Hay Adams – Where Nothing is Overlooked Except the White House
The Hay Adams Hotel at 16th & H Streets in NW Washington DC has as its motto, “Where nothing is overlooked except the White House.” It’s noted for its fine dining, superior accommodations and the spirit of Clover Adams who committed suicide and now leaves the faint scent of almonds behind.
We had Travel Hag Adventure to DC just before Christmas and a fellow Travel Hag (my cousin Pat Granados) who lives Washington recommended breakfast at the Hay Adams. The hotel has 145 rooms, all very high end and the likes of Morgan Freeman, Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie are repeat guests where, according the Hay Adams website, the hotel provides “exceptional service in a discrete atmosphere.”
I’d also heard that the Hay Adams was haunted by a woman – Clover Adams, wife of Henry Adams – who committed suicide after falling into deep depression over the death of her dear father. Clover is sometimes seen by staff and guests, but commonly manifests herself to the living world with the fragrance of almonds. Clover was an accomplished photographer with her own dark room, and her husband Henry found her lifeless body in front of their bedroom fireplace after she ingested the darkroom chemical, potassium cyanide – which smells like almonds. She was only 42 and never got to live in their dream house.
The staff lives up to the Hay Adams service promise. At our sidewalk approach to the hotel we were greeted and referred to the lobby. In the lobby we were greeted and escorted to the dining room where our coats and umbrellas were collected and stored. Then we were graciously led into the sunny dining area itself, and seated at a table overlooking Lafayette Park and the White House. It was royal treatment. We wondered if they knew that we were really a bunch of middle class hags…. or … maybe because we were so middle class they were keeping a watchful eye on us.
Chesapeake Bay Crab Cake Benedict
I wanted a mimosa (who wouldn’t at 10 am on a girlfriends weekend away?). Our server said, “Let me check, Madam. There is a local ordinance that prohibits serving alcohol before a certain hour but I will ask the manager.” I got my mimosa, and drank it while diving into my Chesapeake Bay Crab Cake Benedict with sautéed spinach and homemade Hollandaise sauce. Usually, I never order crab when off the Eastern Shore because I’m almost always disappointed. The meat is usually acquired from Asia or South America and is flavorless compared to Chesapeake Bay crabmeat, which is harder to come by and typically more expensive. But the flavors of the Bay were powerful in this backfin, lump crab cake crowned with a layer of spinach and a perfect poached egg. It was an unexpected, yet perfect combination, and just enough for breakfast, although I had room to scarf down a warm scone and butter. The breakfast, the setting, and the service exceeded expectations.
The Rich and Famous Stay at the Hay Adams
We asked the server what famous people he’s served and if they big tippers (keeping it classy). He said that Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie stay there when they’re in DC, and that they are wonderful people, polite, considerate and a joy to serve (no comment about the tip but we figured he wouldn’t have mentioned them if they cheap). He also said that Morgan Freeman ordered a menu item in the “little plates” category and didn’t like the plate – thought it was too small – and he requested a bigger plate (which he got). Months later Mr. Freeman returned to the Hay Adams, ordered the same “little plate” dish and the server remembered his previous request and asked, “Mr. Freeman, are you wanting a larger plate?” And, yes….. Mr. Freeman’s “little plate” was replaced with one of a size more to his liking.
Our Private Hag-Tour of the Hotel
As we were ready to leave the hotel, I was asking some questions about the hotel’s history, in particular the story about the ghost of Clover Adams. The Food and Beverage Manager was dispatched to our table, and after answering a few questions offered to take us on a tour. What lovely surprise! We learned on his tour that the hotel was built in 1927 on the site of two separate houses that were built for John Hay and Henry Adams. As our host escorted us into the “Hay Adams Room” we overcome by the gorgeous floor to ceiling wood paneling, period ceilings and stunning Christmas decorations. There in the shadow of the Hay and Adams portraits, our host explained that the wood paneling was crafted from repurposed wood that was taken from the original Hay and Adams homes before they were razed to build the hotel. Then he told us a little about these two men.
John Hay and Henry Adams were pillars in the community – Hay being the private secretary to Abraham Lincoln and later serving as Ambassador to the UK and Secretary of State under two US Presidents, and Henry Adams being the grandson of John Quincy Adams and a notable writer an connoisseur of the arts. They were intellectuals and part of the Washington DC cultural scene. They hosted grand parties at their houses that attracted artists and notables particularly in the literary field including Mark Twain Henry James and Edith Warton – a kind of “Lady Gregory’s Coole Park” in Washington DC.
Both men were writers as was Henry’s wife, Clover (given name Marian). Hay and Adams were so prominent in the social scene of the day, that the corner they lived on became forever associated with their names, even after their deaths when their houses stood vacant and falling into disrepair. Their were a few subsequent owners, but in 1927 a developer purchased the properties, razed the houses and erected a the Italian Renaissance hotel that stands there today. And they kept the corner’s identity and named it the Hay Adams Hotel.
The staff didn’t want to admit to any hauntings (ghosts are so low class), but they politely spoke about what others said they’d seen and heard. The concierge said that the chandelier at the entryway to the Hay Adams room has been seen swaying. And yes … there’s that faint smell of almonds.
But while we were chatting about the ghost thing in the Hay Adams room, a large styrofoam Christmas tree ball on the tree located at the right of the John Clay portrait, fell off the tree and forcefully rolled a good twenty feet across the room, right to where the manager was standing. And three of the four of us hags saw and heard a person near the tree. Our initial perception was that the person knocked the ball off the tree and then commented about it. But when we all refocused, we realized there was no person. I clearly saw a person in my peripheral vision…. period. I know I did. So it was a little unsettling for a minute. But the manager said there was no one there, he with a little smile he picked the stray ball and returned it the it place on the tree. The four of us were dumbfounded. …. and the tour continued.
We were graciously escorted to other regions of the hotel and shown old photographs of the building, and the Hay and Adams homes that occupied the site previously, and some old pictures of the Lafayette Square streetscape. The entire experience was handled warmly, professionally and graciously. It was all so unexpected and delightful.
I went home and read more about the Clover Adams haunting. Clover never actually lived in the home that Henry Adams built on the corner of 16th & H where the hotel now sits. She died at 42 in the temporary home on H Street the couple was staying while the house was being built. Henry Adams grieved terribly for his lost wife according to letters later recovered. He commissioned Augustus Saint-Gaudens to craft a memorial for Clover’s grave which became the very famous “Grief” statue in Rock Creek Cemetery – a life-sized shrouded figure seated on a bench. An unauthorized copy of the same memorial was made by Edward Ludwig Albert Pausch and placed in Druidpark Cemetery in Pikesville. That figure became known as the infamous “Black Aggie” figure (another ghost story for another post).
They say that some people hear the mournful voice of a woman weeping in the Hay Adams, usually on the fourth floor. And the housekeepers apparently have been hugged by something they can’t see. Another legend is that Clover is much more “present” or active in the month of December… the month she died. We were there in December.
Maybe it was she in the Hay Adams room wanting to make her presence known in her death-anniversary month … maybe she doesn’t like those Christmas decorations.
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