Things that go bump in the night
Durban - There's more to the Midlands than just the meander, fabulous shops and delectable restaurants, writes Peta Lee. Things that go bump in the night and ghostly apparitions of the departed are equally prevalent.
MOUNTAIN PARK HOTEL, BULWER
There’s absolutely no place scarier than this quaint, atmospheric hotel squatting at the base of the majestic Amahaqwa Mountain.
Built in 1940, the building has the grace of an old Tudor homestead, with authentic blackwood beams and ceilings. Crooked doors, creaking stairways and floors also abound.
Owners Mike and Jill Ward have long grown accustomed to the ethereal beings wandering through this (allegedly) haunted hotel, specifically on the third floor. In fact, they seldom place guests there, such is the paranormal activity.
Doors that close by themselves, footsteps pacing the corridors, apparitions spotted on stairways and in rooms are common occurrences. However, there appears to be just as much strange activity in the large bar and billiard room downstairs.
“We have eight different spirits roaming around,” said Ward. “One is definitely that of original owner Mr McMenigel, who went bankrupt before he finished building the hotel and was found dead in his house, which had been burned to the ground. Apparently he committed suicide, and it’s believed his was the first ghost here and that he still roams his beloved hotel today.”
There’s little Mathilda, frequently spotted sitting on the wooden staircase, her chin resting on her hands. Her old school desk, now at the end of the first floor passage, was mysteriously moved several times, until it was placed in its current position.
A small white dog, nicknamed Wisp, and one of the few animal ghosts around, has also been seen trotting along the wooden passages.
Ruth, a tall woman who supposedly was either Mathilda’s governess or a caretaker, is another ghostly visitor. It’s said she fell to her death from the top floor. Numerous guests have seen her in the hotel.
Dozens of mediums and psychics have visited the Mountain Park, as has Discovery Channel’s Ghosthunters International, which filmed strange sightings and “orbs”.
“One psychic, who went into our sauna/jacuzzi room, had to leave in a hurry because he said it was too reminiscent of a butchery.
“Other guests have been unnerved after swearing they saw blood on the walls of that room as well,” said Ward.
A thick book of guests’ comments on their ghostly sightings is testament to the hotel’s supernatural visitors.
The eeriness of the third floor is not for the faint-hearted – the hairs on the back of my neck literally stood on end while I was up there.
Ward grinned: “Ironically, we have a number of guests who specifically request the third floor when they make reservations.”
HEBRON HAVEN HOTEL, THE DARGLE VALLEY
Two kilometres along the road to The Dargle, as it’s known, off the old R103 in the Lions River area, you’ll find the gorgeous Hebron Haven Hotel. With its magnificent rambling gardens and massive trees, it’s a charming destination even for a day visit.
But here too, the ghosts of owners past appear to lurk in the shadows – specifically that of Carl Preller, the first owner of the property that was formerly part of a government land grant designed to encourage settlers to inhabit the nether regions of the then all-powerful British Empire.
Preller was granted 2 495 hectares in 1849. He died in 1870, after falling off his horse. It’s said he was father to two layabout sons, and supposedly buried boxes of gold coins on the property before his death to keep them from squandering it. He died without revealing the treasure’s whereabouts.
Giving credence to the myth, a box of coins was reportedly unearthed when the tarred road to Dargle was built. Preller, however, is allegedly still seen around the property, keeping an eye on his hotel and still-buried gold.
With beautiful wooden beams and big fireplaces, the country hotel is a delight; but, owner Robert Pollabauer is not the only one to have experienced inexplicable happenings.
“I went to close the ladies’ toilets window one night when I was locking up and someone brushed past me as I walked in,” he said. “Guests have also spotted an old man sitting at the window in chalet number two, looking out over the garden.”
Doors have mysteriously been unlocked from within, and one female guest was ashen-faced after reporting someone had removed her duvet and gently turned her over from her stomach on to her back as she lay in her bed.
Two rooms, detached from the main building and now used as the office, were once the old post office and trading store (circa 1923) on the great north road to the goldfields.
Thousands of wagons would have stopped here overnight after having forded the Umgeni River, running through the bottom of the gardens.
If old man Preller is indeed still drifting around the hotel, one suspects he would be very comforted by the immaculate preservation of his beloved property.
NOTTINGHAM ROAD HOTEL; NOTTINGHAM ROAD
The “Notties” ghost refers to Charlotte, who jumped, or more likely was pushed, to her death from the top of the first floor staircase.
“Legend has it she was in love with a soldier stationed here, but they got into an altercation after he jilted her, which is when she fell,” said owner Mike Foss.
“It’s said she was either a lady of the night or a bar lady. Whatever she was, she’s apparently still here, roaming the first floor, and mostly making an appearance in room 10. Guests have also heard and seen a man pacing up and down the corridor outside the room.”
Charlotte is said to open wardrobe doors, move vases of flowers around, and even pack and unpack guests’ suitcases.
Visitors to this charming and popular little hotel, built in 1854, have also occasionally seen the apparition of a small terrier in the downstairs passage, said front office manager Nonja Madlala.
“And, we’ve had reports of strange figures in room two downstairs, and them walking along the passage and in and out of the bathroom at the end.”
She said an investigation by the Gauteng Paranormal Society had detected ghostly “orbs” moving along the same passage and into and out of the hotel’s spacious kitchen.
“I must admit,” Madlala confessed, “when I have to do a room check at night, I never go upstairs by myself. I always take someone with me.”
I walked into what once was an art gallery, many decades ago, behind what used to be the residents’ lounge, close to the kitchen, and the stillness and temperature drop of the room made my blood run cold.
I skedaddled out of there very quickly.
email@example.com - Independent on Saturday