A silent killer stalked the corridors of a crowded hotel in Boston Heights, creeping from room to room during a night of unexpected horror.
Hundreds of guests gathered Nov. 18, 1967, at the Yankee Clipper Inn off state Route 8 at Hines Hill Road north of the Ohio Turnpike.
For many, it was a Saturday evening to celebrate, a raucous night of dining, drinking and dancing. For others, it was a quiet night of relaxation, a welcome respite after a long day’s journey.
Slowly but relentlessly, events spun out of control.
The cavernous complex was loud and bustling. More than 500 people were enjoying a Shriners dinner dance sponsored by El Hasa Temple 28 of Cleveland. Dozens more were attending a conference of the Lithuanian Medical Association. Others arrived early for a Sunday meeting of the National Association of Dance and Affiliated Artists.
Cleveland residents George and Ruth Harris, both 40, began to feel dizzy about 6:30 p.m. but chalked it up to the flu or maybe something they ate. They retired to their room, hoping to recuperate. About 11:30 p.m., George Harris called the front desk to report that his wife had fainted and needed help.
Yankee Clipper manager Robert Joyce interrupted the meal of Dr. V.L. Ramanauskas, a Richmond Heights physician, and asked if he could examine the Harris couple.
“When I looked at them, I was suspicious that they were suffering either from something they had taken into their stomachs or from inhalation,” Ramanauskas later told the Beacon Journal.
He urged Joyce to send the couple to a hospital.
Boston Heights Patrolman Walter Odum escorted the ambulance to St. Thomas Hospital, where Dr. Glenn East was on duty in the emergency ward at 12:20 a.m. Sunday.
The Cleveland couple complained of pounding headaches and extreme fatigue. Their cheeks were flushed and their fingernails had a reddish hue.
Just then, another ambulance arrived with John and Beverly Whitehead, a Rockford, Ill., couple with the same symptoms. They were guests at the Yankee Clipper, too.
“I called the nursing supervisor and told her I thought we had a big problem,” Dr. East told the Beacon Journal.
The doctor asked Patrolman Odum to call the Summit County Sheriff’s Office and send every ambulance possible to the hotel. He suspected carbon monoxide.
Back at the Yankee Clipper, guests were falling ill. Many went to their rooms to rest, a logical decision that turned out to be a terrible mistake.
“People started getting sick, having difficulty breathing, keeling over,” Cleveland Shriner George Miller recalled from his hospital bed.
Toledo resident John Schroeder, 42, and his family returned to the hotel after visiting friends in Hudson. They found a delirious man crumpled in a hallway.
When Schroeder called the front desk, no one came to help. Then he and his wife, Joan, began to feel sick, too.
“I thought I was having a heart attack,” he recalled.
He woke up at St. Thomas after losing consciousness.
Sirens wailed as dozens of ambulances arrived at the Yankee Clipper. Two hundred police officers, deputies and firefighters converged on the scene about 1:30 a.m. Pajama-clad guests stumbled into the parking lot in a fog of confusion while crews administered oxygen and whisked victims away on stretchers.
Officers knocked on doors to rouse guests in the hotel’s northern wing. There were seven stories, 21 rooms to a floor, and most were occupied.
Groggy guests were informed of the danger and told to evacuate the hotel. When there was no answer at doors, safety crews broke into rooms.
They discovered carbon monoxide victims sprawled on floors, stretched across beds, moaning incoherently.
Deputies found Elyria sisters Mary Bishop, 56, and Betty Bishop, 53, unconscious in a second-floor room. Betty owned a dance studio and Mary was a registered nurse.
A nephew said they planned to “live it up for the weekend” before Sunday’s meeting of dance studio operators.
“We worked on them about 20 minutes — got all the windows open and used up four or five bottles of oxygen,” Deputy Norman Smith told the Beacon Journal. “Then we tried mouth-to-mouth respiration. It was no good. They were gone.”
On the fifth floor, officers entered the room of honeymooners Bruce and Joan Plagman, who had just gotten married Saturday morning at Ascension Church in Cleveland. An unopened bottle of champagne was on a nightstand.
The bride, 21, was revived with oxygen but the groom, 22, could not be resuscitated.
The couple had checked in at 9:30 p.m., unpacked suitcases and settled in for the night when Joan began to feel ill.
“Bruce ran in and carried me to the bathroom because I was so sick,” a sobbing Joan Plagman told a reporter at St. Thomas. “Then he put me on the bed. He sat next to me, calling my name and patting my face. He never complained about himself.
“The next thing I remember I was in the hospital. I thought I was in the motel dispensary. I kept asking the nurses to get Bruce for me.”
She received the horrifying news that her husband had died on their wedding night.
Dr. Thomas P. Scuderi, a sheriff’s physician, commented grimly on carbon monoxide: “There isn’t a damn thing you can do. The only thing that helps is fresh air. You die so damn easy you don’t even know that you died.”
Crews evacuated the Yankee Clipper by 3:30 a.m. In addition to the three deaths, more than 100 people were sickened and more than 60 were hospitalized, including six officers overcome while ushering guests to safety.
Investigators traced the poisonous gas to a swimming-pool heater in a basement laundry room. Its vent had been installed too closely to a fresh-air intake, which spread fumes through ducts to the upstairs.
“This is an improper installation,” Summit County Building Inspector Anthony J. Horack noted the day after the incident.
Following a month of investigation by a blue-panel team, the case was closed as a horrible malfunction.
“There are no criminal charges we could file on the basis of our investigation,” Summit County Prosecutor James V. Barbuto announced Dec. 20.
A week later, the hotel’s furnishings and equipment were sold at a sheriff’s sale to help pay $70,000 in debts.
The tragedy was the last straw for the Yankee Clipper, which was built for $4.2 million in 1962 but suffered a series of financial troubles and lawsuits before falling into receivership.
Ownership changed often. The building served as the Golden Dolphin, Brown Derby Inn, Regency Inn, Red Roof Inn, Days Inn and Hudson Inn. Nothing seemed to last.
Abandoned and deteriorating, the condemned building was demolished in 2004.
The hotel disappeared floor by floor until there was nothing left of the sorrowful site.
Beacon Journal copy editor Mark J. Price is the author of The Rest Is History: True Tales From Akron’s Vibrant Past, a book from the University of Akron Press. He can be reached at 330-996-3850 or email@example.com.