About the Author
Gertrude Chandler Warner was born in 1890 in Putnam, Connecticut, where she later taught school. She wrote The Boxcar Children because she had often imagined how delightful it would be to live in a caboose or freight car. Encouraged by the book's success, she went on to write eighteen more stories about the Alden children.
Read an Excerpt
"There it is, up on the hill," said Grandfather.
Violet looked out the window as the Aldens' car exited a grove of old oak trees. The mansion was still far off, but without trees in the way, she could already see it clearly.
"It's huge!" said Benny, Violet's six-year-old brother. He leaned past her and stuck his nose up to the window to get a better view.
Jessie scooted across the back seat to get a glimpse too. She was twelve — two years older than Violet. She held a bright yellow flier, which had the words GARDNER HOTEL GRAND REOPENING at the top. Tonight was the party to celebrate the grand reopening of the old hotel. And they were helping Grandfather's friend prepare.
Fourteen-year-old Henry, the oldest, sat in the passenger's seat. He had a map open in his lap.
"Turn left up ahead, Grandfather," he said.
Grandfather turned where Henry told him to. The car moved slowly down a gravel driveway, then it pulled into a loop in front of the hotel.
"It's so old and fancy," Violet said after they were all out of the car.
Jessie nodded. "Look at those bricks. They must be over a hundred years old!"
The hotel was three stories high, all built in deep red bricks. But it's steep, pointed gables made it look much bigger and fancier. Trimmed hedges and big pots of flowers surrounded the entrance.
"Juliette sure has done a good job fixing up this place," said Grandfather. "And here she comes now!"
A woman with straight black hair walked quickly out of the hotel. She wore a rose-colored suit that matched the building. In one hand she held a clipboard, and in the other she had a cell phone.
"She looks busy," Benny whispered.
"Grand openings are busy days," said Jessie.
"Hello, James! These must be your grandchildren!" The woman put her phone in her pocket and trotted down the front steps to greet them.
"Yes," said Grandfather. "Juliette, I'd like you to meet Henry, Jessie, Violet, and Benny. Children, this is Juliette Baker, a dear old friend of mine. She bought the Gardner Hotel after it closed and has been fixing it up ever since."
Juliette shook their hands one at a time.
"Nice to meet you," Henry said. "We're looking forward to helping you get ready for the big night."
"Grandfather's told us all about the building," Jessie added, holding up the flier. "I can't believe it was closed. It's so exciting that it's reopening!"
"It's been a lot of work," said Juliette. "I'm happy for the help tonight."
"Well, you children have a lot of fun ahead of you," Grandfather said. "I'm going to go pick up supplies for the party. I'll be back in time to celebrate though."
"Thanks, Grandfather!" Henry said. "See you soon!"
They waved to Grandfather as he got in the car and drove off. Then Juliette led the children inside.
"I'll give you a tour!" she said. "The hotel was a mansion when it was first built in the 1880s. This was what's called a grand entryway. In 1955, the Gardner family changed the mansion into a hotel, so this became the lobby. Pretty fancy, isn't it?" She winked.
"It's beautiful," said Violet.
The floor was tiled black and white, and the room was furnished with a large clock, a fireplace, and red velvet chairs and couches. Even the front desk was fancy, made of dark shiny wood carved in complex swirls.
Employees were hurrying back and forth hanging streamers and balloons and a sign that said GRAND OPENING. Two curving stairways on either side of the room led to the second floor. And in the middle was the strangest and most impressive part of the room. Between the two stairways was a shiny pipe organ.
Violet had seen pipe organs like it in books. The instrument looked like an upright piano except it had rows of brass pipes that rose out of the top. Some of them almost reached the ceiling.
"Is that a real organ?" Violet asked.
"Yes," said Juliette. For the first time, the children saw her smile fade a little. "Let's go down to the main office. We can go over the list of things I need help with."
"Isn't the organ supposed to have a keyboard?" asked Jessie.
"Yes, but it's been missing for some time," Juliette replied quickly. It seemed like she didn't want to talk about it. "Come on. The office is this way."
As the children followed Juliette, they passed an empty hallway, and Violet thought she heard the creaking of a door. But when she looked, there was no movement. The old hallway was spooky. She reminded herself of the first day she and her siblings had come to live with Grandfather. After their parents had died, they had been living in an old boxcar in the woods. Moving from the boxcar into Grandfather's house had been a big change, and sometimes the parts of the house they hadn't explored seemed scary. But after living there and getting used to it, the kids weren't nervous about any part of the old house. Not even down in the basement where Grandfather kept his old fishing rods and garden equipment.
Juliette opened the office door and let them in. The room was like every other part of the hotel, with fancy red carpet and luxurious furniture. A man dressed in jeans and a suit coat was sitting on the couch along with a suitcase and duffel bag. He was wearing expensive, shiny shoes and had thick black eyebrows. Juliette was surprised to see him.
"Excuse me," she said. "Can I help you?" "I'd like to book a room," the man said. "It's opening night, isn't it? The name's Eddie. Eddie Gardner."
Juliette frowned. "Eddie ... Charles Gardner's son?"
The Aldens stared at Eddie. This was the son of the man who had once owned the hotel!
"Yes," said Eddie, looking serious. "But now I'm just a guest. I came to see you because the clerk said you don't allow pets. Is that true?" "Yes. That's always been the policy in the hotels I've managed," said Juliette.
Eddie stood up and gently lifted his duffel bag. He shook his head. "My father loved pets. He would have allowed them."
"Even so, my rule is that we don't," Juliette said. "You're welcome to stay the night if you would like. But please, it's very important that the opening goes smoothly — especially with the rumors that caused the hotel to close in the first place.
"As you may know, the historical committee is coming to see the building. If they approve the hotel as a historical landmark, it will be protected by the historical registry. Wouldn't you like to see that, for your father's sake?"
Eddie eased the duffel strap over his shoulder.
"Yes, of course I would," he said. "Even if the only reason you want it is because it would be good for business." He got up to leave the office without saying hello or good-bye to the Aldens. As he walked through the door, something caught Violet's eye. She tugged on Henry's sleeve and nodded with her chin.
"What is it?" Henry asked.
"His bag," Violet said. "I think I saw it move!"CHAPTER 2
A MYSTERY AND A MISSION
The Aldens gathered around Juliette's desk. She shook her head.
"Having the last owner's son around is the last thing I need tonight ... but I guess it can't be helped. I just hope he doesn't cause a scene. I imagine he's upset that I took over the hotel that was in his family for generations."
Jessie remembered something Juliette had said. "You mentioned rumors to Mr. Gardner. Did something happen that caused the hotel to close?" she asked.
"Well ..." Juliette cleared her throat. "I might as well tell you. There are many reasons the hotel closed. I believe it's mostly because the old owner, Charles Gardner, stopped taking care of it. But many people believe that the real reason the hotel closed is because it's ... haunted."
"Haunted!" cried Benny. "Like by ghosts?" He tried to imagine what it might be like to stay in a hotel haunted by ghosts. There were so many dark hallways and empty rooms. He shivered, but it was exciting to think about.
"Yes," said Juliette. "The rumors really got out of hand when Charles Gardner was running the hotel in his old age. But they're just rumors. I've never heard any of the noises or seen any ghosts. All I know is that the stories are bad for business. People don't want to stay in a hotel that might be haunted."
"Don't worry," said Jessie. She knew Juliette was worried about the opening, especially because the historical committee was going to be there. "Everything is going to go great."
Henry agreed. "Jessie's right. We're here to help you get ready. Let us know where we should start."
Juliette let out a big breath. "Right! Right. Where was that list ...ah, here we go." She gave the Aldens a checklist from her clipboard. "These are the things you could help me with. When you are done, you can visit the kitchen for a snack. I let the chef know you're helping."
Jessie read over the list and handed it to Violet and Benny. Benny was just learning to read, so Violet helped him sound out some of the words.
"'Sweep the lobby. Wash the windows. Polish the railings,'" he read out loud. He knew how to do all of the things on the list! "And then the best part — snacks!"
Juliette smiled and led them out of the office. "Thank you! I'll show you where the cleaning closet is, where we keep the supplies."
As they headed toward the lobby, a man in a clerk's uniform hurried over. Jessie remembered seeing him decorating the lobby. He was out of breath. His cheeks were pale, like he'd seen something frightening. In his hand he had a white piece of paper.
"What's wrong, Alex?" asked Juliette. "You look like you've seen a ghost. Were they hoping to rent a room tonight?" She winked at Benny.
"I got a strange message just now. Someone left it at the front desk. It's ... it's ..." Alex had trouble finishing his sentence, so Juliette gestured for him to give her the paper. When he did, she read it out loud.
"'Bring my keys to Room 222 by midnight, or I will not rest until everyone is gone,'" she read. "What does that mean? Who left this?"
"I don't know," said Alex. "I went to help hang one of the streamers, and when I went back to the desk, it was waiting there. What keys do you think they're talking about? And isn't Room 222 off-limits?"
Juliette chewed on her lip, reading the note again. "Yes. That room isn't a guest room. No one should be staying there. Thank you, Alex. I'll take this from here, but if you see anyone suspicious, please let me know right away."
"Do you think this has something to do with ... the ghost?" asked Alex.
Juliette sighed and shook her head.
"No, Alex," she said. "For the last time, there's no such thing as ghosts."
Alex looked at the Aldens with nervous eyes then nodded and hurried back to the desk.
"Who do you think could have left the message, Juliette?" Henry asked.
"Why would someone want a pair of keys?" asked Jessie. The Alden children loved solving mysteries. They knew just the right questions to ask.
Juliette tapped a finger on her chin. "When I bought the mansion, I changed the locks to all the doors," she said. "But when I did, I found there were two identical keys that didn't go to any doors in the hotel. I thought they might be important, so I kept them."
Juliette took a key ring from her pocket. Most of the keys looked new. But two of them were bigger and heavier with fancy designs on the ends. She let Benny hold the keys.
"I wonder who wants them, and why?" Juliette wondered out loud.
"Maybe they're ghost keys that can open any door!" said Benny.
"I've got an idea," said Violet. "We're going to be tidying up all over the hotel, right? How about we take the keys with us and find where they go?"
"And we'll keep our eyes open for anyone who might have written the message," Jessie added.
"That's a great idea!" said Juliette. She took the two old keys off the ring and handed one to Henry and one to Jessie. "If we can figure out where the keys go, maybe we can figure out who wrote the message and what they want."
Henry nodded and put the key in his pocket.
"We'll take care of it," he said.
"Thank you," said Juliette. "Now, I've got to go help the chef. Please ask Alex if you need anything."
Juliette waved good-bye as she headed away.
"Where should we start?" Henry asked.
"Does anyone else want to hear the ghost story?" asked Benny. "It sounds like Alex knows it."
"You know, oftentimes ghost stories are based in truth," said Jessie. "If there's a rumor about the mansion that has to do with keys, maybe it could give us some clues about these real keys Juliette gave us."
"Let's see if he will tell us what he knows," Henry said.
They found Alex at the front desk. He was still pale from the mystery message.
"Hi, Alex," Jessie said. "Say, we heard you mention to Juliette something about a ghost ..."
"I want to hear the whole story!" Benny interrupted.
"Oh, that?" said Alex. He looked around nervously. "All right, but keep your voices down. Juliette doesn't like us talking about the ghost where guests might hear us."
Alex leaned in, and the Aldens did the same. Benny grinned with glee, waiting for Alex to speak.
"A long time ago," Alex began, "the Gardner Hotel was a mansion owned by the Gardner family. But the family fell on hard times, and they decided to turn their home into a hotel. The story goes that the boy who lived in the mansion was very upset about this. He loved to play his pipe organ. But with guests around all the time, he couldn't practice. The pipe organ was in the lobby, after all. Before long, he disappeared. No one saw him again."
"What happened to him?" asked Violet.
"The story goes that he died at a young age and that he was always mad about what happened to his home," said Alex. "Now he haunts the hotel, wandering up and down the halls and jingling his keys to remind everyone that they're in his house. And sometimes, in the middle of the night, he plays Charles Ivy pieces on the organ just to wake up the guests. Well ... that's what people say, anyway. They call him the Lost Composer."
A chill raced up Benny's neck. "Wow!"
"Charles Ivy?" Violet asked. "The famous composer? I think I've heard some of his music when we've gone to see the orchestra with Grandfather."
Alex shrugged. "Yeah. Apparently whenever the organ plays, it plays Charles Ivy's music. But I wouldn't know. It stopped before Juliette bought the building."
"That's a great story," Benny said. "I wonder why Juliette doesn't want people to know about it."
"Yeah, I'd think a ghost story like that might make people more interested in visiting," Henry said.
Alex shook his head. "Not these kinds of stories. People from all over started reporting knocking noises, heavy footsteps, and jangling in the hallways. But when they looked to see what was making all the noise, there was no one there. Just shadows and sometimes ghostly shapes in the mirrors. On top of that, after guests would leave, they would find that some of their belongings were missing. Keys, wallets, jewelry, things like that. But when they called the hotel, no one would be able to find the missing objects. It's one of the reasons the hotel had to close."
When Alex was done speaking, the children stood up straight again.
"I think this will give us something to think about," said Jessie. "But what exactly, I don't know."
"Thanks for the story," said Henry. "We're going to go looking for any old locks that might fit these keys Juliette gave us. Hopefully it will help us track down whoever wrote that message."
"I just hope the Lost Composer didn't write it," said Alex.
The Aldens went to the cleaning closet to get their supplies. Henry handed Jessie a broom and took out a vacuum cleaner for himself.
"All right, let's split into two teams," he said. "Violet, how about you and I clean the lobby."
Violet nodded. "Sure. Then we can search the first floor and the lower level to see if we can find what these keys unlock. Maybe there's something in the basement! That's where Grandfather keeps all the stuff he's forgotten about at his house, at least."
Jessie chuckled. "Benny and I will polish the bannisters and check the rooms on the upper floors," she said.
"Yeah!" Benny cheered. Getting ready for a party was fun, but it was even better now that there was a mystery to solve. "The Lost Composer isn't going to frighten any guests tonight — not if we can help it!" he said.CHAPTER 3
Jessie and Benny took a few cleaning cloths, a broom, and a dustpan, and headed up the grand staircase in the lobby. Jessie started sweeping the stairs. Benny polished the bannister posts, which were about as tall as he was. He rubbed the dark brown wood with his cleaning cloth until it was so shiny he could see his face looking back at him.
When they were done tidying up the grand staircase, they moved on to the hallway on the second floor. Jessie swept while Benny held the dustpan. As they went, they stopped at each door. Each one had antique brass knobs, but the locks were new. None of the doors had a lock that would fit the key Juliette had given them.
One of the doors was open so that the cleaning staff could tidy up. Jessie and Benny looked in.
"Are you the Aldens?" asked a woman who was straightening the bed. She was dressed in a hotel uniform. Jessie remembered seeing her in the lobby.
"Yes," Jessie said. "I'm Jessie and this is Benny. We were just passing by and happened to see the door was open."(Continues…)
Excerpted from "The Boxcar Children Midnight at the Haunted Hotel"
Copyright © 2018 Albert Whitman & Company.
Excerpted by permission of Albert Whitman & Company.
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