AUBURN, Ind. (WANE) – Every Labor Day weekend brings back an annual tradition to downtown Auburn. The Auburn Cord Duesenberg Festival started in 1956. According to its website, the festival’s mission is to “celebrate and promote automobile heritage.”
Most people think it’s all about the cars, but a few dozen said it’s actually all about the accommodations. The Auburn Hotel was built in 1860, and many of the rooms will take guests on a trip back in time.
Photos | Unlikely treasure in Auburn
“We kind of romanticize it. It’s never changed since it was built. It was built for traveling salesmen, so the rooms are very small. Very few have bathrooms. You’re lucky if you have a sink. After seven years of staying here, we finally upgraded to a room that has a bathroom.” hotel guest Cameron Petersen said.
Petersen has called the Auburn Hotel home every Labor Day weekend for the last thirteen years. He is a Auburn Cord Duesenberg Club member and travels hundreds of miles from Missouri every year for the celebration.
“It’s an experience to stay here. It’s definitely not comfortable, but we love it. It’s right here. You’re right in the middle of everything. You come downstairs and there are cars everywhere. What else is there, what else do you need,” Petersen said.
He compared the hotel to the charm of the club and festival.
“The hotel very much represents the club in its entirety. You’ve got the old cars, they’re old, they have problems, but they still work, you still love them, and you still get in and drive them. The hotel is the same thing. The club is the same thing. It’s all that way. There’s just so much history and just so much love put into this,” Petersen said.
After coming to the hotel for more than a decade, Petersen knows a thing or two about the rooms’ amenities.
“In the base room, you have a bed, sheets, a dresser, a lamp that may or may not work, and you have a sink. In the upper level rooms, you have all that, plus you have a bathroom that has a bathtub. Then, you might get one that has a shower. It’s just an experience. There’s no way to really explain it unless you just come and do it,” Petersen said.
Rodger Eddy is a charter member of the Auburn Cord Duesenberg Board. The retired journalist lives in Portland, Oregon and bought the hotel in 1979.
“It meant saving the hotel from who knows what fate and retaining that spirit that is behind the whole Auburn Cord Duesenberg Festival,” Eddy said.
It’s certainly not a standard home away from home, but Eddy said the historical significance makes up for the lack of luxuries.
“We can’t blame people for wanting rooms with air conditioning, televisions, and other amenities. Our rooms are historic, authentic, clean, and just like they were in the heyday of hotel in the ’20s and ’30s,” Eddy said.
The hotel is also only open once a year for Labor Day weekend.
“Well, it’s not the best business plan,” Eddy admitted. “It’s just been a great experience through the years to open the place up each year and greet so many returning guests from the ACD Club and it’s been a wonderful opportunity for me to get acquainted and feel like I’m a real citizen of Auburn even though I’m here for a short time, but the people who do come back feel like this is really like a reunion every year and it has very much that flavor.”
Eddy said the festival weekend is always very nostalgic for him.
“I just get carried back into the ’20s and the ’30s when this place was in its heyday. There’s just history all over the place. The great designers stayed here when they were in town, and the great industrialists of the time,” Eddy said.
History indeed lives in the hotel halls, along with the occasional surprise guest.
““There’s night flyers in the air, you never know what you’re going to see, but that’s kind of part of it. The first year I stayed here there was a bat in the hall, and this bat terrorized everyone for about three days. A friend of mine finally found some kind of a net, ran him down through the hall, caught this thing, and carried it around the hotel, and scared everyone to death. And yet no one left, everyone kept staying. If you’ve stayed here, you can say that you’ve stayed here and you understand what it’s like to be here. If you don’t, you just don’t know. You just don’t know until you do it, and it really is a badge of honor.” Petersen said.
The human guests said they wouldn’t have it any other way.
“Ya, it’s not the Holiday Inn, but that’s fine. You walk in and the wallpaper is kind of peeling a little bit, it’s a little off-putting, but once you’re in there, you just feel so comfortable, you just sort of forget it. So, the next year, you already know what to expect. You just know you probably want to bring some kind of fan to put in the window, you might want to bring a light bulb, and maybe a towel, the rest just is what it is,” Petersen said.
“It’s just unique. The Auburn experience is very unusual, and there’s nothing like it,” Eddy said.
The festival runs through Sunday. Click here for a full list of events and times.