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Arthur Aylesworth (Adventurer)

Editor's Note: This dialog was found on the Internet on the web site for the Lakeside Inn, Lakeside, Michigan.  I have not found any other information about this Arthur.  This is a very interesting account of one of ours -- a must read!

The Lakeside Inn has a long and varied history, both as a building and as an institution. In the 19th century, the area was a major site for commercial fishing, and for logging. Much of the timber to rebuild Chicago after its disastrous fire in 1871 was shipped across Lake Michigan in boats that were loaded at massive piers near where the Lakeside Inn now stands.  By the 1890s Lakeside was already becoming a summer resort community for Chicagoans, with its delightful location on the lake, and good railroad transportation. Because the prevailing winds are from the west, it has the best of both worlds as compared to Chicago — cooler air temperatures in the summer, and warmer lake water for swimming.

Seventy-eight acres including land now occupied by the Lakeside Inn were purchased in 1844 by Alfred Ames, who came from Vermont.  Ames and his bride built a cabin on the property. They had a son named Fisher Ames who eventually started a small resort there called Pleasant Grove. The Ames Grove was also the meeting place of the Lakeside Anti-Horse Thief Association, formed in 1876. Legend has it that a horse thief was once hanged from a beech tree on the bluff along the lake, in front of where the hotel now stands.

The most illustrious owner of the property was Arthur Aylesworth. He and his brother discovered the resort as boys on a camping trip, and in 1901 persuaded their parents to purchase it, including almost 30 acres of land for $4,500. Arthur Aylesworth's father died in 1917, and two years later his mother deeded the property to him. He had been a world adventurer, having traveled in South America, and produced films about his game hunting in Alaska. He had toured with Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show, operated a gambling hall and bar in Las Vegas, and had married and divorced Florence Young, the sister of a movie star named Clare Kimball Young. At this time the property was referred to as Aylesworth Grove and later as Aylesworth Hotel.

After the turn of the century automobile traffic had become more frequent on Lake Shore Road, which went all the way to Chicago, and the inn had to be expanded with the first of what ultimately would be three additions.

The hotel is located on a sand dune, and is basically three stories in height, but with an English basement at the rear, which is behind the crest of the hill. It has a half dozen ground floor entrances on its various sides. As far as is known, no architect was involved in its design. It has two large stone fireplaces, back to back, one in the lobby and the other in the ballroom.

Arthur Aylesworth not only operated the hotel, but owned much other property. He was always buying, mortgaging and selling land, in addition to starting the first telephone company in the area, and operating the local water works. As was unfortunately often the case in those days, he was hostile to Jewish people, and the advertisements for his subdivision, called Lakeside Park, contained the assurance these were "Restricted Properties." When Jewish families appeared at the hotel, it instantly became completely booked.

The most prosperous era for the Lakeside Inn was the 1920s when the economic boom and increased use of the automobile made it a major vacation spot for Chicagoans, and others. Rooms, which rented for $7.50 per night, were often reserved a year in advance, and Sunday dinner cost $2.50. The restaurant employed African-American waiters who worked at the Palmer House in Chicago during the rest of the year. Aylesworth had beautiful gardens, and a mini-zoo behind the hotel, which included a pet bear, deer, goats, and peacocks. There was gambling just off the lobby, and heavy consumption of liquor, especially during Prohibition. In fact, it is said the bootleggers' boats from Canada would beach themselves in front of the hotel, and the guests would wade out into the lake to help unload the cases of whiskey. Mayor Anton Cermak of Chicago was a frequent visitor to the inn, and some say Al Capone must have eaten there, since he often stayed at a farm in nearby Berrien Springs.

The 1930s brought economic depression, which affected Aylesworth and the hotel. He went bankrupt more than once, but somehow managed to maintain ownership of the inn. At the time of World War II a local farmer sold him 200 chickens every Friday during the summer season, indicating that at least 400 chicken dinners were being consumed each weekend at the hotel. At one time there was a plan to turn it into a retirement home, and the ramp from the lobby to the ballroom was installed to accommodate wheelchairs.

Aylesworth maintained ownership of the property into the 1950s. By that time, his second wife had died. She was an actress, named Virginia Harned, who toured the country in a play called "The Woman He Married," produced by her husband. To this day her presence is felt in the building by many, especially in and near room 30. Years before her death she was shot, but not killed by Aylesworth, who claimed it was an accident. Local belief, however, ran contrary. During the massive rehabilitation of the building in 1995, a towel was found hidden in a wall with Aylesworth's initials on it, and apparent blood stains. The workers on the job speculated that it was related to the shooting decades earlier.

At the end of his life, Aylesworth, who lived in the inn, would watch a tiny television set in the lobby, until he fell asleep. At about 10:00 o'clock each night, the handyman who lived in one of the out-buildings behind the inn, would be awakened, he says by the ghost of Virginia Aylesworth, and he would go to the inn, wake up Mr. Aylesworth, and tell him it was time to undress and go to bed. Through the following decades, many guests have detected the presence of the ghost of Mrs. Aylesworth. There is less agreement as to whether there's also a male ghost on the premises, presumably Mr. Aylesworth. A guest at a recent wedding in the ballroom swears she saw his outline there, complete with his pet raccoon on his shoulder. In any event, all indications are they are harmless, and pleased with the inn's current reincarnation.

Aylesworth eventually lost the inn to a foreclosure by the Niles Bank. He died in the University Hospital at Ann Arbor, where they did not know of his illustrious background, and almost used his remains for experimentation by the students. A doctor from the hospital, however, happened to mention on the phone to the township lawyer of Lakeside, that one of their residents had died there, and when the people from Lakeside realized what happened, several men went to Ann Arbor to claim the body, and bury it in a plot at the Lakeside Cemetery, which he had purchased many years before. Within a few years the hotel property had been obtained by Bob Creevy, who installed a baby clothing factory in the ballroom, but still rented rooms upstairs during the summer. The property was in a state of some disrepair, and neighborhood youngsters considered at least the upper floors to be haunted. One of their "dares" was for a child to run into an open door of the Inn, run upstairs to the haunted section, and then flee. This reputation was undoubtedly enhanced by the fact that years before, Aylesworth had a stuffed bear in the inn, and a gorilla suit which was sometimes put on to scare people. For example, Tom Dawson, a plumber in Lakeside, remembers when as a young man he was sent on an errand to the dark basement of the inn, someone jumped out at him in the gorilla outfit.

 

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