Here is a reading of the poem Thunder and Rain, one of the videos I shot of Stan Rice, one of the four poems I retained to work with in my own film projects. All the rest of the work I did with Stan I sold to his wife, the writer Anne Rice. Her generous payment went to covering the cost of the new Grand Midway hotel roof. So now, every time it rains here, and we hear the pitter-patter on the roof, this reading from Stan comes to mind. It makes for a wonderful, unexpected, enchanted gift time and again with the rain from the night sky. Add in a little rumbling thunder and it is pure magic! The last lines in Stan’s poem, which Anne starts out her book the The Witching Hour, go:
And the rain is brain-colored.
And the thunder sounds like something remembering something.
THE PROFESSOR GHOST
Over the years a claim of a professor-like spirit or a bookworm specter keeps turning up. Different ghost hunters and mediums have brought him up, almost as a footnote, mentioning him like, “You know, there’s this older professor or scholar hanging around. He’s quiet, and watches.” Some have said he has been around the hotel for decades. Others think he arrived with us in the last ten years or so, traveling here from afar to pop in occasionally. He’s affectionately become known as the Professor Ghost.
There was a long standing joke the first couple years here that we were going to hold a seance for the poet Weldon Kees (1914-1955). He was a poet, playwright, jazz musician, literary critic, painter, and filmmaker. His death was a mystery. He simply disappeared, his car found by the Golden Gate Bridge. When poet guests from Pittsburgh would make weekend plans to the Midway often someone would chirp in, “And don’t forget we have to do that Weldon Kees seance.” We never did. But we summoned him so much in our humor there was a thought this new arriving Professor ghost was Kees.
Later, this myth of the Midway started to become associated with a different poet, the poet Stan Rice. After one investigation where it seemed details of Stan were being brought up, participant or not, the story just locked on him.
I’d recorded Stan reading his poetry in his new Orleans home back in 1996. He mentioned how it was a rare situation as he was completely reclusive about reading his work on camera. (Stan’s bio reads: Stan Rice (1942 – 2002) was the author of eight collections of poetry, including Red to the Rind, Radiance of Pigs and False Prophet (published posthumously, 2003).For many years he was associated with San Francisco State University where he was Professor of English, Chairman of the Creative Writing program, and Assistant Director of the Poetry Center. In 1977, he received the Edgar Allen Poe Award of the Academy of American Poets for Whiteboy. He was also the recipient of the Joseph Henry Jackson Award and a writing fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts. Alfred A, Knopf, New York, published a large-scale monograph, Paintings by Stan Rice in 1997.) Stan died in 2002. His wife, the famed author Anne Rice, generously bought most of the footage of our project from me. So, the new roof on the Grand Midway Hotel in turn was immediately paid for from the money from the Rice’s. It is our great honor to recall these two artists every time we think of the hotel’s roof, especially when it rains and things magically feel like New Orleans around here.
Ghost or no ghost, it has become a charming thought to imagine Stan Rice visiting us here at times. Of course, we understand his family and most fans will find the entire idea of him visiting the hotel in ghost form as ridiculous. No offense or disrespect is meant. Nor any actual claims by us. A professor-like ghost though gets brought up during ghost hunts even to this day, all these years later. With no other details, Stan and this mystery spirit have just sort of poetically merged…
CHARLEY HELSEL’S ‘PROFESSOR GHOST’ SIGHTING
One night, a seven-person ghost-hunting crew from the people who wrote the book Haunted Pennsylvania conducted an investigation here in the hotel. I didn’t know any of them. They didn’t know me. Three were psychics. It was a fun evening. They got an EVP recording of a woman whispering that shot chills through their entire group. Everyone was delighted. For that investigation they kept the entire hotel dark. All lights were out. One investigator’s name was Charley Helsel. He wrote the following notes from that night:
First Investigation of the Grand Midway Hotel –December 16, 2006 -by Charlie Helsel
It was a cold winter evening when several members of the Ghost Research Foundation went to Windber to investigate the Grand Midway Hotel owned by Blair Murphy. Patty Wilson, the founder of our group, is the only person who knows the details of the site that we are going to investigate. She does this so that hearing the stories before we work the site does not taint us investigators.
I, as well as several others in the group, are sensitive and pick up feelings and impressions. Others work strictly with the equipment. Blair took us on a tour of the hotel. I began to feel that it was going to be an active night! I like to write down my impressions and feelings when working on site, and that is what I did that night.
I felt a lot of female presence. I instructed Blair to answer my questions with a “yes “or” no” so that he did not give me too much information. I asked him if this hotel was used by ladies of the evening at one time? He said that it was.
The second floor is very active. The room that Blair uses as an office has a man in it that calls himself “the Professor.”
MY OWN OBSERVATIONS OF THE INVESTIGATION…
I noticed one of the psychic women gravitating toward the hotel room which was my office. My office had a smaller library in it, bookshelves lined each wall. I told her there were no stories associated with this particular room. She smiled and seemed to be on to something regardless. Then Charley Helsel followed her, both of them looking like they were following a scent. I repeated again this room wasn’t part of the ghost tour, that I’d never heard any particular stories from other investigators about the office library nor experienced anything in there myself, saying, “Oh there’s nothing in this room.”
They sat down, and smiled. “Say hello to The Professor, Blair.”
“The professor?” I was skeptical and amused, imagining I would have easily picked up on something new if it were around me. But I played along.
“Oh, he’s around you.” They both were in agreement. “A man a little over mid-life visits this room at times. He loves your books very much. Perhaps he isn’t a ‘professor’ so much as that he appears that way to us. He likes your energy. There is something about the word ‘bohemian’ that I am getting from him.”
I throw the annual Jack Kerouac Festival each year in the hotel, and the place fills up with poets and painters and other Bohemian-types. So the word “bohemian” makes sense as one someone would link to my private hotel, which is always entertaining visiting artists. They could have easily known this though head of time. I don’t know how much I was taking these two psychic guests seriously about this unfamiliar professor-ish spirit being there in my office library, but I indulged them and let them continue. It really was a fun night.
The woman psychic said, “He is not ‘stuck’ here in our world. He’s already passed over. But he visits certain places at times, and this office is one of those places. He has a moustache.”
All of this was taking place in a completely dark room. Psychic Charley stood up on a dime and darted quickly over to one of my book shelf walls. Charley’s face was within inches of a particular spot of books. “He loves to stand right here the most. It is his favorite spot of all the books here.”
The moustache comment plus where this man stood face-to-face with certain books triggered the memory of Stan Rice. And that’s the section of books where Charley stood. I wondered again if I was being set up. The room was still very dark. Charley was standing eye-level the ‘Rice shelf’ section of the library. It was all books by the novelist Anne Rice and her husband poet Stan Rice. Those books would have been radiating, many of them signed, with rich memories and personal history for me associated with them.
I pulled from the shelf Stan’s ‘Singing Yet’ poetry collection, and without showing them who wrote it, I showed them the photo on the back cover. “Is this the man?”
(Stan Rice, from my footage)
“Yes! That’s him in the photo!” the two psychics argued with absolute certainty. “He’s right here.”
They meant he was right in the room with us as we spoke. So I asked, “Ask him to tell you his name?”
They did. Then they announced that he wouldn’t say his name.
I laughed at this answer, imagining that if it were Stan he’d know I’d promote the hell out of the story, and so would probably not answer anyway.
They said, “You had some relationship with this man when he was still alive.”
That was true. Stan Rice and I did have a relationship of sorts. I am the man who recorded Stan Rice a few years ago on video, in the 1990s, all the poems and interviews in his New Orleans studio as well as in Los Angeles. He sent me some signed copies of his paintings that now hang in the hotel. For me, even though our meetings were brief, he was a bit of a father figure for me in the arts (much like artists Baird Bryant and Gary Gygax and Stan Lee were to me as well). I genuinely loved Stan’s work and loved that he took a risk on me to allow himself to be recorded. Also, our conversations on the arts were wonderful. The time in his attic in New Orleans Stan and I discussed the value and need today for throwing counter-culture poetry-related events. The KerouacFests came out of that a bit. Also, famed writer Anne Rice bought most of the Stan footage from me later after he died, so her generous contribution went into this hotel, which is one big bohemian experiment. It paid for our new hotel roof. So, in a way, symbolically, Stan’s contribution caps and protects the hotel.
Back in the library office with these two psychics, in that moment, from little things they were saying, some which were private details, I felt like Stan was standing there in the room with us for real. I thoroughly enjoyed indulging theses two strangers. What fun! So I finally told the visiting psychics and ghost hunters, “Well, if this is for real, and there is a professor-like spirit in here, I think it is this man Stan Rice that I used to know. He was a poet. And I liked him very much. I did some tapes of him. He told me they were unique in that they were the only recordings of him. I eventually sold part of them to his wife.
After a pause they responded, “He is laughing, saying he likes the energy here, and likes what you are doing, and pops in at times. You will feel him most when you are seated at your computer in this room.”
So trying to turn this into something positive and additional, I asked them to ask this ‘professor spirit’ if there was any message he’d like me to relay to his wife?
“He says if he has anything to say to her he will contact her directly himself.”
I loved the Rice’s. I had many a nice memory of living in New Orleans and reading both their body of works. Anne’s Memnoch Ball was the greatest vampire event I’d ever attended…beautiful, rich, exquisite music, and costumes. And, that was the first time I met Damien Youth, who later bought the hotel with me. He was performing at the Memnoch Ball. For playing with a fun idea a lot seemed to be tied together in these claims. Certainly Stan played a role by our conversations to summon the hotel, his taking a risk with me recording him, that his poster has hung in our dining hall since the place re-opened, and the money and hotel upgrades that followed with the sale of the recordings. I am honored to have known him. So, I didn’t have any problem loving the idea of Stan Rice approving of what we are doing in the hotel and checking in on us!
VISITING STAN’S GRAVE
Stan’s last poem, which is engraved on his tomb, ends:
“I was lost
And sang my broken-down songs in the hell of the hour.
Then in my heart moved an oar,
And I was found by a breeze from a door in the sea of forms
And was rowed to the cherry trees on the shore.”
PROFESSOR GHOST AFTER-NOTE
About a year after the above first investigation, long before any of this was made public, I purchased an antique cemetery print from a stranger on E-Bay. When the package arrived with the print I discovered a handwritten note in there as well. It read, “Say hello to the Professor for me.”