Jane Hotel

 


With age comes consideration and respect for others. I know that while I’m not a consistent snorer – there are occasions when people have been moved to check for a pulse – I can drive others to the brink of dark and heinous acts. The two strangers who shared a room with me in Barcelona in February 2008 will testify to their consideration of violence; fortunately they were content with shouting square in my face and shaking my bed like maniacs. I didn’t wake up. That first morning we all laughed about it. The second morning, not so much. 

18 months ago I decided I was too old for hostels; I needed my own space, at least for eight hours. What made my mind up was three largely sleepless nights spent at a hostel on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, watching wide-eyed as dark shapes scuttled across the walls. But where can you book a single room in New York that's anywhere near affordable? There are no doubt more to discover, but so far I've tried and can recommend AirBnB (ask somebody with NYC smarts before you book anything), the Americana Inn in Midtown (basic and well-placed for first time visitors, but request a room off the street), the Bowery House in the Lower East Side (quirky, cool, a great take on the traditional hostel set-up) and The Jane in Manhattan’s West Village. 


The Jane is my favorite (or at least it was until the room rate crept passed $100); not because of its off-beat personality or staff in bellboy attire, or the dainty single sailor's cabins, or the passable music collection of the DJ who entertains the crowds of 20 somethings in the Jane's ballroom. What draws me to The Jane is its kiss with history, when it found itself in the wake of an event that dominated world news in April 1912, an event that continues to reverberate throughout popular culture a century later. 


The Jane has been known by other names since 1908 when it opened as the American Seaman's Friend Society Sailors' Home and Institute. It was originally a flophouse for sailors and officers who disembarked at the piers that fingered the Hudson River opposite. Sailors would pay 25 cents a night for board in a cabin that accommodated a bed and little else – it was possible to touch opposite walls with fingertips. It still is, in fact.
 

On the eighteenth day of April 1912, the Institute provided shelter to a contingent of DBS – destitute British seamen. Destitute, because their wages had stopped the moment their ship slipped beneath the grey and cruel waters of the Atlantic. They were the crew of the RMS Titanic, lost at sea three days earlier while on its maiden voyage. 


The New York Times dated 20th April 1912 reported that the surviving crew were invited to the Institute for a prayer service. In sight of the White Star piers, shipmates filled their bellies with sandwiches and coffee. Some wept as they recalled the bitter, blunt horror of that night at sea, before they “coughed apologetically for their emotion.” The Women’s Relief Committee, upon hearing of their hardships, shouldered a purse of over $2,500 to be shared among the crew.
 

The men were determined not to let such frozen horror break their spirit as they roared “Nearer, my God to Thee” in unison. But throughout the evening, the crew shared their stories of that darkest of nights; of sailors paid gratuities by millionaires who clambered on board their lifeboats; of a fire that took hold below deck just an hour out of Southampton, in the part of the ship where the first bulkhead gave way to the sea.
 

�?And so the stories went,’ reported the New York Times. �?One told of hearing as many as twenty shots fired, among all the groans and cries that rose as the Titanic went down, shots which he thought were suicide shots. One told of a frantic swim for the raft that was soon so crowded they had to beat men off. One who climbed aboard had on a soldier’s uniform. He lay down on the raft and died, and they pushed him off to make room for the living.’
 

How many guests know of The Jane's history? How many know of the inconsolable despair heard by its walls, in prayers, in screams, in quiet sobbing? How many look no further than the price tag and the stag’s head that crowns the flamboyant lobby? Too few, perhaps. For me, it's another opportunity to understand New York and its place in the world. A stay at the Jane is always a night to remember.

 

 

   
"Twitchhiker – How One Man Travelled the World by Twitter" is Paul's book about his social media adventure around the world, published by Summersdale and available on Amazon.
 
Paul's next book, "Tales from the Edge of America" will be published in Spring 2012. You can subscribe to the book's mailing list to find out more.