• Gaby Triana

Haunt Files #1 - BILTMORE HOTEL

Updated: Jul 23, 2019

I've always been fascinated with the Biltmore Hotel of Coral Gables. The first novel I ever wrote while teaching 4th grade was a middle grade book called Freddie and the Biltmore Ghost about a group of friends who meet the ghost of a WWII veteran while trespassing at the abandoned location and help him find his long-long daughter. Why the fascination? This hotel is full of amazing history and paranormal events. Here's a little background...

The Biltmore Hotel is a 5-star establishment and national historic landmark located in the lush, classic area of Miami, Florida known as Coral Gables. This gorgeous Mediterranean-style structure was built in 1926 by hotel magnate John McEntee Bowman and Coral Gables land developer, George Merrick, and has been a shining example of “elegance, beauty, and old world charm” for decades, though it was not always a hotel.

More on that later.

For years, the Biltmore Hotel has been a world-class meeting place for celebrities, international socialites, politicians, as well as the local community, golfers, and spa-seekers. A playground for the rich and famous, the Biltmore has also served as a VA hospital, University of Miami’s School of Medicine, and for a while in the 70s, was even an abandoned paranormal hot spot for thrill-seekers and trespassers. Its swimming pool is considered the largest hotel pool in the United States and once hosted beauty pageants and Johnny Weissmuller as swimming instructor before he became the famous film actor of Tarzan.

As a kid and teen, I was lucky enough to experience this treasure as an abandoned location and was drawn to the Biltmore Hotel’s forlorn hallways. Walking through its empty shell and around its drained pool, I could almost imagine guests of the past, gangsters, long-gone celebrities, nurses, doctors, and war patients roaming the halls. After a 11-year period of being closed down, from 1973 to 1984, the City of Coral Gables agreed to its renovation in after the hotel was bought by the Sealantic Fund, and in 1987, the hotel reopened to the public. Today, in 2018, the hotel is undergoing even more renovations—$25M worth. If you’ve never been there, plan a visit.

As for its ghostly history?

The hotel boasts the ghosts of veterans who died in the building during its time as a VA hospital following WWII, a young woman fell to her death while trying to save her three-year-old son who’d climbed up onto the balcony railing in the tower suite, another woman was killed by her husband after having been caught in bed with her lover, but most people have seen the spirit of mobster Thomas “Fatty” Walsh who was shot to death in 1929 in the 13th floor speakeasy over a gambling dispute.

Reports of ghostly manifestations during the hotel’s vacant years include area residents witnessing lights in the windows, music coming from the empty hallways, and windows opening and closing on their own despite their being no electricity for 11 years.

Believing that squatters were living in the abandoned hotel, authorities investigated and found the building completely empty. Those involved in the investigation, including police dogs, witnessed paranormal activity such as people roaming the hallways with their feet off the ground, the sounds of glass breaking, and windows opening and closing by themselves on windless nights.

Nowadays, guests watch doors open and close by themselves, elevators rise to the 13thfloor without buttons being pressed, see patients in hospital gowns looking at them in bed, and female guests hear the whispers of a man, believed to be gangster Fatty Walsh, flirting with them in the elevator. Some have even reported being touched inappropriately. Ghostly dancers cavort in the ballrooms, and the young mother who failed to save her son and herself from the balcony tower has been seen and named “The Lady in White.”

Fatty Walsh, a jovial spirit, is known to enjoy the guests’ company, the hotel’s renovation, and he even cooperates with paranormal investigators looking to communicate with him. Guests have heard him laugh and seen him write BOO! on foggy mirrors when no one is there to form the letters. Some guests have seen his reflection in the mirrors. If you smell cigar smoke in the elevators, that means Fatty is riding with you and may even take you to the 13thfloor, which requires a key to access. Restaurant workers, cleaning service, and hotel staff have all witnessed doors opening for them when their hands are full closing, along with a friendly female ghost in the elevator.

If you’re ever lucky enough to stay at the pricey, beautiful Biltmore Hotel, be sure to spend a little time exploring the ballrooms when they’re empty, the guest room hallways, and the elevators at different times of day. You might just find that you’re not alone. Happy Haunting!

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