Monday, 23 July 2012

Toowoomba's Crown & Strand: vintage 'Gold Class' cinema with a few spirits thrown in!

Toowoomba's Strand Theatre (Event Cinemas) as it looks now.
Toowoomba: Australia's second largest inland city behind Canberra & largest non-capital inland city overall.  Known locally as the "Garden City," Toowoomba has seen its fair share of history -  & as a result, this city west of Brisbane has its fair share of haunted houses & much so, that the haunted nature of the buildings in Toowoomba truly rival any of those found throughout Brisbane!  In a series of buildings that we'll look at throughout Toowoomba over the coming year, let's first have a look at the site of the Strand Theatre & old Crown Hotel on the corner of Margaret & Neil Streets.  The Strand Theatre was constructed throughout 1915-1916, & was tacked onto the side of the then Crown Hotel which had already been in business for over 30 years.  Designed to rival other picture theatres of its era in Australia's larger cities, the Strand's layout also took into account a functional aspect, with the upper floor segmented to provide additional hotel rooms extending across from the hotel next door.  Having passed through numerous hands over the past nearly 100 years, the Strand Theatre which is now more popularly known as Toowoomba's Event Cinemas, boasts the reputation as Australia's oldest purpose-built cinema.  Whilst the above photo provides some indication of the monumental fa├žade of the current-day cinema complex, the adjoining old Crown Hotel building is lost beneath the neon sign & crazy roof-top sculpture...back in the 1930's, the site looked more like this:

The Crown Hotel & adjoining Strand Theatre, c.1930

Over the years, the Strand Theatre saw its fair share of unusual events.  On the 19th of October 1923, the expected Friday night crowd filed into the theatre in anticipation of the night's entertainment, from the drenching rain falling out in Margaret Street...another Queensland summer was on its way, & the early season thunder storms were beginning to manifest in the region.  Midway through the performance, however, a stray lightening bolt crashed to ground nearby, blacking out a section of the city & surging through the power cables along Margaret Street.  Passing through the brick wall of the theatre via the electrical wiring, the massive power surge exploded from the conduit alongside the theatre's orchestra, manifesting as a massive bluish flame that shot out across the theatre for some distance!  The media at the time reported that, "Two youths who were sitting near where the "blow out" occurred are said to have turned a complete somersault."  Two women fainted from shock, & the majority of theatre goers - including the terrified members of the Strand Theatre Orchestra - fled up the aisles for the doors, leaving their hats & coats strewn about the theatre.  Very fortunately, no one was injured in the panic, & calm was soon restored...although the restoration of power to the Strand Theatre took some extra time.

Not even a decade later, on the 3rd of June 1935, Monday night movie-goers filed in to the Strand Theatre & took their seats in anticipation of the night's entertainment.  At 7:35pm, thick black smoke began to pour from the operating box's windows, billowing out into the theatre above the heads of the theatre patrons.  The fire brigade was immediately called for, however by the time they had arrived the theatre staff had succeeded in bringing the blaze under control.  It was discovered that an electrical short had occurred in one of the cinema's appliances, & a reel of film had combusted as a result - nitrocellulose film was utilised in the cinema industry up until the 1950's, & was notorious for being highly, highly much so, that cinema projection rooms throughout the world were required to be fire-proofed through lining with asbestos!  Once burning, nitrocellulose film is extremely difficult to extinguish, & dousing with water actually increases the amount of smoke produced - fortunately, the theatre staff tackled the fire with a chemical extinguisher, after which it was brought under control.  Amazingly, the theatre-goers below appeared somewhat oblivious to the drama unfolding above them, & remained in their seats throughout.  After a lengthy delay, the night's program went ahead...minus the length of film that had almost set the building ablaze!

So...what of the ghostly nature of the building??  In an interview conducted with ABC Southern Queensland in April this year, both the Strand Theatre's Manager Ian, as well as long-time employee John, discussed the building's numerous ghost stories.  Of least importance, but amusing none-the-less, was a story of the ladies toilets in the cinema - "Some staff were reporting a sniffing noise coming from the ladies toilet, that the believers thought was a ghost crying."  Unfortunately, after some investigative work, it was discovered that the spectral noise belonged to an air freshener!  However, on a more serious note, a multitude of ghost stories seem to be told by staff who work within the cinema - one account, taken from a staff member as she reversed out of the carpark, stated that, "She swears that she looked up and there was a figure of someone up in that tiny little window, looking back down at her."  However, do the staff at the Strand Theatre have any idea about the origins of the ghosts that apparently haunt their workplace?

Conveniently, they have two - according to the ABC, & long-time Strand Theatre staff member John, "A change of hands in the 1970's saw a darker side of the building's history come to light.  The clients were walking in asking for a box of matches. The staff would hand over the matches and charge [the clients] 20 cents, but they would say 'no, we want the $20 box of matches.'  With no idea what the customers were talking about, the new owners went on a quest to find out.  They found out the $20 boxes of matches being sold contained no matches, but a key - a key with a number on it.  And you went upstairs to the room, there waiting for you was a lovely lady."  Popular rumour has it that one of these ladies was killed in the building, & her spirit has never left...a rumour that might be possible, but is completely unfounded.  Furthermore, it is also speculated that the ghost might belong to Emma Miller, a renowned Queensland woman who holds the reputation as the "mother of the Labor Party."  According to the ABC's article, & local Toowoomba historian Peter Cullen, "In 1917, at the age of 77, she was staying at the Crown Hotel which then occupied the site, and she became sick after speaking at the local botanical gardens. There are two different reports; one says she died in the hotel, and the other says she died at the hospital."

Whilst this tale provides some historic insight into the profile of some of the visitors to the Crown Hotel, the rumour is highly unlikely & is incorrect in its detail.  In January 1917, Mrs Miller had travelled to Toowoomba to recuperate from a bout of ill-health, & had checked in at the Crown Hotel.  On Saturday the 20th of January, she had visited the Botanic Gardens where she was entertained by a number of local Labour supporters, before returning to the hotel.  Again, on Sunday the 21st of January, she visited the home of a friend and again returned to the hotel is what seemed to be her usual health.  Unfortunately, however, due to the advanced cancer that was ravaging her body, Emma Miller passed away at 9pm on Monday the 22nd of October - whilst her death occurred in Toowoomba, it is highly likely that in her final hours Emma Miller was transferred to the Toowoomba Hospital, & she did not pass away within the confines of the Crown Hotel (this legend could be easily laid to rest by anyone with access to Emma Miller's Death Certificate - a document I unfortunately do not currently possess).  As a matter of interest for those who live in Brisbane, Emma Miller is proudly represented in King George Square, where a bronze effigy of this amazing woman stands ever-present watching over Brisbane's residents as they pass under the shadow of Brisbane City Hall.

Unsubstantiated deaths aside, however, what do we know really know about the Strand Theatre's past?  Were there any deaths on-site that may have given rise to the haunting experienced by current staff?  In response to these questions, the answer is a resounding "Yes" - two events come to light, with both holding the distinct possibility of generating a haunting at the Strand Theatre...& both occurred within about 18 months of one another...

On the afternoon of the 11th of October 1929, 68 year old John Lewis Langhorne was taking a walk along Neil Street.  He had been ill for some days, but was hell-bent on ensuring that this recent illness was not going to slow him down.  A well-known resident of Toowoomba, whose family hailed from Kelvin Grove in Brisbane, John worked as a casual hand for the town's Works  Department, & hence knew the municipality's layout well.  However, as he approached the corner of Neil & Margaret Streets, John's health took a turn for the worse.  As his head swam & his body failed, John looked around frantically for a business where he might find 5pm on a Friday afternoon, the pickings were extremely slim, although the Crown Hotel's doors were wide open only metres away & the bar was populated with residents seeing out their working week.  Staggering through the door of the hotel, John collapsed on the floor, where he was immediately attended to by the afternoon's patrons.  He was lifted onto a seat & the ambulance brigade was sent for in haste, however John passed away before the hospital could be reached.  With his family located in Kelvin Grove, John's body was transported back to Brisbane, where his loved ones had his remains interred at Toowong Cemetery on the 14th of October.

Whilst John's demise on the floor of the Crown Hotel in 1929 was dramatic, it pales in comparison to another event that occurred 18 months earlier.  In the early hours on the 9th of January 1928, Hilda Voll, the housemaid of the Crown Hotel, delivered breakfast to Room 28 in the Crown Hotel, as she'd done many times before.  Inside, she expected to find Dr Thomas Drew, a long-time boarder at the hotel.  However, upon her early visit, Dr Drew appeared to be asleep, so Hilda went away with the intention of returning she did, at 7:45, to find Dr Drew still in bed apparently fast asleep.  At about 10:30am, when Thomas had not arrived at work, his employer Mr Campbell arrived at the hotel...after banging on Thomas' door to no response, Campbell entered the room to find his employee apparently still asleep. On attempting to wake Thomas without success, Mr Campbell quickly realised something was horribly wrong, & called on another local Doctor who immediately summoned the ambulance brigade.  Unfortunately, Dr Thomas Drew was pronounced dead shortly after admission at the Toowoomba Hospital, resulting from a self-induced overdose of morphine.  The Inquest into his death would reveal that Dr Thomas Drew had been complaining about feeling unwell for a few days before his death, & had spent some time in bed at the hotel amongst appointments.  The autopsy would reveal no indication of long-term drug abuse, as no visible injection marks could be found...ultimately, it was determined that Drew had taken a dose of morphine to induce sleep, & in doing so had misjudged the quantity with fatal consequences.

So, the unfounded murder of a prostitute & improbable on-site death of Emma Miller aside, is the Strand Theatre haunted by the spirit of John Lanhorne or Thomas Drew, both men having experienced their last conscious moments within the building?  Or...could the ghosts within the building harp from yet an earlier time??  As a final thought, & for the record, the site on which the Crown Hotel was built was once the location of Toowoomba's Congregational Church.  Throughout the 1860's & 1870's, many a Sunday service & funeral was conducted on these hallowed grounds before the site was cleared, after which a house of ill-repute was built in its place.  So...can we attribute the ghosts of the Strand to the death of two men in the 1920's, or are the spirits of Toowoomba's early church-going pioneers still visiting the site & voicing their disapproval over how their hallowed site has evolved??

Toowoomba's Congregational Church, c.1870 (John Oxley Library)

Sunday, 15 July 2012

The Pomona Hotel Ghost: He may be known affectionately as 'Darby', but he could likely be just plain old Fred

 The Pomona Hotel (John Oxley Library)
Haunted pubs - when it comes to hotels that claim to be haunted, I have to admit that I'm an absolute sucker, as I'm sure we all are...although, that being said, I'm very regularly disappointed by the whole "haunted pub" routine - stories of fatal fires, fatal shootings, fatal seems that the majority of pubs across South East Queensland all brandish unfounded tales of woe in an attempt to claim they have a resident ghost.  Over the past few months, I've looked into well over a dozen pubs that claim to have resident spooks resulting from fantastic events, & haven't found an ounce of evidence to back the claims in the historic record...I still live in hope that one day I might bring these stories to light, although for many of them I'm not holding my breath.

However, some of the hotels I've heavily looked into do possess legitimate histories that lend credence to the tales - as contrasting examples, our tale of the Rosewood Hotel was a perfect case of a schiester Publican's attempt to market a country pub as haunted for monetary gain...however, our investigation of the Ipswich Jets Club & the Caledonian Hotel ghosts exposed likely origins for the sites' hauntings based solidly on the historic record.  From experience, I tend to find that hotels that claim to have a ghost, & just a ghost, with no known origin or outlandish story to back the haunting, generally possess a number of deaths on site (after extensive research) that may just explain their resident spectre.  However, pubs that claim to possess ghosts resulting from horrible accidents "early last century," - i.e. no specific details or precise dates given - tend to be no more than urban legends...& when it comes to writing weekly articles for the Haunts of Brisbane, urban legends are nothing more than a good jumping off point - if the historic record doesn't remotely support the claim, then we'd be no better than a certain Brisbane ghost tour operator if we ran with the story as gospel truth!

So, where does that leave us regarding this week's article??  Well, I had grand plans of tackling a haunted pub in a particular township outside Brisbane this week, however I quickly became bogged down once again in a swamp of hear-say & urban legend - whilst I'm in the lengthy process of bringing this tale to light, or debunking it completely, I seem to be stuck with a very small town...with two supposedly very haunted pubs...with some very base history between them, & some aggressive argument as to which stories belong to which pub.  Sadly, yet again, the ability to claim a resident ghost for either pub is looking very sketchy at best - the claimed origin of either haunting doesn't even remotely match the historic record, & the details seem to change dramatically with every telling of their respective tales.  So...let's change tack, & focus on another pub that claims to have a resident haunting, minus any outlandish claim as to their ghost's origin - the Pomona Hotel, nestled at the foot of Mt Cooroora, in the Sunshine Coast hinterland.

Having been settled in the late 1880's under the name of Pinbarren Siding, the township saw a vibrant mix of residents move through the area - in the early years, timber getters from the surrounding regions stopped in for supplies, gold prospectors moved through on their way to the then languishing Gympie gold fields, & immigrants began to settle in the hope of taking advantage of the growing sugar cane & banana industry.  As the town grew, & enterprising individuals moved to the area with money, it came as no surprise that a hotel would be proposed.  Built in 1905 & declared opened for business under licence in 1906, the new Pomona Hotel opened its doors for business as the first establishment in the area.  Fortunately, in the very same year as the hotel opened, the town was renamed Pomona, from its previous name of Pinbarren Siding, allowing the hotel a name it has carried to this very day.  Originally constructed as a single storey building, the Pomona Hotel boasted nine lodging rooms, a public bar, a dining room & a kitchen...& being the only establishment for miles around, trade was exceptionally good.

The good times continued, through 1911 when a second hotel was built in Pomona, the now demolished Railway Hotel, until the 3rd of January 1913.  At a few minutes before 5pm, the kitchen of the Pomona Hotel caught alight, & within minutes the building was ablaze.  A bucket brigade rushed to the scene, with little effect, & further adjoining buildings caught the time, Pomona lacked any semblance of water supply apart from rainwater tanks, lending further difficulty to the town's firefighting efforts.  By the time the fire was finally extinguished, the original Pomona Hotel & a number of adjoining shops lay in smouldering ruins.  However, necessity be as it may, the proprietor James Connolly took up a temporary residence in the Pomona Hall until his hotel was rebuilt a few months later - the rebuilt two storey premises is the same Pomona Hotel that exists to the current day.  However, 1913 was not the only year that the Pomona Hotel was exposed to fire - on the 5th of September 1939, the Sunshine Cafe close by the Pomona Hotel caught fire, destroying nine surrounding businesses yet sparing the hotel.  Water was drawn from a large water tank behind the hotel in an effort to extinguish the flames...unfortunately, there was little anyone could do to save the buildings on fire, however the Pomona Hotel alongside the water source was spared.  Fortunately, as had been the case in 1913, not a single life was lost in the hotel's second brush with death.

Pomona's destructive 1939 fire, with the hotel in the background (State Library of Qld)

So...what of this ghost, I hear you ask??  Well, the Pomona Hotel claims to have a resident spectre that walks its halls.  Locals & staff tell stories of feeling a presence within the hotel, like an invisible figure has brushed passed when no one else is standing near.  Disembodied footsteps are heard from time to time throughout the venue, & doors inexplicably seem to open & close of their own accord...admittedly, the haunting seems to manifest no differently to any other hotel's, however those who frequent the establishment & those that work there are adamant that something otherworldly resides within the nearly 100 year old building.  So sure are the staff that they share their place of employment with a spectre, that they've given the spook a name - 'Darby'.  I have it on good authority that the name is due to the phantom's preferred haunt within the Pomona Hotel - the Darby Room Restaurant, named after long-time Pomona resident & now deceased Darby Schrieder.  However, staff are also quick to point out that just because their ghost is affectionately named Darby, the likelihood that the ghost is actually that of Darby Schrieder is unlikely.  So, who could the ghost of the Pomona Hotel actually be?!?

That, I must confess, I do not know...after having pulled apart the historic record for the Pomona Hotel, not a single event can be located which may give rise to a haunting...although, the life of the former Railway Hotel in Pomona is a very different matter.  On the 6th of July 1924, a loud bang was heard amongst the lodging rooms at 8am - William Hughes, a lodger at the hotel, began to work his way down the hall, door-knocking in the hope of discovering the origin of the startling noise.  On reaching the door of recent arrival Frederick John Green, he entered the room to discover Green laying on the floor with a .22 calibre Young American revolver laying beside him...blood was streaming from a wound above the man's right eye, & a doctor was called for immediately.  Green was tended to by Doctor Rygate, & was rushed (as fast as was possible in rural 1924) to Gympie Hospital, where he succumbed to his wounds at 1:20am the next morning.  It would be discovered that Frederick Green had arrived in Pomona from Gympie on Saturday morning, the day before he'd chosen to take his life.  Given that it was common practice for gold prospectors to carry concealed side-arms to protect themselves & defend their mining leases, had Fred Green struck out in Gympie & decided to end it all in Pomona after losing his life savings seeking his fortune?  The gun that was found beside Green's body was a seven-shot contained one expended round & two live bullets, a likely indication the 32 year old man was unable to afford a full compliment of ammunition for his side-arm.

However, the Railway Hotel would make national news in the early hours of the 13th of April 1928, when George Dann, a well-known Chinese banana grower, was stabbed to death with a cook's knife in the hotel, by an Italian immigrant named Guiseppe Sciglitano.  Sciglitano, a labourer staying at the hotel, stole into the kitchen & took possession of a knife before returning to the upper floor of the establishment...on seeing George walk out of the upstairs sitting room, Sciglitano chased Dann down the hall of the hotel stabbing him as he went.  Dann, gasping for breath in the hall, finally succumbed to his wounds on the floor after a violent scuffle in the hall.  Sciglitano was seen to run from the hotel in his pyjamas in the direction of the railway station, where he was arrested by the local Constabulary hours later in a dishevelled & leech-infested state...having hidden himself in the bush overnight, Sciglitano was worse for wear, in nothing more than his night clothes & bare feet.  During the preliminary Court case held at the Pomona Memorial School of Arts, it would be discovered that Sciglitano had taken a carving knife to George Dann because, "Chinamen no good this country along white people."  Sciglitano was committed for trial as a result, in Gympie on the 10th of July 1928, for which he served his time on a charge of wilful murder.

When the Railway Hotel was finally demolished in 1965, a bulk of the building's materials were recycled & used in the construction of Pomona's Memory Lane Antiques, Pomona Produce & Pet Shop, & Hollyhock Cottage & Nursery...history is yet to determine whether the ghosts of the Railway Hotel have followed the fabric of the building to their new homes.  In the meantime, though, it will likely still be claimed that Darby haunts the halls of the Pomona Hotel...whether real or fabricated, we'll never know...however the ghost of the Pomona Hotel will likely go down in rural legend as just that - a rural legend...

Sunday, 8 July 2012

The Female Phantom of Bribane City Hall: Who is she, exactly?!?

Brisbane City Hall, c. 1935 (John Oxley Library)
Brisbane City Hall - it almost seems like a lifetime ago when we examined the ghost of Brisbane City Hall's clock tower, in what was to be the very first Haunts of Brisbane article to go to publication!  As any Brisbane ghost enthusiast would know, Brisbane City Hall has earned a local reputation for housing at least 4 ghosts - one ghost is said to haunt the City Hall's tower & lift contained within; one ghost is rumoured to haunt an entire wing of City Hall that was subsequently shut down for decades as a result, before being converted into a childcare centre; one ghost is alleged to be that of a WWII American sailor who was embroiled in a fight over a woman with another sailor, & was stabbed to death in the Red Cross Tea Rooms beneath.  All of these legends are based & perpetuated on an element of truth - we've already examined one, in our first article linked above, however it's high time that we focus on another and thoroughly pull it apart to get the bottom of the tale!

Some months ago, back in February, a post appeared on a Computer/Gamers Forum of all places...showing a photo that had been taken on the steps of Brisbane City Hall in December 2011.  In the photo, an anomaly exists that quite rightfully appears to be a transparent figure, either in a cloak or dress, descending the stairs leading down to the City Hall's ground level.  The photo itself was allegedly taken on a mobile phone, & eerily (or very conveniently) mirrored what has become one of the world's most famous & longest enduring ghost photos - the Brown Lady of Raynham Hall.  Needless to say, over the past nearly five months, numerous people have commented on the forum with their opinions regarding the legitimacy of the photo...however, regardless of its authenticity, stories of a phantom female frequenting the staircase have endured within Brisbane City Hall for a number of decades now.  Over the past decade, there has been some speculation as to the exact identity of this spectre in the print media...however, the aspects of the haunting and the visual appearance of the spirit seems to fluctuate quite broadly every few years...

The Brown Lady of Raynham Hall, taken in 1936.

In an article entitled, "Brisbane's ghostly past revisited," published in The Queensland Independent in June 1998, it was claimed, "On numerous occasions over the 50 years at the City Hall...a ghost has been seen ascending the [City Hall] staircase.  Although no actual outline of her has been seen, those who have seen it have said it has a real feminine feeling to it.  "Elegant," was the word the gentleman I interviewed said.  He said there were no distinguishing features to it and he associated the ghost with the ballroom here and he felt it had something to do with that, but he wasn't really clear on further detail."  On the 13th of October 2002, in a Courier Mail article entitled, "Ghost Town!", the City Hall ghost in question was now recognisable as, "a woman dressed in old-fashioned clothing."  By the 3rd of February 2009, another Courier Mail article entitled, "Brisbane claims 'spooky city' title," claimed the ghost was that of, "an elderly lady."  And to top it off, The Courier Mail had yet another bash at the City Hall ghost on the 8th of October 2009 - this time, the ghost was said to be that of, "a young girl."  Amazingly, all of these articles, ranging from "female presence," to "woman in old-fashioned clothing," to "elderly lady," to "young girl," all have one thing in common - "Jack" Sim's input.  Yet, when "Jack" Sim's book, Haunted Brisbane: Ghosts of the River City, was released in 2005, the four-page chapter dealing with the ghosts of Brisbane City Hall lacked even the slightest mention of a female ghost within the building!

However, "Jack" Sim hasn't been the only contender in the ongoing debate about Brisbane City Hall's female phantom...another amateur "ghost-hunter," Lianna Turner, waded into the debate on the 9th of October 2007.  Via the Brisbane Times, in an extended article, Lianna made the ludicrous claim that the female ghost of Brisbane City Hall was likely, "a little girl who fell to her death near the entrance to the elevator that takes current visitors to the top of the bell tower."  Just for the record...NO little girl EVER fell to her death near the elevator at Brisbane City Hall during the first 30 years of the building's life, during which time the female phantom was already well & truly active.  Lianna, a self-professed psychic & "ghost whisperer," clearly pulled this detail from her imagination after visiting City Hall...& unfortunately failed to corroborate it with the historic record before embarrassing herself in print.  Brian Randall, a librarian from the State Library of Queensland, also waded into the debate on the 24th of November 2008, via a Courier Mail article entitled, "Is our City Hall haunted?"  In the article, which again amusingly focused on "Jack" Sim, who now had no answers about City Hall's female spectre, Brian stated, "the story of a female ghost was the most persistent of the three ghosts said to haunt the building.  The woman seems to be consistently coming up.  One possible theory about her identity [from] research was a story about a woman who drowned in a waterway on the site during early settlement, long before City Hall was built."

So...where do we stand??  Who is this Phantom Female who graces the stairs of Brisbane City Hall??

I've heard the theory of the drowned woman put forward a couple of times over the past few years, & whilst I've never come across the details of this death myself, that's not at all to say that the event didn't take place.  From an historic perspective, the site on which Brisbane City Hall was built had indeed contained a water hole through the early decades of Brisbane's existence as a free settlement - a large reservoir existed where Roma Street Station now lies, fed by a creek that ran from around the current Normanby Fiveways.  The overflow resulting from this reservoir formed a stream that flowed into a water hole on which the future City Hall would be constructed, & was utilised for many years as a source of water for building purposes & to water horses...hence, there is every possibility that an unlucky early Brisbane resident may have come to grief within the lagoon's depths.  However, to suggest that the female phantom of City Hall finds her origin in this tragic event raises far more questions than it does answers - Why did this woman's spirit, after her body was recovered at the time of drowning, lay dormant for many decades until taking up residence in a building eventually constructed on the site??  Of the multiple rooms & thoroughfares within City Hall, why is she only seen on the staircase above the front foyer & what led her to choose this specific location, given that at the time of her death no one could have even imagined a City Hall on the site??  And most importantly, if our female phantom doesn't originate from this tragic death, are we left with any other viable possibilities??

Given that the stories of a female ghost seem to originate around the 1930's to 1940's (within the first 20 years of the City Hall's life), what do we know of the building's history that may yield another origin for the haunting?  Well...quite a bit, actually!  Whilst a number of men have died under tragic circumstances within the building since its opening in 1930, we can easily rule these souls out as possibilities...however, we do know that two women came to grief within Brisbane City Hall in the first 15 years of its operation.  Whilst neither woman died within the building itself, they both perished within a very short time frame after having been removed for the frantic dash to the Brisbane General Hospital.  The least likely of these two deaths to provide an origin for our female phantom, took place on the 15th of September 1944.  On that day, 55 year old spinster Miriam Mary Alexander decided to pay a visit to City Hall from her home at Thornside, to the south of Brisbane near Cleveland.  She had been in ill-health for some time, & decided to visit the rest room - whether she was feeling faint at the time & was attempting to refresh herself we will never know...Miriam collapsed on the floor of the rest room & was subsequently rushed to the General Hospital two kilometres away.  Tragically, she was pronounced dead before she could be admitted, & was buried three days later at Toowong Cemetery.

However, the other tragic death could very possibly pinpoint the origin of our haunting...

On the 21st of December 1937, the streets of Brisbane were alive with people making their way between stores in the final days before Christmas.  Amongst the flurry of shoppers on Adelaide Street, Policewoman Eileen O'Donnell went about her daily routine as she walked along the footpath towards the corner of Albert Street...however, it became instantly clear that something was amiss.  Scanning ahead, she noticed the stream of pedestrians coming to a standstill, as more & more began to gasp & point as they craned their heads towards the sky.  Following the gaze of the shoppers towards the City Hall's clock tower, she was horrified to see a young lady outside the safety netting, edging her way around the narrow ledge beyond the observation platform.  Spying another Officer nearby on point duty, Policewoman O'Donnell dashed forward, however her attempt to raise the alarm was in vain - before her eyes, & those of the crowd milling in Adelaide & Albert Streets, the woman fell from the top of the tower, striking the roof of City Hall with a sickening crash.  In league with other Officers & Ambulance bearers, Policewoman O'Donnell rushed into the foyer of the building and made her way towards the lift.  The broken body of 31 year old Hilda Angus Boardman, whom Eileen had spied on the clock tower only minutes earlier, was found sprawled on the concrete floor of a small room in the vicinity of the entrance to what is now King George Square.

It was discovered that after plummeting from the tower, Hilda had crashed through the galvanised iron roof, striking and breaking a heavy beam in the process.  Horribly, the roofing iron & beam slowed her descent just enough to ensure that the impact on the concrete floor did not kill her instantly.  However, Hilda had still sustained massive injuries from the 45 metre fall, & was immediately treated on-site for a depressed fracture of the skull, & puncture wound to the left side, in the hope she could be stabilised for the dash to the General Hospital.  Within hours of admission, however, Hilda passed away due to massive internal injuries that defied the best efforts of the hospital's surgeons.  In the days that followed, Hilda would be laid to rest in Toowong Cemetery & it  would be revealed that she had recently been an inmate of a private hospital - a sign that she had likely been suffering from an ongoing mental illness at the time she had climbed out past the safety netting on the City Hall's tower.  Tragically, after taking her own life, she left her husband to care for their two young children, & to this day Hilda rests on her own, alone, in a single grave plot in the back corner of Toowong Cemetery alongside Mt Coot-tha Road.

So...does the female phantom of Brisbane City Hall date back to the days of early Brisbane Town, resulting from a tragic drowning death many decades before the construction of the building?  Does the staircase spectre belong to that of Hilda Boardman, who's life ebbed away on the concrete floor of a small room just off the foyer?  Or, alternatively, could it be possible that both of these possibilities are incorrect?  Could the spirit simply be that of a long-departed Brisbane socialite, who spent many happy nights attending the luxurious balls & functions held within City Hall's spectacular auditorium, returning to relive past memories??  My bet is, we will never truly know...