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Ghost Convention: 1909

June 1909. Toledo, Ohio. "The lobby, Hotel Secor." I cackled with glee upon realizing that this empty-looking time exposure was in fact crowded with spectral hotel guests. Are they still there? 8x10 inch glass negative. View full size.

June 1909. Toledo, Ohio. "The lobby, Hotel Secor." I cackled with glee upon realizing that this empty-looking time exposure was in fact crowded with spectral hotel guests. Are they still there? 8x10 inch glass negative. View full size.


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From the Toledo Blade:

After the old Hotel Secor closed in 1969, the building housed Ohio Bell Telephone Co., which tore out much of the original interior of marble columns and decorative plaster, and covered marble flooring with office carpeting by affixing harsh, damaging glue, Mr. Zaleski said.

With the Secor's best features long gone, Mr. Zaleski went about remodeling the ground floor and a few upper levels by stripping the building to its core, exposing concrete-encased walls and structural beams for a raw industrial look. The work was inexpensive to do, and the decor worked fine for his tenant mix of artists, media creators, and Internet start-ups. It also shortened the time he had to wait for the building to generate positive cash flow, he said.

"Anybody see a ghost?"

Dave, why would they need such a long exposure, I thought the plates were a lot faster by 1908. Also, was the original very washed out?

[The commenter below speculates that a long time exposure may have been used to "empty out the lobby." This does seem to be the case, if the finished product -- a chrome postcard -- is any indication (click to enlarge). As for the original being washed out, the "original" is a negative -- for what we're looking at, there is no print. The positive reference image is obtained by "inverting" the negative; its appearance depends a lot on the equipment and settings used to image the plate. The goal is to extract maximum information in both shadows and highlights. Below we see the negative and the inverted positive that I used as the starting point for the Shorpy image. - Dave]

I Wonder

if the photographer was using this as technique to empty out the lobby or if the extremely long exposure was the only way to shoot a large interior space with the equipment at the time.

What about now?

Would love to know if all the architectural elements are still in place in the lobby today.


I really feel sorry for the hotel personnel who had to clean those spittoons!

Is this seat taken?

Be advised: the potential for inadvertent lap-sitting is unusually high at the Hotel Secor. Recline with caution.

They're real ghosts

They have to be -- nobody's walking, they're just sitting there. Spooky.

[A time exposure this long (probably measured in minutes, from the look of things) might not show anything that's not fairly motionless for at least several seconds -- it would register standers (of which there is one, toward the rear) and sitters more than walkers. (Theoretically at least, the sitters could all be the same person.) As we know from the many examples of "ghost pedestrians" on these pages, the telltales of walkers in a time exposure are wavy trails for head and torso, and "centipede legs" for footfalls; there's no evidence of that here, so we might conclude that this was a fairly sedentary bunch. On the other hand, you can make the case that, if the sitters had been seated for the duration of the exposure (i.e., not walking to or from their chairs), they would have registered more substantially. My hunch is that this was such a long exposure (ten minutes or half an hour, say) that any walking around would not leave any traces, and that the ghostliest sitters were seated for less than half the duration of the exposure. - Dave]

The man who wasn't there

I need to run (I have places to go and people to see) and don't have time to do my research, but in elementary school we had a strange teacher who used to recite the poem similar to the following (paraphrased):

"Yesterday upon the stair, I met a man who wasn't there.

He wasn't there again today, oh how I wish he'd go away."

(It definitely scared me as a third grader).

Spittoon City

There are at least 10 spittoons visible in this lobby, which says something about the clientele and the times. It would be interesting to see if the Plaza Hotel in New York City provided spittoons in 1909. If it did, it would probably refer to them as cuspidors!

Spitting Images

I believe that the cuspidors in the photograph buttress my theory of this being the first appearance in literature of Ghosts that could spit.


Who moved my spittoon?

How Long ?

Any guess on just how long a time exposure would have to be to render a bunch of mostly very sedentary (some almost apparently snoozing) gents as "ghosts"? Most other examples seem to have been when folks were more animated and strolling about. Too bad there isn't a large-handed clock in the view to give a clue.


Ha! It's interesting that the photographer didn't have to clear the space to get a fairly people-free view of this wonderful lobby. What worries me most, though, is how the space has been "modernized" since the building is no longer a hotel. I hate to imagine that beautiful skylight is no longer visible.

Why haunt with these stuffed shades?

I could be joy riding out to Calvary Cemetery in that streetcar on the previous photo, or heading down to the waterfront to look for that nifty little Toledo and Ohio Central switch engine we saw a few weeks back.

And since this is 1909, the tort lawyers haven't caused everyone to be so uptight; maybe I could get a cab ride with the train crew!

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