Sunday, March 13, 2011

Storytelling Retreat in Sistersville, WV

So, I've always been a sucker for Victorian architecture - give me stained glass windows, handcarved wood furniture, conical towers with witch-cap roofs, lead glass chandeliers, and gargoyles. For me, this is true comfort - a place with a history and a life all it's own. These places are where stories are born.

The Wells Inn, in Sistersville, WV is such a place. Built in the late 1800s, this hotel has seen the best of the Ohio River's wealth walk through its doors - and this past weekend it saw 13 storytellers become the latest in a long line of groups to spend time at the grand old dame of the river.

The hotel has seen some rough times of late, and is currently being renovated completely. Evidence of the renovations can be seen all through the place - but honestly it was not as inconvenient as you might think.

In the lobby of the hotel, there's a clock. A black walnut monstrosity that was crackled with age - apparently deeded to the property, and the clock can never leave the building. A veritable icon of time itself, the clock watched us all enter the hotel as it had watched thousands of others - with complacent acceptance and (every now and then) a chime of welcome.

In the dining room, which was under construction (all meals were served in the Black Gold Room next door) there were gold-leafed tin ceilings, with embossed panels featuring goddesses and griffins - a seeming motif in the hotel's decor.

Who is this? If you think it's Ephraim Wells, the hotel's builder, then you're incorrect. This is one of the hotel's former owners, but no one remembers which one. As with everything else in the hotel, it will take some research to find out the origin of this piece.

This is the bar in the basement of the hotel - and this is where some of the paranormal activity allegedly takes place. That's right - the hotel is supposed to be haunted. What better reason to spend the night? I spent some time in the bar, but aside from drawing a few connections with the set of The Shining, I didn't see or hear any ghosts. However, that's not a statement that could be made about the rest of the building.

The third floor hallway is the most paranormally active part of the hotel - and this is where our room was - the second one down on the right. The most reportedly haunted room (as we were told) was the room at the far end of the hall.

All talk of spooks aside, the spirit of the place is being returned to its heavenly heights. As you can see from this nearly completed room, the leaded-glass doors on the cabinets are still intact, and the woodwork is amazing. The chandelier is original. In short, the room was fab. We had one of our storytelling sessions in this room, and I frankly couldn't stop looking at the architecture.

All of our meals we ate together - 13 storytellers in a haunted hotel, on a stormy, rainy weekend. Sounds like the setting of a horror tale in its own, doesn't it? In actuality, this was one of the best weekends I'd had in a long time. I love my storytellers - because no matter how bad life gets, or how lonely you are, there's very little that can't be helped by a warm fire, good food, and an evening with good friends!

And some nice architecture helps too!