The landmark Flanders Hotel was built on the Ocean City boardwalk in 1923 and named after Flanders Fields in Belgium, where poppies grow over the rows of graves of American soldiers who died there during World War I.
Architect Vivian Smith designed the building in the Spanish Mission Revival style and the elegant seaside hotel would compete in service and appointments with the best hotels in America.
Somehow the Flanders miraculously survived the devastating fire of October 1927, which wiped out 12 blocks of Ocean City’s waterfront. After the disaster, the boardwalk was rebuilt a block closer to the ocean, which made room for what became the hotel’s enormous salt-water swimming pools located between the building and the boardwalk.
Times were hard during the Great Depression, but the hotel maintained an atmosphere of hospitality and a continuation of its usual high standards, and would remain a popular resort throughout the 20th century. James M. Dwyer purchased the Flanders in 1996, remodeled the rooms as condominium units, and restored the hotel to much of its original grandeur.
As with just about any grand old place with such a long history, the Flanders has its own resident ghost. She is known as the Lady in White, but her name in life is said to have been Emily. Emily is thought to be the spirit of a young woman in her early 20s with long brown hair who wanders the hallways of the massive hotel in her bare feet.
According to most eyewitness accounts, Emily is a pretty cheerful apparition who appears and disappears into walls, and mischievously plays with door locks. For years, guests and staff have reported incidents of swinging doors, light bulbs unscrewing, the sound of a girl singing in its hallways and seeing the train of a white gown disappearing around the corners of corridors.
Ghost tours of Ocean City say that Emily was the girlfriend of a WWI soldier who never returned from Europe, having been killed in the trenches.
Emily was once seen in the basement of the hotel, in an area known as “The Catacombs,” in the early hours of July 7, 1999. She also has been seen wandering the hotel’s Hall of Mirrors, in the hotel lobby, and roaming the second and fourth floors. She’s been heard merrily singing and laughing in many of the grand rooms of the Flanders. A photograph taken at one of the weddings held in the banquet hall once captured her ethereal form.
There is a framed portrait of Emily, which was painted by artist Tony Troy based on descriptions given to him by guests of the hotel who have witnessed her apparition, featured on the second floor of the Flanders. She stands by a piano wearing a long white dress and no shoes. Her story appears in print near the portrait. Her presence is so accepted at the hotel that the Flanders even named the hotel restaurant after her.
Next time you’re strolling the Ocean City boardwalk one sultry summer evening, stop into the Flanders and give the whimsical spirit of Emily, the Lady in White, our regards.
The preceding article is an excerpt from the new special issue of Weird NJ magazine, “Home State Haunting: True Stories of Ghostly Places in New Jersey,” which is available now on newsstands throughout the state and on the web at www.WeirdNJ.com.