Spirits ‘live’ at historic hotel, guests have reported

Susan Varno/Contributing Writer Originally Published October 13, 2013 at 12:00 a.m.
Updated October 11, 2013 at 2:30 p.m.
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Courtesy of Mark Tew and Linda Boulton

This is an early photo of the River View Hotel. In later years, the open porches on the left side were enclosed as sunrooms. The sign in front still reads “Sanders Hotel.”

CALICO ROCK— Guests and employees of the River View Hotel have reported otherworldly experiences — ghosts, voices when no one is there, even evidence of a ghost cat. One former owner had an exorcism done in one of the rooms.

Today, husband and wife Mark Tew and Linda Boulton own and operate this historic hotel. Their website reads, “Built in 1923, the River View Hotel is situated on the bluff overlooking the beautiful White River about one-half block from historic downtown Calico Rock, Arkansas. The hotel is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.”

After the Missouri Pacific Railroad laid track to Calico Rock in 1903, Benjamin Sanders built a two-story frame hotel at this location. In the early 1920s, that hotel burned down. In recent years, Ben’s daughter, Rose Hively, has visited the River View.

“Rose said her father walked the family past here every Sunday after church,” Tew said. “He told them, ‘I am going to build a hotel that won’t burn down.’”

Rose said that in the front yard workmen mixed concrete with sand and water they had hauled from Calico Creek. They fired the concrete blocks in a kiln on the property.

All of the hotel’s inside walls are also constructed of cement blocks.

People who have lived in Calico Rock or stayed at the hotel often stop by to share their memories.

“Originally, the River View served railroad workers and passengers,” Tew said. “By the 1930s, it was mostly a residential hotel.”

In 1983, Darlene Nelson bought the business. Her daughter, Paula Nelson Langston, described how they converted the hotel into a bed and breakfast.

“We peeled three or four layers of wallpaper off the walls.”

They combined smaller rooms into suites and updated the structure’s plumbing and electrical systems.

“Oh, the River View has its ghosts,” Langston said. “One day I was working in the kitchen. I heard footsteps coming down the hallway. I opened the kitchen door, and nobody was there. I looked around, and no one was in the building. Another time when I was working in the attic, I heard people talking in the hall below. I climbed down, but nobody was in the hall, or the building, or out on the sidewalk.”

The family found lovely pictures painted by a woman who had lived and died at the hotel.

“I felt maybe she was the one I heard talking,” Langston said, “but even when I stayed overnight alone here, I always felt very comfortable.”

After Darlene Nelson nearly died of pneumonia, she decided running the hotel was too much. About that time, Boulton, who lived in Oxford, Miss., was looking for a summer home in Calico Rock.

“I stayed at the River View,” Boulton said. “Darlene said, ‘You ought to buy this place. It’s for sale.’ It was more than I wanted to do, but my son Steve moved here, and we worked together.”

Boulton learned more about the hotel’s artist.

“She was Sybil McGuinness. A woman who stopped by told us Sybil had been involved with a man who went off to World War II and didn’t come back. He betrayed her somehow.”

Tew added, “I was taking a woman around the hotel, and she noticed several of Sybil’s paintings. I said, ‘There’s a tragic story associated with that artist.’ Just as she was leaving, the woman said, ‘The tragedy was Sybil got venereal disease from her encounter with the man who abandoned her.’”

“Our friend Sue Chastain was our hotel sitter one winter,” Tew said. “In Room 11, she saw a woman and a man sitting in the room. The man was dressed in a three-piece suit. These were not guests; they were ghosts.”

Tew explained that a group from Old Miss, where he used to teach, held a retreat at the hotel.

“The man who slept in Room 12 reported he was awakened by the wraith-like figure of a woman in a long white dress at the foot of his bed. Another time, Sue sensed someone at the top of the stairs. She looked up and saw a well-dressed man with spats and a cane. He was also not a real person. Later, Rhiannon Clannach was our hotel sitter. She reported TVs turning on, and she believed there was a ghost cat upstairs.”

Boulton added, “Riahnnon and Sue both said they would find cat toys moved from where they had put them. But they didn’t see a cat.”

The Lone Wolf Paranormal Society set up at the hotel one night, Tew said. However, society members didn’t report finding anything unusual.

“Sherry Sanford bought the hotel from me in 1998,” Boulton said. “We heard she brought in someone to exorcise Room 7. When I bought back the hotel in 2004, I didn’t ask her why.”

Boulton ended with an unpleasant and tragic story.

“One day my son asked me to come up to Room 13. There was a smell he couldn’t get rid of and couldn’t find the source. It smelled like dirty diapers. We opened the windows, and the odor went away.” Later, she asked Charlie Gribble to stop by. He had managed the hotel in the 1960s and ’70s. As they walked around, he told Boulton about the hotel.

At Room 13, he said, “Oh, I remember this room. A woman went crazy in here. We had to break the door down.” He said the woman had smeared the walls with — well — something that smelled like dirty diapers.

“I got chills when he said that. I hadn’t told him about the smell. Then about a month ago, another woman stopped by. She remembered Room 13. She said that woman had been abused by her daddy and her brothers. Every now and then, she’d think about it too much, and she’d go off her rocker.”

In spite of the bizarre stories, Boulton said, “We’ve been told by people sensitive to ghosts that the energy in our hotel is peaceful.”

The River View Hotel has eight suites. Room 6 is furnished with original furniture from the hotel’s early years. For more information, visit ozarksriverview.com, email riverviewhotel@centurytel.net, or call (870) 297-8208.

“We don’t get trick-or-treaters here at the hotel,” Boulton said. “All the kids are afraid to come because this place might be haunted on Halloween.”

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