I was flipping through my notebooks not too long ago, in search of material for a blog post, when I stumbled upon a couple of old fiction pieces that I had been wrestling with, then put aside. They were partially influenced by a motif one finds frequently in ghost stories written when “scientific” explanations of apparitions were de rigueur: ghosts as the “psychic recordings” of violent events or emotions. The idea, I believe, still circulates in ghost-hunting circles. Listen to the discussion/definition at about 2:55 or so of this YouTube video about the “10 Types of Ghosts”:
To me a ghost is an apparition… sort of a replay of an event that happened a long time ago because of an imprint or place memory…
By this theory, buildings and other physical locales are the recording devices, ghosts are the playback, and our eyes and ears are the receivers. But why just our sensory organs? Why couldn’t these “psychic recordings” play back directly into our minds? In our dreams, say.
And which buildings? I knew someone once who avoided old dwelling places (this is the U.S., so “old” is relative) — old houses, historic hotels, old apartment buildings: anyplace where someone might have died. As if people can’t die in new hotels or apartment buildings.
But it’s true that a hotel (any hotel, old or new) must see a lot of crazy things going on in its rooms. What better place for juicy psychic recordings? Thinking along these lines, I remembered the Hotel Utica, a Beaux Arts hotel built in 1912 in Utica, New York. I used to travel to that region for business a fair amount; there were two hotels in downtown Utica at the time. One was a Radisson, which I’m sure was perfectly fine, and the other was the Utica, where I always stayed.
It’s a lovely hotel, with an elegant lobby, comfortable rooms, and a good restaurant, too. I remember that in addition to the (mostly business) travelers from the hotel, the restaurant seemed to be a favored spot for locals who wanted a nice evening out. Romantic couples, anniversary dinners, prom dates if you were there at the right time of the year. People stopping in for a drink after work, or before an evening out. It was a fun place for people watching.
And so these stories: what could happen over the years in the rooms of a place like the Utica? And if the walls could absorb those memories, those psychic recordings, how might they play back? If a building could dream, what would it dream? And how?
I stumbled on the second story first while skimming my notebook. I like it a lot — it feels the most like a dream to me — though I admit it was confusing to read when I encountered it cold, without context. I left it as it is because I can’t think how to clarify it — surreal stories are like jokes: you either get them or you don’t, and explaining them never helps. The first story needed a bit of massaging; as I recall, that’s why I put these aside. Re-reading the second story (and working on the third) helped me add a more dream-like quality to the first, a quality it hadn’t quite achieved. The third story I wrote just now, because I felt like there ought to be three.
And finally, I should add that my notions are completely made up, and I’ve renamed my hotel accordingly. As far as I know, no one has ever been murdered or committed suicide in the Hotel Utica.
Here are the dreams of the Hotel Exeter. Enjoy.
The top image is a period postcard for the Bancroft Hotel, Worcester, Massachusetts. The Bancroft was completed in 1912, the same year as the Utica, and designed by architects Esenwein & Johnson of Buffalo, New York. Esenwein & Johnson also designed the Hotel Utica, and the two buildings look remarkably alike. Source: Wikipedia.
The second image is a photo of the Hotel Utica in 2007, by Doug Kerr. Source: Wikipedia.