By JOE DURWIN
The Advocate Weekly
Thursday, September 14
The Equinox in Manchester Village, Vt., has to be near the very top of the list of finest accommodations in the region. This resort inn is steeped in history and saturated with historic atmosphere, but tradition may not be the only thing living on at the Equinox.
Indeed, if even half the stories of encounters with the mysterious put forth by employees and lodgers are true, then it seems the Equinox may have several guests who do not appear in any of the reservations books.
The history of the Equinox is that of a host of different business enterprises, numerous individual buildings and 17 major architectural changes, all coalescing over time into one disjointed narrative. The first structure to occupy this site was the Marsh Tavern, established in 1769. Unfortunately, the Tory leanings of its proprietor, William Marsh, made it among the first pieces of property seized by revolutionaries in the war against Britain, who used it to plot insurgent schemes. By the end of the century, the Marsh Tavern had fallen into disuse, and in 1801 Thaddeus Munson had an inn erected next to it. Munson's Tavern eventually became known as Vanderlip's Hotel, then later The Taconic.
Meanwhile, Franklin Whitin Orvis, son of successful Manchester merchant Levi Orvis, consolidated the family mansion with his father's store to create a 65-room structure that opened in 1853 as the Equinox House. He offered 60 additional rooms in the Equinox Junior (then called "the Annex") across the street. In 1880, Franklin purchased the Taconic and eventually came to add the Charles Orvis Inn, the home built in 1861 by his brother, founder of the Orvis Company.
The Equinox's tenure as a premiere getaway resort for the wealthy and powerful began in the mid 1860s, when Mary Todd Lincoln summered there with sons Robert and Tad. Abraham was to join them in the summer of 1865, and special renovations were done in preparation for his visit, but John Wilkes Booth had a different travel package in mind for him. Robert returned to Manchester often in the following years, building his Hildene estate in Manchester and attracting ever larger groups of his wealthy friends from New York and Chicago. The Equinox continued to shine as a bucolic retreat for society's upper crust, providing lodging for four presidents until the time of the Depression, after which it limped along for many years, changing owners numerous times.
The point at which the Equinox began to acquire its reputation for being haunted is less easy to place, though the real deluge of unusual reports seems to have begun with the hotel's resurrection. From 1973 until 1985, the hotel remained closed for business, but underwent massive renovation by its then owner Francesco Galesi. Since then, employees and guests have reported a consistent stream of mysterious happenings.
My friend Joe Citro collected an impressive catalog of witness accounts in his book "Green Mountain, Dark Tales" (2001). Indeed, he found that unlike many haunted hotels, bizarre phenomena are not confined to one or two rooms; virtually every part of the sprawling 183 room resort has generated stories of inexplicable experiences. Guests and staff alike report hearing voices and footsteps in empty rooms, sudden temperature changes, and objects vanishing or moving unaccountably. Security guards will find doors to vacant rooms open, and inside find shades disturbed, rocking chairs rocking and other signs of recent activity.
Objects will often vanish and reappear elsewhere in the Equinox. In one second floor room, missing furniture and other items were discovered piled up like a pyramid. One hotel guest complained to the concierge that he'd stepped out of his room for a moment, returning only to find that the keys he'd left on the table had been separated from the ring and thrown around the room.
The most absorbing account came from Robert Cullinan, a security guard at the Equinox since its opening. One night in the '90s, he was called up to investigate a "disturbance" in room 329; when he arrived, he found a family of four in near-hysterics, and had little difficulty discerning why. The rocking chairs were rocking rhythmically, while the shades on the lamps spun slowly around of their own accord. Most upsettingly, the bed appeared to be lurching, one leg at a time, across the floor. Just then, Cullinan felt something invisible push him - so hard that he nearly went down, all 220 pounds of him.
The family was graciously provided with another room, but six other employees attested to witnessing the unusual events in room 329 that night.
For their part, Rock Resorts, the current owners of The Equinox, doesn't seem particularly anxious to play down the hotel's legendary reputation, and has even incorporated it into a special package with their other reputedly haunted hotel, La Posada de Santa Fe in Santa Fe, N.M. Stay at one between Oct. 29 and Nov. 16, and you get a discount on the other. Cute, eh?
Meanwhile, if the place is haunted, who by? The most prevalent theory, and the one most favored by the hotel's PR staff, I'd imagine, is that the spectral remnants of Mary and Tad Lincoln have made themselves a permanent part of the landscape they enjoyed so much. At least one person has claimed to have heard the sounds of a mother comforting a whining child, and Tad was a brat, from what I've read. Then again, that's pretty universal, and it seems a little too convenient that the particular mother and child that elected to haunt the place happen to be such a great tie-in with the very history that made the Equinox famous in the first place.
Another possibility arises from the fact that part of the Equinox Junior also functioned as a jailhouse for some time. It's been rumored that in the process of renovation, some bones were discovered. Fearing another delay in an already obstacle-ridden process, it was disposed of and went unreported.
Some wonder if this may be the root cause of some of the misfortunes which befell the place, including a propane explosion in 1985 which badly burned a large portion of the hotel.
Maybe it's a lot simpler than all that, though, when you really stop and think about the setting. It's seems likely it's really just out of state ghosts with expensive tastes.
Joe Durwin is a local mystery buff who would like the Equinox management to know that he would gladly arrange a full scale state-of-the-art investigation of their bizarre phenomena in exchange for a complimentary two-night stay. Send reports of local weirdness to firstname.lastname@example.org