This is a podcast transcript, originally published as part of the Crimes & Witch-Demeanors Podcast.
Hello, and welcome to another episode of Crimes & Witch-Demeanors, the podcast where we use historic and archival resources to investigate ghost stories and separate fact from fiction. I’m your host, and loveable librarian, Joshua Spellman.
I wanted to take care of some housekeeping before we get into the episode: I hope the new podcast artwork didn’t spook you! I love the illustration my good Judy GiAnna Ligammari made for the podcast, and I’m still using it on the website and other branding, but I needed something that read better as a thumbnail and that is graphic and punchy for new listeners. So…I hope you don’t mind the change! I did it as a stress doodle while waiting for updates about my mom who is in the hospital this last week and I fell in love with it…and I hope you do too!
But I digress!
On today’s episode we’re making like the devil and heading on down to Georgia. Most people’s minds go straight to Savanah when picturing the haunted South, but today we’re setting our sights the smaller, lesser known town of Americus. Specifically, we’re honing in on the historic Windsor Hotel. Among the living, many denizens of the dead are said to be checked in as permanent guests– but are the only true spirits those on the shelf in the pub? Let’s find out. But first, here is the alleged history of the ghosts at Americus Georgia’s Windsor Hotel.
The Alleged History
The Windsor Hotel, despite being located in the small city of Americus, Georgia, is a grand and opulent structure, not unlike the castle across the pond that shares its name. Like Windsor Castle, the hotel has housed great figures of history and harbors ghosts of the past.
In August of 1888 a reporter for the Americus Recorder discovered John Sheffield and Ross Harper measuring the court square of the city. When the reporter inquired as to why, Mr. Sheffield responded simply, “because Major Moses Speer and Papa told me to.” Without hesitation, the reporter rushed to the Bank of Southwestern Georgia and asked to speak with the president, Major Moses Speer to get the real scoop on the story.
Major Speer told the reporter that he planned on building a hotel and that “the hotel will be built and in short order. There is no doubt about that…it will be a building worthy of the city.” And indeed it would be.
Two architects submitted plans for the hotel: W.H. Parkins and G.L. Norman. On March 21st, 1888 the selection committee for the project, which consisted of S.H. Hawkins, John Windsor, and C.M. Wheatley, favored the design drafted by Parkins.
Parkins’ plan for the hotel was to erect a square, four-story wooden structure with 120 rooms. The front of the building would run the entire length of Jackson Street and the corner would house two additional floors.
However, G.L. Normann would not take no for an answer, and the remainder of the corporation preferred his design. Normann described his plan as being “a more fanciful character, greatly resembling the Hotel Alcazar at St. Augustine” (which, by the way, is the modern day Ripley’s Believe it or Not? Building). Normann’s design was a brick structure of three and five stories in height, contained 100 rooms, and space for ten shops on the street level.
On April 17th the committee chose Normann’s proposal with an estimated budget of $80,000. Construction began in September of 1890 and was completed on June 16, 1892.
The lavish hotel would go on to house famous guests including Presidents William Jennings Bryan, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Jimmy Carter. The hotel is the epitome of Victorian architecture. The Windsor spans an entire city block, complete with a tower, turret, balconies, and an open three-story open atrium.
The Windsor’s outlook was auspicious from the start but it immediately fall on hard times. In 1893, two years after its construction, an economic depression swept the nation, decimating the tourism trade – the hotel’s only reason for being. By the turn of the century, the Windsor filed for bankruptcy and was sold to Charles A. Fricker, a jeweler, for $40,000, a mere fraction of what the building was worth.
In September of 1910 the hotel was completely renovated, installing electric lights, telephones, steam heat, and new elevators…the likes of which would end up being the genesis of our first pair of hotel ghosts.
There was a maid, Emily Mae, and her daughter, Abigail, who lived in the hotel in the servant’s quarters. Emily Mae served as the head housekeeper but in order to support her and her child she wasn’t a stranger to offering extra services to the gentlemen of the hotel. However, Emily Mae had a jealous lover who did not appreciate the work she did to supplement her income.
One day, while working in the third floor hallway, Emily Mae’s lover angrily confronted her, apparently jealous about her conducting sex work. Things got heated. Voiced were raised. Little Abigail heard the commotion and rushed to her mother’s side, at first cowering behind her, but then holding her hand in a show of defiance and support. Her and her mother would no longer tolerate the abuse from this man.
“You WENCH!” the man bellowed as he shoved Emily Mae backwards into the open elevator. However, what he didn’t notice…or perhaps he did…was that the elevator doors were open, but the lift was not stopped on the third floor. Emily Mae and Abigail tumbled hand in hand down the empty elevator shaft, landing in a mangled heap on the ground floor with their fingers still interlocked. They were together until the very end.
Their spirits still roam the third floor. Many people spot Abigail rushing up and down the hall, playing with her toys seemingly in good…spirits. Sometimes Emily Mae’s ghost can be spotted in the mirror, but when you turn around…there’s no one there, just you and an icy chill running down your spine.
Alas, Emily Mae and Abigail’s accident wasn’t the only treacherous tumble at the Windsor Hotel. As a young and beautiful bride made her way down the private bridal suite staircase to wed her beloved, she tripped on her gown, fell down the steep staircase, and broke her neck. Her spirit now roams the hotel, her bridal gown transformed from white to black, as she mourns the married life she never had.
As time ticked on, Windsor Hotel never fully recaptured the initial success it garnered in its first two years of operation. The property was sold once again in the 1930’s to Mr. Howard Dayton, of Daytona Beach, Florida. Mr. Dayton would operate the hotel for four decades until it closed in 1974, having been open for 82 years.
Floyd Lowery, a doorman and lift operator, worked at the Windsor Hotel for the full 40 years that Dayton owned it. Lowery was a happy, chipper man, who loved his job, the guests, and the hotel. Floyd always made sure that visitors were happy and comfortable. Luckily, Floyd did not die a tragic death in the hotel. However, despite that fact, his ghost still roams the property.
Sadly, after the hotel closed in 1974, the Windsor fell to ruin, as buildings do, without living souls to inhabit it. The hotel was donated to the city of Americus in 1978 by Howard Dayton’s family and it sat for decades. The only visitors being the pigeons roosting in the rafters and the rodents scurrying along the rotting floors.
The city had a big decision to make: either demolish the building and replace it with a parking lot, or funnel millions of dollars into its restoration. The residents of Americus were almost unanimous in the decision to restore the city’s gem. It cost the city a lot of money to restore the hotel. However, since the city owned the property, they managed to save nearly have a million dollars by utilizing the prison industrial complex and exploiting inmates for slave labor. Construction and planning took many years, but the restoration was completed in 1991.
The Windsor Hotel is once again the opulent centerpiece to the small city of Americus. While many guests come to stay for a night, the presence of its permanent, spectral residents are strongly felt.
Guests often approach the front desk to complain about the child running around the third floor…but are disturbed to discover that there are no children currently staying at the hotel. Countless others ask to speak to the manager to complement the courteous bellhop, Floyd who carried their bags to their rooms. However, there’s only one problem…that is not a service the hotel currently offers. Nor do they employ anyone by the name of Floyd.
Floyd’s ghost brings positive and uplifting energy to the old hotel, even assisting the staff on occasion. While his spirit may have departed, his legacy lives on as the namesake of the hotel’s restaurant, Floyd’s Pub.
Ghost Hunters have come to the hotel and certified it as “haunted” and there is even a plaque that boasts this fact in the hotel’s lobby. So, if you ever find yourself in Americus, book a night at the Windsor, you may be in for a ghoulish treat. And say hello to Floyd for me.
What Really Happened
You don’t know the heaps of trash I had to wade through to scrape together enough rotted crumbs to write this episode. I think this is the most amount of sources I have in the bibli-ahh-graphy, but not because they’re good. I just had so much garbage to sort through. There isn’t a lot to go on in these stories, even the names of the mother and daughter took a while to find…and even then they are always changing. I had to watch so many terrible shaky-cam ghost investigator videos and awful mommy vlogs…don’t get me started on Hot Mama Travel…but I did manage to find out some very interesting things. Including the ghost report from paranormal investigators.
The Windsor’s original name was going to be the “Alhambra” but this quote “struck a discordant note in the community” and instead the name Windsor was chosen for John T. Windsor who was one of the leading capitalists in Americus and the community decided the name was “more suggestive of the aristocratic qualities to which Americus aspired”
Honestly, in a city in the south, named Americus, I’m not surprised they’d rather go with a very white sounding name of a prominent capitalist because it was “more suggestive of the qualities to which they aspired”. Aka. White. Rich. And white. But I digress.
The first thing I want to get out of the way is the date the hotel was completed. Many sources say that it was completed in June 1892. The building itself was actually completed in October of 1891. However, the hotel didn’t officially open until the grand opening in June of 1892. Minor detail…but it bothered me.
So many things bothered me, honestly. Like the fact there is another librarian coming for my gig?! Fricken Lesia Miller Schnur, the Haunted Librarian! She was extremely helpful in providing some of the names applied to the mother and daughter: Emma, Abigail, and Emily Mae. Other sources say that the little girl’s name was Sallie, Theresa, or Selina. Lesia reveals that John T. Windsor’s name was Emily Amelia so there may be a link there to this legend.
But…other than that her post didn’t reveal anything I hadn’t read elsewhere despite claiming “I’m the history buff, so I still did my research…apparently other groups may not have” I have. I have, Lesia!
The story of the mother and daughter has many holes. The first is the date of the occurrence: either the early 1910’s or in the 1920’s. Second, is the fact that these two were poor, possibly people of color, and so their murder may not have been reported in any substantial matter. Third, is the fact there aren’t actually any names to assign to it. I spent a few hours searching and while I did not find anything on this story, as great of a ghost tale as it is, I think I found something…better?
Someone did fall down the elevator shaft.
The Columbus Enquirer published on January 7, 1894 the following story:
“Down the Elevator Shaft: Serious Accident in Americus to a Wealthy Ohioan
Mr. R.S. Rust, an aged gentleman of 78, from Cincinnati, Ohio, vice-president of the Union Central Life Insurance Company of that city, fell down the elevator shaft of the Windsor Hotel today and sustained seriously injuries. His shoulder is fractured and his nose broken in three places. He fell about 10 feet from the office floor to the basement. The elevator was above but supposing it at the office floor, opened the door of the shaft and stepped into the basement below. Owing to his advanced age, serious results are feared from the shock.”
Now this is something to go on. He’s a man? Check. He’s white? Check. He’s wealthy? Check. These make up the trifecta you need to be preserved in history as anything other than a nameless stereotype!
Now using the name from article I did find an old white man from Cincinnati born around 78 years prior to the article’s publication: Reverend Richard Sutton Rust, Senior. There was one problem though…no modern material identified that he had any involvement with the Union Central Life Insurance Company. You would think this would be highlighted in the book passages and articles I found about him.
Instead, these articles paint a picture of a man fully dedicated to the Episcopal Church who was a staunch abolitionist. Was this the wrong man? Nah. It turns out when you’re rich and white you can pick and choose what parts of your legacy are propagated.
I did find an alumni catalogue of his college fraternity and legislative documents from 1905 which confirmed that the Reverend Richard Sutton Rust and R.S. Rust from the Union Central Life Insurance company were one in the same.
During the civil war, Rust helped found the Freedman’s Aid Society which gave teachers from the North supplies and housing to teach freed slaves in the south. Rust also assisted nearly 30 colleges with educating former slaves and their children.
After the war he set up the Freedman’s Bureau which was a division of the United States Department of War that provided shelter and supplies to refugees, freedman, along with their wives and children.
So it seems R.S. Rust was actually a really good guy! I kind of felt bad that I hoped he died from the elevator accident…just so we’d actually have an elevator ghost in the hotel. Turns out he lived and died in 1906 at the age of 91. Good for her.
Part of me wants to change his Wikipedia page to include his major involvement in the insurance company (it’s how he got that Daddy Morebucks money after all) as well as his embarrassing tumble down the Windsor’s elevator but I’ll exhibit some self-control.
While the elevator ghost story is bunk I was happy to find out that Floyd Lowery was indeed a real person…which I would hope since the pub is named after him…and he did work at the Windsor Hotel for a very long time. I found a variety of fantastic records that I’ll put on the podcast Instagram, @crimesandwitchdemeanors for you to look at.
Census records from 1920 to 1940 list Floyd’s occupation as porter at the Windsor Hotel, the 1923 Americus City Directory (which is super cool) lists Floyd Lowery as a bellman; and I also discovered Floyd’s draft cards. It appears he was drafted during the second World War.
Floyd Ardell Lowery was an African-American man and was born on February 28, 1903. I don’t believe that he ever married as multiple census records show that he lived with his mother, Mammie throughout his lifetime. Floyd Lowery died on February 1, 1982 according to the Georgia Department of Health’s Death Index. However, in that particular document birth is listed as 1915 and that he was 67 years old at the time of his death. However, his military records and census records corroborate another and confirm his birthdate was indeed 1903, making him almost 79 at the time of his death.
I love that Floyd is such a presence at the hotel and that his memory is able to live on through the name of the pub. However, some the ghost stories about him make me uncomfy. But racism is uncomfortable.
When we say racism is systemic, we mean it is systemic. It is so insidious that it even feeds down into the ghost stories we tell our children. Ghost stories involving marginalized people, or people of color, are often based in, and perpetuate, stereotypes. This is most apparent in the ghost tourism of the south which exploits the tales slaves but it can be observed elsewhere as well.
These types of stories served to illustrate what would happen if you dared to misbehave, stand up for yourself, or fight for your survival. These spirits often are left to suffer in the afterlife for their apparent misdeeds and act as a warning – or threat – to stay in your lane lest you suffer a similar fate.
Other ghost tales tell of those who led a life of “good” servitude, who’s life didn’t tragically end, but came instead to a graceful close. If you act like this you can rewarded in the afterlife, to continue to dutifully serve and labor even after death (wow—what a reward). These stories perpetuate the idea of the “good black” stereotype and further dehumanize the people they are about.
I feel like this is the kind of mold that Floyd Lowery has been put into as he is often helping guests with their luggage or working in the elevator. Never having fun, never having a drink or just kicking back to relax. But Floyd was more than his job, he was a human being. I could hardly believe that he would want to spend his afterlife working for no wages. Would you? God, no. Some of us already make ghost wages here among the living. But I digress. Onwards to more ghostly tomfoolery.
The story of the bride tripping and falling down the stairs is a strange one. I have only read about it on one article about the hotel and it’s hauntings. However, that didn’t stop me from investigating it for a ridiculously long amount of time.
I did find…something? While it doesn’t match the ghost story, there is some piping hot 129-year-old tea.
This excerpt is from the March 14, 1892 issue of the Macon Telegraph in an article titled “Married in Haste: and now the bride is without a husband”
So, it only tangentially involved the Windsor but I thought it was some hot Victorian goss to share with y’all!
But enough about gossip. Back to the ghosts. The ghouls. The ghastly gremlins.
There was a big hub-bub in 2006 about how paranormal investigators claimed the hotel as “certifiably haunted”. A number of articles were written about it, the hotel made a page on its website for the full ghost report and even put a plaque in the lobby boasting about it.
But now…it’s gone vanished. Gone. Disappeared. Stricken from the internet. The hotel, which used to brag about it’s ghosts, doesn’t even mention it on their website anymore. The paranormal investigators, the Big Bend Ghost Trackers, even removed it from their website. I have a feeling that may be because they are now owned by Best Western and they want to keep it hush-hush.
Or…maybe they’re embarrassed about what this “certificate of hauntedticity” contains.
So it’s been deleted from the internet. They tried to cover it up. But they didn’t know a librarian would be on their case.
Obviously, I found it. It’s not that hard. If you’re ever looking for a page that is now a 404 there are two really easy methods to see the previous page. First is just paste the URL in Google and search. When the page comes up in the search results, hit the three dots and view the cached page. Voila! But if their cache isn’t old enough, go to the good ‘ol internet archive and use the Wayback machine, hopefully you’ll find what you’re looking for!
And boy did I find what I was looking for. This oh so legitimate report was…something.
Here are the official findings from the report:
- Out of 150 digital photos 3 yielded possible anomalies
- 2 EMF fluctuations were documented. One between the second and third floors with a 6 degree spike, and one on the left hallway of the third floor with an 8 degree spike
- Several cold spots have been detected…in a 129 year old building…you don’t say?
- Some anomalies caught on film
- One of the hallway light bulbs that was completely unscrewed turned on without anyone near it
- Through channeling one investigator picked up the names of little girls: Theresa and Sallie
Because of the above phenomena the report lists the Windsor Hotel as H-A-U-N-T-E-D. Yes. They spelled it out in the report.
I do have some issues with these findings. Especially the very subjective “evidence” they found via channeling. Which was conducted thusly:
BBGT members Betty and Lisa were in states of meditation and channeling in attempting to make contact with the ghostly inhabitants of the hotel. Betty, while stationed in an adjoining 3rd floor hallway singing in a child-like voice the old turn of the century tune “A tisket a tasket”, suddenly felt a cool breeze on her right side and the digital thermometer displayed a sudden 6 degree drop in temperature. While continuing to sing she was clearly able to sense the presence of a young girl.
After a brief time the camera recorded what appears to be orbs bouncing a short distance down the 3rd. floor hallway. The names Sallie (with an ie) and the names Theresa were very much attached to the young girl. BBGT member Lisa was also visually picking up and sensing the strong presence of an entity with the name Adams. Later, while attempting to validate our findings it was discovered that in the early 1940’s there had been an employee named Adams.
But mediums aren’t…a great source of reliable information. I watched videos where other mediums visited the hotel so you don’t have to, and dear lord they were an hour and fifty minutes of shaky cam footage. But, for example the mediums in these videos experienced “giddy feelings” outside the bar and decided the ghost was a child definitely named “Selina” But…that’s an entirely new name than the ones provided, truly a shot in the dark. And if we’re experiencing a giddy feeling outside the bar…I would like to think that’s good ‘ol Floyd. Happy to see his name in lights and people enjoying a cocktail.
I tried to look for some first-hand encounters with ghosts at the hotel and I didn’t find much. Maybe because not too many people stay at the hotel. I found a lot of Americus locals saying they’ve never even been inside. But here are two experiences I did find:
“I was staying in room 308 and smelled old fashioned women’s perfume several times while in the shower”
Honestly…to me that just sounds like catching a waft of some awful hotel soaps and shampoo. But maybe there’s an old lady who fell in the shower. The next experience…also involves a bathroom? Lending some credence to this new hypothesis.
Why is there a bath towel in the toilet?
That’s what my wife asked me last Wednesday the 17th of March 2021at 2:30 AM. I was staying there on business. What a beautiful hotel. I asked the staff at Floyds if they had experienced anything. I got mixed replies. Things about the lights turning on and off occasionally. My wife who was already in GA decided to surprises me on her way back to Florida. That night she got up to use the bathroom in room 211 and quickly came back to bed asking me why a full sized folded bath towel was in the toilet. Didn’t sleep well that night obviously.
It wasn’t till the next day that the stories of hauntings came from everyone I spoke to when I told where I was staying. Weird experience and no plausible explanation on how the towel ended up in the toilet. I slammed doors, jumped up and down and could not get a folded towel to so much as move off the rack above the toilet. If I ever go back to Americus , I surly choose the Windsor Hotel again. Magnificently strange!
So maybe investigators should spend less time singing creepy folk-tunes in the hallways at 2:30 in the morning and spend more time on the toilet.
So what do you think? Is the Windsor Haunted? Would you want to stay? Personally, I don’t think it’s very haunted. 2 thirds of its stories aren’t even true. But I think I’d like to enjoy an Old Fashioned in Floyd’s pub just for the fun of it.
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So please, look before you enter an elevator, remember sex work is real work, and of course, stay spooky. Bye~