A look at the strange history of the haunted Grove Park Inn, and the famous people (and ghost) who’ve stayed there.
Built by a quinine medicine mogul based on plans drawn up by his son-in-law (who was not an architect), the Grove Park Inn is has hosted many famous guests. F. Scott Fitzgerald lived there for two years, 10 presidents have stayed there, as did Thomas Edison and John D. Rockefeller. And then there’s the Pink Lady, a mysterious female ghost who employees and guests have reported encountering.
• F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “beer cure”
• The Pink Lady ghost
• A scenic mountaintop grave
• A terrifying advertisement for quinine
• Zelda Fitzgerald’s last years and tragic death
• The US Supreme Court’s nuclear war plans
• Staying at an isolated cabin in the woods
• A place called “Bat Cave”
• Workers living in circus tents
Note: there are several mentions of suicide/attempted suicide throughout the episode, as well as details about dying in a fire.
Episode Script for The Haunted Grove Park Inn, Asheville, North Carolina
DISCLAIMER: I’m providing this version of the script for accessibility purposes. It hasn’t been proofread, so please excuse typos. There are also some things that may differ between the final episode and this draft script. Please treat the episode audio as the final product.
“It was 3:00 A.M. in front of the fireplace. A lady showed up, I took a picture. She was not there. The next picture, she was there. And then she disappeared.”
-Dave Bergam, an employee at the Grove Park Inn in Asheville, NC
- I’ve been asked if I was gonna do some North Carolina ghost stories, since I’m here for the summer, so I’m finally getting around to that.
- Last weekend, we went to Asheville, which is a town in the mountains of western NC near Tennessee. Think blue ridge mountains, Mount Mitchell, etc.
- In a perfect world, we would have wanted to stay in Asheville and see the sights there, but because of COVID, we kept to the surrounding smaller towns mostly.
- We stayed in a very remote cabin in an unincorporated area called Bat Cave. We didn’t have internet or anything, and the cabin was in the mountains at the top of a bunch of winding roads, off an unpaved road that isn’t visible on google maps.
- The area is very misty, strange, and creepy. It was surprisingly mild for summer, in the 60s and 70s.
- It’s a really spooky area. For example, Mt Mitchell is named after a scientist who died while trying to prove that it’s the tallest mountain east of the Mississippi (it is.) He’s buried at the summit in a big stone tomb
- Sadly, we didn’t get to do any ghost hunting, b/c the people I was traveling with are a little nervous about ghosts.
- But even though I didn’t get to explore Asheville itself very much, or ghost hunt, I still did some research about the area, so I figured I’d share that with yall.
- There are so many cool Asheville ghost stories and the history of the area is so interesting that I’m actually just going to talk about a single hotel which has a fun ghost story but an even better backstory.
- I got a ton of this info from NorthCarolinaGhosts.com
Grove Park Inn
- One of the big Asheville ghost stories is the Pink Lady, who fell from a balcony on the fifth floor (supposedly from room 545), in the center of the hotel above the main lobby. She landed in the Palm Court, which is an interior atrium that the guest rooms are arranged around.
- She wasn’t a registered guest; she was staying with someone who was a guest.
○ She’s supposed to be a kind and beloved ghost.
○ She seems to like children, and appears to children more than she does to adults.
○ She sometimes appears near the beds of sick children, where she strokes their hands and speaks soothingly to them
○ Once, a doctor left the hotel a note requesting that the staff thank the woman in the pink ball gown, who his children had enjoyed playing with while they were there
○ She apparently like harmless pranks, like switching off a/cs and other devices. Sometimes she rearranges objects, or tickles a guest’s feet
○ The waiter at the hotel restaurant said she definitely existed, and had encountered several strange things during the night, like one time when a commercial lock unlocked itself.
○ She appears as either a pink mist, or as a full apparition of a young woman wearing a pink ball gown
○ Some people say she was a debutant who accidentally fell.
○ Other theories are that she may have been a sex worker or an insane woman.
○ Other people say that she was a servant sleeping with the married man in the house she worked in and she jumped when he tried to end their affair. Another theory is that she told the man she was pregnant, so he pushed her off.
○ Some people say that the woman is Zelda Fitzgerald, because in 1935-36, F. Scott Fitzgerald lived at the hotel for two years while his wife, Zelda, was in the insane asylum in Asheville.
- I also read that F. Scott Fitzgerald had TB so was there to recover, though other places said he went there for anonymity and quiet. It sounds like he claimed he had a “mild case” of TB, but actually just had a bad flu and was an alcoholic.
□ He decided to move to Asheville, and moved Zelda from the institution where she was in Baltimore to Highland Hospital in Asheville
- While he was there, he rented two rooms, one for sleeping and one for writing, according to an English professor at Western Carolina University named Brian Railsback. To quote this professor:
“He came to the Grove Park Inn and chose these rooms so that he could overlook the main entrance. He could see the cars that were pulling up and he could see if there were any interesting women who might appear to be single and what were they wearing.”
□ He did have an affair with a rich married woman who was staying at the inn. He called her Rosemary, after a character in his book tender is the night, which had been published in 1935 to bad reviews and bad sales
□ “Rosemary” had gone to Asheville with her sister, who had some sort of nervous condition
□ Rosemary’s husband had stayed home in Memphis
□ She wanted to leave him to be with F. Scott Fitzgerald, and she offered to pay all of his expenses for Zelda and their daughter
□ Eventually, he realized that the affair couldn’t continue, so it sounds like he had Rosemary’s sister break up with Rosemary for him. She had to threaten to tell Rosemary’s husband she didn’t end the affair
- It sounds like F. Scott was in bad shape at the time. He had a serious drinking problem, and was trying to break his addiction to gin using “the beer cure” so he was drinking 50 ponies of beer per day.
□ A pony can apparently mean several different measurements, but it should be somewhere between 3 and either 12.5 pints, though my guess puts it in the higher range of that.
□ I also read elsewhere that he drank 30 bottles a beer a day some days, though sometimes he was able to substitute it with Coke or coffee, but it doesn’t sound like that was super often
- This was 10 years after publishing the Great Gatsby, and his writing wasn’t going so well.
□ He was mostly writing stories for magazines to pay his considerable debts and Zelda’s medical bills
□ But many of his magazine articles were getting rejected
□ Going to the Grove Park Inn was supposed to help inspire him, since it was full of rich and interesting people
□ But this was the 1930s, during the great depression, and people weren’t very interested in reading what the wealthy were up to
□ An employee who worked at the Inn said that every day, a housekeeper emptied his trash, which was full of typewritten pages and empty beer bottles
□ One interesting thing that I read is that apparently F. Scott would take parts of Zelda’s journals and put them into his work, and some short stories that she wrote were published under his name for publicity reasons. So I do wonder if her institutionalization and their relative estrangement affected that
- He turned 40 at the Grove Park Inn, and one time while drunk, he fell in the bathroom and was found the next morning on the floor with a broken shoulder
□ However, I also read this account of what happened, in an article on blueridgecountry.com:
Scott broke his shoulder in a failed swan dive that summer and had to miss a lunch date with Zelda on her 36th birthday. He was in a plaster cast that kept his arm raised, and he also developed arthritis in that shoulder, adding to his pain and depression. That same summer, a reporter for the New York Post wrote a critical account of Fitzgerald’s life at 40. It proved devastating for Scott to read and to realize how far his life had spiraled down. He drank a small bottle of morphine in a suicide attempt, but it only made him vomit.
- He invited a New York Post reporter to visit him to help rehabilitate his reputation, but that didn’t work. The article described him as a:
□ “very broken man, who’s physically feeble and mentally very pathetic and reaching to the highboy to have a drink — with a nurse on hand to watch him constantly because he had fired off a gun here in the hotel that same summer in ’36.”
□ The rumor was that he fired the gun as a suicide attempt, though it sounds like that’s debated, though he considered suicide after the story was published
□ It’s said that this was one of the darkest points in his life
- So meanwhile, Zelda was at Highland Hospital in Asheville, which was an expensive hospital for the wealthy
- Scott rarely visited her; when they saw each other, they tended to get upset
□ Zelda was in and out of the hospital for 12 years, while meanwhile, F. Scott left Asheville in 1937 and went west to try to write movies. He got an offer to write movies for MGM; he was paid handsomely, but it sounds like he only wrote one movie himself, though he contributed to some other scripts but was uncredited
® The director Billy Wilder said that Fitzgerald in Hollywood was like: “a great sculptor who is hired to do a plumbing job.”
□ The last time he and Zelda saw each other was on a trip to Cuba in 1939, where apparently F. Scott broke up a cockfight, got assaulted, and then had to be hospitalized when he returned to the US because he was so drunk and exhausted
□ He died of a heart attack in 1940.
□ At the time, it seems like Zelda was diagnosed as schizophrenic, though later medical staff at Highland Hospital it was more likely that she was bipolar
□ We talked about this during our Ouijamania in 1920 episode, but during this period, treatment for mental illness (especially schizophrenia) was very bad–people were often shackled or in straighjackets
□ Highland, I assume since it was for rich people, was different–it focused on diet, exercize, fresh air, etc.
□ Zelda died in the asylum when it burned down in March 1948
® She was actually about to be released, and the doctors cleared her to leave, but she decided to stay a few more weeks to make sure she was really doing okay
□ There are different rumors about why the hospital burned down; some the fire was set by an angry nurse. Apparently a night nurse actually turned herself in saying she may have caused the fire. Charges weren’t filed, but she was institutionalized
□ It’s unclear what actually caused it, but 9 people died and the building was destroyed.
□ Zelda had been heavily sedated, as had some other women who also died. They identified Zelda’s body because of a red leather slipper she was wearing
□ Nothing else was built on the site, and today it’s just a field
□ So some people think that Zelda Fitzgerald is the pink lady, and that her ghost returns to the inn so she could relive happier times. Given everything we know about their time in Asheville, I find that extremely unlikely. It sounds like they wouldn’t have any positive associations with the Inn.
® To quote Zelda’s biographer, Nancy Milford, who wrote about when Zelda would visit the inn:
◊ “When the Fitzgeralds met it was usually for lunch. They would sit in the dining room far away from the other guests. Scott did not introduce Zelda to anyone and frequently they would sit through an entire meal in silence. After lunch, they walked down the terraced gardens into meadows rimmed with pines and sat on white wicker settees overlooking the mountains, Scott smoking constantly, Zelda lost in silence.”
® That doesn’t sound like a happy memory
- You can still stay in the rooms F. Scott Fitzgerald stayed in, and one of them is furnished like it was when he was there.
- But the story of the hotel is really weird and interesting, moreso than the actual ghost story, I think, so I want to get into that history.
- The inn was built by Edwin Wiley Grove, a man who sold medicines such as Grove’s Tastless Chill Tonic and Laxative Bromo Quinine tablets.
○ He started selling the Tasteless Chill Tonic in 1885 as a fever remedy (in particular, it was used for malaria). It was basically quinine in a sweet syrup that cut the bitter taste of quinine.
- A lot of people said it wasn’t tasteless, but it beat drinking straight quinine.
- Supposedly, by 1890, more bottles of Groves’ Tasteless Chill Tonic were sold that bottles of Coca-Cola.
- Also, there’s a truly terrifying advertisement for it that you can find on northcarolinaghosts.com, which shows Grove’s face on a pig’s body. He’s wearing a lace collar with a little bow below his chin, and on the side of the pig, it says “MAKES CHILDREN AND ADULTS AS FAT AS BIGS” and it claims that 1.5 million bottles were sold the previous year.
○ The laxative rolled out in 1896. It was quinine mixed with a sedative and a laxative, and it was supposedly a cold treatment.
- They say that advertising was the reason why his products were so popular, which is very funny to me, because he named the product Laxative Bromo Quinine tablets, which seems like terrible marketing to me.
- But I guess his signature was on every package, so people knew it was the authentic, high-quality product.
○ I looked it up, and apparently there used to be a real malaria problem in the United States, the south in particular. In the 1940s, the government did a major public health push to get rid of malaria in the US, and by 1949, it was declared that malaria was no longer a major public health problem.
- To be clear, that means it’s possible that malaria still exists in the US apparently?
○ Grove is described as a self-made man, though I don’t really believe that anyone is self-made, especially a white man in the south after the Civil War. His identity alone would have been a big boost up.
- Also, I read that he “served in the Civil War” which I think we can assume means he was a confederate soldier.
○ He was from Tennesse, but when he visited Asheville in 1897, he decided to build a summer home there, but ended up moving there permanently.
- One of the reasons why he moved to Asheville was because he believed the climate would be good for his health.
- In particular, his doctors suggested he go there to see if the weather there would (quoting from wikipedia here): “reduce or cure his bouts with extreme hiccups, which would last several weeks at a time.”
- Though elsewhere I read that he had bronchitis often, as well as what sounds like chronic fatigue
○ Starting in 1910, Grove started buying up farms in the area. He also bought and demolished some TB sanitariums.
- He would use that land to start developing Asheville, and basically transform it into the place he wanted it to be.
- He wanted to build an inn, and local architects just didn’t get his vision, so instead, he had his son in law design it, who wasn’t trained in building or architecture.
- The Grove Park Inn was built over a little under 12 months; it was finished in 1913.
- During construction, workers were housed in circus tents. It also sounds like he paid people more the more they worked.
- 400 men worked 6 days a week, in 10 hour shifts. The hotel was constructed from granite boulders, some of which weighed 10,000 pounds.
- Grove insisted that no cut stone should be visible to guests. One brochure said that guests would see only “the time-worn face given to it by thousands of years’ sun and rain that had beaten upon it as part of the mountainside.”
- The hotel was furnished with arts and crafts style furniture from upstate New York.
- 400 rugs were imported from france, as well as linen curtains and line
- It has a huge lobby with an enormous granite fireplace and a scenic view from a large porch.
- The lobby, or Great Hall, has huge fireplaces that burn 12-foot logs.
- Advertisements said that the walls were five feet thick.
- The roof is three feet thick and made from cement, steel rods, asphalt, and clay tiles–that apparently makes it fireproof.
- When the hotel opened, Secretary of State William Jennings Bryan gave a speech to what wikipedia called “400 of the most distinguished men in the south”
- Seely , Grove’s brother-in-law, had a bunch of rules when he managed the hotel. No cars were allowed to enter the property between 10:30 pm and 9 am. Guests were asked not to turn on faucets late at night. Bring children was discouraged.
○ Tons of people visited the hotel. Some earlier visitors included Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, Harvey Firestone, Helen Keller, John D. Rockefeller, George Gershwin, Harry Houdini, and Al Jolson.
○ Once WWII started, the inn was used as a place to intern enemy diplomats. The diplomats were allowed to go to town as long as they were guarded, which supposedly helped the local economy.
- Just reminder, 120,000 Americans of Japanese descent were put in concentration camps during the war (62% of those interned were citizens.)
- This was just motivated by pure racism–anyone with 1/16th or more Japanese ancestry were put into the camps. It was also motivated by greed–for example, many white farmers wanted Japanese American farmers removed, to get rid of competition.
- Conditions in these American concentration camps weren’t good. The idea was that they weren’t supposed to be worse than the worst kind of military housing.
□ The facilities were basically barracks out in the middle of nowhere, with no plumbing or places where people could cook. Often, 25 people would have to live in spaces built for 4 people.
□ One camp in Wyoming was fenced in by barbed wire, had cots instead of beds, and a $.45 budget for food per person. $.45 in 1942 is $7.46 today.
□ The camps were patrolled by armed guards, who at some points shot people for going beyond the barbed wire fences.
□ Food poisoning was common, and there were outbreaks of dysentery in some of the camps.
- I could go on for a lot longer about this, but the point I’m trying to make here is that the US government put innocent people in concentration camps, while putting Axis diplomats in an extremely fancy hotel.
○ The Navy also used the inn as a R&R center for sailors who were coming home, and it was also used by the Army to house soldiers who needed R&R between assignments.
○ Also, the exiled Phillipine government supposedly operated from the Presidental Cottage on the grounds during the war.
- I hadn’t known anything about this, but nine hours after Pearl Harbor, in December 1941, Japanese forces invaded the Philippines, where there’d been a large American military presence.
- Though one note: I found this info on the wikipedia page for the Grove Park Inn but haven’t been able to confirm it elsewhere, so I’m not sure how true it is.
○ In 1955, the inn was bought by Sammons Enterprises. And Mrs. Sammons used to bring her dog to the inn in a baby carriage. It sounds like she did that to be discreet about having a dog there, though I have no idea why the owner would need to hide the fact that she has a dog with her–seems like she’d be able to do anything she wanted.
○ In 2013, Omni Hotels bought the hotel, so now it’s the Omni Grove Park Inn.
○ We talked about some older famous guests, but more recently famous people have stayed there, including Michael Jordan, Daniel Day-Lewis, Macaulay Culkin, Anthony Hopkins, Dan Akyrod, Seinfeld, John Waters, Jlo, John Denver
○ 10 presidents have stayed at the hotel: Taft, Wilson, Coolidge, Hoover, FDR, Eisenhower, Nixon, HW Bush, Clinton, and Obama
In the event of a nuclear attack on the US, apparently the US Supreme Court will relocate to the Grove Park Inn.
Sources consulted RE: the Haunted Grove Park Inn
Websites RE: the Haunted Grove Park Inn
Listen to the Ouija board series:
- Ouija Boards Part 1 – Planchette and Automatic Writing
- Helen Peters and Ouida / Invention (Ouija Boards Part 2)
- William Fuld (Ouija Boards Part 3)
- 19th Century Ouija Board Stories / Early Ouijamania (Ouija Boards Part 4)
- Victorian Egyptomania (Ouija Boards Part 5)
- Ouija after World War I (Ouija Boards Part 6)
- 1920s Ouijamania (Ouija Boards Part 7)
- More 1920s Ouija Board Stories (Ouija Boards Part 8)
- Kill Daddy: The Turley Ouija Board Murder (Ouija Boards Part 9)
Don’t miss our past episodes:
- The Renwick Ruin:
- Playing the Ghost in 19th Century Australia
- Investigating the Hawthorne Hotel:
- Quinta da Regaleira Symbolism: The Occult Mysteries of a Portugese Palace and Garden
- Thomas Edison’s Spirit Telegraph
- The Cult of Santa Muerte, aka Saint Death