A historic specter in a historic hotel: The watchful ghost of Eldridge’s 506

David Longhurst, assistant general manager at The Eldridge Hotel, 701 Massachusetts Street, is pictured within room 506, where over the years, Longhurst has received reports from guests and has personally served as witness to strange occurrences within the room relative to the Eldridge

About a decade ago Sean Williams brought his daughters to the fifth floor of Lawrence’s Eldridge Hotel to catch a glimpse of a ghost rumored to haunt room 506.

Escorted by Assistant General Manager David Longhurst, the group passed several sconces throwing a dim light onto the narrow walls of the hallway. The room crept up on their left.

As they opened the door, lightning struck, Williams said.

“The curtains moved and there was a lightning flash and it was just perfect. They squealed and got goosebumps,” he said. “We were pretty much convinced that the ghost was there and the girls were nervous about it.”

“We stayed in the room a little bit, but not too long,” he added.

David Longhurst, assistant general manager at The Eldridge Hotel, 701 Massachusetts Street, is pictured within room 506, where over the years, Longhurst has received reports from guests and has personally served as witness to strange occurrences within the room relative to the Eldridge

As Halloween revelers prepare for Monday evening, welcome to the site of what may be Lawrence’s longest running ghost story. Tales of a ghost and a haunting at the historic Eldridge Hotel long have been a part of local legend.

Some are bigger believers than others. Williams said he was dubious about the experience in 506.

He suspected an air conditioning vent may be the culprit for the shuddering curtains.

With a laugh, Longhurst said there is indeed an HVAC vent in the room that likely caused the movement.

All the same, Longhurst said he’ll hear odd reports regarding 506 maybe every other month. But not to fear, he said. The ghost reported to occupy the historic building is none other than that of Col. Shalor Eldridge, and he’s simply looking after his namesake and the people within.

A portrait of Col. Shalor Eldridge and his family from 1854 sits above a fireplace in the hotel's lobby.

The hotel at 701 Massachusetts St. was built in 1855 and originally named the Free State Hotel, Longhurst said. In 1856, pro-slavery Sheriff Sam Jones burned it to the ground.

Eldridge rebuilt the hotel and added another floor. He vowed that each time the hotel was burned down he would rebuild and add yet another level.

Not quite a decade later, William Quantrill and his raiders famously fell upon Lawrence. The group killed around 150 people and razed the town. Among the destroyed buildings was the Free State Hotel.

True to his word, Eldridge returned and rebuilt the hotel yet again, though he did not add another floor. This time, he gave the building his own name.

Now, Longhurst said, some believe he watches over the hotel and those staying there.

“He’s looking out for the guests,” he said. “He was committed to Kansas coming into the Union as a free state, and he was committed to dignity and respect for everyone.”

Rumors of the ghost are a mixed blessing, Longhurst said. Some guests reserving rooms ask to avoid 506, while others request it specifically. On Halloween, it’s typically booked.

Certainly there have been some interesting reports regarding the ghost, Longhurst said. In fact, there may even be photographic evidence.

In one early 1970s publicity photo for the Eldridge a man and woman can be seen sitting in the lobby while a faint human outline is visible in the background, presumably standing in the open elevator.

“They developed the photo and ‘oh, God, what’s that in the elevator?'” he said.

Familiar with time-lapse photography, Williams said he’s skeptical of the picture.

This year, a man sleeping in 506 for two nights asked to switch rooms in the middle of his stay, Longhurst said. He reported that after he fell asleep the bathroom door kept slamming shut.

Three times the man got up in the night to open the door, Longhurst said. The third time he blocked the doorway with a towel.

Each time, the door slammed shut, he said. The third time, the man found the towel out of the doorway and in the bathtub.

Also, in the depths of the hotel, where few are allowed due to safety reasons, sits Eldridge’s chair, Longhurst said. The room is filled with cobwebs and dust, though the chair remains unsoiled.

“It’s always spotless,” he said.

Once, a bellman sneaked into the room only to catch a glimpse of an elderly man sitting in the chair with a pipe, Longhurst said.

The elderly man “looked up and said ‘hmmm,'” he said. And the bellman screamed.

Some guests will report hearing noises, while housekeepers have reported their carts moving in the hallway as they clean the room, Longhurst said.

Perhaps the most significant incident in Longhurst’s mind took place about four years ago.

These days the hotel is modernized with electronic key cards used to open each room, Longhurst said. But one day none of the staff’s cards — including his master key — would open the door to 506.

Staff made new keys for the door and replaced the battery in the lock, but no dice, Longhurst said. The door wouldn’t open.

Eventually, the group was forced to take the door off its hinges to make their way into the room, he said.

“The deadbolt was locked from the inside,” he said. “It’s on the fifth floor and the windows are sealed. There’s no way you could lock that from the inside and get out.”

If the ghost does indeed exist and it is the spirit of Eldridge, Longhurst said it may be attracted to 506 because inside the wall of that room is a cornerstone from the original building.

The room is well lit and overlooks the seventh block of Massachusetts Street.

Williams said the rumors of the Eldridge’s ghost are well known throughout Lawrence. And while there are perfectly good explanations for his family’s experience with the alleged specter, he still believes in ghosts.

“I do believe in ghosts. And I think that the more attention you pay to them the more inclined they might be to hide out,” he said. “I think they show up when you least expect.”