Magazine article The New Yorker

ECTOPLASM!; HAUNTS Series: 2/5

Magazine article The New Yorker

ECTOPLASM!; HAUNTS Series: 2/5

Article excerpt

There is something about an evening snowstorm and an empty hotel ballroom--the cold, stale silence punctuated by creaks and groans--that can make even a hardened skeptic turn superstitious. The mind races with images of a wild-eyed Jack Nicholson, in "The Shining," wandering around the Overlook Hotel. A door closes somewhere; faint voices recede. Maybe, if the ballroom you're standing in happens to belong to the Maritime Hotel, a Chelsea hot spot, it's just the kitchen staff at Matsuri, a Japanese restaurant in the basement, but maybe . . . Well, you might not stick around to find out.

Talk has been circulating lately among employees at the Maritime and its two restaurants, Matsuri and La Bottega, that the place--thriving though it is--may in fact be, like St. Mark's Church (so it is said), or like Apartment 77 at the Dakota (goes the lore), haunted. Ghost sightings, reports of inexplicable noise (distant children's voices), and sensations of general unease among the guests have become sufficiently prevalent, according to the staff grapevine, that the operators at the front desk have begun to keep a log, recording each new disturbance. At the hotel bar early last week, a waitress allowed that the list runs for "pages and pages," and that a pattern has emerged: paranormal activity "only happens on certain floors--like the second and the eighth--and in the ballroom." The waitress herself had spent a night upstairs and found the experience mildly unsettling. "I woke up and felt like I was being watched," she said.

The Maritime is a new hotel (it opened last April), with modern amenities (flat-screen TVs, Saarinen tables), but the building dates back to the nineteen-sixties, when it was designed as the headquarters for the National Maritime Union. (This explains the porthole windows that face Ninth Avenue, giving the place the appearance of a Connect Four game board.) In the eighties, it was taken over by Covenant House, the scandal-beset shelter for troubled teens, and, briefly, in the late nineties, it belonged to the Chinese government. It's the Covenant House tenancy that is typically cited, however vaguely, as the source of the haunting; one supposes that it accounts for the recurring theme of ghostly children's voices.

Last Wednesday, a would-be ghostbuster booked a room on the second floor and checked in just as the snow was beginning to stick. He had armed himself with a tape recorder, a Polaroid camera (flash turned off), and an open mind--three investigative tools deemed indispensable by Dr. Hans Holzer, at-large professor of parapsychology. (Holzer, who is eighty-three, has published a hundred and thirty-eight books, including "Ghosts I've Met. …

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