Col. John Murphy was a Civil War veteran when he became one of most notable hotel magnates in Richmond, Virginia. Few people knew the successful businessman was involved in a ghostly tale of his own.
A well-dressed young man named Jones visited the Murphy Hotel in 1893. He had worked as a missionary among the North Pacific natives for well over a year. His health failed in the frigid climate, so he was going south to see if he could recuperate.
Murphy felt a great deal of sympathy for a young man who had invested so much in helping others. Eventually, Jones confessed he was short of funds, but would love to work as a French language instructor while in Richmond. Murphy helped him find students.
Jones steadily worked for several weeks, but eventually grew withdrawn from Richmond altogether. He remained in his room most of the time. A servant alerted Murphy of trouble in room #31. Murphy instantly knew it as Jones’s room. He went there and found the young man unconscious. Jones didn’t have any kind of liquor in the room, but there was a bottle of pure alcohol on his nightstand. Pure alcohol was another term for ethanol, and was used as a liniment.
Murphy roused the young man and heard a startling tale. Jones suffered a particularly painful bout of rheumatism while in the north. He first used the alcohol for his aching joints. He got in a habit of taking a sip for warmth before he applied the ointment. He’d grown addicted to it. He wanted to break the habit, but couldn’t seem to do it.
Murphy offered his sympathies and tried to get the young man away from his room, but it didn’t work. For two weeks, Jones was always near his room, and always had a bottle nearby. He finally exhausted his money. Murphy then arranged for him to go to a treatment facility, which doubled as an almshouse.
He told Jones to stay as long as he needed. They facility promised successful treatment shouldn’t take longer than two weeks. Murphy then said he would send for the young man, after his treatment, and help him resume his work as an instructor. Murphy then walked him to the carriage outside.
Murphy went to bed around 11:00 that night. As soon as he extinguished the light, a vapor arose in the far corner of the room. Eventually, the form became solid. An elderly man smiled from the corner of the room. The phantom figure said, “I want to thank you, Mr. Murphy, for your kindness to my son.”
Murphy was unsettled, but the figure disappeared. He went to sleep without further thought. He met Jones, as promised, when he was released two weeks later. The young man stated he’d overcome his substance issue and was ready to work.
Murphy eventually asked the young man about his father. Jones said his father had died years earlier. Murphy then asked about his father’s appearance. When Jones described his father, Murphy knew what had happened. He finally confessed his father had visited him. Jones remained a changed man afterward.
Note: Murphy renovated his hotel in 1907, but the big changes really came in the 1910s, when he constructed a new hotel in its place. Col. John Murphy died in 1918. The Murphy Hotel advertised fine baths and European plan meals. “European plan” was another term for room service. The building was a staple of downtown Richmond, but was deconstructed in 2007. A modern high-rise was built atop where the Murphy stood.