The description of a long-gone knob rests on a door within the wall like a thumbprint from the previous.
Within the Roaring ’20s, that room on the ancient Seelbach Lodge in downtown Louisville and the hidden passageway inside of it have been most probably havens for famed mobster Al Capone and his males.
As of late, groomsmen use the room to swig bourbon and play playing cards as they prep for weddings within the comfortable however regal spot to the facet of The Oakroom match area within the 308-room lodge. What is left of that hid staircase rests in disrepair in the back of the wall, and it is been that manner since a fireplace tore via it in 1981.
Rewind a century and the ones stairs, in principle, may just shipping meals to The Oakroom from the one kitchen downstairs in case of an elevator jam. Or they may just lead The united states’s Maximum Sought after clear of incoming government on the peak of Prohibition.
How lots of the lodge’s Capone legends are true is left extra to good judgment than exhausting reality, Larry Johnson, the lodge’s resident historian and concierge informed me. The Seelbach’s poker site and billiard corridor have been the most effective within the nation, and so they have been midway between the moonshine that was once popping out of Japanese Kentucky and Capone’s house base in Chicago.
The mobster and his intended connection to our town is not even indexed in my favourite authority on native historical past, the Encyclopedia of Louisville.
Johnson could not inform me what suite Capone stayed in or despite the fact that he ever slept within the downtown Louisville icon as he monitored the bourbon and moonshine trade. The mobster’s actions definitely were not documented. He did not depart a paper path, let on my own one thing like an etching in a closet to attach him to Louisville.
The Capone legends are what introduced me to the storied lodge at 500 S. Fourth St. simply two days when we hit a brand new decade and the brand new 20s, however I temporarily discovered a 115-year-old dynamo like The Seelbach creates new legends on a daily basis.
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I arrange an appointment with Johnson to look the place Capone performed playing cards and the place F. Scott Fitzgerald were given his inspiration for Daisy’s wedding ceremony within the vintage novel “The Nice Gatsby.” What I in point of fact took away, even though, was once that within the greater than a century since two German immigrants opened the lodge, such a lot of other folks, each well-known and now not, have helped create its historical past.
Within the 38 years since Johnson first took a role as doorman — whole with tuxedo tails, white gloves and a most sensible hat — he is develop into the keeper of the lodge’s tales.
The extra tales he heard, the extra he labored to make sure them via outdated copies of The Courier Magazine, The Louisville Occasions and quite a lot of Seelbach ledgers.
He printed “The Seelbach” (Butler Books, $20) in 2005 the similar week the 6th “Harry Potter” novel hit the cabinets. Outdated newspaper clips display his e book clocked in at No. 2 on Louisville’s bestseller listing, simply in the back of the 600-plus pages of wizarding phenomena.
This previous yr, he was once named lodge historian of the yr through Historical Accommodations of The united states., so if someone in Louisville is aware of what the Roaring ’20s appeared like in Louisville, it is Johnson.
However strangely, that wasn’t the primary tale he informed me as we began the interview within the lodge’s regal foyer mezzanine.
His favourite piece of Seelbach historical past in reality came about in my lifetime.
Billy Joel was once staying at The Seelbach whilst he was once on excursion with Elton John on their Face to Face Excursion in 2001. He ordered a drink on the Outdated Seelbach Bar and cozied onto a stool unassumingly. When the jazz band on degree that night time took a damage, he were given up and began enjoying, uninvited and unannounced. The rockstar entertained the gang for greater than two hours as other folks in pajamas and ladies in curlers crowded into the foyer to look the spectacle.
Then he did it once more later that week after the true live performance at Freedom Corridor.
Johnson had every other excellent tale, too, about when a well-liked boy band was once staying within the presidential suite and one of the vital rock stars was once so irate, he smashed a bottle of vodka at the carpet and set it on hearth in anger.
A couple of years later the Peabody geese — the reside geese which are the pampered mascots of Memphis’s outstanding Peabody Lodge — got here to the Seelbach and stayed in the similar suite.
When The Courier Magazine requested whether or not or now not the birds have been the messiest visitors the lodge ever had noticed, the worker charged with their care stated that difference is going to the aforementioned New Children at the Block.
“Those visitors can be No. 2,” a Seelbach worker informed The Courier Magazine in January 1998. “The variation is the geese are welcome again.”
The pop staff was once “infamous in Louisville for the time one in all its participants, Donnie Wahlberg, was once charged with seeking to set the lodge on hearth,” the thing learn.
And right here, I believed Capone was once essentially the most infamous one at Louisville’s ancient lodge.
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From that chat within the mezzanine, Johnson and I took a slim elevator up a couple of flooring to The Oakroom, an match venue which in its earliest inception was once a gentleman’s billiard’s corridor.
That is the place Johnson informed me the tale of “The Girl in Blue” who is one of the vital extra common specters that is been noticed within the lodge. The girl, much less regularly referred to as Patricia Wilson, was once discovered useless on most sensible of the carrier elevator in 1936.
However we have been simply toes from Capone’s alleged poker site, and now not even a excellent ghost tale may just distract me from that.
So Johnson humored me, and informed me all about that hidden staircase that drops out close to The Rathskeller biergarten within the decrease stage of the lodge.
“The gangsters, they might have long past a number of alternative ways after they were given there,” he informed me.
Towards the lodge’s Little Derby Bar was once one possibility. In the course of the basement kitchen and out the sewer was once every other.
On the time, there was once even a brick tunnel that resulted in all of the close by structures since the Seelbach brothers did not need their visitors to stroll out of doors in dangerous climate. That will have labored, too.
So we headed downstairs to look Capone’s direction first hand. We wound during the hallways to the worker cafeteria till I discovered myself close to a nondescript door that Johnson says results in a collection of solid iron stairs. They begin out to the precise, after which unexpectedly they flip.
“And there is not any handrail, and they are slippery and they are worn,” Johnson informed me.
Up till a couple of decade in the past, he used to take other folks down there every now and then, however for protection causes, they do not do this anymore.
The way in which he tells it, as of late that brick tunnel handiest is going about 15 toes till it is closed up.
The sewer tunnels useless finish on the finish of the road.
Between that and a charred out stairwell, no gangsters are slipping clear of The Seelbach now.
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We completed our excursion at the 10th ground within the Grand Ballroom with slightly of lore about F. Scott Fitzgerald and his novel, “The Nice Gatsby.”
Louisville was once the place fictional characters Daisy Fay and Jay Gatsby met, and when Fay married the rich Tom Buchanan on the “Muhlbach Lodge,” he introduced in 100 visitors from Chicago and 4 Pullman vehicles.
Tom Owen, the archivist for regional historical past on the Ekstrom Library at College of Louisville, jogged my memory that the American creator was once handiest in Louisville in brief. In case you take a look at the Encyclopedia of Louisville, he was once handiest stationed right here with the U.S. Military at Camp Taylor for a month in 1918.
Nonetheless, Johnson says throughout that duration, the creator patronized The Rathskeller on the backside of The Seelbach, which might were the USO on the time.
The Seelbach brothers modeled that biergarten after an outdated postcard from Germany. It does not in point of fact appear to be anything you’ll see in Louisville, but if they opened the lodge, the immigrants sought after an area that reminded them of house.
Fitzgerald had a dependancy of constructing himself proper at house there, too.
“F. Scott Fitzgerald was once kicked out of The Rathskeller such a lot of occasions that once he got here out together with his e book in 1925, he portrayed Tom and Daisy having their wedding ceremony reception within the grand ballroom on the Seelbach Lodge,” Johnson informed me.
I love the outline within the Louisville Encyclopedia, too.
“Fitzgerald is claimed to have inebriated so closely on the Seelbach Lodge that he handed out at the ballroom ground,” it reads.
Whilst Johnson hasn’t ever discovered evidence that the American creator ever officially slept within the lodge, he definitely left an affect.
A century after Fitzgerald was once a nuisance at The Seelbach, visitors can e book nights within the Fitzgerald Suite and they may be able to dine at Gatsby’s on Fourth.
And likely I used to be there assembly Johnson on a hunt for a slice of the Roaring ’20s, however that tale made me call to mind Wahlberg, the ’90s and the ones Peabody Geese.
Despite the fact that I extremely doubt the New Children at the Block will ever have a set named after them and their pyromania, it is a excellent instance of ways historical past adjustments and evolves as time is going on.
Tales at The Seelbach have some way of rising.
It why when Johnson first began telling the tale of the “Girl in Blue,” it took about 5 mins. Through the years he is gathered such a lot of other scraps lore, historical past and private accounts, it is morphed right into a 25-minute tale.
It is why he had his image curious about KISS a couple of months in the past after they stayed on the lodge throughout their farewell excursion. That is a tale to inform at some point, too.
The outdated doorknob in Capone’s poker site is a thumbprint from the previous.
However Johnson’s leaving in the back of a proper account to transport us into the following decade and past.
Options columnist Maggie Menderski writes about what makes Louisville and Kentucky distinctive, glorious, and every now and then, a bit of bizarre. If you have got one thing to your circle of relatives, your the town and even your closet that matches that description — she needs to listen to from you. Say hi at [email protected] or 502-582-7137. Practice alongside on Instagram and Twitter @MaggieMenderski. Enhance robust native journalism through subscribing as of late: courier-journal.com/maggiem.