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Checking Into the Chelsea Hotel, Where Ghosts Are Welcome Guests

A renovation of the historic (some say haunted) building weaves a wealthy past into a comfortable, cool present.

A guest room at the Chelsea Hotel.

A guest room at the Chelsea Hotel.

Photographer: Annie Schlechter

The past hangs heavy at the Chelsea Hotel. Anyone with a taste for culture can pick their favorite soul who inhabited the gilded flophouse on 23rd Street in Manhattan, the city’s tallest building when it was completed in 1884. Thomas Wolfe, writing You Can’t Go Home Again in the 1930s. Dylan Thomas, who drank too much and contracted a fatal case of pneumonia here in 1953. Jasper Johns in the late 1960s, between his flag and crosshatch periods. Edie Sedgwick after the height of her Factory days. Patti Smith and Robert Mapplethorpe sharing a room on the 10th floor for $55 a week circa 1969. Betsey Johnson and Madonna before they were famous. Sid Vicious and Nancy Spungen in 1978—you may have heard how that went.

In the ’60s, Arthur Miller checked in, tail between legs after his split from Marilyn Monroe. “The Chelsea’s walls could tell a lot about the self-loathing of talented people,” he wrote.