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Episodes: Blog2

E8 The Ben Lomond Hotel

The year was 1927, you are just hopping off the train at the crossroads of the west, Ogden Utah. The union station is a magnificent brand-new building made of beautiful stone with intricate tile work and murals all along the upper walls. The station is full of people, and no surprise there, it’s Ogden after all. As you come out onto the front lawns you get your first real glimpse of the city not from a moving train.

And it is breathtaking.

From the hustle and bustle of 25th Street as people move quickly too and from the station and to the shops and restaurants around the area, to the amazing views of the Wasatch mountains beyond. Even the air seems clearer here than in the city you’ve just come from. You haven’t been in Ogden long, but you already love it.

The street before you is lined with shops and buildings bearing a variety of names. But none of that catches your eye. No, you are looking down the end of the block at the beautiful, magnificent stone edifice of the brand-new Bigelow Hotel. It’s cream-colored stones, the amazing details, even visible from this distance. It is by far the tallest building around and she is an absolute wonder to behold.

You hurry down the street, exited for this, your first day in Ogden.

Welcome back everyone to the long, long long, long, over due next episode of Strange and Unexplained Utah.

In this episode we are going to be covering the famous, if not downright infamous Ben Lomond Hotel/ Bigelow Hotel/ The Reed/ The Bigelow Apartments. Now, I know this hotel has had a lot of names over the years and you will still hear a different name depending on who you ask about it.

Me, personally, I met the hotel under the name of Ben Lomond during spring break of 2015 when me, my mom, and my older sister drove to visit my grandmother in Ogden and she took us all through the city talking about the history of the buildings, who had built them, which one’s my great-grandfather had helped to build, which ones used to be known under different names.

She told me a little about the Ben Lomond and the kinds of things they did there. My mom filled in about the haunted nature of its past, knowing me and what I’m like, she knew that would peak my interests. After we got back, I convinced my husband at the time that he needed to see Ogden. October the following year we booked a stay in the hotel, and we got our own experiences, first hand.

But first, let’s talk history.

While we’re talking about names, let’s discuss the name of the first hotel to ever occupy that space.

The Reed Hotel.

After the Union Pacific set up the Union Station of Ogden it signaled that a new era was coming to what had previously been the quiet, quaint farm town of Ogden Utah. Ogden had, almost overnight, become a junction city for anyone trying to ride the rails west. They weren’t kidding when they said that “You can’t get anywhere without coming to Ogden.”

With all of this new travel coming through northern Utah, it was time to build a new, classier hotel to help serve higher paying customers that were used to more luxurious accommodations.

One man, E. A. Reed esquire saw that need and designed a plan to fix it. A $75,000 plan to build a 5 story tall, 130 room luxury hotel at the corner of 25th street and Washington. It even had a restaurant on the 5th floor. And while it may be hard to visualize now. I imagine at the time, the views of the valley and the Wasatch mountains must have been just magnificent. All the way up, no other tall buildings around, a limited amount of artificial light . . . It must have been a sight to see.

As beautiful as it was, it was certainly not an easy time.

Even from before the Reed opened it’s doors, it was plagued with issues. So many in fact, the original opening was delayed, getting pushed all the way back to the 4th of July 1889. After that the Reed continued to struggle, experiencing it’s first death less than a year after it opened.

A clip from the Ogden Standard had this to say about it:

“W. B. Steele, Esq of Lexington, Missouri died at the Reed Hotel, Sunday night at 10 o’clock. Mr Steele was a brother -in-law of Mr. McMillin, one of the proprietors of the hotel . He Had been in California for his health but found no relief. He retuned to Ogden, where he succumbed to the dread enemy of mankind, consumption.”

Now, while we may be confused by the word consumption, we would know this disease by a different name. Tuberculosis. You see Mr. Steele move to Ogden in hopes that the drier climate of Utah would help slow the progression of his disease. Unfortunately, by this point in time, the disease was too far advanced and little could be done for the man.

And things only got worse from there.

The Reed continued to struggle, attempting to make the most of its place at the end of 25th street. Things got decidedly worse in 1893 when the Reed actually had to close its doors for a few months. But they got things up and running again and by 1902 the hotel encountered its first suicide, but by no means it’s last.

At one pm on the 8th of September, Mr. William Van Allen came home to find his wife, Mrs. Tide Helen Van Alen, dead of a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head.

According to William he left his wife in their rooms at the Reed, (numbers 205 and 206 on the third floor.) at approximately 0645 that morning. Around one pm he headed back to the Reed to spend his lunch with his wife. He went to the rooms and found both doors locked. Unable to gain entry into his apartments and receiving no reply from his repeated calls to his wife, he went and spoke to hotel staff. Where upon he learned that Tide hadn’t been out of her room for breakfast.

William, who was apparently a man not to be deterred, gets out through a window at the end of the hall, and then literally shimmied his way across the ledge and into the window of their rooms they occupied. William is up there, knocking on the window calling out to Tide. He finally manages to get into the room and threw the curtains, and there she is. Laying on the bed, a pillow covering her face.

He walks up to his wife, and you have to think that at this point all the worst things are going through his mind. Maybe some part of him knows what he’s about to find, but there’s always that little voice of hope, praying for the best. Pulling the pillow off her face he described her face as “pale in death.” All the bed clothes to the right of her head are just saturated in blood. Blood that came from a wound just below her right ear. Laying next to her was a .38 caliber revolver.

I don’t know what I would have done in that situation. How do you think, how do you function, or even keep breathing in the face of something like that?

The paper said that he immediately told the hotel staff and authorities. But you have to wonder, how long did he sit alone with his grief? How long did he allow himself to mourn the loss of his wife, alone?

It came out later that she had been “ill” suffering from heart palpitations, and nervousness. Which sounds a lot like depression and panic attacks. But a lot of these old medical terms were tossed around quite wlly nilly. She’d also made an attempt on her life earlier that week using laudanum but was resuscitated. A letter to her mother, along with her will, was found. One paper said that she had this in her hand and another one stated that it was found later. Either way, both the will and the letter were addressed several days prior when she first tried to take her life.

The next few years saw about 8 more deaths at the Reed, but these all seemed to be of natural causes and barely had a mention in the local papers.

As things started to pick up and Ogden became a bustling transit town, ownership of the hotel passed to H. C. Bigelow and is Ogden State Bank in 1916. But the Reed continued to fall further and further into disrepair. Made all the more evident by the first accidental death on record for our illustrious hotel.

On September 26th, 1921, at around 1150 pm, (I’m assuming) a newly hired chef at the restaurant on the fifth floor, Asugi Nakano, made the fatal error of not looking where he was walking. While on the third floor Nakano waited patiently for the freight elevator to arrive. When the doors slid open to reveal an empty shaft, he stepped in. It’s not known if this was accidental or intentional, though most have ruled it an accident. It’s hard to understand how a 42-year-old man could walk into an empty shaft and not know.

Maybe if it was nighttime, and near midnight after a long shift . . .

But still.

Here are some things we know about Mr. Asugi Nakano. He was born in Japan on March 15th, 1879, to Kisuke and Sude Nakano. He immigrated to the US at the age of 26, which meant that he had been living here for just over 16 years, 12 of which were in Ogden, and the three story fall down the elevator shaft did not kill him right away.

According to a clipping taken from the Salt Lake Telegram, Nakano fell down the freight elevator shaft with no witnesses around. Staff on the ground floor, however, heard him fall and quickly rushed to get him out. He was loaded onto an ambulance and rushed to Dee Hospital where he was pronounced dead less than an hour after his fall. He never regained consciousness. Unfortunately, the paper got a lot of things wrong about Mr. Nakano. Including his real name and his age.

As you can see from the clip I’ve posted up to the webpage, they named him Harry Makoma and list his age as 34. There is no other newspaper mention that I can find. Which, if you think about it, is really sad. The only mention in the paper of his death and they don’t get anything about him right. Except the date, of course.

A few years later in 1926 the son of H. C. Bigelow, A. P. Bigelow, decided it was time for change. He wanted to build a new, modern, first class, fireproof hotel, right where the Reed was. The name and the hotel were failing, if Bigelow wanted to attract higher paying cliental, then he would need to reinvent the whole building.

Which meant that it was time for big change.

Now I have read that some people think the whole of the Reed was “raised to the ground.” And that is simply not true. They did, however, cut the top two floors of the reed off, including the iconic tower that rose off its northwestern side. They also expanded the lot, buying up nearby buildings like the Utah theater, and demolishing them, creating a newer, larger L shaped hotel with what remains of the Reed nestled in the crook of the letter. And while they did a major overhaul of the remaining parts of the reed, the fact remains, if you’re standing in the lobby, you’re standing in the original 1890’s era structure.

When it came time for the remodel A. P. and his newly formed corporation of 300 stockholders would settle for nothing but the best. They wanted a luxury hotel that had to not only catch the eye of would be guests but hold it. So, they turned to the biggest names in architecture in Utah at the time. Hodgson and McClenahan.

Now if you feel like those names are familiar, then you’re right. Leslie S. Hodgson and Myrl McClenahan are responsible for some of the most renowned buildings in Ogden. A few examples of their fine work, excluding old Ben, Peery’s Egyptian Theater, Ogden High School, the City and County building, and the Regional Forest Service Building, to name a few. And while they may have done work all over the west, their best and most lasting work will always be in Ogden.

In less than a year, the construction on the Italian renaissance revival building was complete. To quote the National Register of Historic Places registration form, completed by Allen D. Roberts on November 14th, 1989, “its exuberantly and voluptuously eclectic style was a monument to the taste and business mentality of the time. Visitors were to be overwhelmed by the sophistication of Ogden’s showplace.” Along with the striking outside Bigelow wanted the inside to make just as big of a statement.

So they incorporated a coffee shop that was done in Arabian style, a ballroom that echoed the styles of Florence, an old Spanish meeting room, just for men, of course, a Shakespeare room full of beautiful murals done by a local artist by the name of Le Conte Steward, and a ladies rest room that was said to be “as feminine a room as one could imagine a room to be.”

The newly minted Bigelow Hotel was said to be “a fit home for presidents, kings, and emperors.” It opened its doors on June 3rd 1927 boasting 350 rooms each with its own private bathroom, a concept that was still gaining traction with the rest of the industry. Our beautiful hotel even took on the national lime light when the convention of the Western Democrats held their national convention there. (A night that resulted in a “Smith for President” campaign. Smith would later go on to be the democratic front runner for the 1928 election)

Tragically, it was only a few short years later that the Bigelow saw it’s first death.

While both the Reed and the Bigelow had tragic deaths shortly after opening, where the Reed’s was natural, this was murder.

It was the evening of March 9th, 1929. The Utah Canners Association had decided to host their annual convention at the Bigelow. It was the nicest hotel in all of Ogden and the only location that had enough room to house the entire association at the time. During this evening people were drinking, partying, and going from the main event downstairs to their rooms spread throughout the building. Dan Rowland, a man attending the convention, invited a few friends up to his room on the 12th floor to keep the party going.

Amongst the group was a man by the name of Edward Spelman. How he came to be introduced to the group, as he was a guest separate of the Canner’s Association, is unknown. Maybe he heard the party and decided to join in, maybe it was the alcohol that Rowland had smuggled away in his room, we may never know the how.

What we do know is that prohibition was still in full swing in 1929 and would remain so until 1933. We know that while Rowland was a local, Spelman was not. Edward Spelman was a government engineer who had been employed to work on the Echo Dam out near Coalville. Spelman was a Colorado native who was staying at the Bigelow while he completed his work on the dam.

He joined in with Rowland and headed to his room for a little on the sly drinking in between rounds of dancing. Near to elven that Saturday, Rowland and his gang were headed back down to the main level to dance some more, when Mrs. Lawrence Russell, not accustomed to strong drink, became ill, or overly drunk depending on how you look at, and went into the bedroom to lay down, where she promptly passed out.

About 25 minutes later Rowlands and a Ms. Marcella Dinsdale returned to the rooms to retrieve Dinsdale’s wraps, which she had left behind. Here’s where things get dicey.

Several papers reported this story and while things were mostly the same, their wording on this part did differ some. A few papers stated that Spelman was caught by Rowland and Dinsdale “attacking” Mrs. Russell. Another paper stated that he was in a compromising position with the unconscious woman, and other papers stated that he was in this position and Mrs. Russell’s clothing was in disarray.