Ken Hartke

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I'm retired and living solo "out west" in the New Mexico desert. I've been an observer and blogger for years and usually have four or five blogs going but wrote for myself or for friends. A lot of it was travel stories or daily random postings -- but it was a good experience. Red Room allowed me to share things on a wider scale and with its demise, I (maybe) found a more public voice.

In Praise of Old Hotels -- Part 5: The Occidental

 

OUTLAWS: THE WILD BUNCH

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In an earlier post I probably mentioned a backpacking trip to the Big Horn Mountains of Wyoming. I have a soft spot in my heart for the Big Horns -- one of my favorite spots. The Big Horns are in north central Wyoming and just south of the mountain range is a region called The Hole in the Wall where numerous outlaws  and desperadoes could hide out from the law back in the late 1800s.  The law, such as it was out west at the time, was in Buffalo, Wyoming, as was...and still is...The Occidental Hotel.

THE OCCIDENTAL HOTEL, BUFFALO, WYOMING

If you are traveling west toward Yellowstone National Park or maybe riding your Harley east toward Sturgis, SD or maybe going to meet the Mother Ship at Devil's Tower, be sure to take the time to spend a night at the Occidental Hotel. Of all the hotels I will cover in this series of blog posts, The Occidental is possibly my favorite. The hotel originated in 1880 as a log building on the bank of a creek  near the Bozeman Trail. This was Johnson County, Wyoming...you might have heard of the Johnson County War between the small ranchers and farmers and the larger land  and cattle barons in 1887. The war was finally settled by the arrival of the US Cavalry. The little town of Buffalo became the county seat and the Occidental prospered. Eventually the log hotel was replaced by a fine brick building and then it was enlarged over time.

 

 

This was THE place to stay and lots of famous people spent time at the Occidental. Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid would drift into town and stay in the room overlooking the sheriff's office so they could watch the activity there. Teddy Roosevelt stayed here. General Phil Sheridan stayed here. Buffalo Bill, Calamity Jane and Tom Horn stayed here as did President Herbert Hoover. Owen Wister visited the Occidental and wrote a major part of The Virginian while staying in the balcony room overlooking Main street. The locals say the town featured in the book is Buffalo -- not Medicine Bow. I've been to both places and I lean toward Buffalo.  Again, probably some of my relatives stayed here because they had a ranch about forty miles away and Buffalo was the closest "big" town. 

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 Lobby/Parlor

The Occidental went into decline with the depression and then sank even deeper as highway motels sprang up. It finally became a local landmark as a bordello for several years and it endured it all. The hotel had only one manager for 58 years who carefully preserved everything. The building survived and, miraculously, most of the hotel's grand furnishings were just carted down into the basement where they sat until 1997 when the hotel was reborn. The place was on it's last legs and renovation took many years. It was only halfway renovated when we stayed here but it has progressed since then and today is a sight to behold.

  

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We stayed in the Teddy Roosevelt suite and my daughter stayed in the General Sheridan room, next door. There is the Owen Wister room and the Herbert Hoover suite, the Hole in the Wall room and the Madam's Retreat plus some cowboy rooms. When we visited, some of the old, run down sections were awaiting renovation and you could see how much work was involved in bringing the place back to life. There were even some scribbled notes on the walls from the old bordello days.

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Besides the hotel and the restored rooms, there is also a saloon. This hotel was a full service operation --- hotel, saloon, restaurant and barber shop. The saloon is well worth visiting even if you don't stay at the hotel. There are bullet holes in the walls...real bullet holes. The current saloon and it's furnishings date to 1908. It was a stand-up saloon so the bar stools and tables are a more recent addition. The bar is twenty-five feet long and could accommodate all sorts of outlaws and lawmen. Butch and Sundance died in 1908 in Bolivia (maybe?) but who knows, maybe they had a farewell drink at the Occidental Saloon. Ernest Hemingway was a hotel guest and I figure he surely had a drink or two at the saloon and maybe a Cuban cigar.

 

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 Today there is also a restaurant (The Virginian) and a café (The Busy Bee) but I don't think they were back in operation when we were here.

It's not cheap. Hotel rooms and suites run from about $110 to $250 in the summer depending on the room. Winter rates are significantly lower....this is Wyoming and very cold and snowy in Winter.

Check out the web page for details: http://www.occidentalwyoming.com/index.php

 --------

 

Update...Travel Channel's "The Dead Files" did a TV episode exploring the paranormal experiences of hotel staff and guests at The Occidental.   Nothing like that happened while we were guests at the Occidental and there were no discussions or hints of spooks or spirits from staff or the owner who gave us a full tour of the hotel including parts that were not renovated.  Such is the state of television these days.

 

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 The Big Horns

 

 

 

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In Praise of Old Hotels -- Part 4: Historic Hotels

Continuing on our merry way...

Almost by definition, old hotels are historic hotels but some are more historic than others. We stayed in a old hotel in San Antonio once that had been refurbished and then became a "boutique" hotel. Also in San Antonio there is the Crockett Hotel, 100+ years old, that stands about a stone's throw from the Alamo (I dare you...). Then there is the Menger Hotel in San Antonio which is famous because Teddy Roosevelt rode his horse into the Menger Hotel bar in 1898 and recruited volunteers for the Rough Riders. That Teddy story trumps the boutique and the chance to make history by throwing rocks at the Alamo...so I'd vote for the Menger as the most historical.

 

BEEKMAN ARMS, RHINEBECK, NEW YORK

If you are in the Hudson River valley and can work it out, stay at the Beekman Arms...or at least, eat at the tavern. It is hard to beat the Beekman Arms at the historical hotel contest. The Beekman is the oldest continuously operating inn in the USA going back to well before the Revolutionary War. George Washington slept, ate, drank and did just about everything else here. Back then, the tavern looked out on the village green and he would sit in the tavern and watch the militia drill out on the green. Remember Chelsea Clinton's wedding? Yep...in Rhinebeck, and the Beekman played a big role in the wedding.   Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton traded insults at the Beekman which eventually led to their duel and the death of Hamilton. Benedict Arnold was a common sight at the Beekman. Rhinebeck is a short distance from Hyde Park...FDR's home...and the Roosevelts were here too. I'm sure some of my ancestors darkened the doorway at some point since they were from a nearby town.

-----Firehouse Suite-----
 

Back in the old days, guests shared beds...maybe several guys to a bed. Private rooms were hard to come by. Today the Beekman Arms has a few small rooms in the actual old Inn but they have expanded to take over a half dozen or more historic structures in Rhinebeck and there are some very nice accommodations. You don't have to sleep in a bed with a stranger.  The time we stayed here we actually had a three-room suite on the upper floor of the old Rhinebeck firehouse...where the fireman used to sleep, but much nicer. The rooms were furnished with a few antiques (maybe replicas...?) and canopy beds.

 Apart from registering at the front desk, you might not spend much time in the actual old inn unless you go into the tavern. The tavern is a classic old colonial-style tavern. The menu was varied and the food was good. Needless to say, if you are coming to the Beekman Arms, bring your money. There is a lot to see and do in this part of the Hudson Valley and it's well worth a visit.

 

 

 

BROOKSTOWN INN, WINSTON-SALEM, NORTH CAROLINA

 Winston-Salem is steeped in history all by itself. The Moravians settled the place and there are several blocks of old and restored buildings in the historic "Old Salem" district. Everything looks historical. Wake Forest University is here and its main campus looks like a relic from the 1700s.  Winston Salem was also an early industrial site. Entrepreneurs from the town traveled north to see how the textile mills in New England functioned and then came back and established a cotton textile industry.

One of those early 19th century mills has been converted to the Brookstown Inn. The inn is in the main mill building but there is ample evidence of a sprawling complex of mill structures. Back in the day, the unmarried mill girls lived in a dormitory in the attic of the mill. When the renovation work was underway, workers cleaning and stripping the walls in the attic found lots of old graffiti, poems and sketches that the girls placed on the walls of their dormitory. Some of those are preserved and on view up on the top floor. Nothing tremendous happened here but you can see and understand a little of what mill worker life was like back before the Civil War.

The rooms in the inn are sparse with old-style furnishings and bare brick walls. The rooms are mostly on the actual mill floors with as much left as possible to give the feel of the old building. Considering the structure and the industrial history, the place is bright and cheery. The restaurant is nice...I think we only had breakfast but it was good food.

The Brookstown Inn offers a good base for exploring the rest of Winston Salem.  "Adaptive re-use" is almost always a good thing in my opinion and this place is a great example.

There are a couple organizations that serve as resources if you want to stay at a good historic hotel. The National Trust for Historic Preservation established Historic Hotels of America in 1989 and they are active in maintaining standards and they keep their list current. The website is http://www.historichotels.org.  Another similar listing is Historic Hotels of the Rockies at  http://www.historic-hotels.com .

 

Recent Comments
Stephen Evans
Enjoying this series, Ken!
Friday, 04 September 2015 16:27
Ken Hartke
Glad you are enjoying it.
Friday, 04 September 2015 16:37
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In Praise of Old Hotels Part 3 -- Hotel Haunts

"I ain't afraid of no ghosts"

Old American hotels come with a lot of legends and stories repeated by staff and guests over the years. I've stayed at places that were two hundred fifty years old and some places that had early lives as textile factories and bordellos. If there are such things as ghosts, I think an old hotel would be a prime spot to encounter one.  I have yet to meet one...I think. I'm a skeptic but strange things do happen and sometimes they happen in some places more than others.

THE STRATER HOTEL, DURANGO, COLORADO

 

Let's dispense with the Strater ghost stories first. When we stayed at The Strater Hotel, probably in 2002, there were lots of stories of mysterious sightings and ghostly experiences. Each room had a room diary where guests would record their stay and comment on  what they liked about the place and what they did during their stay. The diary in our room had entries from people from all over the world -- including a Saudi Prince.  There were frequent references to the resident ghosts...but mostly that they had not seen any.  There are plenty of folks who claim to have seen one of the three alleged ghosts, including the sister of a previous owner. Fast forward to 2013 and the current hotel management disavows all knowledge of a resident ghost and says that the hotel is not haunted and never was. Well, I suppose that is the official word on the topic. I'm sure the stories still circulate.  I don't know how you would prove that the hotel is not haunted if people claim that it is and imagine that they have experienced a visitation.

The Strater Hotel was built in the late 1880s and is quite large. The architectural style might be Colorado Wedding Cake...the place certainly commands attention.  It was built by Henry Strater (yes, he is one of the ghosts) a local pharmacist. He built the hotel in a bid to make Durango a permanent place rather than a mining camp. The original cost was $70,000. I think he did a great job...the place is impressive. Besides the many hotel rooms there is a classic saloon...the Diamond Belle Saloon...that offers kind of an updated old west saloon experience. When we were there they had a resident ragtime piano player who was great and put on a good show.

The Strater's rooms are furnished with antiques. The hotel has the largest collection of Victorian-era walnut furniture in the United States. Our room was decorated like a room in a bordello...complete with bright red flocked wallpaper. Now, really, how would I know what a room in a bordello looks like? They could be trying to fool me.  Today the summer AARP rate for a classic queen room for two is $192.00. I don't recall paying that much but maybe we did. We were there in October so rates might have been less. I would pay the current rate but I like these old hotels. The Strater is part of the Historic Hotels of America and there might be discounts through the National Trust for Historic Preservation. It is a unique place.

We didn't eat at the hotel. We opted to go out and explore the downtown area and found places to eat close by. We slept well and were not awakened or startled by any ghostly beings. There were writers here. Louis L'Amour always stayed in the room over the saloon because he liked the noise and it helped him write his western novels.

SWEDISH COUNTRY INN, LINDSBORG, KANSAS

Lindsborg, Kansas, is located south of Salina, sort of in the middle of east-central Kansas. The town is mostly made up of transplanted Swedes, or more probably folks with Swedish ancestry. They are very proud of their Swedish background and have invested in a number of fiberglass Dala Horses that are decorated in various themes and placed around town on street corners. They make a big thing about being Swedish and that draws people to town who have similar interests. When they come to town they can stay at The Swedish Country Inn. Since I am not Swedish I was a little puzzled. What exactly is a Dala horse?

This hotel is small...only sixteen rooms...and is almost more like a B&B. It was originally built as a feed and seed store -- mostly alfalfa seeds. It was once a Studebaker dealership.  Finally the owner had it converted to a hotel with a plan for thirty-two rooms. They ran out of money at sixteen rooms. It has sort of a Spanish look to it but that was the style back then.  It was a dormitory for the local Bethany College for a few years and then eventually was renovated and returned to being a hotel. They have worked hard to make it appear Swedish in it's current life. The annual Messiah Festival is a big deal so you might have trouble getting a room around Easter.

The rooms are all fairly similar and are furnished with...you guessed it...Swedish stuff. The exposed woodwork is all very lightly stained or simply allowed to be unstained and lightly varnished. Furnishings are sparse...not a lot of stuff crammed into the rooms.

The breakfast spread is Swedish, too, but very good and there is plenty to choose from. You will not go away hungry.

Now I'm not saying that the Swedish Inn is haunted but something weird happened the night we stayed there -- I found it somewhat spooky. At about 3 AM I was awakened from a sound sleep by a strong smell of garlic. I'm not talking about just a little bit of garlic. This was like someone drove a truckload into the room. I don't ever recall being awakened by a smell before. Joanne did not smell it but she was sound asleep. I finally decided that someone was cooking breakfast (at 3 AM?) and tried to go back to sleep. The smell continued until I finally got back to sleep. The next morning the smell was gone but I expected to see something on the breakfast menu containing a lot of garlic. Nope...not a sign of garlic in anything we had for breakfast. I made a casual comment at the front desk about all that garlic they had cooking and they had no idea what I was talking about. So what was that smell?  Folklore associates garlic with vampires but mainly as a protection to ward off vampires and werewolves. Maybe that smell was keeping the Kansas vampires and werewolves away from us out-of-state and non-Swedish visitors.

I also recall the horrendous thunder and lightening storms that we had while we stayed there. It really was a dark and stormy night.

Just to finish the story...  We were actually on a road trip following the route of the Santa Fe Trail across Kansas and eastern Colorado. After my rough night we left Lindsborg and struck out across the Kansas plains past Pawnee Rock and Fort Larned and through Dodge City where the car started making odd sounds. Undaunted, we drove on until we lost a wheel bearing just west of Las Animas, Colorado. We limped back to Las Animas and found a Best Western motel. Las Animas is located near the Purgatory River and the original name of the place was  La Ciudad de Las Animas Perdidos en Purgatorio, "The city of souls lost in Purgatory."  That seemed fitting for the trip. The car had to be flat-bed trucked 125 miles to Colorado Springs.

I am not making this up -- things got better after that.

 

 

Recent Comments
Rosy Cole
What it is to have great sense of humour along with your sense of adventure! Clearly those lost souls were in need of wheels! :-)... Read More
Friday, 28 August 2015 15:46
Ken Hartke
Thanks, Rosy. It actually turned out OK. The car was under warranty so no cost for the repair or transport and they gave us a loan... Read More
Friday, 28 August 2015 18:19
Virginia M Macasaet
Ahhhh... here it is! Catching up on my reading and working my way backwards :-)
Monday, 31 August 2015 23:28
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In Praise of Old Hotels — Parts 1 and 2: Southwestern and Railroad Hotels

Part 1: Why Old Hotels?

As I was remembering some past trips around the country it occurred to me that I seem to have an enduring fondness for old hotels.  I’ve purposefully sought them out over the years while on the road and I almost always enjoyed the experience. Some were more of a bed and breakfast operation wrapped in the  ambiance of an old historic hotel, but that’s fine and it adds to the variety of the experience.  So I decided to post some of those experiences in a series of intermittent blog posts covering one or two hotels at a time.

I once worked as a travelling auditor (sort of) and stayed in Holiday Inns and other similar motels while on assignment. That may be why I enjoyed the novelty of staying in older places that were not as new and shiny.  So here is the first installment with several more to follow. The images are sometimes mine but most often are from the hotel web pages.

HOTEL WASHAKIE, WORLAND, WY

Way back in 1975, Joanne and I went on a two week backpacking trip to the Big Horn Mountains in Wyoming. We were on a tight budget and camped almost every night, which was common back in those days. Our actual trek through the mountains was only about four of five days but we had spent a lot of time sleeping on the ground and  had not used a real shower for many days.  Joanne agreed to the backpacking and the camping if we could stay in a real hotel once we came out of the mountains, which was fine with me…sounded like a great idea.

Coming out of the mountains after our trek we headed west to the town of Worland, Wyoming. We had heard several good recommendations for the Hotel Washakie in Worland. The steak dinner in the restaurant was also recommended and that sounded great after eating beans and freeze-dried Turkey Tetrazzini cooked over a tiny white gas stove that was trying to blow up.

As I recall, the room was adequate but not fancy. This was sort of a cowboy hotel. The real bed was welcome after so many nights on the ground. The bathroom and shower were much appreciated. The steak dinner was wonderful.  Breakfast was great. We really needed that hotel stay and it could have been much worse but we still would have enjoyed it.  As I recall we had a good night’s rest and headed west toward Thermopolis and the Wind River the next day.

As I was preparing to write up this short blog entry I began to wonder what happened to the Hotel Washakie. I tried searching the Internet…nothing showed up. I searched on Google Earth and Google maps….nothing. I looked at a map of Worland thinking that I might recognize the hotel location but there was nothing.  Finally, I sent a short email to the “lifestyle” editor of the local newspaper in Worland. He wrote me back that the hotel had been demolished many years ago and replaced by a Mexican restaurant. Ugh. Wow…that made me feel really old. It wasn’t especially a cherished landmark of my youth but still it pained me a little to realize that “my places” were being torn down to make room for Mexican restaurants….progress, I guess.

So this was my first encounter with an older hotel. The Hotel Washakie was probably the premier stopping point for travelers on the railroad and cowboys coming in to town on weekends. Now they have Comfort Inns and Motel 6 and the train doesn’t stop here anymore…again, progress, I guess.

THE EL REY INN, SANTA FE, NM

Sometime back in the late 1970s…I don’t recall the year…Joanne and I went on a cross country trip to California. Our route took us through New Mexico — Albuquerque, Santa Fe, Abiquiu, Chama and on into Colorado. We camped at a few places but stayed in motels about half the time.

In Santa Fe we decided to camp one night in the mountains and stay another night in a motel.  Driving into town we picked out the El Rey Motel, a 1940-ish “tourist court” style motel with adobe-looking cabins. This was before Santa Fe was “discovered” and became upscale. I don’t think we paid much more than $35.00 for the room.  The motel was conveniently located and we went out and visited the town and the plaza. The neighborhood was (then) still a little outside of the congested old part of town. Santa Fe’s early streets are narrow and seem to follow old cow paths.

The motel was distinctive because the rooms were very southwestern in style with tile floors and adobe walls. Our room had a kiva fireplace and wood beams and carved corbels.

Today this place is operated as the El Rey Inn and has moved upscale. A room like ours would be considered deluxe and would run $155.00 a night. There are other similar places from the same era along that stretch of the highway (Cerillos Road) including the Thunderbird and Kings Rest. The neighborhood and the road are very congested. Car dealerships and the Teriyaki Bowl restaurant are now across the street.

We returned to Santa Fe several times after that but enjoyed Santa Fe more on that first trip than our other visits. We camped up in the national forest among the Aspen trees.

 

Part 2: Railroad Hotels

There is, or (rather) was, a class of hotels that catered to folks travelling by train. These railroad hotels were located near train stations or close to the railroad tracks and in some cases were part of the train station. St. Louis’s Union Station is a prime example of the co-located hotel and station.  Since I’m a train fan, I’ve stayed at a few old railroad hotels.

IZAAK WALTON INN, ESSEX, MONTANA (GLACIER N.P.)

Okay, I lied. Not all of these hotels were designed for travelers. The Izzak Walton Inn started as sort of a bunk house or dormitory for rail workers on the Great Northern Railway and that stretch of tracks around Glacier National Park needed a lot of work. They also have a small switching yard there and some resident locomotives that help move the trains over the mountain pass.  As far as I can tell, there really isn’t anything else at Essex besides the Izzak Walton Inn. The place is located just outside of Glacier National Park and is serviced by the park’s touring car concession so they come and pick you up for the tour and bring you back when you are done.

The Izzak Walton Inn is a “flag stop” on Amtrak’s Empire Builder route which means they will stop for you with advance notice but won’t usually stop as a regular daily thing. I assume that during summer there are pretty frequent stops.  They stopped at least once while we were staying at the inn.

The Izzak Walton Inn is rustic and was never intended to be anything else, but it has sort of a casual elegance to it. Part of it’s charm is that it is isolated. Don’t expect your cell phone to work and they didn’t have Internet when we were there. While this is relaxing to some, it is frustrating to others…especially thirteen year old girls. There is a pay phone in the lobby but it is usually in the control of pre-teen and teenage kids complaining to their friends that they are practically being held hostage in this horrible place in the mountains. Do your kids a favor and leave them at home. We placated our daughter by getting her a single room all by herself across the hall and away from the sound of the frequent freight trains that go by.  That is an added feature…being close to the main railroad line there will be lots of trains going by and lots of train noise…day and night. Sleep can be a challenge so bring ear plugs. If you are a train buff you will love it and some people, I understand, can identify locomotives by the sound.

Rooms are spare but adequate. They have added private bath accommodations to the rooms and in some cases the set up is a little ingenious.  The walls are pine and the decor is Burlington-Northern. We figured that the room would accommodate three of us with our daughter on the spare convertible bed. Nope…the spare bed was almost useless. We opted to move her across the hall and, surprisingly, they had a vacant room. An expensive solution but worth it in the long run….the level of complaints decreased.

As I said, the Izzak Walton Inn is somewhat isolated so you will eat most of your meals at the hotel restaurant. Again, think rustic but also ‘home made’ and inventive. We were happy with the food but you are sort of a captive and the prices were a little high. Before you complain, bear in mind the isolation and cost to drive to the next town for meals.  The Izzak Walton Inn is not one of the grand national park lodges but it is a unique experience and it is close enough to Glacier National Park to see wildlife and enjoy the area. We saw mountain goats a short distance from the inn and were able to explore the park on our own as well as on the tour.

 

THE IRON HORSE HOTEL, BLACKWATER, MISSOURI

Blackwater, Missouri, you ask?  Yes…Blackwater is a tiny town located west of Boonville, Missouri…um…west of Columbia, Missouri…um…sort of  like between St. Louis and Kansas City.  You have to want to be there….and I suggest you consider it.  Blackwater is an old town filled with those antique stores that you hear about in legends on Antiques Roadshow. The town has a small artists’ colony and is sometimes a venue for ragtime piano performances (Scott Joplin lived in Sedalia…down the road a ways).  Arrow Rock (and the Arrow Rock Lyceum Theater) is a few minutes away as is Boonville and the local casino crowd. You can get to Columbia and a couple wineries in about twenty minutes. So, Blackwater is a good place to stay if you are interested in that kind of stuff.

The Iron Horse Hotel is a real old-time railroad hotel located about twenty-five feet from the tracks. They supply the ear plugs. Go out the front door and turn right and walk across the tracks and you are in a farmer’s field….keep walking and you’ll fall in the river. If you turn  left and you hit the antique stores. There is a small diner across the street but the Iron Horse has a great restaurant (think lamb and lobster) and you get breakfast with your room. It was not busy when we were there. In fact, they told us to lock up when we went to bed because we were the only ones there…a big responsibility.

All the rooms in the hotel are furnished in antiques. Some rooms are themed and all have names. All the rooms seemed to be over-sized for an old hotel so I wonder if there were alterations made sometime in the past. I believe all rooms had adjoining baths so those were added at some point. We did not eat at the restaurant but it has a very good reputation. As I said, breakfast is served with your room but they have a cheery breakfast room set aside for that purpose. I understand that there are new owners but the place used to have a distinct New Orleans flavor. Our breakfast was biegnets and New Orleans coffee. With the change in ownership there might be some changes from this description. I know they are now doing mystery dinner theater nights occasionally.

***   ***   ***
Recent Comments
Stephen Evans
Very interesting subject Ken - thanks!
Saturday, 22 August 2015 21:42
Rosy Cole
Yes, thanks for this lovely trip down memory lane. Looking forward to more! For many folk, vicarious travel is not to be underrate... Read More
Sunday, 23 August 2015 13:15
Ken Hartke
It's the end of the vacation season -- I hope you enjoy the trip. Most of these hotels would be good places to spend time writing.... Read More
Sunday, 23 August 2015 16:04
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Rosy Cole New Moon, New Month
06 September 2019
As every gardener knows, it's always best to plant your beans and flowers on the premier side of the...
Rosy Cole Clarity
06 September 2019
It seems that the 'toxicity' of the workplace is almost universal now. It was never more important t...
Rosy Cole Paris, 14 Juillet
08 August 2019
Yes, I feel confident that 'The Government' does not essentially represent the British people. When ...