Of oak and old glass


64_bigThe old front door is gone now…the heavily painted oak that once stood as the grand entry way to the hilltop was destroyed by neglect and decay years ago and has since been removed. A sad beat up sheet of plywood stands now to bar entry into the decayed lobby.

In its heyday, the lobby of the grand old place served as a meeting spot for families, a gathering point for those adventurous souls who came to Harpers Ferry to hike, ride the river and explore the lush mountain landscape of the area. The warmth of the fireplace in the lobby would drive the chill from the bones of weary travelers before they would check in. It was warm, welcoming, and homey. If you sat in the lobby for any period of time, you could hear people, from all walks of life, talking about their journey, their day and what they wanted for dinner.

The centerpiece of the lobby was the grand mirror (seen above in a photo from the 1980’s) that has been there since the place opened. Although those claims can’t be proven…there are no photos of the hotel’s interior prior to 1917 that I can find… yet most everyone accepts it as fact. The mirror, knows as “the bride’s mirror” has reflected millions of faces and kept an emotionless eye on the lobby for decades. Traditionally, brides who held their weddings and/or receptions in the hotel would admire themselves in it before taking that walk down the aisle.

This is not the reason it is called “the bride’s mirror”; in fact the reason it is called that is more macabre and dark.

When the hotel first opened its doors in 1888, many locals flocked there to be the first to hold a wedding, party or some other gala in what was Thomas Lovett’s gift to the town.

One of the first was a young bride from an affluent family in the area. And her wedding was to be an event that the county would remember. The story goes, that before her wedding, the young bride was admiring herself in the giant mirror that dominated the lobby as she waited for the groom to arrive at the hotel. Her wedding party was there, as well as a slew of family,  friends, guests and well wishers; all waiting for the ceremony to begin. It was then her father entered with a grim visage smeared onto his face and standing on shaky legs.

He informed her that her husband to be, still feeling the effects of some revelry from the night before had fallen from Robert Harper’s ferry and drowned in the Shenandoah river. Heartbroken, the young bride sat in front of the mirror, in her radiant gown and wept. Its is said (although completely unsubstantiated) that she died from a broken heart that night in the hotel.

And a local legend was born.

Now, brides who would have their celebrations at the hotel would pause for a moment in their gowns and gaze into that same mirror. It was said if another bride appeared behind her, crying, her marriage would be fraught with strife and turmoil. But if she saw only herself, the marriage would be long and happy. I personally have witnessed many, MANY brides to be stop and look with furtive glance towards the mirror. And seen them sigh with tangible relief when no weeping bride appeared behind them…my sister amongst them.

Is the story of the weeping bride true? Many locals believe so. Paranormal investigators have even done studies on the mirror…with no tangible evidence to support any claim. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t true…just unproven.

Since the hotel’s closing the mirror has gone into storage. Tucked away behind some forgotten pile of boxes and scrap, it waits to be placed back on the wall where it came from. Perhaps another bride will gaze into the old silver painted glass and see the weeping bride behind her. Perhaps not…

But this tale, this local legend was born from the mysterious and unflinching gaze of a mirror…

A simple thing of old oak and glass.

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