If you ever find yourself walking down Park Avenue in New York City, you’ll see two, gold-plated turnstiles under a brilliant lighted canopy. This is the iconic entrance that beckons you to enter the Waldorf Astoria. As you step into the lower lobby, a small staircase rises immediately in front of you, ushering you in. The short ascent leads to an ornate floor with decorative ceilings that are as captivating as you’d imagine. It’s not surprising that the hotel is the backdrop for countless films and star-studded gatherings.
Outside the walls of the Waldorf Astoria, the world moves at a feverish pace. But inside the walls, there is an archaic sense of legacy. It’s as if time has been standing still since its opening in 1931. At that Grand Opening, President Herbert Hoover proclaimed,
“The opening of the new Waldorf Astoria is an exhibition of courage and confidence to the whole nation.”
In 2007, to surprise my grandmother for her 79th birthday, our family spent four days at the Waldorf with our entire family. Now before you think the Hams are the Waldorf type, our stay was booked entirely on reward points. Like a squirrel preparing for winter, my frugal mother had accumulated reward points like they were acorns. To further prove my point, there were six of us sharing a room—an upgraded suite containing two double beds and a parlor, sizable enough for two cots. It seemed perfect to us, especially Grandma.
But as we would soon find out, the legends about the hotel being haunted might be true.
Hamming It Up At The Waldorf Astoria
After a day on our feet in the Big Apple, we were exhausted. As we returned to our room, the married couples took the double beds, leaving my younger brother, Mark, and Grandma to claim the cots.
Now one thing you need to know about Grandma Ham is that she claimed that she didn’t like sweets. However, she would gladly admit she had a bit of a sweet tooth. This had been a running joke in our family for years because it wasn’t possible to set foot in her house without the smell of something freshly baked lingering in the air. But every single cake she ever baked had a small slice taken out of it—her reward for her labor. I guess Grandma baked entire cakes just so she could have “one little taste”.
As we sat in the room that night, she proceeded to taste away an entire box of delicacies from Magnolia bakery before going to sleep. Little did we know the excitement that awaited us.
Somewhere in the darkness of our room, chaos ensued. The sounds were muddled, but included half-screams and hinted at panic. I sat up in bed and began throwing the covers off of me, swatting at the air as if trying to defend myself from one of the local ghosts. My dad quickly jumped to his feet, ready to throw a punch at whatever had entered our room. Being half-blind and without his glasses, his chances of actually hitting anything were slim, but that didn’t stop the effort. In the pitch black, our wives panicked as they cried out our names in sheer terror. And although we were all in a panic, none of us knew what was actually happening.
My brother, who loves sleep more than Grandma loves cupcakes, raised his head from his pillow just long enough to yell, “Shut up!”
Ten seconds seemed like five minutes of pure insanity.
What Was It?
As we settled down, we soon realized that it wasn’t one of the local ghosts, I was just talking in my sleep. I had failed to warn my family that I have this terrible habit of yelling at invisible things during the middle of the night. I suppose that secures own on room next time.
But the funnier thing is, after that charade, just after we had all fallen back asleep, the fire alarm sounded. A second wave of panic hit the room as we all began scrambling for our clothes smelling the air for smoke. Within minutes, some of the hotel staff let us know it was a false alarm.
The next morning, we all woke up with the look of an interrupted night. The long day before and our midnight fiasco called for coffee. As we sat around the breakfast table we avoided the obvious conversation until my brother spoke up, “What in the heck were you doing last night?”
The table erupted as we all began to reenact the episode from our own perspectives. But as we began to settle we noticed that Grandma hadn’t said a word. She was sitting quietly enjoying her coffee, staring at us with a smile. When we quieted down, we looked her way. As she finished a bite of danish she said, “What in the world are ya’ll talking about?”
Apparently, her sugar coma allowed her to sleep through the entire ordeal. She hadn’t heard a word.
The Importance of Sweets, Sleeping, and Laughter
I’m not sure if the Waldorf Astoria is haunted or not, but my family and I had a memorable experience that we’ll never forget. Because that morning, we were excused from the restaurant for disrupting the peace with our laughter.
We often look at these life experiences and get back to the busyness at hand. But our shenanigans at the Waldorf and Grandma’s response reminded me of a few life lessons that we can all embrace. Maybe we should eat more sweets, sleep through the chaos, and laugh often.
Matt Ham is a speaker and the author of Redefine Rich: A New Perspective on the Good Life. His stories are packed full of tangible wisdom and provide a fresh perspective on everyday life. Matt and his wife, Liz, live in Wilmington, North Carolina with their four children.
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