Located in the picturesque city of Coral Gables close to Miami, the landmark Biltmore Hotel is a striking example of classic Mediterranean architecture. Its construction was completed in 1926, after which this opulent new hotel was launched with a lavish gala celebration attended by leading socialites of the day.
Land developer George E. Merrick had grand visions for Coral Gables, and he took great pains to enforce strict building codes for the whole area. Merrick joined forces with Biltmore Hotel magnate John McEntee Bowman at the peak of the Florida land boom, and the highly fashionable Miami Biltmore Country Club was created.
History of The Biltmore
In its early years, the Biltmore hosted royalty and celebrities at its fashion shows, world-class golf tournaments, aquatic galas and extravagant weddings. During WW2, glamour and opulence were replaced with functionality, and in 1942 the hotel became a huge war hospital. Windows were sealed with concrete, and exquisite travertine floors were covered with standard-issue linoleum.
As well as housing the University of Miami’s School of Medicine in the 1950s, the Biltmore continued to serve as a veteran’s hospital until 1968. After that, the city of Coral Gables acquired the building, then took another ten years to decide what to do with it. An expensive four-year project restored the hotel to its former glory; but after just three years it closed again in 1990, a casualty of the US economic downturn.
In 1992, the Seaway Hotels Corporation took over, leading a ten-year renovation of the hotel that brought back its original world-class status. Likened to traditional European grand hotels, in 1996 the Biltmore became an officially designated National Historic Landmark. But there are other reasons for the Biltmore’s notoriety: many believe the hotel is haunted.
The Hauntings of Biltmore Hotel
Having been a war hospital, it comes as little surprise that the Biltmore has a reputation for ghostly occurrences, given how many people must have died there. Figures in hospital gowns have been spotted in corridors, sometimes floating above the ground. People describe being tapped on the shoulder by ghostly figures wearing soldiers’ uniforms.
While the building stood empty, there were frequent reports of windows opening and closing, lights turning on and off when there was no electricity, and the sound of music heard from outside. But when police investigated any reports as suspected disturbances, nothing was ever found.
An apparition of a couple dancing has often been witnessed in one of the hotel’s ballrooms, but the image quickly fades. The figure of a woman has been seen wandering through the grounds, supposedly looking for her child. The origin of this story is not clear, but some believe it to be the ghost of a young woman who fell trying to save her son, who had climbed up onto the balcony railings. Others say a woman was stabbed to death by a stranger while out walking with her child.
Over the years, guests have told staff about their experiences while staying at the hotel. Lamps have been mysteriously unplugged, and corners of beds have appeared sunken as though someone was sitting on them.
The Murder of Fatty Walsh
The Biltmore has its own infamous gangster story: that of murdered gangster, Thomas ‘Fatty’ Walsh.
The murder took place on Friday March 13, 1929, in the thirteenth-floor tower suite known as the Everglades Suite, or sometimes the Al Capone Suite. The room was allegedly used as a speakeasy and casino, run by Fatty Walsh and fellow gangsters Edward Wilson and Arthur Clark. After an argument, Wilson shot Fatty in front of the suite’s large fireplace. More than ninety years later, a bullet hole can still be seen in the fireplace.
Fatty is still believed to haunt the thirteenth floor of Biltmore. One couple staying at the hotel claim they pushed the elevator button for the fourth floor but were unexpectedly taken to the thirteenth floor instead – even though a key card is required to enter this floor. As the woman stepped out, the doors shut suddenly behind her and the elevator set off, taking her husband back to the hotel lobby.
He quickly returned with staff to the thirteenth floor, to find his wife waiting there, terrified. She claimed to have heard footsteps followed by talking and laughing and smelt cigar smoke – none of which were actually real.
Fatty Walsh was a jovial character when alive, and reports from the Everglades Suite often involve his ghost playing tricks on guests or staff with lights and doors. An unseen finger has also been seen writing the word ‘Boo’ on steamed-up bathroom mirrors.
A séance was held in the 1970s, where contact with Fatty was said to be established. Paranormal investigators focusing on the thirteenth floor have allegedly seen shadowy representations of the gangster. There have been reports of heavy breathing following them around, and even loud sighs heard on their recordings.