Historic Bed And Breakfast In Kalamazoo, Mich., Extends A Grand Invitation To Visitors

KALAMAZOO, Mich. —Nighttime and 10 degrees.

A perfect time to use the rooftop hot tub.

In our bathing suits, we followed innkeeper Bob VanAman up narrow stairs to a sliding glass door in the ceiling. It opened, sprinkling us with bits of ice. The frigid air hit.

"Are you sure?" Bob said worriedly, and we went out. On the roof, four stories up, my slippers slid in the snow. I grasped the iron railing. Bob folded open the cover of the hot tub, then retreated. We slid in, bobbing like dumplings in the steaming water. All was still. Beyond the roof were the twinkling lights of Kalamazoo and the stars above.

"There's steam coming off your head," my husband said.

How romantic. And actually, it was.

Many bed-and-breakfasts have fluffy bedspreads. Almost none have a hot tub next to a giant rooftop turret.

But the eccentric 1895 Henderson Castle, a lauded bed-and-breakfast since 2005, is not your typical hotel, nor even your typical B&B. No gingerbread frou-frou here — it's all grand stained glass, ponderous parquet, marble floors and massive antiques.

It also has a very odd collection of bedrooms decorated in Tibetan, Dutch, Italian, French and Nature themes.

The bedrooms have no televisions or telephones, but they are chock full of marble statues and oil paintings, custom lighting and period furniture (it might be just me, but I'd like to see more luxurious bedding and flat-screen TVs as well.) Each bedroom looks out onto gardens. There is even a carriage house cottage out back.

Built for the Henderson family in 1890s, the red sandstone and brick mansion on Monroe Street is maybe the luckiest old house in Michigan.

It was a luxurious private home to the Hendersons, who made their fortune as military uniform and ceremonial sword makers. Then it sat empty (1936-45), became an apartment building, a Kalamazoo College property, then again a private home. In 2005, attorney Fred Royce sold it lock, stock and barrel to local residents Peter and Laura Livingstone-McNelis for $1.3 million.

Immediately, word got around that the couple was going to turn it into a bed-and-breakfast: "and before we even opened, people were knocking on the door wanting to come in and stay overnight, and they didn't care if there was no breakfast or matching sheets," says Peter Livingstone-McNelis.

The new owners ripped down high hedges that hid the castle from the town. They left most of Royce's eclectic decorating intact, renovated the gardens, expanded the parking lot and flung open the doors.

Now used for weddings, meetings, community events, overnight guests and public tours, it has sprung to life again.

It's on the National Register of Historic Places, the Select Registry of historic inns and was named by AAA as one of the top three Michigan historic inns (along with the Grand Hotel and the Dearborn Inn.)

Walls in the public spaces are hung with medieval tapestries and swords. Chandeliers glitter from the ceilings. In the nature bedroom, called the Earth and Sky room, a ceiling mural depicts the astrological chart, but each bedroom has its own quirks. It costs $150 to $275 a night to stay at the castle, depending on the night and the room you choose.

After the evening rooftop hot tub experience, we returned to the third floor of the mansion. We tried the sauna. We then returned to the Dutch Room bedroom, decorated with blue-and-white Delft tiles, lace curtains and big, heavy Dutch furniture.

I was sound asleep when I felt a tap, tap, tap on my shoulder. I heard a voice whisper, "Go away."

I bolted upright. It was pitch dark. My husband slept, a lump on the far side of the big bed. Nobody else was there. Obviously, a dream. I lay back on the damp sheets, drifting back to sleep, when it occurred to me. What if it wasn't a dream? What if I was sleeping in the room of a spirit who wanted it back?

The next morning in the bright dining room, the other guests talked of hot tubs and the weather. It seemed silly to bring up ghosts while we were eating omelets and muffins, so I let it be.

I do know that Henderson Castle would be perfect for murder mystery weekends, a romantic night, a wedding, and maybe Halloween paranormal parties. They offer all of these things, plus dances, special catered dinners and more (see, 269-344-1827.)

Don't forget to try the hot tub when you're there, and if someone taps you on the shoulder in the middle of the night, don't startle.