About 15 years ago, I had occasion to stay at the famous Greenbrier Resort in White Sulphur Springs, WV. This sprawling resort has been a play land for the nation’s wealthy since 1778, and is famous for housing a secret bunker that was intended to be used by Congress in the event of a nuclear attack.
And while all that is plenty interesting and worth a Google, I was curious about the paint used above the entryways in the massive building.
First off, you have to know everything is white at the Greenbrier. And while that statement could be a taken as social commentary, I’m referring to the walls in and out of the hotel. The only exception is when there is a wainscoted ceiling above an exterior doorway. These are all painted a greenish sky blue. Since this can’t be seen unless you look up as you enter the building, I thought it odd that they wouldn’t just use the same white that was everywhere else.
I happened upon a doorperson and I asked him about the blue color. He explained that it was useful for keeping insects from building nests up there. They’d interpret the color as the sky, and not realize there was anything to build on.
I accepted this answer, even though it didn’t seem like something that would really work. Later on I learned that the name for the color was “haint blue,” and that “haint” was a southern word for “ghost.”
According to Sherwin-Williams, a company that should know something about paint, the idea that the color distracts insects is held by many people, though there’s no evidence that it actually works. But before that, the color was was believed to confuse “haints.” Apparently, ghosts would see the blue and think it was water. And well… everyone knows ghosts can’t cross water, right? So the paint kept the ghosts out—unless the owners needed to drum up business during the Halloween season.
Haint blue is especially common in the Gullah culture of South Carolina and Georgia, but it can also be found in Victorian homes and hotels across the country. Just look up as you enter an old building, and you may see a sky blue to greenish blue paint. The color of “haint blue” isn’t strictly established.
As to its effectiveness, the Greenbrier isn’t known for its ghosts, which says something for an 18th century hotel.