In a Sept. 22, 1951 file photo, Elizabeth Taylor is shown at the premiere of "The Lady with the Lamp" at the Warner Theater in London. Publicist Sally Morrison says the actress died Wednesday, March 23, 2011 in Los Angeles of congestive heart failure at age 79. (AP Photo/File)
The story goes something like this: Screen legend Elizabeth Taylor graced the sheets in Room 531 at the Lookout Mountain, Ga., hotel that now is Covenant College.
It was 1959 and she was on her honeymoon with fourth husband Eddie Fisher. The newlyweds were supposedly drawn to the ultra-chic mountaintop resort for its sweeping vistas and isolated feel.
Covenant acquired the hotel in 1964 and has since converted it into student housing and renamed it Carter Hall.
“Around campus, people are just like ‘Oh, that’s the room she stayed in,’” said Covenant freshman Hannah Irwin, who now lives in the room. “There was an article someone sent us that said for sure, and then I think Wikipedia says something about it.”
Taylor died early Wednesday at 79 after years of health struggles.
Her biography is the stuff of Hollywood legend: eight marriages, three Oscars and an acting career that spanned nearly six decades and a series of health problems that started when she was 12 and fell off a horse during the filming of the movie “National Velvet.”
Plenty of folks remember hearing about the Lookout Mountain hotel’s connection to Taylor. It has been repeated in the Chattanooga Times Free Press a handful of times over the years and, for a big part of the 1960s, tourists showed up at the private Presbyterian college to catch a glimpse of the room.
But aside from the stories and fuzzy memories passed down over the years, there isn’t much hard evidence of the trip.
“We were never really able to confirm it in any way at all,” said Collyn Schmidt, who worked at Covenant College from 1964 to 1991. “I think at this point, it’s really been disproven.”
Historical archives at the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Bicentennial Library record no such visit, though plenty of other celebrity spottings are listed in a file there. Covenant College officials have no record of the honeymoon, and only a handful of websites mention the visit, though none provides source information.
“I can’t imagine the hotel was in any condition to have guests in 1959,” said Schmidt, who lived on the fifth floor of the building when Covenant took it over. “It had been abandoned for some time when we moved in.”
Longtime Chattanooga Free Press Editorial Page Editor Lee Anderson, who was working at the paper in 1959, said he vaguely remembers her visit. He thinks he has written about it over the years.
Ruth Holmberg, former publisher of The Chattanooga Times, said she doesn’t remember Taylor’s visit at all, and she’s sure it would have been big news if it did happen.
But for the students who call Room 531 home today, the story is real.
“I’m pretty sure it’s true. It’s circulated all this time, so it can’t be false,” Irwin said.
Four of the five young women who now live in the room — including Schmidt’s granddaughter — came to Covenant already knowing the story. When visitors drop by, Irwin said Taylor’s connection to their dorm is shared.
“When people come over, you can just be like ‘Hey, guess what? Fun fact,’” Irwin said.
Though their room comes with extra square footage and a prime spot in the old hotel’s iconic tower, the Elizabeth Taylor story is a cool piece of history. But Taylor’s reputation, with the marriages and all, kind of clashes with the private, Christian college’s image.
“It’s not quite standard Presbyterian Church of America action,” Irwin said with a laugh.
Adam Crisp covers education issues for the Times Free Press. He joined the paper's staff in 2007 and initially covered crime, public safety, courts and general assignment topics. Prior to Chattanooga, Crisp was a crime reporter at the Savannah Morning News and has been a reporter and editor at community newspapers in southeast Georgia. In college, he led his student paper to a first-place general excellence award from the Georgia College Press Association. He earned ...