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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Davenport ghost has roots in fact

Doug Clark The Spokesman-Review

Having a guest crash through a skylight onto a crowded floor isn’t the sort of check-out hotels normally want publicized.

But management at Spokane’s luxurious Davenport Hotel has determined the deadly descent of Ellen McNamara qualifies as a rare exception to the rule.

First, poor Mrs. McNamara was an out-of-towner. The bitter tea of tragedy is a bit easier to sip when locals aren’t involved.

Second, enough sand has trickled through the hourglass to transform McNamara’s misfortune into a detached historical curiosity.

And third, while McNamara did medically expire in The Davenport, some at the hotel swear she never fully left the building.

For decades “guests have reported seeing a woman dressed in 1920s fashion peering over the railing as though looking for someone in the lobby below,” said Tom McArthur, The Davenport’s communications director.

“Now we know the ghost story is based in fact.”

Wednesday marked the 85th anniversary of the night the 68-year-old widow lost a brief battle with gravity.

“You’re standing right about where she hit,” said McArthur, who gave a knowing nod before gazing at the hard marble in front of my feet.

I automatically stepped back – and shivered.

McArthur has heard all the stories but never put much serious stock in them. A history lover, he decided to see if any facts could be found to explain all the alleged ghosts who add to the 90-year-old landmark’s rich past.

From tales of vanishing bellhops to invisible cigar smokers, The Davenport has more spirits than a state liquor store. Some say the ghost of hotel founder Louis D. still roams the place.

A researcher helping McArthur discovered the basis of the mezzanine apparition while looking through the archives of this newspaper. “Matron Falls To Death Through Hotel Skylight,” blared the front page headline on Aug. 18, 1920.

Subscribers surely gasped to wake up and read this shocker.

It happened during dinner hour. McNamara, a rich widow from New York, was touring the West with her sister and two cousins. They were staying at The Davenport and planned to leave for Glacier National Park the next morning.

What happened put a dent in that plan.

According to the story, McNamara wasn’t feeling well. She decided to take some air on the third floor cement walkway while her companions went to dinner in the main floor Isabella Room.

For whatever reason, McNamara went through the door into the large pagoda that covers the glass skylight high above the lobby court. There was a catwalk used by workers to make repairs. But McNamara stepped on the glass panels.

Down she went, striking the floor below. She landed a few feet into the court on the Sprague Street side.

“Witnesses of the fall said the woman’s shoulder struck the floor first and that her head crashed against the stone,” wrote the unnamed reporter who covered the death. “Perhaps 100 persons saw her fall. Several men rushed to her and carried her to a couch. She was conscious for a few seconds and asked, ‘Where did I go?’ before she became insensible.”

Health care has made a few strides since 1920.

John O’Shea, a doctor dining in the hotel, gave the unconscious woman a brief exam before moving McNamara – to her room. About an hour after her fall, she was dead.

Late Wednesday afternoon I joined McArthur and a small gathering in The Davenport lobby. We stood near the fireplace, where a red rose of remembrance had been placed on the mantle, and each of us hoisted a glass of champagne.

My first toast to a ghost.

“If you watch carefully you might see her,” said Evelyn Conant, 80, a former Davenport worker who once lived in the hotel. “And if you listen you might hear her say … .

” ‘Where did I go?’ “