Spooky Miami is a four-part series featuring supernatural, paranormal, and otherwise unexplained phenomena throughout Dade County.
The Biltmore Hotel was the hotspot in sunny South Florida in the '20s and '30s, hosting celebrities, royalty, and U.S. President, Franklin D. Roosevelt.
Despite it's rise as an early-Miami oasis, two events in the building's history would yield mystical ramifications that, to this day, stick to the building like gloopy, spooky glue: the murder of gangster Thomas "Fatty" Walsh and the temporary repurposing of the Biltmore as a military hospital during World War II. Click on for a photo of a ghost captured on the Biltmore property.
Though she's never seen a ghost herself, Palm Beach County resident Linda Spitzer was the Biltmore's official storyteller for a decade, and is subsequently the leading authority on the oral history of the most haunted site in Coral Gables.
Spitzer is a storytelling enthusiast, with a Masters in the field, awards on the mantle and a history of prolific narrativity listed on her website.
Inspired by an article she had read about storytelling at historical hotels, she approached a friend who worked as a Biltmore concierge about leading weekly sessions. Soon thereafter she received a call from the hotel's manager, who was excited about the storytelling, but had one caveat.
"I thought he wanted folk talkes," Spitzer says, "but, no, he wanted history and ghost stories."
A guest gave Spitzer this photograph taken at a July 4th celebration. It was meant to be a solo shot of her son, but a Biltmore ghost was ready for its close-up.
The Biltmore's newly-minted storyteller conducted some research on the building's history running, of course, straight into the military hospital and Fatty Walsh. After a few months of hosting the sessions, Spitzer found herself the Biltmore's go-to source and record on every paranormal occurence: the staff would always keep her updated on bizarre occurences and her stories sessions were often two-way, with guests offering their own renditions, experiences and secondhand accounts.
Her catalog of tales runs like a thorough crash course in every kind of haunting. "The best stories are from when it was closed [after World War II]. High school kids used to sneak in and would see people walking around with their feet floating above the ground. Or they'd get tapped on the shoulder and see men in army uniforms."
She also recounts a story about Catholic school girls walking past the closed Biltmore and seeing a woman waving from the tower. "Babies crying through the walls, noise from a party that wasn't happening, a man who came to the front desk and the clerk and then he vanished."
In recent times, a popular report is that of people disappearing into thin air. "Oh, they always vanished," she says with familiarity. "The piano player once told me she looked up and saw a man waving at her. She looked down for a moment and then he was gone."
From speaking with psychics, Spitzer is familiar with the theory that ghosts and hauntings are the product of unfinished business. "They have to wander because they have yet to reach their ending," she explains. And the stories surrounding the Bilmore's 13th floor -- on which Fatty Walsh was murdered -- point to the ill-fated gangster still trying to tie up loose ends.
Spitzer told us that the Biltmore's lone original elevator often rises to the 13th floor unprovoked, and even though the floor requires a card key. "I used to joke, 'It's Fatty Walsh. He wants company,'" she laughs.
Spitzer's weekly, Thursday night sessions became mini-conventions for those obsessed with the hotel's haunted legacy. "I was in Frommer's, Lonely Planet. They had mobs in their lobbies." She adds that Halloween and the Super Bowl were always her biggest nights of the year.
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Eventually, the Biltmore grew disinterested in the stories for fear of scaring away superstitious guests. The tradition finally came to a close. But, for Spitzer, the verdict is still out on the legitimacy of the Biltmore's haunted history.
"I never saw one," she says, "but such strange things were told to me by such regular people."