Second in an occasional series.
BRETTON WOODS — A full moon had risen over Mount Washington when my wife and I checked into the Omni Mount Washington Resort hotel one late-autumn evening, the days already darkening early and a wintertime chill in the air.
Although we’d visited the hotel several times after skiing at nearby Bretton Woods, enjoying an après-ski beverage before a roaring fireplace in the hotel’s majestic main hall, this visit felt different. Booking a room for the night and having the run of the place felt like stepping through a portal into a bygone Gilded Age — and into a ghost story of sorts, as we soon discovered.
The Y-shaped, Renaissance Revival-style hotel was originally built as a summer resort for the ultra-wealthy, who often came for two full months of rest and recreation in the White Mountains. It gained global fame when, in July 1944, it hosted the Bretton Woods Monetary Conference, a postwar gathering of Allied nation delegates that led to the creation of the International Monetary Fund.
Six decades and many millions of dollars worth of renovations later, the resort, which first opened for the winter in 1999, is now busiest when the snow flies. Holiday revelers in particular gravitate here for the skiing, horse-drawn sleigh rides, afternoon teas for grown-ups and kids, fine dining, breathtaking views, and overall pampering. We were slipping in between seasons, as it were, leaf peeping already over and the ski lifts not yet running.
At the reception desk, we found we’d been upgraded to a third-floor suite facing the front of the resort. Scaffolding on the hotel’s back side was obstructing guests’ views, it seemed. Handed the key to Room 314, we went upstairs to get ready for dinner.
Our room was spacious and elegantly appointed, with a four-poster bed, gas fireplace, cozy sitting area, flat-screen television, and other amenities befitting a grand resort. We freshened up, then headed downstairs for the Princess Room, said to be a favorite of Carolyn Stickney. She was the young bride for whom the hotel was built in 1902, and in whose memory the staff still sets a table in the main dining room every night, even though she passed away in 1936. Let’s just say that her spirit still animates the hotel, and in more ways than one, some believe.
We had the bar to ourselves, save for our bartender, who said he’d been working at the hotel for only a week or so. He was an amiable young man, so we chatted while he poured my wife a glass of wine and me a bourbon. Great place, we said. Yes, he agreed. And your room, he asked, pretty nice? Oh yes, we said, very.
“It’s not Room 314, is it?” he inquired idly.
My wife’s eyebrows shot upward. Why, yes. Yes, it is, we stammered. Thus did we learn that the TV series “Ghost Hunters” had filmed a pair of episodes at the hotel — some of the footage shot in Room 314 — where Stickney’s ghost had reportedly been seen, heard, or otherwise sensed to be hanging around, spectrally speaking.
My wife drained her glass and requested a refill. I wondered, had we been reassigned to 314 because the view was better? Or because no guest who knew about the “Ghost Hunters” would dream of staying there?
To answer three questions anyone might reasonably ask: No, we did not request a change of rooms; no, we were not visited by Stickney’s ghost that night, although I would have happily interviewed her for this article (imagine the retweets!); and yes, my wife insisted that we leave the bathroom light on, just in case.
No otherworldly visitation. Still, it’s fair to ask whether this room assignment colored our opinion of a place from which we’d expected great things. Actually, I found that the ghost story, benign as it was, only added to the hotel’s allure. After all, its history is on display everywhere, in the archival photos that line the hallways and alcoves and in its carefully preserved architecture — the handcrafted Italian plasterwork, century-old Tiffany glass, mahogany doors, and chandeliers, all original — that imparts a museum-like quality to the place.
Designated as a National Historical Landmark in 1986, the hotel’s grandeur is impressive, but so are the many creature (no pun intended) comforts it affords its guests. So no, we weren’t put off by the ghostly tale.
First, to dinner, then. With the main dining room closed that evening, we repaired to Stickney’s, a lower-level bar and restaurant that occupies what was once a men’s-only billiard room (the adjoining squash courts are long gone, too). Expecting to find a limited menu, or at least a less ambitious one, we were happily surprised.
My wife ordered the crab cakes remoulade and a side of creamed spinach, both delicious. I feasted on roasted mussels with Italian sausage and rack of lamb, medium rare, a Gilded Age meal if I’ve ever had one. We finished with a (shared) dessert of chocolate cake with raspberry sorbet. Our Jamaican-born waiter was attentive and personable, swapping stories with us about an island country my family had visited several times on vacation. Dinner for two, with a very nice bottle of red wine, came to $168 with tip.
Our $469 room rate included a pair of $100 vouchers that could be applied to a variety of activities (spa services, canopy tours, skiing or golf in season), two of which we scheduled for the next morning after breakfast.
A short shuttle bus ride took us to the Bretton Arms Inn, a charming bed-and-breakfast located on the grounds of the resort. In bygone days, it housed many of the maids, nannies, and chauffeurs who accompanied their employers to the hotel. Handsomely renovated, the inn with its sun-splashed dining room was an ideal place to kick off our day of leisure.
We passed on the more exotic breakfast options — lump crab cake and eggs with hollandaise ($10); sausage frittata with gorgonzola and mushrooms ($10) — for simpler fare: fruit, eggs over easy, maple sausage, toast, coffee, and tea ($28 tab for two). After a ride back to the hotel, it was on to the spa for my wife and for me, the golf course.
As part of its ambitious renovation plan, in 2009 the resort opened a $50 million wing housing a spa and convention center. The 25,000-square-foot spa offers an appealing array of massage and body treatments, plus men’s and women’s locker rooms and steam and sauna facilities. My wife opted for a 25-minute scalp and facial massage with hot towel press ($80), followed by a 50-minute deep tissue massage ($150). Blissful, she later reported.
I had always yearned to play the resort’s Donald Ross-designed, 18-hole golf course that sits off the back of the hotel (doubling in winter as a cross-country ski facility). Fortunately, the course was still open for its last few days of the fall season.
While hardly a championship golfer — my handicap hovers in the low 20s — I never turn down a chance to play a course as picturesque and storied as this one. Laid out in classic links style, with ample fairway bunkers and fescue-grass rough, it afforded spectacular views of the hotel and surrounding mountains as I plodded along, enjoying the setting as much as the game itself.
For the record, I carded a 94, pretty decent for me.
Before lunch, I took a plunge in the hotel’s heated indoor pool (the outdoor pool is also heated and open year-round) and adjoining hot tub. My wife and I then replenished ourselves with tomato soup, a grilled vegetable sandwich, a chopped salad, and glass of wine ($48 total) back at Stickney’s.
With our time winding down, my wife settled down to read before a blazing fire in the main hall. I, meanwhile, took one of the hotel’s tours to learn a bit more about its history.
As our guide explained, the resort was really built because there was no air conditioning circa 1900, so the wealthy came to cool off as much as anything. Ultramodern for its time, it had home-generated electricity, elevators, a post office, horse stables, bowling alleys, and an enormous garage to house visitors’ automobiles.
Times changed, naturally, and the hotel later fell into bankruptcy, needing plenty of cash and care to make a comeback. Downstairs, we stood outside The Cave, an after-hours bar and nightclub with a colorful history of its own. During Prohibition, it was the in-house speakeasy where one could share spirits, quasi-legally, with like-minded guests.
I figured that if I ever bump into Stickney’s ghost, that’s where I’ll find her.
Joseph P. Kahn can be reached at email@example.com.