It is irrelevant how I ended up staying at a ritzy hotel in New Jersey back in March of 1990. Suffice it to say, I was sick with a head cold and was ordere by a doctor not to fly back to California. My first night on the East Coast had been spent in a chain motel without incident.
So I was very sick with a severe head cold, sore throat and fever when I checked into the Victorian era, ivy -covered stone building. I was dizzy and fatigued and craved soup and sleep.
I was sharing a room with my mother. As we made our way down the corridor, I noticed the Laura Ashley motif covered everything from the walls to the seat cushions to the comforters on our beds. I ordered room service: duck wonton soup and lemon- lime soda for my throat. I took a hot shower, put on my pajamas and crawled into bed. My mother was concerned, but let me be.
In the darkness hours later, I awoke to find an old woman with long grey hair in an old fashioned night gown trying to smother me with a pillow. Behind her were four other women dressed in similar nightgowns. The look in this woman’s eyes was frightening. She seemed possessed. The women behind her were chanting “kill her! Kill her!” I struggled with the apparition and screamed “NO! NO! NO! NO!”. I knew my mother was asleep in the bed next to me, and when I screamed “NO! ” the third time, she turned on the light and rushed to my side . I pointed and said ” there was a woman in this room who just tried to kill me!” My mother shook her head and said “No. You were dreaming. You have a fever and a head cold.” I responded ” I know I am dealing with a head cold, but what I experienced was real.”
The doctor had explicitly told my mother I was not to fly for another four days. My step father was coming to meet us after attending a conference in Boston, which meant I had to move into my own room down the hall. I was scared. I told my mother ” this hotel is haunted.” She laughed at me. My new room in the hotel was decorated exactly like the first one; patterns of blue peonies and pink carnations were everywhere. My mother had told me I could order room service and watch cable T.V. News of the tragic Happy land Dance hall fire in Brooklyn, which killed several dozen people, was splattered on all the stations. I kept going back to watching music videos to forget what had happened the night before.
Maybe it had been a bad dream. Tonight would be better, I told myself. I turned off the T.V. and then the lights. I don’t know how long I had been asleep when I awoke to find yet more women with the same night gowns in my room. I quickly turned on the lights & the T.V. Splashing water on my face , I realized the next few ays were going to be rough. There was no way I was going to be able sleep without the lights on.
I asked someone in the hotel if the place was haunted. They just shrugged. I vowed that one day I would find out the truth.
Maybe I could discover it in Public Records, some kind of history of the building before it was a hotel. These were the days before the Internet . The incident never left my psyche. Someday. Someday.
Several years later I moved to the East Coast. I was living in Philadelphia and was at a church rummage sale. I noticed two older women who appeared to be in their early seventies sitting in a corner of the room. I went over and sat next to them. They smiled and said hello. I asked them where they lived. They mentioned the town where the hotel was located. I asked them if they had heard of the hotel. They nodded. I paused, unsure if I should tell them the story. But I knew what I had experienced had not been the result of a feverish head cold or a common nightmare.
I expected laughter to erupt. Instead the faces of the women had a look of compassion and kindness. “We believe you” they said in unison. The hotel had been a residence for homeless and mentally ill women at the turn of the Century. As they shared the history of the hotel, I felt myself go pale and my legs started to shake.
Several years later I moved to the suburbs. One of my neighbors was fascinated by the paranormal. I shared my story with her, and when I mentioned the hotel and it’s location, she got very excited. ” I have a cousin who lives in that town! I ‘m going to call her right now and find out if she knows anything about this hotel.”
For years I had tried to do research on the hotel. A well -known travel rating site didn’t mention the hotel being haunted , but it did mention the lovely rooms.. Ten minutes after my neighbor left to go home, she called me on the phone ” I just talked to my cousin”, she said. ” That hotel is VERY haunted.! It’s an open secret. Everyone who lives in that town knows that.”
Since that time, I occasionally google the hotel to see if anyone has mentioned if it is haunted. No on has. I toy with this idea of going back for an overnight stay at the hotel.
A few weeks ago, I created a series of witch paintings I dubbed THE PENDLE HILL WITCHES. The last witch- witch number ten closely resembles the apparition who tried to smother me with a pillow.