A couple of weeks ago I did a blog post on the Mineola Hotel and Lounge. But I didn’t tell you the rest of the story. I was saving it for the Halloween post over at CacheCrazy’s Fright Week series, because this is the type of tale that will fit right in over here. If you missed that post you might want to go back and read that first so you understand the background of what I’m about to tell you.
The Mineola Hotel was a well-known hideout of gangster Al Capone during the Prohibition Era. It was reputed that he and his cronies would stay at the hotel and spend hours drinking and gambling in the Mineola lounge. We drove to Fox Lake on Labor Day to see the closed up and condemned hotel. And that’s where this story begins….
While everyone else walked around to the front of the hotel, I noticed a small passageway behind the rear entrance and walked down the crumbled steps to investigate.
Original bricks, stacked on top of foundation rocks, still supported the building frame.
A weather worn door stood to the left and when I turned the doorknob I was shocked that the door swung open. I could hear the faint tinkling of piano keys and low laughter coming from deep inside the building. The hallway smelled of mildew and stale cigars. I reached into my pocket and pulled out my tiny flashlight. Snapping it on, I could see water stained walls shrouded in darkness and cobwebs dripping from the doorways. When I looked down, milky tendrils of fog curled around my ankles and snaked down the hall, like thin boney fingers beckoning me to follow.
Cautiously I followed the music and voices up the wooden stairs and entered a massive lounge. The laughter and music had ceased. A cracked mirror hung behind a huge oak bar that spanned the length of the room. Over-head, crystal chandeliers lined the ceiling and across the room stood a series of floor to ceiling windows that spilled out over the lake. Rays of sunlight streaked over the top of boarded windows, illuminating dust particles that danced and swirled in the air.
A warped piano sat in one corner, keys cracked and dingy with age. I could imagine the songs of Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong and Al Jolson filling the room while Al Capone sat at the corner table, facing the doorway, drinking whiskey, playing poker and smoking cigarettes. I remembered reading an article claiming that Scarface, as he was frequently called, had a secret passageway leading from the lounge to his bedroom suite 3 stories above. I lightly touched the top of the bar and as I dragged my fingertips down its length, I could feel a slight tingling and hear a low hum. Something about the wall at the far end of the bar caught my eye and as I slowly walked down towards it, I instinctively reached underneath the countertop and felt a small button. When I pressed it in I heard a faint click and a small section of the wall slid open before me.
“Whoa, what’s this?” I aimed my flashlight beam into the yawning darkness and stepped across the threshold. Soundlessly, the door slid shut behind me, and I was enveloped in darkness except for my faint beam of light. Heart pounding loud enough so that I could hear it in my ears, I took a step forward and bumped into a stair. Shining the light downward I caught the tail of a mouse as he scurried into a hole. I shuddered and slowly began to climb upward.
Again my ears caught the distant melody of music and hearty laughter. Were there other people in the hotel? The building had been condemned in May and I was clearly trespassing. But then, the back door had been left unlocked….
The wooden stairs beneath my feet were narrow and steep. At one time they had been covered with what looked like a deep maroon carpeting, probably to muffle footsteps as Al made his way from the bar to his room above. I could almost hear the wail of police whistles when they made their raids and I felt certain that Capone hid behind the walls, smug with the knowledge that he eluded them once again. Now the carpet had been gnawed away in huge chunks by mice and slowly deteriorated in the damp, confined space.
Higher and higher I twisted up, counting the landings as I went. Finally I reached a wide wall and a dead end on the fourth floor landing. There was no visible doorknob so I ran my hand over the walls until I felt a small hook protruding on one side. Grasping it, I yanked backward and another door rumbled open, revealing a bedroom. Once again, as soon as I entered the room, the door glided shut behind me.
I stood still for a moment and let the weight of the room settle over me. Off to one side sat a queen sized bed, the mattress ripped and springs sticking up in all directions. A simple chest of drawers stood against the far wall and when I inspected the framed photo hanging above it, I recognized Al Capone standing among a group of men. Peering around an open doorway, I glanced into the sitting room, where all that remained were dust bunnies littering the floor. I crossed the room to the single window and fingered apart the thick yellow curtains. Peering outside I could see the water of Fox Lake shimmering in the morning sun.
Four stories below me was my car, nosed against the curb. Louie and my parents were sitting on a stoop near a huge anchor, chatting and pointing at various spots around the hotel.
I heard the faint creak of a floorboard behind me and instantaneously felt the temperature in the room drop. The hair at the base of my neck prickled up and sweat ran in a thin stream down the center of my back. I could smell a cigarette burning but I didn’t stay around long enough to discover the source. As I spun around, my flashlight flew from my hand and rolled under the bed with a loud rattle. Light from it bounced crazily around the room and there was no way I was reaching underneath that bed to grab it. I bolted from the room and dashed down a hall, praying I was headed in the direction of the main staircase. Once I saw the stairs I took them two at a time, rounded the first landing and clattered down two flights of stairs. Just as I reached the last flight of steps my feet flew out from under me and I crashed through the frail banister. I landed with a thud at the base of the stairs with broken splinters of wood imbedded in my knee and elbow. Far above I could hear deep laughter, but I didn’t dare look up.
The lower half of the main floor windows had been boarded over, so I pulled myself up and headed towards the front door. Grasping the doorknob with both hands, I rattled it frantically, but it was locked and nailed tightly shut. Turning to my left, I headed towards the far wall and realized that one window was open about an inch. I shoved it upwards and flung myself out, landing on a side porch. This particular area had a low railing, so I vaulted over it and dropped onto the wooden steps that lined one side of the building.
I grabbed one of the support posts and tried to steady myself. I gulped at the fresh air and hastily brushed off my knees and arms, noticing that my left knee was dripping blood. I rounded the hotel and started across the parking lot, hoping I didn’t look as freaked out as I felt. By then, everyone was sitting in the air conditioned car and waiting for me. As I opened my car door, Louie asked me where in the world I had gone.
“Oh, I was just nosing around,” I replied. But before climbing in, I glanced nervously over my shoulder and peered up at the center tower on the fourth floor.
My skin prickled when I saw my flashlight propped between the yellow curtains and the window. I swear I could see the glow of a cigarette in the dark space between the curtains and soft strains of Al Jolson’s Mother of Mine, I Still Have You played in the wind. I got in the car and slammed the door.
This post was my entry for the CacheCrazy Fright Week scary story contest. We have 2 more days until Halloween and the final story entry. One new tale each day from now until Halloween. See you there. Oh, and I hope you can sleep tonight. LOL!!!