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Haunted Arkansas: The Empress

The multi-award winning four diamond Arkansas accommodations and event facility of a Little Rock Bed and Breakfast were lovingly restored in 1995 to capture the essence of a romantic “Downtown Abbey” time while updating the property to meet the needs of today’s travelers, business guests, and brides.
LITTLE ROCK, AR -- Constructed exclusively of Arkansas materials at the then exorbitant cost of $20,000, the Hornibrook House was completed in 1888. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the mansion is described as the best example of ornate Victorian architecture in Arkansas and as the most important existing example of Gothic Queen Anne style in the region. It is now The Empress of Little Rock Bed & Breakfast. Below are some first-hand accounts of paranormal encounters experienced by the owners, Bob and Sharon Welch-Blair, and guests.

Date of Bob's First Incident: January 1994
Description of Incident: Robert H. Blair, owner of the Hornibrook Mansion since December 1993, stood astride the doorway to what was to become the Washburn-Welch guest room. It was an 18x24-foot commercial kitchen with black cabinets, carpeting and massive ceiling beams creating the most unattractive kitchen he'd ever laid eyes on. While he was contemplating how on earth this room could become the tastefully decorated Victorian bed chamber his wife had in mind, Sharon was exploring elsewhere in the house. After one month of ownership, she was questioning whether her strong determination might have really gotten her into it this time. The house seemed so cold and uninviting. She was beginning to think her early confidence was over-exuberance to the max as the chilling reality of this massive restoration began to fully dawn.

Out of the corner of Bob's eye, he caught just a bit of movement in the hall to his right. Turning his head to fully focus on the distraction, disbelief held his attention to the ethereal sight slowly descending the stairs. Two eyes beneath a dapperly peaked homburg hat captured his imagination as the vision almost floated down the stairs. His clothing matched his chapeau; elegant, sleek, crisp. But those eyes! As if by telepathy, Bob understood his gaze. Hackles raised on the back of his neck as the reality of the situation sank in. Quickly glancing to find Sharon to share his shock, he returned his stare again at the stairwell. The vision was gone. But those eyes! He would never forget the haunting look of those eyes ... beseeching ... imploring ... "Save this house."

Date of Bob's Second Incident: June 1994
Description of Incident: Bob stood alone near the foot of the stairs in the central stair hall. It was mid-June and already getting really warm. Work was progressing, -s-l-o-w-l-y. The project manager had removed the two curved solid oak front doors to get them resized so they would open from the correct side, like they did when it was a residence instead of a nursing home. Solid black plastic covered the opening. Concern immediately welled inside. That certainly wouldn't stop anyone trying to steal architectural features such as the five remaining original Eastlake mantles or the $20,000 worth of original custom designed solid brass hardware and door hinges. He'd have to get the project manager back this afternoon. Sweat began to bead his forehead. The house was deserted and quiet after the hordes of the workers of all description departed each day. The dead silence always seemed a little surreal.

Suddenly, Bob felt a blast of arctic air so he turned to see where it originated. He didn't really have to look. Innately he knew nothing would be there though a chill engulfed him. But an image immediately came to mind: he wore a peaked homburg hat and was very dapperly dressed. Bob knew it was a reminder from the previous visitor: "Don't dare forget ... whose house this is ... I'm watching."

Date of Incident: September or October 1995
Description of Incident: Timmy Watts was a contract painter working on the completion of the interior during the opening of the bed and breakfast. Bob and Sharon already had a few guests and were trying to finish the interior of the attic card room where Mr. Hornibrook reportedly carried on high stakes illegal poker games. Having the games in his tower protected his downtown saloon from a raid. Tim reported working on re-staining the interior wood of the room. He ran out of stain, left the room going to the larger area of the attic for additional stain. When he went back to re-enter the room, the door was closed. This door, at the time, had no handle or lock, so he couldn't lock himself out. After attempting to open the door unsuccessfully, Tim left the attic to get a screwdriver to open the "jammed" door. Upon his return, the previously closed door stood open. As this fact dawned upon him, the image of a dapperly dressed gentleman in a homburg hat appeared. Tim left the attic vowing he would never again go back.

Date of Incident: July 1997
Description of Incident: A guest reported to us the house is very haunted. "The souls are still here," she said. The first sighting was just outside her room. There standing was a large woman, dressed in pink, with her hair up on her head. She was wearing a lace scarf around her neck and appeared to be about 30-35 years old. Later that evening, the guest looked in another room which was very cold, dark and smelled of pipes or cigars. There she saw a man who appeared to be a captain. He was angry or perhaps drunk. The captain was a heavy set man, with a white beard, black pants, white shirt, and tall black boots. Hanging on the back of a chair in the room was a military or maritime-style coat with gold buttons and eyelets. A slim little woman that seemed to be crying or upset was sitting on the bed.

In what is now the maids' closet, the guest found a young black woman folding laundry. To her the closet seemed damp and colder compared to the room where she saw the captain. It also smelled old. All through the night she heard men's voices above her laughing, children arguing, and sounds of boots stomping and occasionally canes hitting the floor. It lasted until around 4 a.m. then the house became deadly quiet. It was then she could feel someone looking at her from above.

Date of Incident: January 1997
Description of Incident: Deedee Muldoon arrived late in the evening, about 9:20 p.m. It was the end of January, cold and clear. The lights from the imposing three-and-one-half story Gothic tower guided her to the Inn. As soon as she drove up, she knew she was in for a unique experience. The commanding Gothic Queen Anne structure overshadowed the entire neighborhood. The wrap-around porch stretched as far as she could see on both sides of the house. The innkeeper greeted her as she entered the foyer. The majestic double stairwell immediately caught her attention. She would be the only guest that night in the newly renovated mansion. She arrived too late to go out to dine so she sat in the huge dining room with 14-foot ceilings, drinking in the grandeur as she ate some warmed-up stew and cornbread offered by the innkeepers. The fireplace was warm and inviting. She felt as if she were actually back in the 1880s. Finishing her meal, she ascended the stairs, feeling as if she were Scarlett from Gone With The Wind.

Back in her room, Deedee lit the fireplace and curled up in the queen-sized, half-tester bed surrounded by the drapes. She pulled out the novel she'd been reading for the last week or so as she traveled city to city with her job. Deedee would read a while before she turned out the hurricane lamp on the bed stand and snuggled in for the night. The flames danced before her in the mirror of the huge marble topped dresser, reflected from the fireplace on the opposite side of the room. The door was propped halfway open with a decorative flower basket doorstop. A feeling of content flooded her as she sipped amaretto from a cherished antique liqueur glass. Even the liqueur flask was period!

As she read, she heard footsteps coming up the stairs outside her door -- probably the innkeeper coming to check on her before retiring. The steps paused at her door, but no one spoke or came in. Slowly the ornately carved brass handle turned back and forth with the door swinging back, pushing the doorstop with it. The doorway was empty. Deedee glanced around to see if there was someone out in the hall. No, no one was there. Intuitively, she knew someone was watching her; sizing her up. It was a masculine presence but not threatening. Thirty seconds later the presence was gone. She innately knew she had "passed muster."

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