Master Story Teller

Historic hotels have years and years of stories to tell. A challenge faced by owners and operators of America’s landmark hotels is to educate the staff on the property’s history and train them to embody the hotel’s culture.

One employee who doesn’t have to be schooled is Susan Stein. She’s the official historian at Grand Hotel in Point Clear, Alabama.

The 170-year-old resort destination is a member of Marriott’s Autograph Collection, joining the brand this year after a multi-million-dollar renovation. It is also a long-time member of Historic Hotels of America, a division of National Trust for Historic Preservation.

Many Historic Hotels of America members have on-site historians. Some are storytellers or rely on anecdotal remembrances while others, like Stein, spend a lot of time researching and cataloguing the hotel’s past.

She has a degree in art history, so maybe her passion for preserving stories and artifacts is innate.

Stein has been employed at the hotel for 33 years, but she only recently moved into the role of historian in March 2018.

She first served as an administrative assistant to the director of food and beverage. In 1995, she became administrative assistant to the general manager. She has worked with eight general managers over the years.

“About eight or 10 years ago I began doing little talks and presentations about the hotel,” she said. “We did not have anyone in an official historian capacity but guests and locals wanted to hear about the hotel so I began to do presentations and it just grew from there.”

Among her colleagues Stein has a reputation as a pack rat. So she’s always collected and saved artifacts, memorabilia, guest registries, documents and other ephemera related to the property.

At the time of Long Live Lodging’s interview with Stein, a guest registry from 1906 was on loan at a neighboring town’s museum. “It’s wonderful because 113 years ago we can show who was here at the hotel on a particular day. People came from all over the world. The drawing card was Mobile, people shipped and received things at the port of Mobile from all over the world.”

Stein helps families tell their stories and to piece them together.

She often gets requests from people who want to verify their grandparents or parents were married or honeymooned at Grand Hotel.

Stein painstakingly looks through old guest registries to get an answer.

If she finds the couple’s name, she makes a copy for the guest.

If a couple returns to celebrate an anniversary, Stein will find their first registration and places the book at the front desk for them to sign again.

One thing she cannot find out is who all has owned Grand Hotel over the years. Alabama State Retirement Fund has been the owner for the past 20 years.

Stein said she’ll keep digging to find out about past owners as well as other things about Grand Hotel. Her curiosity is insatiable.

“I am always working on some aspect of the hotel’s history.”

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