She was a classic beauty and every man in Harpers Ferry longed for her attentions. Most men would stop and stare as she passed them by on the street and the women would fume with envy as Vickie Tilton seemed to glide up the thoroughfare effortlessly. Her golden hair would hang loosely about her shoulders like a cascade of light around her angelic features. The young school boys would compose sonnets to try to impress her, the soldiers garrisoned at the armory fawned over the small town beauty, and offer her a life of luxury that they knew in their hearts they could never provide her. She was the object of desire for every man in the town and would send hearts swooning when she smiled along the main industrial streets of Virginius Island
They longed for her, but they all knew it was in vain, for Vickie Tilton was in fact MRS. Vickie Tilton, the wife of Johan Tilton, Harpers Ferry’s own blacksmith. There were more than one Blacksmith shop in the town in 1899, but everyone held an unspoken agreement that Johan was indeed the best.
He was a powerful man who towered over the crowds that would gather around his shop to see what feats of near heroic strength he would attempt. It is true that as the men folk would fawn over Mrs. Tilton, the women and young girls of the town, never had an issue going to the blacksmith for anything their husbands or boyfriends might need. They didn’t mind waiting for nails to fix the fence while Johan labored over the forge, his powerful arms glistening with sweat.
They were a couple many watched with lascivious envy.
Little did they know the thunderstorm that lurked behind the beautiful and sunny curtain that they kept drawn. The town was under the impression that these two gorgeous people found each other, fell in love and were living an idyllic life. They did not know that it was an arranged marriage. They did not know that Vickie had no feelings for Johan, none other than hatred. They did not know that Johan resented his wife. He blamed her for the aches and pains brought on by his trade. Powerful as he was, Johan was a slave to the bottle. nightly he would come home and sit in his armchair and drink the pain of the forge away. The poison that filled his veins numbed the fire in his muscles and gave his aching bones peace. But it fueled a rage that none were unfortunate enough to bear witness too…none except Vickie.
As the night wore on, and the whiskey was drained from the bottle his mood would blacken. He became more verbose and cruel. Vickie would try and avoid the barbed statements and back handed insults he would throw at her. He would rage at her if she dared say a word to defend herself or state her opinion. And it always ended with Johan using those powerful arms to beat her mercilessly. He would throw her around, she was like a small toy to the giant of a man…but he never hit her face. Her gorgeous, angelic face that Johan would look at when the rage passed. He would look at her face and her tear filled eyes and let the whiskey take him to sleep.
The menfolk of the town thought she was being coy when she would shy away from their touch, whether it a friendly touch on the shoulder, or a hand to help her up a stair. It was a sad state that she was not. Their very touch would pain her, because under her garment she wore a quilt of bruises and scrapes over her delicate skin. She smiled to hide the fear and pain that she concealed under her shawl.
In 1899, business was booming on Virginius Island. The mills and blacksmiths were filled, daily, with orders and wagons trundled down the flagstone streets, while the railway kept the flow of commerce vibrant. Thomas Lovette built his resort hotel on the mountain top, and that kept new people and faces flowing through the town. Johan received a business opportunity in Chicago and told his wife he would be away for about 8 weeks to shore up the deal. It would take them from this small town and transport them to Chicago. So he had made plans for her to stay in the resort while the sale of their house went through. She was relieved to not have to accompany him to Chicago and even happier to know she would have a nice vacation before she was uprooted and moved to a large city like Chicago. Johan was also happy to be apart from her for a while. This opportunity in Chicago would set him up for, literally, the rest of his life. He didn’t want anything to distract him, and Vickie was a distraction he did not want. Johan happily rented her a suite at the Hilltop House so he could focus on the important dealings ahead of him.
The day came in late August when he boarded the train and waved to her as it began its steam shrouded run along the tracks. He wondered, to himself, as the steam clouded his sight and he retreated into the railcar to take his seat, what the next few months would hold in Chicago for him, and what good two months at the Hilltop House would do for Vickie. This, he thought, will be a good way to make a new start. he took the flask from his jacket pocket and sipped from it, letting the whiskey burn its way down his throat.
Vickie was glad that the train’s whistle covered the almost hysterical outburst of relief that escaped her as she watched him slip into the railcar and the door closed behind him. She turned and began the walk to the Hilltop House where her luggage awaited her. Vickie wiped a tear from her eye. She knew that this was a good way to make a new beginning. Her laugh floated on the air, light and breezy like a sparrows song, and the folks who passed her by smiled and laughed with her. They didn’t know that she was laughing because she had resolved to be gone before Johan returned from Chicago. She didn’t know where she was going, or how, but she was resolute in her decision to be long gone from Harpers Ferry before he returned at the end of October.
By mid September, Vickie Tilton had won the hearts of the entire staff of the Hilltop House. There wasn’t anything she couldn’t ask for. The waiters knew she was hungry before she did. The maids made sure to do her room first because she was so kind to them. The cooks would go out of their way to make her favorite breakfast, spoonbread, even though it wasn’t on the menu. Even the her fellow guest would take time to speak with her and share their stories with her.
The groundskeeper, Luke, would stop his daily workings to discuss Emily Dickenson or other literary works. She enjoyed Luke’s visits and found him well read…for a gardener. as the late summer days seeped into long autumn evening, Vickie found herself spending more time with her gardener friend, Luke. The conversations evolved from poetry and books, to their childhoods, and eventually to their dreams and plans for the future. And one evening over a quiet cup of tea on the grand porch that overlooked the mountains she revealed the painful truth of her marriage.
Luke looked at her, this woman of unrelenting beauty, and held her hand. She felt the genuine warmth of his heart in that touch. She felt for the first time in her life the love that she often read of in poems, but never knew in life. And she knew at that instant that she loved Luke with all of her heart.
He broke the minute long silence after she spoke. “Let’s leave. This weekend. You and I.” he said. “I will sell what I have, we can take the money and go west. I hear there’s good land out west. We can go there and start over, Vickie.”
She looked into his hazel eyes for the briefest moment. “Yes. Yes I will” it took her the briefest of moments to decide. She would have walked to the moon if this man had asked her to do so.
“Good.” he smiled. “give me this week to conclude my affairs here. It wont take me long to sell off the old house. Those armory workers are buying them up quick. We’ll take that money, and be gone before Halloween.”
Vickie sighed audibly and a tear rolled down her cheek. “Luke, I love you.” she said and kissed him. Her lips met his and a fire she never knew ignited in her heart.
“Vickie…” he said, “I love you too.” his words fell on her ears like a song she knew the lyrics too and her heart filled the melody in.
The train rolled into Harpers Ferry on October 15th in the midst of a fierce rainstorm. The lightning punctuated the rolls of thunder that echoed through the valley with a drama only nature could provide.
Johan stood at the door of the train waiting for it to slow enough for him to make the platform. The dour look that rested on his face told any who wished to know that his dealings in Chicago did not fare as planned. His suit was disheveled and a five-day beard peppered his chin. The few on the platform that dared the storm moved aside when they saw him. The women held their kerchiefs politely to their noses to cover the dense cloud of whiskey as he passed them by. He grunted and grumbled under his breath as he stumbled into the cab at the train station.
“Take me to the hotel” He grunted and took a last long pull from the bottle he had hidden in the folds of his overcoat. The whiskey burned his throat. It burned down to his stomach and a rage started to glow. he would see his wife and tell her they were broke. And then he would explain to her how it was HER FAULT. Johan knew it was…and he would make damned sure she would know it too.
The doorman was the first to see Johan as his cab’s horses trotted into the drive of the Hilltop House. His eyes went wide. He was a friend of Luke’s. And Luke had confided in him that he had intended to run away with Vickie Tilton. And the doorman also knew that Luke was upstairs with her…right now. With a practiced smile he held the door as Johan walked past him on uneasy feet.
“Mr. Tilton, good evening.” said the desk clerk. “We didn’t expect you for another 2 weeks. My goodness but you are….soaked” he said with an easy finesse of a man who knew the signs of a belligerent drunk. “Can I offer you a coffee and a towel? I can inform your wife that you are here if you like.”
Johan waved the man of with a hateful look. “just tell me what room she is in you foppish man, and have the barman send up a bottle of whiskey” he grunted and fumbled in his pockets for a dollar to pay the barman and the clerk caught a glimpse of the colt navy revolver tucked into the belt of his pants.
“Uh….” he smiled again and nodded to the bellhop to fetch the bottle of whiskey. “Mrs. Tilton is in room 66, sir. Top floor.” he turned to get a key.
“No need for a key damn you, man. She’s there…she’ll open the door. Have that boy bring the bottle up soon.” he stumbled up the stairs tripping on the first one almost falling. He let loose a string of curses and continued the climb, made more arduous by the poison burning hot in his blood.
The desk clerk stopped the bellhop before he made the stairs. “No….go get the Sherriff….NOW.”
Johan Tilton stood in the hallway that lead up to room 66. The stairway listed left and right horribly. It seemed to brighten and dim in the oily lamplight that lit the hallways. Voices from below melded into a cacophony that thrummed in his ears maddeningly. With heavy footfalls he ascended the stairs, his mood darkening with every step. Finally he made the top of the stairway and stood outside the door. The brass plate, emblazoned with “66”, reflected a dark, bloodshot eye back at him. His hand paused as it rested on the ornate doorknob. Voices from inside…he recognized Vickie’s soft and light voice immediately. But then there was another. A man’s voice. His eyes narrowed and the embers of his rage flared to life. The world went red and his heart turned instantly to stone. Whatever the facts, whatever the cause there was another man in the room with his wife!
“VICTORIA!!!!!” Johan roared and bouldered through the door, splintering the door frame as he burst through. his hand was filled with the revolver and murderous rage burned in his eyes.
Vickie and Luke stood there in wide-eyed, terrified amazement at the beast that had just exploded into the room. They stood there, both in their coats with bags packed and ready to leave. Luke and Vickie had intended for this storm stricken night to leave Harpers Ferry. Both of them struggled for words, only to find themselves straining to even comprehend what is happening.
“If i cannot have you…” Johan leveled his pistol at her. The time it took seemed to stretch into eternity, “Then no one shall.” he squeezed the trigger and the pistol spat fire. His maniacal laugh fought with the thunder outside and the report of the pistol to overtake the room as Vickie was shot through the chest. She fell in a heap onto the floor. Her blood pooling under her on the carpet and soaking deep into the wood floor underneath. Johan smiled and then pointed the pistol at Luke who was frozen, mouth agape. “And you…you will live the rest of your days with this memory of love ripped from you…” with a quickness that belied his drunken state he put the pistol into his mouth and pulled the trigger. The muffled shot wasnt enough to stop Luke from dropping to his knees as Johan fell dead, a hateful smile still engraved on his face.
Luke scooped up Vickie into his arms. She was already growing cold, and her breath was growing short and ragged. he knew she wasnt long for this mortal coil. Her hand went to his cheek and she smiled. “I will always love you.” she strained to say. “i will always wait here for you.” she whispered to him as the light left her eyes.
Years later the town had buried the secret. The sheriff had no questions as to what happened, as word had spread around town before the law had even arrived at the hotel. Vickie was buried in her family’s plot in Harpers Cemetery, and Johan was buried in an unmarked murderer’s grave somewhere outside Winchester, Virginia.
Luke lived out the rest of his days working as the Hilltop House’s gardener. patrons would often see the him looking up at the top window that was in room 66 and smile softly and wave. When asked who he was waving too in an empty window, Luke would simply answer with “her.” And then a veil of deep melancholy would drape itself over his face and he would go back to trimming the hedge.
It was no surprise to anyone, that one night Luke rented room 66, took a bottle of wine with him and quietly ended his life in the bathtub with a straight razor. His only note said “I am going to be with Vickie…forever”
This story is how it COULD have happened…
but one thing is true…Room 66 is haunted by the spirit of a woman who died in that room. and died an unhappy death.
Room 66 remains the most haunted room in the Hilltop House. Ghost Hunter groups from across the globe would come and request that room. Reports of everything from voices caught on audio, Video of a shadow moving through the room in a long dress have been captured on film and other media.
Guests have checked out in a terror in the middle of the night. One guest stated to me, personally, that “the room is lovely, truly, but the lady who lives there was not happy about us being in the room.” when i checked the register i discovered they were newlyweds. I thought perhaps Vickie Tilton didn’t want to witness marital bliss when she was robbed of having any happiness in life.