|West End Hotel Zinzendorf|
|R.J. "Dick" Reynolds|
As they walked, pushing back brush, their conversations may have involved the July murder of Ellen Smith. Dick was related to the Smith family of Mount Airy and would later marry Katharine Smith, daughter of his cousin. Ellen, a young mulatto maid at the new hotel, was found in the forest thicket behind the Hotel Zinzendorf with a bullet through her heart. (This would be near where the YWCA’s tennis courts are now located). She was 17 and pregnant. Her convicted murderer, also a hotel employee, was in jail awaiting execution by hanging. This murder would, much later, be moralized in the song “Poor Ellen Smith” by the Kingston Trio.
Additional conversation may have centered on the recent visit to the hotel of Adlai Stevenson, Grove Cleveland’s running mate of the Democratic presidential ticket. Papers all over the country reported the gift to Stevenson of “the left hind foot of a graveyard rabbit, a fetish which is said to invariably bring good luck to the possessor.” Stevenson had recently secured all eleven of North Carolina’s electoral votes and defeated Benjamin Harrison and Whitelaw Reid in the national election. Doubtless due to the lucky rabbits foot!
|Hotel Zinzendorf Under Construction|
|Historic Map (West End and Hotel Zinzendorf bottom center)|
In the May 1892 People’s Press added another benefit to the list. “Trotting over the hills…you come to the Marienbad and Mystic Parks springs…Too great stress cannot be laid to the mineral waters. They are most valuable, and are daily effecting remarkable cures…On a single day not less than one hundred vehicles filled with people visited them to drink to new health.”
“It was a crisp autumn day with wind,” one of the hunters would recall years later. “We got some wild turkeys and a large number of quail.” The men brought the birds back to the hotel for perpetration as their evening feast. As guest’s made plans for a carriage ride along the elm lined streets of Belgian block the aroma of freshly baked bread filled the kitchen as cooks prepared vegetables and fruit from nearby farms. Milk arrived from the local dairy farm. Hotel manager, E.S. Boswell from the Manhattan Club in New York was known for presenting food “in the daintiest and most appetizing fashion.”
Anticipating the announcement that “Dinner is served” instead the shout rang from the laundry room of FIRE as flames escaped the rear of the innovative, freshly constructed, wood frame hotel covered in wood shingles and boards. The fire raced through the immense structure as the fire companies raced their teams of horses through the cobbled streets. The smoke intensifying in the distance confirmed that a massive fire was in progress.
Guests and people near rushed through the halls removing furniture and fixtures as they ran. Cadets from nearby Davis Military Academy (now the Methodist Children’s Home) plunged into the burning building to rescue guests and possessions. Strong winds whipped the flames helping them devour the wooden frame and cedar shingles. The People’s Press later reported: “Coming down from the center of the roof, in the shape of a V, was the glowing, seething fire. Then, with wonderful rapidity, the flames sped on with wild, fantastic leaps, and ever increasing heat.”
|Hotel Zinzendorf Burning|
|Ruins of the Hotel Zinzendorf|
The People’s Press summarized the cause and effect of the tragedy: “A building composed of most inflammable material, a gasoline stove, carelessness, no water, and there you go!” The loss was covered by insurance but no one stepped forward to rebuild the glorious Zinzendorf following the failing financial markets of 1893.