By now, everyone should know this is a blog about local history and stories lost to time. But our reader Suzanne commented on Facebook that we should post a local ghost story. So, I’m happy to oblige for another “Reader’s Choice.”
There are a number of well-known ghost stories in D.C., many of them centered around the Capitol Building, the White House, or Lafayette Square. I wanted to do something a little less known to locals and tourists alike — and possibly a place where the latter would sleep during their visit.
This is a story Henry L. Doherty, a financial backer of the Shoreham Hotel and former resident of Suite 870.
Doherty was a wealthy capitalist who had invested in a minority ownership stake of the new Shoreham Hotel at the edge of Rock Creek Park. He was also the founder of Cities Service, a utilities and energy company that eventually became CITGO.
Shortly after the Shoreham Hotel opened, Doherty, his wife Grace and her daughter Helen Lee (Henry was the stepfather), took up residence in and eighth floor apartment. It was a glorious 4,000 square foot penthouse with views over Rock Creek Park and a clear line of sight to Arlington.
Also living with the Doherty family was Juliette Brown, their maid. Late one night, at approximately 4 a.m., Ms. Brown woke up feeling severely ill. She stumbled to the telephone to call for help. Abruptly, she collapsed and died.
Later that year, the Doherty’s hosted a dazzling social function at the Mayflower Hotel for their daughter’s debutante ball. On December 26th, 1930, over 1,000 people were in attendance and Mr. Doherty hired a special train dedicated to transporting guests from New York. The event was the talk of the town, though not all positive, given the opulence and timing during the Great Depression; the Washington Post reported the event costing upwards of $50,000.
In the vortex of the most stupendous holiday party of many a Washington season, Mrs. Henry L. Doherty, of New York, took time last night to do a bit of debunking on the subject of her debutante daughter, Helen Lee Eames Doherty.
To be mother of one whose debut had doubled and trebled in the making, assuming the proportions of a record-smashing event, apparently had been somewhat disconcerting to Mrs. Doherty, despite an ever-evident sense of humor.
She expressed surprise at the tremendous stir caused by Helen Lee’s night-after-Christmas ball in the Mayflwoer Hotel, at which she made her bow to society.
Mr. Doherty passed away in 1939 from failing health and Mrs. Doherty continued to maintain her residence in the Shoreham (she traveled quite a bit and had homes elsewhere).
As the story goes, Helen Lee died under mysterious circumstances — rumored to be suicide or drug overdose — in the same suite. By 1973, the apartment was vacant, filled with antique furniture, old paintings and some unwanted guests.
Hotel guests staying in neighboring rooms would often complain of loud noises and banging coming from Suite 870, though it was vacant. Housekeepers and hotel workers have witnessed furniture being moved, hotel carts rolling and lights flicking on and off. And the most chilling bit is that much of this activity happens around 4 a.m.
It seems like the spirit of Juliette Brown still roams the apartment.