Segment 10: Historical Record (2015)

written, edited, and produced by Viktor Devonne for 2 Night Stay
performed by Dick Move, Iris Explosion, Seedy Edie, Johnny Caligula, Viktor Devonne, and Noctua, with Jack Barrow
engineered and recorded by Dick Move



viktor sketches 3 color
Lionel Gilman sketch by Fishy Business

NARRATOR: On November 30th, 1901 at the Gilman Hotel, the man who would reinvent the affordable luxury hotel model succumbed to age and illness, dying in his own room.

LESLIE DAVENPORT, investigative reporterLionel Gilman was a visionary.  He saw a way to both make money and invite the working class.

NARRATOR: Spending his final years dedicated to one building would eventually lead to rumors about unethical behavior, deceit, and even murder.

FELIX SCOTT, contributing reporter: There is no record of these people leaving the country unharmed.

DAVID HANDLER, author: He knew what he wanted, and he had the influence and money to get it.

NARRATOR: Over the years, his name is now synonymous with accidents, death, and destruction—but also hope.

CHARLY VILLAQUEZ, magazine editor: He was a great man.  the people he worked with, maybe not so much.

LAURA GRIFFITH-KELLY, Gilman Legacy Foundation president: Some documents from the foundation have been deemed eyes-only for the board members.

NARRATOR: Tonight, we discuss the marvel and the mayhem of the Gilman.

HESPERWOLF, spiritualist: I know for a fact that it is haunted.

SCOTT: If he wasn’t the devil yet, he became one that day.

NARRATOR: This is Historical Record: Secrets and Skeletons.

Dr. Calvin Bernard Gilman, age 26, fell in love with his nurse aide Virginia, age 17, at regional hospital in 1818.  They were married and Virginia gave birth to a son that was noted as being more than 2 months premature (pause) however this is due to modified birth records. In fact, Lionel was conceived before their hasty marriage and was born almost exactly on his perceived due date.  Dr. Gilman kept this information secret for more than 50 years.  When Lionel was 19, after losing a sister to sudden death as an infant, the Gilman family brought to Tobias Gilman into the world in 1838.

DAVENPORT: Lionel Gilman’s family life is mostly shrouded in secrecy as while it is well known that he kept a diary, scant passages have been released by his estate.

NARRATOR: Lionel Gilman was well educated in New England, and began his fascination with building construction and masonry in his 20s.

HANDLER: Lionel spent most of his early years making deals that would advance his name and cache, and he had to get the influence and money to get it.  While his family was not known to be rich, somehow he manages to start buying real estate.

SCOTT: Where is this money coming from?  What deal with the devil did he sign, because he certainly didn’t sign any partnership papers.

NARRATOR: Lionel Gilman spent most of life a solitary businessman.   In addition to never marrying, or raising an heir to his industry, he insisted on being the only figurehead.

HANDLER: He didn’t want to be an employee.  He spent about 4 years working under people, to the point of presumed exhaustion until he was able to start his own business.        

NARRATOR: Gilman’s company specialized in concrete and other building materials.  He stays in distant contact with his family, even after his mother becomes ill.  Danielle Gilman would succumb to complications of influenza at the age of 40.  Dr. Gilman would marry the daughter of a family friend, housekeeper Dorothy Meyer, age 25.  They would have a son, Dewey, in 1845.

DAVENPORT: Lionel’s decision to leave the company he started with was viewed as an unnatural risk for his age.  He’s 23, single, and has more or less removed himself from his family now that his father has remarried.

NARRATOR: Dr. Gilman would live for several more decades until a stroke in 1860 rendered him bedridden, and finally died in 1864 after an unspecified infection.  He was 74.  During his later years, however, he would see his eldest son make capable decision after capable decision, and providing for them all.

HANDLER: Lionel Gilman was famously generous to his family.  He would send money to them, make sure they had all they needed.  But he would do all of this at a distance; he rarely visited, he didn’t write these long letters that we can look at to see what kind of man he was, or how he felt about his stepmother or younger brothers.  It wasn’t until the 1850s where he even really seemed to establish a relationship with his brother Tobias—and that of course was all business.

NARRATOR: Beginning as a project manager, Tobias Calvin Gilman was soon given the job of head of accountants of Lionel’s second company, due to his inclination for mathematics.  The brothers would soon live together in a joint mansion, which was conceived as two buildings, joined together with a central common area.

DAVENPORT: Lionel was known for his privacy, but also it can be assumed that as a potentially lonely man, he needed someone nearby that he could rely on.  And since he wasn’t making a whole lot of friends, he had his brother.

NARRATOR: Lionel began to make enemies, as he was known for swooping in on the business deals of other companies, making a counter-offer, and landing the account.  Soon after however, additional fees and costs would rise during the construction and those companies would end up paying far more than they would have if they had stayed with their earlier company.

HANDLER: he was able to do this five or six times and no one would see it coming.  Eventually other companies would come to him, saying hey you stole our client, and he would say well i’ll give you a cut if you do the work for me.  He would hustle them out of the lion’s share of the proceeds but they wouldn’t have a choice.  If he wanted to, he would flat out buy the customer records of his competitors or for some reason the C.E.O. or main project manager of that company would quit… so he would have an easy in.

NARRATOR: Lionel created a rolodex of companies that would supply him with materials at reduced rates, for unknown reasons.

VILLAQUEZ: He knew something.  There’s no other explanation.  He had something on them.  Lionel Gilman was known as a great man.  The people he worked with, maybe not so much.

HANDLER: All of that was industry talk.  Lionel Gilman did not have a bad reputation in the world.  He was making hospitals and schools, and working with foundations with progressive social issues.  He was, essentially, a robin hood for the industry.  He was taking away these bad practices these other companies were doing, these would-be robber barons and he was actually providing something good in the world.

NARRATOR: Not everyone sees it that way.  

SCOTT: Lionel Gilman stole from the wealthy to feed himself.  While along the way, he managed to dupe an entire generation into thinking he was a Vanderbilt or an Andrew Carnegie, but instead he should be known as a thief who muscled in on smaller businesses to be the only game in town.

NARRATOR: Gilman would buy entire blocks of land, and inherit the small business contracts from multiple small businesses along the way.  One such location was the spot of the original hotel, known as the Haus Schonheit, known as the pretty hotel to locals, which lasted 2 years before Gilman took it over, first as their landlord.  

Conroy Schonheit married Adele Beauchamp in April of 1884 in Frankfurt, Germany.  Mr. Schonheit’s family were innkeepers of a small business in Holland until their death, and Conroy’s move to Frankfurt.  Mr. Schoneheit, born in Holland but of German descent, moved to Frankfurt for his studies and became an educated man of law and decided to move to the united states to build a hotel.  He had already been back and forth to the u.s. As liaison between law offices to make this a reality.

Adele Beauchamp, daughter of a widower tailor in Montfermeil, France met Conroy in Isernhagen, Germany where they quickly married.  Details of their courtship are not known, but Adele moved to the united states with Conroy where she supplemented their income as a seamstress as Conroy worked at a law firm.   Coincidentally, the law firm that Conroy worked at, Harrtmann and squire were used by Lionel Gilman in multiple business acquisitions in the 1870s and 1880s.

Haus Schonheit was the dream project of immigrants Conroy Schonheit and his wife Adele Beauchamp Schonheit.  Original plans for the hotel, registered with the town by Conroy Schonheit in 1890, indicate the hotel was initially three floors, however later reports state the original hotel was only 2 floors, not including the basement.  It is not clear why this error was reported multiple times after the building stood at seven floors; it was potentially because the third floor was heavily gutted and that the original structure of the third floor was all but unrecognizable.

On the first floor, the office and concierge desk were straight ahead from the entrance.  Only four additional, rather small, rooms were on the first floor.  They were typically given to single party guests, although there are rumors they were also provided to the women who worked the street and their clients for short-term use.  A dining room with a capacity of 42 people, two water closets, a modest parlor-type lobby setup, and 2 marked storage closets summed up the rest of the floor. 

On the second floor, there were four additional smaller rooms, and three additional larger rooms, or suites. A laundry chute led to the basement.  Each room was fit with a bathtub, sink, and toilet, cordoned off from the bedroom. 

Despite contrary reports, the third floor would have had a similar arrangement as the second floor, with seven rooms, each of them expected to be comfortable size.  This would have brought the number of rooms to 17.

The hotel was originally set up with gas lamps, and indoor plumbing was installed upon construction.  The hotel was open for business by spring of 1895, with Adele handling primary maid services until they hired friend Angela Porthos, and expanded to a larger staff by summer.  Hotel rooms were between $1.50 and $3 a night.

GRIFFITH-KELLY: In 1899, the Schonheits were approached by masonry magnate Lionel Gilman to renovate and reconstruct the hotel.  Mr. Gilman had stayed there multiple times in 1888, despite the fairly modest setting of the hotel.  Mr. Gilman owned property on much of the surrounding area of the hotel.

NARRATOR: Stories diverge at this point.  Some argue Mr. Gilman did not offer the schonheits to buy the hotel so much as demand it.  Town records show Lionel Gilman was the landlord to the building; however those records are in dispute for their legitimacy as they may have postdated.  Further dispute is brought to this as there is no lease that has been discovered that he may have had with the Schonheits.

Mr. Gilman filed a certificate of delinquency, purported to be on may 9, 1901, and filed by the county treasurer; prior to the publication of summons in proceedings to subject the land taxed to the payment thereof.  The certificate was returned to the clerk’s office by the treasurer on june 10, 1901, when it was erroneously marked and entered as filed as of that date, the court after judgment of foreclosure was authorized by a nunc pro tunc order to correct the entry of the date of filing such certificate, so as to show that it was in fact filed on the earlier date as against subsequent purchasers from the defendants in the foreclosure proceedings.

DAVENPORT: The property as thereby foreclosed upon by Mr. Gilman, who rebranded the hotel immediately, fired nearly all of the staff, and authorized it to be remodeled and built upon, increasing its floors to ten floors total, and to have all but one section, of the third floor completely removed and redone.

NARRATOR: Conroy and Adele Schonheit returned to Germany, however it is not clear what happened to their daughter, Denise, who would have been between the ages of 14 and 16 at the time of their leaving the united states.  Critics of Mr. Gilman’s legacy are skeptical of the legality of the Schonheit’s departure, stating it as deportation or false extradition. Further speculation is left on the then-whereabouts of Denise Schonheit and her connection to Lionel Gilman, which range from lascivious to criminal and even potentially deadly.

viktor sketches 4 color
Artists Rendering of Denise Schonheit, based on lithograph found on the premises — by Fishy Business

SCOTT: There is of these people leaving the country unharmed.  This is a man who just decided to get rid of people because he wanted their building for some reason.  He didn’t have to provide any amenities to them.  He didn’t have to buy them out.  He just needed them to go away.

NARRATOR: Other theories wager that Denise, a young woman at the time of Lionel’s acquisition, may have chosen to stay behind either with or without her parents permission, as she was born an united states citizen.

GRIFFITH-KELLY: I understand it’s not  a very exciting or interesting notion that an immigrant family sold their business to a u.s. Businessman and then went home, but frankly, not all stories are that interesting.  Now, there is a lot that is interesting beyond that–

SCOTT: There’s no good explanation.  You can say whatever you want for what he did as a humanitarian or a businessman but you cannot tell me that he got that hotel legally or ethically.  If he wasn’t the   yet, he became one that day.

NARRATOR: Biographer David Handler suggests instead that Lionel Gilman paid the proprietors of Haus Schonheit and enabled their return to Germany, but this is an assumption made based on letters from Lionel Gilman’s caretaker Mildred “Millie” Jackson to Lionel Gilman’s brother Tobias C. Gilman in 1902.  It is also considered that since Mr. Schonheit was a man who studied in law that he would have avoided any error in business.

VILLAQUEZ: To automatically suggest that Lionel Gilman would start making unlawful decisions after a career of the utmost respect for due process, is ludicrous and unfounded.  It is a narrative pushed by individuals who want to demonize a man who saw an opportunity to provide a stable business to a community. 

NARRATOR: Lionel Gilman did not see the renovation project to completion, dying on November 29, 1901.  By then, it was decided the hotel would be limited to seven floors, and the whereabouts of the Schonheit family was relegated to rumor.

In the 2000s, an internet campaign known as “where is Denise” was begun by the #gilmantruth organization, to further shed light on one of the presumed victims of Lionel Gilman’s final years.

HANDLER: Oh, it got wild.  They said he married her, they said he locked her up, she got walled up in one of the rooms, he kept her as a slave.  It was disgusting.  There’s no reason to think any of that if you are a person of proper mental capacity.

NARRATOR: At the rumor’s zenith, a small community theatre production purported that Denise Schonheit was a ghost haunting the rooms of the hotel, surveying the infidelities, secret meetings, and rock and roll parties that would follow in the decades.  Despite the involvement of the Gilman legacy foundation to halt such innuendo as spurious or even damaging to their business, Denise has become an unofficial mascot of the hotel, and ghost tours and docuseries on her and other people who passed in the hotel, persist.

HANDLER: The reason it persists is because it’s lurid.  It’s the first possible terrible thing to happen at a hotel where lots of terrible things have happened.  And it involves a pretty young girl, an old rich man, and the parents being shipped away.  It’s basically got a Sondheim score happening beneath it, folks.

GRIFFITH-KELLY: The story of Lionel Gilman is that of a man who loved his country, his town, and his business.

NARRATOR: The hotel would see a parade of visitors over the years, largely due to the quintessential gothic feel of the hotel, its proximity to town and public transportation, and its longstanding affordability.

DAVENPORT: Lionel Gilman was a visionary.  He saw a way to both make money and invite the working class.  As soon as the hotel was rebranded, it was a host to everyone: men on business, women who worked the street, newlyweds, traveling salesmen, wealthy older people who loved the style of the place… until the accidents started happening, it enjoyed solid bookings.  Then when it got spooky, suddenly a whole new wave of guests come, and it becomes camp.

NARRATOR: When the hotel got spooky is up for debate.

Coming up on Historical Record: Secrets and Skeletons…

VILLAQUEZ: Serial killers.  Rock star overdoses.  Arsonists.  A republican fundraiser.  The Gilman saw it all.

GRIFFITH-KELLY: Oh, I don’t know if all that’s necessary to get into.

HANDLERIt is weird.  I’ll give you that.