The Atlantic Hotel: An artists’ commune and horror setting

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Angelic Knight Press has released a sneak peek at the cover art for No Place Like Home: Tales from a Fractured Future.  This is the first opportunity I’ve had to see the other authors, and I’m clearly in good company on this one.  Some great artwork from Rebecca Treadway.

For more information, click here.

What does the future hold?

Next Friday, in honor of Halloween, I’ll be featuring an analysis of one of my childhood favorites, “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown.”

Yeah, that’s right.  I’ll be talking about Charlie Brown.

But without further ado…

I lived in Missoula, Montana for about six years.  Of the many places I’ve lived, it has to be one of my favorites.  I finished my undergraduate degree at the University of Montana back when their program was one of the top five in the country.

I’ve been out of the loop for awhile, but back then, you couldn’t swing a dead cat without hitting a writer. The town had a history with writers.  Poet Richard Hugo taught at the University for 18 years (there was a great photograph of him in one of the classrooms, I think, sporting a cigar and a tumbler of bourbon).  David Lynch was born in Missoula, and there are hints of the town in his Twin Peaks series.  There’s just a certain atmosphere about the town that seems to draw in artists.  Hell, it’s why I went there.

I remember several people telling me before I moved that Missoula was also well-known for the fact that “it has more bars than people.”  Well, okay, that sounded good, too.  This was obviously some hyperbole, but the downtown does sport a wide variety of pubs, from modern sports bars to cowboy bars to the Oxford, a saloon and cafe established in 1883 now open 24 hours where you can still get brains and eggs (if you’re feeling brave… or drunk).

Hmm.  Maybe this contributes to the large writer population as well.

But there is also a good bit of history in the downtown.  One of these places is the Atlantic Hotel.  From Montana History Wiki:

The construction of the Milwaukee Road and the reconstruction of the Northern Pacific Railroad through Missoula sparked a second railroad-era building boom in the early twentieth century. The need for accommodations for both railroad workers and passengers occasioned the construction of several hotels at the city’s north end near the depot. The Atlantic Hotel was one such establishment, designed by Missoula’s most celebrated turn-of-the-twentieth-century architect, A. J. Gibson. Completed in 1902, the ground floor included a barber shop, saloon, and restaurant with the “best meals in the city.” Patrons could secure lodging on the two upper floors for seventy-five cents and up.

Currently, the Atlantic serves as something of an artist’s commune, with almost every square inch of available space taken by some form of art or another.  Even though it is a residential space, the Atlantic used to be part of the First Friday art tour.  I spent more than a few interesting evenings in the Atlantic with some fascinating people (and not just on First Friday…sometimes more like “late night Friday/early morning Saturday”).  And it seemed like a perfect place for the protagonist of my novel, The Imaginings, to live when he showed up in Missoula.

Here is an excerpt from The Imaginings to give you an idea of the place (and also, of course, of the story).  Special thanks to Steve O. (dharmpunk at Flickr) for permission to use his photos.  All photos can be clicked on for more detail.

“view from my room” courtesy of dharmpunk. This is a hallway.

Oh, and currently the ground floor of the Atlantic is home to Circle Square Secondhand Store.  If you’ve read The Imaginings, this store was the inspiration for Buck’s Shop or Drop, the pawn shop Jeannie goes into in Idaho (the one with the Elvis collection).  But anyway…

From Chapter 9 of The Imaginings:

[David] opened his eyes to blue sky, with just a hint of wisps of white, and for a moment, he felt free, back in the mountains of Colorado, camping with the kids.  Or even better, Ann.

Then David saw the crack that split the sky, the crack in the plaster of the ceiling that a previous tenant had painted in an attempt to give the small room in the downtown apartment building limitless possibilities, and he wondered if he would ever be free.

The demon had returned.  Or caught up.  Whatever.  Maybe it had never been gone in the first place.  Recent events led David to suspect the latter, and he wondered if he was alone even now.

. . .

He was quite a sight when he showed up in Missoula, his beard grown in on the side of his face unscarred by the fire, looking haggard but hard.  A nice woman at the Poverello Center, the local soup kitchen, had helped him get a job.  David hadn’t swung a hammer for a living since college, but it was a job he could get without his employer asking too many questions.  Then he found the Atlantic Hotel.

“looking at my room” courtesy of dharmpunk. Another shot of a hallway.

David looked around his room.  With the bed, a small desk, and a chair, there was barely much space to move.  The sky-painted ceiling hadn’t been the last resident’s only contribution.  She also painted the walls.  Evergreen trees.  And through a break in the trees, she had painted a jagged mountain peak in the distance.  The manager told him it was supposed to be somewhere in Glacier National Park.  It had been the only room available at the time of his application.  Even in civilization, he couldn’t escape the wild.

David threw on some jeans and a sweatshirt.  Saturday morning.  No work today.  But he had plans nonetheless.  He stepped out into the hallway, where plants hung from the high ceiling and filled in the spaces on the walls unoccupied by artwork, making the already narrow passageway almost impassable in spots if two people were coming from opposite directions.  The Atlantic was quiet as he made his way to the kitchen.  Saturdays were often quiet, as most residents were either nursing hangovers or already gone for the day in pursuit of some sort of outdoor activity.

“more hallway + mural” courtesy of dharmpunk

David passed the door to the last room before the kitchen.  The girl living there had affixed a white-washed picket fence to the wall on either side of her door.  Strips of canvas in the shape of a house framed the door and hung down behind the fence.  David had overheard her telling a friend that she called it Home.  “With a question mark,” she said.

Most of the time, David liked the fact that, for all intents and purposes, he lived in an art gallery.  Most of the time, the creativity inspired David.  It added a little color to a life that had been gray for too long.

“going down” courtesy of dharmpunk

Sometimes the chaos was a little too much.  Sometimes his own memories provided him with enough torment to fill the hallways; he didn’t need the constant reminder of others’ pain, especially evident in some of the darker artwork that he had noticed during the previous winter.

More recently, since the return of the demon, David felt like an exhibit himself, or like he was part of one.  Like he was being watched.  Tested.  Maybe by the demon.   Maybe God.  Maybe both.  And more recently, “Home” only reminded him of something he may never experience again.  Instead, as he walked into the open kitchen, a headless dressmaker’s doll in the corner with feathers glued to her arms seemed to welcome him to another day on display.

“2nd floor common room” courtesy of dharmpunk

He reached up for the cereal box that had his initials written on it.  He was wondering when the demon would make another appearance when he heard a cough from behind him.  Someone in the common area across the hall from the kitchen, or the “Uncommons” as they called it.

Is this it? he wondered.

(end of excerpt)

What do I want from you?

Have you ever visited Missoula?  It’s the greatest, right?

Have there been any buildings that have struck you as being a great setting for a story (besides the Shining hotel, of course)?

Check back next Friday for a little Halloween humor, Charlie Brown style.

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17 responses to “The Atlantic Hotel: An artists’ commune and horror setting

  1. I don’t know about a great setting for a story, but there was an old farmhouse that I used to explore as a child, that kind of scared me.
    It was at the top of a lane I would walk the dog on. No, actually, it wasn’t a lane, it was more of a footpath, a little used one at that. There was a stream that ran beside it (my Dad fell into it once, running after the dog!) and at the top, in the middle of nowhere, or so it seemed, there was the farmhouse.
    Half of it had fallen down, but you could still explore the remaining downstairs section, and climb up the rubble to explore the single room at the top.
    One time, with my cousin, we climbed up there and found a sheep carcass, laid out on a table. The bizarre thing was, it had a head, but the body had been completely gutted. Almost like one of those silly wolfskin rugs you see in films sometimes.
    That was freaky.
    Another time I was walking the dog up that path and I came across a chicken head poking up out of the ground, looking at me. Of course, in reality it had been chopped off at the neck, and then placed on the ground to look as though it had been buried up to the neck.
    Very bizarre.
    And a bit creepy.
    I just walked past it, holding the dog on a short leash to stop him from snatching it up and eating it.
    When we came back about twenty minutes later, the chicken head had gone.
    Wow. I haven’t thought of those things in a long time. I seem to remember taking a photograph of the sheep carcass, but where the hell it is I don’t know.
    There is a strong history of witchcraft in the North of England, where I come from. But those things I saw? Did they have anything to do with the occult?
    I don’t know. I doubt it to be honest.
    But still…. 😉

    • Yikes, Ken. Those are some great examples. You should definitely work that barn (and the path and the stream) into a story somewhere. The image of the chicken head sticking out of the ground is great (and yes, a bit bizarre and creepy). However, while I can see that as a funny joke, it sounds like you stumbled on something a little more occult-ish with that sheep.

      I dunno, my friend. I think you have the makings of something great here. The occult, innocence lost, the scary barn. Run with it, man 🙂

      And thanks for stopping by. Hope all is going well.

  2. BTW, love the photo of the stairs, going down. Reminds me of that scene in Psycho.

  3. Not wanting to hog your comments section, but here I come with another one. Yes thank you, all is going very well in life in general. The writing and the blogging has stumbled over the last few months, but I seem to be getting my mojo back at the moment, so that’s good.
    Just wanted to say, (and I should have said this in my first comment, really) well done on getting your story in the anthology, and I look forward to seeing it.
    Hope all is well with you, been good to stop by again. 🙂

    • Hog away, Ken. It’s good to hear from you. Glad to hear you’re back on track. I actually had the same stumbling over the summer, but I’ve been able to find some new focus the past few months. Oddly enough, I think the new craziness of my life as a result of the birth of my son has given me focus in other areas.

      Thanks for the congrats on the anthology. I’ll keep you posted.

  4. Great post, Paul. I’ve never been to Missoula, sadly, but I recently posted on my own blog about the city of Turin. Actually, Italy has quite a few creepy towns, not least the one I lived in when I first arrived here. It was an isolated place in the foothills of the Dolomites, full of architecture from the Fascist era which nobody had apparently thought to remove. The atmosphere was … weird, for reasons that I can’t quite explain. The suicide rate was double the Italian average, apparently. I couldn’t wait to get out of there, but I’ve often thought about what a great setting it would make for a horror story.

    In the English-speaking world, the Edinburgh vaults would make the perfect setting for a ghost story. I’ve been to many supposedly haunted places, but that was the scariest.

    • Hi Mari. I really enjoyed your post on Turin (and anyone else out there should read it, too. Just follow the link to Mari’s blog). I’m a little jealous that you’ve been to so many haunted places. I actually don’t think I’ve been to any… except there is that one place I hiked to that I ended up writing about in my flash piece The Death He Expected. That was a pretty weird experience. But I’ve never stayed in a haunted hotel or anything. Hoping to one day.

      Thanks for your comments.

  5. I have never been to Missoula, but now I want to go. I had no idea it was the birthplace of David Lynch! Thanks for the tour, the bit of history, and for including the setting so well in The Imaginings.

    Spooky places…. Fredericksburg, Viriginia. I went to college there, but before it was a college, it was a Civil War battlefield. During the Coffin Hop, one of my posts will be about an incident I experienced there.

    -aniko

    PS If those of you who stop by here haven’t read Paul’s book, I strongly encourage you to do that, possibly on the flight out to Missoula! Wouldn’t that be a lovely pairing? Like a good red wine and a perfectly done steak.

    • Wow, Aniko. Thanks for the kind words about The Imaginings. And you’ve used a great metaphor. Because flying to Missoula would be expensive, just like a good red wine and a perfectly done steak 🙂

      And Fredericksburg, eh? That’s pretty crazy that the college was on a Civil War battlefield. Seems like a bad idea to me. I look forward to seeing your post about the incident.

      Thanks again.

  6. My father was the third (maybe) fourth owner of the Dillon House in La Mesa.. Dillon House was a three-level (including walk out basement) Spanish Colonial style built in 1934 and is now a designated historic landmark with zoning use of agricultural preserve. While the house is large, it seemed huge to me when I was a young boy in the early 1950’s. Although, I recall no horrific events while we lived there, the place had several features that might lend well to a scare or two. By the way, my dad and I loved the house, my mother, for some reason, actively disliked (code word for hated) it. The roof was old, curved red tile which made a nice home for a number of rats. Some nights you could hear them scratching around above the ceiling. Also on the top floor there was a one foot square laundry chute that went to the basement…three-floors down. Envisioning her son stuck upside down between floors, my mother nailed it shut. Poe would have loved it. Once in the basement (by chute or by stairs) you, of course, found a laundry but also food storage, a horse tack room and tool storage and, best of all, a meat cutting room and a walk-in meat locker. Spoiled sport that she was, my mother took the locking feature off the latch. You’re the horror writer so you can take it from here. By the way, the house is now home to six people ages 51-86.

    • Sounds fascinating. We’ll have to talk more about this at some point. Great point about Poe. He was definitely afraid of premature burial, and I imagine must of that was probably linked to claustrophobia as well. I’ll have to think about this setting for a story. I feel like laundry chutes have been used for good scare factors in other stories. Nice touch that it was nailed shut. You’ll have to let me know if there are any pictures. I can envision it, though.

      Thanks for the comments.

  7. OK, I have to go there!

    • The whole town is worth a visit. Hoping to move back to Montana some day. But definitely make a stop at the Atlantic. Just be sure to make up a story about how you used to live there. Some tenants get a little irked by random people just walking into the building to look around.

      Thanks for stopping by. Hope all is well.

  8. That is a really cool place. It would be awesome to live there, at least for a little while. Minus the demon, of course.

    • It was pretty cool, although I wonder if I could’ve lived there for any long period of time. Might be a little to hectic… at least visually. I think they finally stopped having the First Friday tours through the building (see my response to Hunter’s comments) for that very reason. Again, though, spent some good times there visiting friends.

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