, and there are few who are fully aware of this landmark, let alone of its haunted reputation. For the most part, the old building appears to be nothing more than an abandoned building, but to the occupants however, many have had more than a few paranormal experiences. Since at least the 1960s, The Blanche has had a strange feel to it in one form or another. Most who have witnessed the paranormal events said to take place here, all seem to feel the building is housing more than one spirit, but others feel there are indeed many more.

               Of the ghostly events, the most common experiences are cold breezes passing through the hallways where there should be none, as well as many unaccounted-for noises heard throughout the main structure. Most of the paranormal events seem to take place on the 2nd and 3rd floors, where the occupants have experienced everything from clanking sounds; as if objects are falling from high places, to children running throughout the hallways and laughing, as well as disembodied footsteps echoing from nowhere. Many have witnessed doors opening and slamming shut by themselves, as well as lights turning on and off by unseen hands. Even more curious, there is said to be a small hole on the 2nd floor ceiling, which may be attributed to the natural event of the building decaying, needing more repair than an exorcism, but everything from coins to shreds of old newspapers are said to have fallen out of this hole periodically over the years, tempting many paranormal researchers to account the strange events as that of classic apport phenomena, where various materials may mysteriously transport from one location to another by unknown means. To date, no explanation has been assigned to this conundrum of science.   

              Computers are reported to act strangely on the 2nd floor, becoming fuzzy to look at, or which may cease to function all together. Although this is more annoying than scary, no one has yet found a plausible explanation for this technical oddity. Moreover, several of the building’s staff have heard the sounds of children running throughout to upstairs 3rd floor, as if playing, as well as detecting the sounds of muffled, child-like giggles echoing throughout the upper floors. When investigated, the hallways and rooms are always found empty. Indeed, although these sounds reflect the blissful nature of happy children playing, hearing such things from the vacant upper rooms at all hours of the night create the uncanny knack of frightening even the most ardent worker into vacating the area rather quickly.  In addition to these peculiarities, when staff and other workers walk on the 2nd floor, near or around the ladies room toward the east end of the building, many report smelling odd, misplaced scents, such as vinegar, heavy sulfur, and even sweet vanilla. Other more explainable scents like those of food cooking will be detected here as well, even though the restaurant downstairs had long been closed earlier that day. Indeed, although these events may seem odd rather than frightening, the sounds of disembodied voices and a sad woman sobbing in a torrent of tears have had some witnesses at The Blanche in total apprehension.

                 Of the strange voices heard echoing from the upper floors, there is mostly whispering, and intangible conversations, as if there were people walking around and having a chat. On occasion, however, some report hearing a woman shouting, and crying, as if in great pain, which is often accompanied by doors slamming, and hall lights flickering. Some have attributed these reverberations to the spirit of a woman who is said to have committed suicide many years ago. Though researchers have been unable to find exact information for this event, many feel a woman did take her life during the mid 1930s. The most tragic aspect to this story however, is that this saddened woman completed her suicidal deed while she was pregnant — A selfish act that some believe is the reason behind her ethereal manifestations. 

                Because there is so little history on this woman, nor any stories of her in Lake City’s archives, we must rely on speculation as to why this unnamed woman had taken her life at this once posh hotel. Although there can be any number of possible causes, reasons historians and psychical researchers may never know for sure, what is known, however, is that The Blanche has a very sad specter attached to it, and one who appears to have much to say. Though this tormented spirit has never been physically seen, only having been heard sobbing, her words are never completely understandable. While some have claimed to have heard her call out someone’s name during her violent outbursts, her muttering of muffled words made is simply impossible to discern. On several occasions, the screams had been so loud, that people walking on the adjacent streets who had heard her wailing, had gone inside the building demanding to help this tormented, yet unseen woman, only to find the structure vacant of any wrongdoing.

               Though there appears to be a rather large collection of spirits presiding within the Blanche Hotel, and ones that have a definite ability to frighten the living, the fact that something strange is going on here seems to be evident to everyone associated with it. And, though no one has claimed to have been injured by any of these spirits, there was one incident that had a fire marshal take notice to the paranormal. Evidently, when a city fire marshal was making an inspection of The Blanche several years ago, he came face-to-face with something unknown while ascending to the hotel’s 3rd floor to inspect the fire exits. According to the shaken fire marshal, as he was nearing the top step, having trouble seeing through the darkness, as few lights were working, he lost his footing and fell forward. And, although this sounds like a typical mishap, the fire marshal made a statement that changed the typical to the supernatural. Evidently, as he was just about to step off the last step, he felt the grip of an unseen hand on his arm, which pulled him down toward the floor. Though he wasn’t injured, the hapless fire marshal was, needless to say, a bit unnerved, and who is today a complete believer.

 

Eerie Surroundings and a Dark Entity behind a Closed-Off Door: An Investigation into the Unknown

 

                In addition to the many strange occurrences reported here over the past 30 years, a mystery about a dark entity that inhabits a closed-off and locked suite on the 3rd floor of this building has become a matter of local legend, which has lead both young and old alike to trespass in search of it. Though finding any facts about this room from management had been unsuccessful for this investigator, I can say the general opinion of its presence, and the direct order to cease my inquiry into this issue only made me want to search even further. Fortunately for me, I would have my chance to investigate nonetheless.

                In October of 2006 I was invited to speak at an event at the Blanche Hotel, which was hosted by the Lake City Public Library System. In what started out as an evening of active discussion and community participation, soon became a night of adventure and fun that would pique my interest and add to my compendium of the paranormal. It was during my lecture that I learned of the so-called demon that inhabited the 3rd floor, which was responsible for the majority of paranormal activity at The Blanche. Apparently, this creature is said to exist in one of the old 3rd floor suites, which could not be opened or entered for any reason. Sounding more like hokum than fact, I let it go at that, and continued with the lecture. After hearing several accounts from people who tried to get into this closed-off room with no success, and that the entire 3rd floor had recently been placed off-limits and boarded, up only fueled my interest to look a little further. Once I learned I had free range of the building that night, I decided to take a chance and see if the 3rd floor was indeed locked. And when my lecture was over, two of the remaining library staff members and I began an impromptu investigation into an otherwise forbidden section of the old hotel.

               By 11:45 P.M; after walking around the entire building, and throughout the hallways, and then again throughout the second floor, we found two stairwells that lead to the dreaded 3rd floor. Although the first door was locked and covered with a huge lumber board, the second door was un-nailed and ajar. Thinking this was fate, we entered the completely dark and dusty hallway. Having had a few pieces of equipment, including an Tri-Field Natural EM Meter, a 50/60 Hz Gaussmeter, digital cameras, a tape recorder and a good high-bean flashlight, we made our way through the dust and debris that looked as if had been there for years.  Throughout the hallway, we had to step over dust-covered litter that appeared to be quite old. Each of the rooms was left open, lit only by streetlights emitting through the moldy windows. Each room had an old wire bed frame with bare springs, and old decaying dressers that look as old as the hotel. The bathrooms have old rusty claw-foot tubs and pedestal sinks that have not seen running water for years. Dust and cobwebs draped over everything, and a think air of dust and soot made it hard to breath. As we approached the end of the hallway, stepping over the skeletal remains of rats and cats, and even what appeared to be a raccoon, we noticed an assortment of tools and similar equipment designed for construction purposes, so perhaps plans for renovations were true after all. When we doubled back to the main entrance, we followed a catwalk-like hallway that leads to the opposite end of the building. As we traveled this tight hallway, most likely used for the old hotel’s service people, we noticed a tiny dumbwaiter elevator that was rusted and stuck in position, with old newspapers strewn about the floor. The entire place resembled something from a Stephen King novel.

               Just beyond this is a stoop that leads to a porch-like landing; likely used as a gathering place for hotel guests. Just beyond this, rests the other wing of the building, which is similar in appearance as the first section we explored. The difference, of course, was the sinister-looking door that is closed and locked unlike the others. This door seemed different than the rest too, as its design was completely different, and has a metal plate around the doorknob, as well as strips of duct tape around the edges of the door, as if to keep out a gas or other smoky substance. Stranger still was the fact the doorknob was ice-cold, in spite of the warm and musty surroundings of the hallway. Moreover, the fact that expensive equipment like drills and tool boxes were seen all around the floor made us question the purpose of the locked room. The fact that this room, out of the entire hotel had a reputation of being evil in one way or another, which was known by many of the neighboring businesses and town’s people, made the mystery even more tantalizing.

               Our investigation proved positive that something was going on in the old building. Though electricity was active on the 3rd floor, we received irregular electromagnetic readings even when we were far apart form outlets and lamp extensions, and my high-density flashlight lost its power only within about 10 minutes, even though it had a full charge. My periodic audio typing of the investigation, while asking various questions proved interesting too, as I picked up buzzing sounds, as well as clicking, or tapping sounds. There were definite pulsations of cold air detected, and there were many unaccountable noises and what sounded like footfalls noticed throughout the 45 minutes spent on the 3rd floor. In the end, even though I felt a good amount of psychical evidence was discovered at The Blanche, I knew there had to be more.

               With this knowledge, and a continued thirst for more information, I gave my thanks and goodbyes to my hosts, and prepared for my drive back to central Florida. I knew I had to meet with a well known psychic there, and show her our photographs and recordings that forthcoming week. I know that she would be able to give some insight into this hauntingly strange, yet enticing hotel of the past. I knew that her past achievements as a psychic-medium were well-documented and that she had also worked with law enforcement in the past to give her opinions on cold-case files, and believed that she was one of the few who possessed the gift. The results were both telling and chilling. 

 

Psychic Impressions of the Blanche Hotel

by

Sheila Cavallo 

 

               I had the opportunity to meet a local Florida psychic named Sheila Cavallo. This self-styled psychic-medium has been known on the new age circuit for more than 30 years, especially throughout the central Florida region, where she had taken part in many séances and psychic cleansings, earning a name for herself in the process. In my interviews with Ms. Cavallo, I learned that she was able to hold objects or gaze at old photographs and detect portions of its unique history, no matter how vague. In what is known as psychometry, Ms. Cavallo could hold a weapon, for instance, and tell you if it had killed a person, or people, or if it was never fired. Or, she could look deeply at a photograph of a home, building or other landmark, and tell you a better-than-average history of that location within only a few minutes. Moreover, the fact that she never owned a computer and was in a wheelchair in her last few years, it would have been impossible for her to gain instant information like she did when she gazed at the photographs of my investigation within the Blanche Hotel. Moreover, when compared to my earlier research at that location, and Ms. Cavallo’s impressions, we can see the direct, if not uncanny similarities between the two.

The following psychic observation was taken from her own hand in June, 2007 after she spent several minutes looking over several photographs of the Blanche Hotel. She was unaided with any hints or information about the structure or its history, and had never been to Lake City Florida. Yet, she was able to relate some very interesting information about the otherwise hidden history of this most intriguing landmark.

 

“…After spending some time analyzing the photos of the Blanche Hotel, several very strong psychic impressions presented themselves to me. While gazing at this picture I got the distinct impression of very strong activity on the third floor of this most unique structure. Starting at the far right side of the picture, three spirits seem to be making their home in this area.  One such ghost/spirit is that of a young girl, probably in her early twenties, who seems to be rather confused – as if she cannot understand what has happened to her and why she is there.  She is not a strong spirit, and keeps fading in and out, as if trying to make up her mind whether to stay or leave. I feel that at one time she stayed in this Hotel, probably on more than one occasion, and her memories of the pleasant times she had are what keeps her coming back.  While trying to envision this spirit, I can only see her from the knees up. She is wearing some sort of gown or night shift in a soft material and her hair is light in color and below her shoulders. I do not get the impression that she died in the Hotel, but elsewhere at a young age.  She is confused because she keeps looking for the friends and family she knew while on Earth, who probably accompanied her when she stayed there… 

There is another spirit of a young man, seemingly in his late twenties or possibly in his early thirties who died in the Hotel. I see a card game in which this man was one of the participants, and feel that perhaps he was wrongly accused of cheating and was shot by one of the other players. He is wearing a light colored shirt and trousers and his hair is very thick and somewhat wavy. Although he was accused of cheating, he seems to be conveying the thought that he was wrongly accused and is still trying to prove his innocence. Because of this, he is unable to leave, and feels he needs to “set the record straight…

The third spirit on the left side of the third floor is rather unique in appearance. He is a midget, pudgy in appearance, and walks with his legs apart and knees slightly bent.  This was due to a birth deformity. When he walks, it looks like he is swaying from side to side. He seems to be friendly and helpful. The impression I am receiving is that he once was a type of “gopher” while on Earth. I see him connected with some type of outlaw/gangster “family” and he was used as an errand boy. He was treated well by these men, as they probably were the only real “family” he knew while on Earth. He seems to be sending a message that he was abandoned by his real family because he was an embarrassment to them and was adopted and raised by an older couple.  After the couple passed away, he took up with this particular group of men who probably, in some odd sense, felt sorry for him and invited him to join them, as a type of servant. I feel that he passed away in this Hotel and this is why he continues to stay, because it was the last place he lived and felt wanted…Going to the right side of the third floor (I am saving the middle section for last), I see two very strong spirits:

The first is of a man, probably in his late thirties, who was sort of a “hired gun.” He seems to have kept his identity well-hidden from most people and only a chosen few knew his real name.  He is tall, dark-haired and lean. He is wearing a suit, probably late 1800’s to early 1900’s, made out of a dark, rough material. His boots are dark brown and his pant legs are tucked into the tops of the boots. He is wearing a type of string tie and has a holster and gun which is kept hidden under his jacket. I feel he was a regular visitor to this Hotel, but don’t feel as if died there. He also wears a hat with a large brim, which he keeps pulled down over his eyes, as if he doesn’t want anyone to see his face. I cannot make contact with him because he doesn’t want to be acknowledged and refuses to give any information. I don’t really know why he is there except perhaps this is where he would go on occasion to sort of “hide out.” If anyone would go up to the third floor, I feel that he sort of backs off into the corner of one of the rooms and watches them without trying to make his presence known…

Last, but not least, is the spirit of a lady. She is a strong spirit and I feel she passed away in this Hotel. I am getting the message of “pneumonia.” She is dressed in a high-necked blouse with a bow at the collar and long sleeves. She is wearing a hobble skirt, reminiscent of the 1920’s, with shoes sporting a heel of perhaps 2” with button tops. Her hair is pulled back in some sort of French twist or bun and the front comes down with a wave over the left side of her face. She is rather nice looking, but a little on the stern side. I seem to be getting an “Annie” or “Annabelle” around her, possibly her name or the name of someone close to her, like a daughter or family member. She is very lonely and sort of “hangs around” the gentleman described in the above paragraph, mostly for companionship. I feel she wants to leave but is afraid because she is not sure what is on the “other side” and feels sort of safe where she is now…

As for the middle section, I saved this for last because the impressions I get from the three small windows overlooking what seems to be a balcony, are somewhat unique and mysterious.  There is a type of “entity” lurking there, as if guarding the third floor. This is not a friendly spirit, and I do not sincerely believe it was ever incarnated as a human person. This “entity” (for lack of a better word) has taken it upon itself to keep the spirits on either side of the third floor separated – for whatever reason.  It does not seem to have any particular shape and retains itself in a small size – like perhaps a ten pound cat – when no one is around.  It stays near the bottom of the wall and hides, but when it senses someone approaching, it can transform itself into a larger mass, if necessary. I would like to give a warning here that if anyone decides to cross this section, they must make sure that they place a very strong white light of protection around themselves and a shield with reflecting mirrors facing outward. This entity has a high-energy type of field and could do some serious psychological damage to a person who is weak – either in mind or body.  It is definitely from another dimension…

The only other impression I receive comes from the second floor on the far right side.  There is a male spirit dressed in a Civil War-type of uniform, who calls himself “Captain.” He seems to make this second floor his home and patrols it on a regular basis – usually at night.  He is not harmful and seems to thoroughly enjoy watching people come and go. I see him smoking a very thin cigar and feel that this cigar smoke can be seen and smelt by anyone who happens to be up walking around while he is patrolling his “house.” He does not go up to the third floor or down to the first floor, and seems to be fond of the last room on the right side of the Hotel.   Occasionally there are three or four spirits of very young children who seem to play around the front entrance of the Hotel, but they don’t stay very long.  They sort of get together occasionally for a play date and enjoy the area.  These are the impressions I received. I am not saying that they are correct and someone else may get entirely different impressions from mine. What I have written is what has come through to me, using my “third” or psychic eye. This is a very “proud” Hotel and has retained the memories of many eras. Treat it with respect and say a silent “thank you” upon leaving…” 

 

Postscript

 

                Although the Blanche Hotel seems to enjoy its anonymity from the ever probing ghost hunter and psychic, it’s only a matter of time until the clamorous specters within will call their attention. A definite history of The Blanche is just as elusive and mysterious as the wailing woman on the upper floors of this peculiar building. The sounds of playful children are just as enigmatic as the turbulent history of this abode, and indeed, the very opinion of this landmark seems to draw in both love and hate from the residents of Lake City.

                The mysterious hole on the 2nd floor, which is said to produce strange, misplaced objects from time to time, was not found however, though an integral part of this location’s folklore. Perhaps this alleged hole was boarded up years ago, or perhaps it was nothing more than a suggestion that grew into the legend we know it to be today. If it were true, however, such would indeed appear to be an apport; or portal-like anomaly from a quasi-dimension, or bi-location. Though speculative at best, such a phenomenon has been a part of the Blanche Hotel’s oral tradition for many decades.

                As for the many ghostly events taking place at the Blanche Hotel, I can certainly see the reason for its reputation of being haunted. Though the general atmosphere here is creepy, in the sense that it’s big, with vacant spaces and creaky floors, and of course the halo-effect created by the locked-off 3rd floor and the legends attached to it, we have to take into account that such may be creating an over-heightened sense of foreboding, or even paranoia for the witness. This being the case, we as explorers of the paranormal, should weigh our findings scientifically to that of simply taking the events as fact. Is the Blanche Hotel haunted? I will have to say yes, firstly because of the collected information from my research, the research from my colleagues, and from the findings by a reputable psychic. Beyond this, I too felt that there was something more here, than simply from an active imagination — And I think you will too.

 

*If planning to visit this historic landmark, keep in mind that this is a working office complex, and permission must be sought before investigating the property. If permission is properly obtained, the best time to possibly experience the aforementioned phenomena is usually within the early hours of the morning, or late at night when the majority of the occupants have gone home. Witnesses have also reported hearing strange; out-of-place noises while sitting outside late at night, so a quite vigil outside the building may also prove positive to your research. Moreover, the investigator should consider taking many photographs of the building itself, both inside and outside, and make audio recordings for the collection of possible EVP, as well as conduct the proper interviews with staff and office workers to help round-out a good investigation. In the end, the Blanche Hotel should prove to be a worthy study, and become a favorite topic for the scholarly researcher for years to come.

 

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