In an evening filled with joy, sorrow and community, the legendary Bluebeard’s Castle Hotel was reopened Tuesday.
The joy was the culmination of two years and $13 million of labor that renewed the venerable historic site to its former glory.
The sorrow was for the loss of Sean O’Connell, who was shot and killed on April 1. O’Connell was project manager for Kraus-Manning, contractors for the renovations. A photograph taken on the site, hung as a silent tribute to O’Connell.
In a clearly heartfelt plea, Kraus-Manning principal Mike Kraus, asked the gathering for a moment of silence in O’Connell’s honor. Krause spoke of O’Connell’s dedication to the project, and how integral he was to its success.
"We and his family, have lost a very good man. We feel Sean’s spirit is here today," Kraus said. "I cannot imagine Sean would want it any other way."
Master of Ceremonies David Bornn, president of Downtown Revitalization, gracefully introduced the evening’s speakers, speaking of the hotel’s significance, while honoring O’Connell’s widow Lucinda O’Connell’s presence at the event.
Perhaps no other landmark sets off St. Thomas’ checkered past like the legendary Bluebeard’s Castle. Now, Bluebeard may or may not have inhabited the tower bearing his name. Nobody really knows, but it has made a seductive and compelling story over the years. And it sells.
In any event, the old swashbuckler would likely have relished the glory surrounding his name at Tuesday night’s reception, where with a tip of the hat to history, folks saw the results of two years of labor, bringing the property back to its former elegance.
Felipe Ayala, Historic Preservation Commission chairman, who likely has more local history in his little toe than most of us come across in a lifetime, shared some of that knowledge, focusing on Eduardo Henriquez Moron, who bought the original property in 1889 for $6,000.
A busy man about town, entrepreneur and businessman, Moron owned a coaling company with 16 ships. The property gave Moron a vantage point to keep an eye on marine activity. Ayala said Moron would blow a great blast horn, to alert his workers of approaching ships.
Bluebeard’s became a property fit for a prince, Ayala said, and Moron was called the "Merchant Prince" at that time.
Hotelier Mary Gleason, who started out working at Bluebeard’s "many decades ago," shared anecdotes about the hotel’s more recent history, including stories about a taxi driver who called himself "bedspread." He told the visitors that was because "he got turned down so often." "The tourists just ate that up," Gleason said.
Tourism Commissioner Beverly Nicholson-Doty praised the importance the effort the hotel has put into the community, while Mark Farrell, speaking for Bluebeard’s Castle’s board of directors and SPM Resorts, praised the work of contractors Kraus-Manning and McAlister & Associates, and Margaret Johnson, Bluebeard’s general manager.
Winding up the early evening ceremony, Gov. John deJongh Jr. spoke movingly of many things — his childhood memories, pirates, business – and the community he governs. "Many of us dream of an evening like this, standing before a historic building before a ribbon-cutting," he said. "But the fact that Lucinda , Sean O’Connell’s wife, could be here this evening speaks a lot about the community."
Turning to his own childhood, the governor recalled "working in my dad’s office when I was about 12, running errands up here where Mr. Glumidge would be sitting with friends in the patio, and I’d take things to Mr. Paiewonsky down the hill."
The governor added, "About those pirates. Now, I know all of that is true They were here; the taxi drivers said so."
On a more somber note, deJongh said, "We have had a tough two years…It starts with people who believe. And businesses who hire local people like Toni Jackson of Silk Greenery who did all the interior decorating. And the woman here tonight who just lost a husband, a community who really wants to change the present."
Jackson took a tour around the handsome lobby decorated with original paintings with a unique take on historical figures. "We found these in a storeroom downstairs. They were caked in dirt. They’re signed by artist Phil Brinkman."
Jackson, who also redecorated the rooms, said, "I’m just so pleased they used a local business."
The hotel’s courtyard and many walkways all beam with new stonework, paint and plantings, giving the grande dame her just due.