The Ghost of Cat's Alley (Hydro Majestic Hotel)
Stanley, NSW, Australia
We booked our stay way in advance to secure a room at this particular hotel, an unusual place called the "Hydro Majestic". Steeped in history and intrigue, not because of its age of around 100 years or its location amongst the heritage listed "Blue Mountains" of western NSW, but for its sheer presence and unique decor. My history might be a little sketchy but from what I understand It was once at the forefront of technology, and was going to provide the wealthy with the most luxurious hydro therapy spa facilities in the Southern Hemisphere, if not the world. It was created and ready for business around 1902 but was destined for bad luck from day one. Mark Foy was the owner and main driver of the project but even his proven marketing and business skills couldn't predict the unfortunate chain of events that beset the hotel.
Mark Foy made his fortune with the Foys' chain of high end department stores, then sold them and put all the money into his new venture, "The Hydro Majestic." The first problem he faced was that the natural spring water that would be used to fuel the spas started to run dry from drought not long after the doors were open. Then there was the fire of 1905. Lives were lost and rumours of ghosts and hauntings soon began to spread but even before they had a chance to fade a second fire started in 1922. Once again lives were lost and the rumours found new strength. World War Two was next and Foy was forced to close the doors soon after so that it could be used as a recovery base to treat wounded soldiers. Many soldiers died on the premises, cementing its spooky reputation for ever.
Had I known any of this I wouldn't have booked a room there (I'm not a believer of hauntings etc. but I'd prefer to stay away from that stuff just in case). The main reason I booked there was that we had heard that the hotel had not been redecorated since the refurbish after the second fire of 1922. Everything was kept exactly the same. Exactly as it was in 1922 so it was in essence a step back into time.
We pulled into the circular driveway after a chilled two hour drive from Sydney, Australia. The Art Deco styled structure looked impressive with its huge tiled dome and manicured gardens painted white on the outside with vines growing intentionally on its facade and large bay windows. Hidden from view are the left and right wings which stretch out and down behind the main building. Also completely hidden is the sheer drop behind the length of the whole building which reveals breathtaking views of endless valleys and mountains from every room. We walked through the front doors with our luggage and were immediately confronted with the strangest foyer of any hotel we had ever seen. Kabobbles ( my wife ) and I have stayed at numerous hotels, including many high end places and as individual as they all were, they all had one thing in common.They all blatantly utilised some sort of technology; computers, phones electronic keys etc. As you would expect, most places flaunt their modern electronic devices as they are often seamlessly woven in and around the lobby or even become part of the decor.
This place was different. Just a lonely side table and an empty chair in a large room featuring high imposing ceilings, maroon coloured drapes and red carpet. The silence was the next thing we noticed. So very quiet, and still. There are some framed paintings hanging from the walls and scattered pieces of plush furniture that look as though they could tell a thousand stories. An older gentleman greets us and takes down our details on a leather bound book while he gives us directions and instructions about how to get to our room. He hands over a large heavy metal key that looks like a prop from the "Addams Family" set. Cool!We have instructions to turn left from the foyer and continue until we come to two locked white doors. Using our key we are to continue along the same path ensuring that we lock the doors behind us. Apparently this particular hallway is known as "cats alley". It is narrow, unbelievably long and undulates as we lock another set of white doors behind us. It is lined with paintings ornaments and odd pieces of furniture. We notice in one of the displays an original wedding invitation and place card from the night of the second fire. This place was amazing, it really was like being in a time machine jumping back some ninety odd years. The never ending "cats alley" kept going and going. We had no idea this place was so big as you get no sense of its enormity from the street or driveway. We had closed and locked two sets of doors behind us as we walked and continued to take in the unusual environment when Kabobbles and I both stopped suddenly.
Almost simultaneously both of us uttered the same words, "Did you feel that?" in an almost matter of fact kind of tone.
"Did you feel it too?, What the hell was that. I wasn't going to say anything but you felt it too?"
"I thought I was freaking out!" I quipped in a light hearted manner.
I would have almost certainly dismissed it and not mentioned it again had Kabobbles not experienced the same thing.
"No!" says Kabobbles "your not freaking out, I definitely felt something, it's in this spot right here."
What we had just experienced, or "the feeling" that I'm referring to is that undefinable yet undeniable certainty that whatever that was,it had triggered all of our senses seemingly at once, yet none of our senses could register it or bring it into existence, unable to make it fit into the tangible, physical world.
It's when all of your being, all of what you know tells you, screams at you, that something is present yet there is no tangible evidence whatsoever as proof. Instinct, gut feeling, sixth sense whatever you want to name it. It's actually quite strange because it's the type of certainty you would bet your life on, as real and with as much presence as a train screaming past you. Our experience was no different. And we both felt it.
For me and Kabobbles it was as if someone had brushed up against us as they walked hurriedly past and then turned and stopped to look back. It's the kind of thing I would prefer to dismiss. I don't need to be or want to be postulating about things that I cant see, hear, touch or smell especially if it feels as though they can see me. Screw that! But their was no way out of dismissing it this time as their were two of us. There was no denying that something really spooky just took place and as others might, I certainly wouldn't describe it as a pleasant experience.
I have had one other similar experience as undeniable as this and I couldn't help but revisit that memory, not by choice I might add as I would have rather forgotten about that time all together also. It happened a number of years ago in a house across from my parents place. In the thirty odd years that my parents have lived in their home, the house across the road has had at no less than eight separate unrelated deaths occur, all of them inside the actual house, albeit by natural causes and unrelated but still, I always thought that it was unusual and more than a little eerie. Anyway, Terry the current owner who is in his seventies had locked himself out a few years ago and asked me if I could jump the fence, go through the back window and open the front door for him. It was a sunny afternoon and within moments I was inside and walking through the main hallway of the house. I was feeling pretty pleased with myself for being able to help out and not thinking about the house or its macabre past. Not consciously anyway. I was about two metres from the front door when I had that exact same sensation experienced at the Hydro Majestic. I was literally shaking as I was trying to get that front door open as quickly as possible. It wasn't just the overwhelming feeling of not being alone in that space but swearing blind that whatever was present was right next to and aware of me. Back at the Hydro, we finally got to the end of "cats alley" and into our room. It was literally the last room situated on the right hand side of the hallway. It was much smaller than I expected but the ninety year old decor and the tiny balcony certainly made up for that. The bed was adjacent to the entry door and took up most of the space with a lounge chair and large ceramic sink featuring also. I can recall black and white chequered ceramic tiles either on the floor or near the sink and in the bathroom. A medium sized window was perched fairly high on a wall so the view it provided was mainly of blue sky. We opened the back door which was on the other side of the bed and stepped onto the smallest balcony I've ever seen which provided just enough room for two people to stand on. The reason it was there was obvious though as the views into the valleys behind were breathtaking. The ground behind the building seems to drop off into infinity giving the sensation of standing on the very top of the earth.
We unpacked quickly and did what you might expect a couple would do on a weekend away. No not that! We headed for the bar.
The bar area was as cool as Fonzi, featuring a massive billiards table, deep bay windows which opened up to the expansive outdoor area and a host of luxurious appointments which reminded me of "The Great Gatsby" era. We booked dinner at the restaurant, played a few shots and sipped 1930s styled cocktails on the outdoor terrace. After a light lunch and several more drinks it started to get cold outside so I grabbed the key from Kabobbles and raced back to our room to grab my jacket. I was certainly enjoying my stay so far as I scampered confidently and happily past the spot that freaked us out earlier, without incident. In fact I had completely forgotten about it at that point. I got to our room and was in there for just a moment, as I started to put my jacket on when suddenly the strangest sensation came over me. Strong emotions of fear excitement and adrenaline all rolled into one, were telling me something. I don't know what exactly, but my translation was get the hell out of there. I didn't bother putting the jacket on so I just grabbed it and hightailed it back to the bar. I told Kabobbles what happened but I downplayed it a little and continued to enjoy the afternoon. We spent the rest of the day in and around the hotel grounds meeting a few other guests and eventually headed for our dinner reservation. Dinner was excellent as we took our time eating, drinking and making the most of our weekend away. I should point out at this juncture that Kabobbles is of Croatian descent and true to her Eastern European heritage is able to drink me under the table. In fact she could probably drink anyone under the table if she wanted to. Me on the other hand, well lets put it this way, one of my own self styled nick names is, "Two can Stan". I (we) don't normally indulge in excessive drinking and would like to think that we are responsible adults but we were away for the weekend and Kabobbles was in party mode. I was getting close to my limit of three or four drinks while Kabobbles ordered more cocktails, jokingly boasting about her "genetic tolerance", to alcohol.
I'm guessing it was around midnight when we started to make a move back to our room. We walked back along the dimly lit Cats alley, arriving at our room without incident. Our front door comprised of an old lock and key system with an additional ball and chain at eye level. Kabobbles who is a stickler for security insisted that I double check the door and ensure all available locks are utilised while she tended to her nightly bedtime ritual. By the time I was ready for bed Kabobbles was out for the count, her genetic advantage being no match for the bevy of cocktails she had consumed. This rarely happens to her but when it does I can be almost certain that I won't hear from my Kabobbles until morning. I pulled the covers over her and turned out all the lights except for my bed light. I was somewhat tired but not sleepy so I stayed up walking out onto the tiny balcony watching the stars for a while until the cold air was to much for me. It was freezing out there. I locked the balcony door and jumped under the warm covers to read until almost three AM. I checked on Kabobbles before turning off the bed light who by the way hadn't moved an inch in all that time, and rolled onto my right side, my head facing the front door. It was dark and silent in our room, with just a whisper of starlight coming in from the high window on my left. I also noticed the dim yellow light that was spilling in under the door from the hallway outside. I was actually focused on that very gap under the door as it was my only real light source, not to mention it being less than an arms length away from me. I could have easily reached down to slide my fingers under the gap given the height of the bed and the position I was laying in.
Then it started.
The first thing that grabbed my attention was a distant, indistinct sound that I could hear coming from under the door. Almost inaudible at first, rattling sounds with intermittent squeaking I thought although I couldn't be sure because it sounded so far away. I figured it was hotel staff, perhaps at the other end of Cats Alley either restocking or cleaning for the day ahead. I locked onto the sound and as I began to make it out two things became clearer. The first was that it was gradually becoming louder and the next was that it had a distinct pattern or order to it. I strained to listen as it was still quite faint but as it became more audible I realised what it was. Someone was pushing a trolley or pram, perhaps a housekeeping cart. I reasoned that a guest was having room service delivered and so closed my eyes as I tried to get to sleep although I couldn't ignore it completely as it seemed to continue up the long hallway, ever closer to our room.
I waited for it to stop or at least change pace as I suddenly came to the unsettling realisation that there were no further rooms in this section of Cats Alley and furthermore the large hallway doors hadn't been opened and shut to let anyone through. As I mentioned earlier our room was the absolute last one on this wing and there is no more hallway after us. I wasn't even thinking or relating any of this to the events of yesterday accepting that this was all quite reasonable. It continued ever so slowly creaking and rattling, as the sound of rusty wheels continued in the exact same unchanged tempo, my eyes fixed on the gap at the door as I lay motionless.
I started to feel my body responding as fight or flight hormones involuntarily kick in putting me on high alert. I could absolutely feel my hearing and sight become sharper and hone into the situation. Now the sound is becoming so loud that it seems to be only meters away as I lay there silently staring at the gap. Within seconds it's here and I watch with trepidation in my readied, amped up state as the light coming in from the door gap casts shadows of whatever is there. The squeaking has stopped and something is blocking the light coming in to our room.
The next moment feels like an eternity as the undeniable truth has no place to hide. I have no way of explaining this away. I know that something is a few feet away from me with just two inches of door separating us. I can feel it's presence so clearly that it's impossible for me to move or even speak. I am unable to make any sound at all and even if I could I wouldn't dare. If this was a person in the true sense I wouldn't have hesitated to call out or open the door to see what was going on. This was something different though and I can't help the way my body is responding. I try my hardest to will it away as I try to dismiss the images in my head of what it could be or look like. I don't want to know.
I try with complete stealth to nudge Kabobbles while fear hijacks all other functions. Nudging, prodding with my left hand while the rest of my being is fixed on those shadows cast under the door. I prod harder, please wake up Kabobbles wake up I plea silently as I try to somehow will her to respond. Nothing. Then as I manage to move my body slightly to get more leverage I notice something in my peripheral.
I look up and to my left in the vicinity of the high window and AHHHHHHH! What I see releases me from whatever hold I was bound by with a scream at the top of my voice. "KABOBBLES! KABOBBLES! WAKE UP! WAKE UP!", as I shake her out of her deep slumber. I switch on the bed light as she turns towards me, eyes still shut.
"Wha, what , what's wrong, what are you doing", and then she's out again fast asleep. I sensed at that very moment that it was now over and whatever presence had manifested itself was clearly gone. I got up and turned on almost every light in the room. I then proceeded to unchain the front door and opened it in an aggressive forceful manner. Nothing. I looked to my left all the way down the long hallway to the double doors and again nothing. Completely still completely empty, not a soul in sight. I locked the door again as my focus was now on the window and what I had just seen there that caused me to scream out just moments earlier. I walked out onto the balcony and leaned right out to see if I could get an idea of where the window sat relative to the building. I estimated around five or six metres from ground level ensuring that no one could have gotten up there without the use of a ladder.
Eventually I got to sleep and woke up relatively fresh that morning. Kabobbles was a little hung over but also ok as we both got ready for breakfast and checkout. "Did you wake me last night?", she enquired innocently as she packed. I wasn't sure when or even if I was going to tell her partly because I didn't want to think or deal with it and also because I wasn't sure about what actually happened. It all seemed so surreal in the light of day.
As we were driving home a couple of hours later I began with, "Man you were well and truly out for the count last night, you didn't hear me call out at all did you?"
"I thought I heard something, did something happen, is everything alright?"
"Yea it's all fine I'll tell you later, it's nothing."
We got home, unpacked some stuff and relaxed in my parents backyard when I started to tell her the whole story. As you already have most of what occurred I'll pick up from where I was describing the "window and the scream", part to her.
"As I tried to prod and nudge to wake you up I look up at the window and I see what I can only describe as the bust of a man that seemed to be floating, looking through the window. I thought it looked like a man dressed in period clothes from the nineteenth century, like some sort of admiral or captain. He looked as though he was wearing a wig like the ones barristers and judges sometimes wear today in Australia."
"It scared the crap out of me and I screamed".
"I don't know how you didn't hear me, you kinda stirred for a bit and then fell asleep again but it was enough to cause everything to stop".
"I don't know what the hell happened back there but it scared the hell out of me and I'd rather just forget about it, besides it could have just been a nightmare or lucid dreaming or something", I added attempting to downplay the whole thing mainly for my own benefit. I knew deep down that I wasn't dreaming or imagining things but as I said earlier I'd rather let sleeping dogs lie than have that replaying in my head for the rest of my life.
I nervously joked about it and mentioned it to various people over the next year or so and tried for the most part not to think about my experience but it wasn't until a couple of years ago when the Hydro Majestic announced its new makeover, which made the nightly news and featured in all the newspapers on numerous occasions that got my attention. Reports on the progress of the renovation and the like were presented by various media outlets but what I wasn't prepared for was that almost every story was framed around hauntings, ghosts and the hotels spooky past. Why the hell didn't somebody tell me that before we stayed there! That's when I decided I would write about my experience and it was where i uncovered a load of "stuff that I didn't want to know about".
One reoccurring story is of a young girl who died in the hotel when she was only six years old and is considered by many to be one of the hotels most prevalent resident ghosts. For some strange reason I can picture her in my mind even though I've never seen a photo of her. I see her pushing a dolls pram and wanting to play.
By the way, it's a sunny Sunday Sydney morning and I'm on my balcony at the moment writing these few final paragraphs and that's the only time I would bring that thought to paper. There's no way in hell that I would have written this paragraph or articulated that thought on my own or at night!
Two disturbing thoughts go through my head whenever I revisit that weekend. Did whatever was at my door that night single me out, and does it have the capacity to think about the experience in the same way I do. In other words does it keep me as a memory. Man I hope not!