Estimated reading time — 8 minutes
When I was eight, I decided that I wanted to be a ghost hunter. At that tender age, I was torn between the terrifying excitement of being alone in a haunted house at night, and the soothing reality that there was probably nothing to be afraid of.
My mother always told me spooky stories of the ghosts she had seen, or heard, or felt. And as much as I wanted to believe, I still had doubts. I wanted to get to the bottom myself and know for sure.
When I was in college, I met Saber. His real name was Marshall Bailey but people called him Saber because of the animal stripe tribal tattoos on his neck and his cat-like gait. We began talking in our Cryptozoology class- Saber had a knack for knowing more about some of the creatures than our professor. I learned that he was a paranormal photographer and after weeks of getting to know each other, he brought me onto his ghost hunting team.
There were five of us. Julie, the electronic voice phenomena expert (EVPs), Jonathan, who had all the thermal imaging equipment to monitor changes in temperature and electromagnetic fields. Sal had the connections to get us into popular haunted locations. Saber was there to film it all and then you had me, the skeptic. Saber felt that it was important to have an objective person in the group to keep a level head.
Saber had been building his team for months before he was finally ready for the first assignment that would take place during spring break.
We were headed nearly 800 miles away to a small town in Louisiana. When the flat expanse of Indiana turned into the sprawling green of the south, we knew we were almost there. We left on Friday and after 3 long days, we emerged from the van. We were here. Hotel Verona.
Hotel Verona had been abandoned since 1971. Once, a popular stop along the way to New Orleans, now was a dark stain in a quiet village.
Having done my research, I knew that the hotel had been built by the wealthy Martin Vasseur in 1948. Named after his wife, Verona was known for its aesthetic grandeur, luxurious creature comforts and some of the best Cajun cuisine in the area. During its first decade, many famous faces and well-to-do travelers made sure to spend the night at the hotel and dine within the exclusive club, Adelaide.
During the 1960’s, however, Vasseur had financial trouble and the addition of new major highways routed traffic away from the elegant Verona. After gambling heavily to try to revive some of his fortune, Vasseur lost most of his money by 1968. His wife caught pneumonia soon after and died, leaving him alone and penniless. The Hotel Verona hadn’t had a guest since June 1971 and on a quiet night in August, Martin Vasseur shot himself in the lounge of the lovely Adelaide.
Without an interested buyer, Verona’s beauty faded away. In 2008, a historical society tried to renovate the old hotel but strange noises, injuries and reports of being unable to remove artwork scared away the workers. Some believed that it was the ghost of Martin Vasseur, protecting his original masterpiece. Others thought the hotel already beheld a sinister presence, one that brought financial ruin to Vasseur and death to himself and his wife. This theory would explain why the hotel has seemed to deteriorate so much in just a few decades.
The stories and the pictures did not do the hotel justice. Through the faded design and obvious signs of years of neglect, it was easy to see the impressiveness of the Verona in its time. Saber stared at the monument with a sort of reverence. I smiled, excited for the night and ready to investigate.
Entering through the ornate French double doors into the lobby, we immediately smelled the stagnate air. It had been awhile since a breeze had penetrated this fortress. Dust covered every inch of the main floor, from the oversized concierge station to the grand ballroom. Occasionally, a critter would scurry off to safety.
We decided to first set up the equipment in the old Adelaide restaurant and nightclub, where Vasseur killed himself. It was in the basement of the hotel and since the elevators were no longer working, we had to lug the machinery down a flight of dusty, creaky stairs.
I was the first into the club. All of the intimate, clothed tables sat along one of four tiers, looking down onto a stage. You could almost hear the Louisiana jazz playing as the finely dressed waiters served French wine and spicy jambalaya and prawns.
As Julie, Jonathan and Saber set up their equipment, Sal and I passed out sandwiches. Our clocks showed that the sun would be setting anytime.
It didn’t take long before we started getting some activity. Julie’s EVP monitor started picking up some sounds very soon after dark. In that old abandoned place, it was easy to feel like we were not alone. After listening to the playback on her monitors, Julie played her audio recording for the group.
A woman’s voice was heard whispering “Trahi.”
“Trahi?” Sal asked. “What is that?”
“It means betrayed” Saber spoke up from behind his camera. “My grandmother was French.”
I thought the sound was spooky, but not definitive proof of anything paranormal. It was going to take more than that to make a true believer out of me. After almost an hour of dormancy, we decided to move upstairs to the ballroom on the first floor.
I was surprised at how different the lobby looked in total darkness. Without the golden sunshine bouncing through the glass, there was a much more sinister look about it. Only the light of our flashlights could distinguish color.
In the ballroom, Julie didn’t pick up anymore voices, but Jonathan was able to detect some strange temperature changes throughout the room. I chalked that up to holes in the infrastructure, or maybe some animals had taken up shelter in the walls.
We grew bored after a while and decided to explore the upper floors of the hotel. Saber suggested that we split up, to maximize time. Julie was going to record audio on the second floor, Sal would use a small, handheld camera on the third floor, Jonathan would monitor temperature on the fourth floor, and Saber and I would film the fifth floor at the top. We would all be connected with walkie-talkies.
“Everyone set up on their respective floors?” Saber asked into the walkie.
“Yes” was the resounding answer. We were to walk up and down the hallways, and try to communicate with any potential spirits in any open rooms.
As I walked next to Saber in the dark, I began to feel an electric charge.
I didn’t realize my level of attraction to him until we were alone in this creepy place. I think he felt the tension too because he inched closer to me as we walked, his arm brushing against mine occasionally.
“So, you speak French?” I asked timidly.
“Yes. My grandmother taught me when I would spend summers with her in Lyon.”
“Do you really think that was a voice we heard speaking French in the restaurant? Don’t you think it could have been the wind or something?” I was even beginning to doubt myself as the full spookiness and excitement of the moment filled me. I wanted to believe in ghosts.
“Of course. Don’t you?” He gave me an amused look. His eyes seemed really excited. I could tell this was exactly where he wanted to be. The hunt gave him some kind of high.
“I’m really not sure. But it makes it seem more real, being here with you.”
“What do you mean?” Saber asked earnestly. He moved closer, facing me.
Our faces were inches apart now. I swallowed and said, “I think that I might be getting caught up in the moment…”
I was interrupted by the sound of Julie’s walkie.
“Guys, I’ve just picked up something strange. You might want to get down here.”
We moved apart instantly, the momentary spell broken. As we head down the hallway to the stairs, another walkie crackles.
“You won’t believe what I just saw!” Said Jonathan excitedly.
“Same here!” Replied Sal.
“We can’t come to every floor! What is going on?” Saber shouted into our walkie. He and I looked at each other in disbelief. Suddenly, a low rumbling could be heard from the back of the hallway, just as a light began to grow from nowhere. Saber and I moved toward the sound and the light while he shined his camera at the source. The rumbling grew louder and the light brightened. I could tell as we got closer that they were coming from an open door at the end of the hallway.
Now there was a high pitched keening sound along with the rumble, and the bright light was not one, but many bright shapes emptying out of the room into the hallway. I backed away from the room as the human-sized shapes came closer.
“Saber!” I shouted over the noise. “Let’s go!” I pulled on his arm but he was mesmerized by the sight. It took many pulls and shoves and shouting before he snapped out of it and ran back down the hallway with me.
On the way down the stairs, we ran into Jonathan and Sal. As we raced to the second floor for Julie, the entire hotel felt as if it was shaking, the booming sounds as loud as ever. The lights from the top floor had reached the staircase and were slowly descending.
“Julie! Julie!” We yelled as we neared the second floor, into the walkie-talkie. “Meet us by the stairs. We have to get out now!”
“I’m outside by the van” Julie said, confused, as we heard Julie’s voice also say, “I’m on the second floor. Come see what I just found.” We all stared at each other in horror.
“What the HELL was that?!” yelled Julie through the first channel on the walkie. “I’m outside- that wasn’t me!”
We raced to the first floor and out the glass double doors into the night.
All sounds stopped instantly, save for our hard, hurried breathing. Looking back at the Verona, I was shocked to see stillness, and black. There were no lights moving on the floors anymore. We piled into the van and drove several miles before any of us could speak.
Julie was the first to break the silence “I was never on the second floor. I went outside to the van first to get more batteries because my walkie-talkie died. When I tried to get back in, the door was stuck. That’s when I heard you guys screaming. What was that?” She slowly shook her head.
“We heard you earlier on the walkie too. You told us to come down right before…well, whatever hell that was. And Jonathan and Sal said they saw something too.” Saber recalled.
“No, I never said anything. My walkie died right after I heard Julie.” Jonathan said as he looked fearfully at Sal.
“Mine too,” said Sal. “This is messed up. I heard loud noises upstairs and ran to find you guys. I ran into Jonathan just seconds before you two appeared.”
“Why was it impersonating us?” Asked Julie.
“It sounds like it wanted to get us to the second floor,” said Saber. It was silent for awhile after that. The trip back home was uneventful, and we made it in two days instead of three. None of us felt like stopping.
I lost contact with the group after that. I think we all just wanted to forget the experience. We were amateur ghost hunters and none of us were prepared for what happened. As it turned out, none of the equipment had worked properly and all footage and recordings were lost. It was easy to pretend that it was all a nightmare after that. I don’t know anymore, whether I believe in ghosts, but I know now that I no longer want to.
After I submitted this story, I received messages from readers about the land that Hotel Verona stands on. It seems that it had a much darker history than I knew. Before Martin Vasseur bought the land and built the hotel, it was owned by a family in the 1800’s that acquired it during the Louisiana Purchase. The family had enslaved a number of Haitians that had just made it to freedom after the Haitian Revolution. It is believed that a voodoo princess was among those enslaved and she cursed the land.