The glamorous Biltmore Hotel opened to a grand celebration in the winter of 1926. Special trains, “Miami Biltmore Specials,” carried passengers from the northern cities of Florida to attend the gala event.
George E. Merrick was the designer of Coral Gables, a beautiful, affluent area located five miles from downtown Miami. In 1925, Merrick and John McEntee Bowman, an American hotelier, decided to build a grand hotel, which resulted in the fabulous Biltmore.
Walking into the Biltmore, one beholds huge columns, marble floors, painted ceilings, and carved woodwork. The magnificent swimming pool, still the largest in the United States, was once the biggest in the world. In its heyday, guests enjoyed activities that included polo, gondola rides, and fox hunts.
Through the financially challenging 1920's and 1930's, the Biltmore pulled in famous, wealthy guests by hosting fancy balls, fashion shows, beauty pageants, big band concerts, world class golf tournaments, and even alligator wrestling and aquatic shows starring Esther Williams and Jackie Ott. Before his Tarzan movies, Johnny Weissmuller worked there as a swimming instructor.
Some of the guests were infamous bloodthirsty killers...the gangsters of the era. One such outlaw was Thomas “Fatty” Walsh. He was a mobster who moved from New York to Florida after the murder of an associate in 1928.
Fatty met up with a gambler, Ed Wilson, who leased the 13th floor (oddly enough, this hotel has one) of the Biltmore, operating a kind of “speakeasy.” They partnered up for a while, but had a disagreement in March of 1929. An entire roomful of guests saw Wilson shoot Fatty twice.
The police records of this event have somehow been “lost” indicating to many that there were city officials involved in the activities at the Biltmore.
Fatty Walsh is said to still inhabit the Biltmore hotel. He opens doors for waitresses carrying trays in the restaurant. (Fatty did like the ladies!) He steals lampshades, turns lights on and off, and even writes messages in the condensation on mirrors. Fatty especially likes to play with guests on the elevator, taking them up to the 13th floor, rather than their intended destination.
One story tells of a lady and her husband who tried to get off on the 4th floor, but the elevator took them to the suite on the 13th floor. The door opened into the foyer of the suite, and continued to stay open for several minutes, not responding to the attempts of the couple to get the elevator to take them back down. Curious, the woman stepped out into the foyer. The doors immediately slammed closed and the elevator descended back to the lobby with the husband. He got help from the hotel staff. When they arrived back at the 13th floor, the woman was very frightened. She had heard someone moving around in the dark room, small objects falling to the floor, and laughing. She smelled cigar smoke (Fatty loved his stogies), and it was very cold.
Another tale involves President Clinton! He was staying on the 13th floor anticipating a football game on the television. The set refused to get any reception and then began to turn itself on and off. He decided to leave and watch the game elsewhere that night.
There is a vague story of a woman wearing white who jumped out of a tower window “to save her child.” I’m not certain how she expected to do that jumping out of a tower window, but like I said, it is a vague story. Guests do report seeing a woman in white in their rooms.
A psychic investigating the premises referred to a love triangle murder that occurred on a balcony of the Biltmore.
The building was used as an Army hospital during WWII, although most of the reported sightings seem to come from a period earlier than that.
During the seventies, a time when the building was closed and vacant, there were reports of unearthly laughter, unaccountable lights, and old-fashioned music.
A ghost was seen wearing a top hat, playing a piano in the country club building. In the ballroom, a dancing couple vanishes and reappears as they waltz across the dance floor (reminding me of the ballroom at the haunted house at Disney World).
In 1979, a group of science fiction club members explored the hotel, recording their excursion. They reported no activity during their visit, but upon listening to their tape at a later time, heard heavy breathing for more than sixty seconds, followed by a “resolved sigh,” according to the club president, Barbara Clipper. Maybe Fatty was just lonely. Doesn’t seem likely, witnesses have reported the spirit of a friendly lady on the 13th floor. Fatty always did like the ladies....
Note: The Biltmore is open to guests at this time. Please see www.biltmorehotel.com for further information.
References/For further information:
Rule, Leslie. Coast to Coast Ghosts: True Stories of Hauntings Across America. K.C.: Andrews
McMeel Publishing, 2001.
Hauck, Dennis William. The National Directory of Haunted Places. NY: Penguin Books, 1996.
Biltmore has the biggest pool, tallest tales
By Mary Thurwachter
Sunday, July 23, 2006
Meghan McCarthy/The Post