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Duchess, Corpse and Cockroach: Seriously Gross Hotel Stories

November 11, 2010

Turn with me to the 18th century and a French inn worthy of But first, a more contemporary story, called

Mr. AngloFiles’ Most Gallant Act

Our Hawaiian honeymoon included a one-night stay in “heavenly” Hana. Several hours and 617 hairpin turns from Maui’s bustling beaches, its famous, among other things, as Charles Lindbergh’s last retreat. The state park’s rainforest cabins were such a popular destination that my foresighted fiancé had booked ours almost a year earlier.

”]Hana and its rainforest turned out to be (duh!) somewhat rainy, and restaurant prices proved heavenly, too, as in “on high,” so we retreated with relief to our one-room haven and cooked a simple meal (probably Rice-a-Roni, a staple for us then) before tucking ourselves under the thin sheet and blanket.

In the dark of the night, my husband woke to a strange tickle on his cheek. Pulling the cord on the overhead lightbulb, he saw a scene he’s never forgotten: He, we, and everything else in the cabin were absolutely blanketed in cockroaches. The big, ugly, rainforest kind. His wake-up itch was a critter skittering across his cheek.

So, what did he do for me? He swept them from ourselves and everything else he could reach, covered our faces with the sheet and pulled the light off. Then he lay there, sleepless, until dawn came without waking me up.

In the morning, he told me. I love that man.

Henry Cavendish could have used Mr. AngloFiles at his side when he signed a guest register in the 1750s. In the annals of horrible hotel stays, none  may be funnier than Dave Barry’s account of a sojourn at the “Hotel Shpennsylvania” (you know the one—if you stand outside Madison Square Garden and Penn Station, it’s right there):

Pennsylvania, Shpennsylvania

But none may be weirder than the experience of Cavendish, a scientist—scion of the Dukes of Devonshire—known for his work on hydrogen and pendulums. It is told by the elegant, 90-year-old Deborah Devonshire (née Mitford, one of the infamous sisters and widow of the 11th Duke of D) in Counting My Chickens, a collection of her homey, often crabby commentaries on country life and the evils of practically everything else.

Traveling with his brother, Frederick, she writes, Cavendishes was headed for Paris:

When they arrived in Calais they stopped at an inn and had to sleep in a room where someone was already in bed. It was a corpse laid out for burial… Nothing was said by the laconic pair till they were well on the road next morning. Eventually, Frederick said, ‘Brother, did you see?’ ‘Yes, I did, Brother,’ Henry answered.

Just think what would happen now. First the hotel manager would be sent for and given a dressing-down, as he often is by spoilt travellers who don’t like finding a dead person in their room. Then the rich headlines would follow: ‘Duke’s nephews practice necrophilia in French hotel.’

But don’t stop there, Debo! Next, the hotel would be called out on TripAdvisor, Yelp and The brothers would Facebook their experience. To deal with the necro-negativity, the inn’s Social Media Team would bring in Consultants in Angular Eyewear to initiate a YouTube marketing campaign focused on innkeeping grossness intended to make a joke of the affair and thereby win back brand loyalty.

Yes, it’s all too, too whiny. But before you join her ladyship in clucking over those “spoilt” customers, remember that she needn’t deploy her own stiff upper very often at the Shpennsylvania or Motel 6. Here’s her account of a trip presumably not booked through Expedia or the AAA:

We have just come back from the Republic of Ireland, staying at Lismore Castle, a house we know well, this being the 47th year we have spent part of April there.

In 1753, Lismore Castle and its lands passed by marriage to the fourth Duke of Devonshire, a patron of Thackeray and Dickens.

Explains the castle’s website, “Lismore Castle has been the Irish home of the Dukes of Devonshire since 1753 and is possibly the most spectacular castle in Ireland.”

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