by Tony Harrington
The Capital Hotel in the heart of Downtown Little Rock, Arkansas has quite a long history.
The doors first opened in the early 1870’s and was one of the first buildings in the city to have electricity. The exact year the building opened its doors is a bit of a mystery in itself, with the official site listing 1870 and 1873 consecutively, while the Encyclopedia of Arkansas History and Culture lists the date as 1872.
Though not originally operated as a hotel, it was designed to house shops, business offices, and gentlemen’s apartments (also known as “Bachelor Quarters”) for local businessmen. It was known then as the Denckla Block, named after William P. Denckla, a rail tycoon who saw the area as a prime spot for development and purchased the land from Arkansas Supreme Court Justice George C. Watkins. Watkins died in 1872 shortly before the completion of the building.
In December of 1876, the Metropolitan Hotel, the area’s only upscale hotel burned down, leaving the city in need of a replacement. The managers of the fallen Metropolitan Hotel leased the Denckla Block from the family of Judge George C. Watkins, the rightful owners since Denckla sold the property to the Judge’s heirs upon the Judge’s death. They would convert the building into a grand hotel.
Little Rock native and matron Mrs. Morehead Wright named the hotel The Capital Hotel which officially opened for business in 1877. Through the doors walked many distinguished patrons, among them President Ulysses S. Grant, who rumor had it, had an extra-large elevator built to accommodate his dear horse.
As is common with business, the hotel changed ownership a myriad of times before the doors closed for much-needed renovations. The first re-opening occurred in 1908 after an extensive set of renovations. It remained open until the 1970’s when the decline of the downtown Little Rock area caused the grand hotel to fall into disrepair. The 1980’s saw a revival of sorts for the hotel when architect Ed Cromwell, backed by a handful of investors, refurbished the building restoring the hotel to its once former grandeur. In 2005, the doors closed once more while another set of renovations lasting two years took place. The doors reopened in 2007 and over the next few years the hotel worked diligently to attain the Forbe’s Travel Guide 4-Star rating it received in 2013.
Today the hotel is renowned for its architecture, award-winning service, extravagance, and for the fine dining available through Ashley’s restaurant and the Capital Bar and Grill. The hotel is the premier destination for politicians, celebrities, and a veritable who’s who as they pass through the Natural State’s capital city.
As with any building with such a long history, the rumors of supernatural activity began creeping up after the restoration of the hotel in 2007.
Perhaps the construction kicked up some long dormant spirits, but visitors and guests began hearing rumors and mumblings of paranormal activity. Shortly after the doors re-opened guests began reporting strange goings on. Speculation began circling around just what or who could be haunting the hotel, if indeed anything was.
In what can only be described as a convoluted back alley history that recounts certain tragedies can we surmise what could be responsible for certain activity of unknown origin.
One story recounts the tragic death of a laborer who died in a fall while working on the building’s original construction. This story though seems to closely mirror the tale that accounts for the haunting in another of Arkansas’ most haunted locations, The Crescent Hotel. In my research I could find no mention of anyone dying while working on the construction of the Capital Hotel. That is not to discount it actually happening however. Record keeping or lack thereof left a lot to be desired.
Another legend explaining one of the hotel’s ghostly visitors claims that one of the rooms on the fourth floor is haunted by the spirit of a young woman who committed suicide, or perhaps was murdered, in the room. Her spirit is said to manifest in the room, turn lights off and on, move luggage around, and weep and wail well into the night.
Interestingly, the hotel itself takes a decidedly hands-off approach in addressing the claims of supernatural activity within the walls of their establishment. The official word is, “We have no official word.”
Staff are tight-lipped about anything they may have witnessed and are seemingly under instructions not to talk about the paranormal aspect of the hotel. In fact, on the hotel’s official website, there is only a fleeting mention of the claims and the proprietor quickly dismisses such notion with the following passage found in the FAQ section of their website:
“You have to consider the age of the hotel,” says an anonymous member of the hotel staff. “We have giant ice machines, generators, and other things that can bang and make noise. Not everything that happens here is supernatural, a lot of things people experience have a natural explanation.”
One of the biggest problems with investigating the hotel is that the hotel itself will not accommodate you in any way, other than providing you a room for which you will pay just like every other guest. If you expect them to cordon off areas for you and your group of ghost hunters, think again. It is clear that this hotel, unlike other businesses in the state, prefer the only spirits people know about be found in the Capital Bar and Grill.
So the question remains; is it haunted?
Who is to say? Surely not anyone who works there. Though word on the street is if you ask for a haunted room when booking your stay, you may or may not be placed in one. On the 4th floor. Where a young woman may or may not have met an untimely demise.
The Capital Hotel is located at 111 W. Markham Street in Little Rock, Arkansas 72201. Reservations can be made by calling 1-501-370-7062 or by booking online at www.capitalhotel.com
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