Eureka Springs, Arkansas
An historic hotel and spa offers many amenities. Swimming in the hot springs and leisurely walks at the base of mountains invigorate, but can leave travelers exhausted by the end of the day. A restful night’s sleep may seem just the thing, but rest might be elusive. Strange noises in the night, flickering lights, and people who disappear in the space of a gasp line the halls, giving this scenic hotel and health resort the reputation of being haunted.
There are places in the world where people go to breathe the clean mountain air, swim in the natural hot springs, and simply relax. Those same beautiful features of the natural landscape attract thousands from all over the world. When so many people flock to any single place, that place will see its share of tragedy. However, there are some places in which more pain than one would think possible occurs. Souls do not rest in such places, trapped by the natural lay lines or by their own misery. It is perhaps ironic that such a place where people come to feel invigorated in life should maintain such a legacy of death.
Sitting at the north end of West Mountain, the Crescent Hotel was built by the Eureka Springs Improvement Company and the Frisco Railroad as a way to take advantage of tourists that flocked to the Ozark region for its natural springs. Thought of as "healing waters," the area was a hotspot for many of the well-to-do of the time period. Construction on the mammoth building began in 1884, following the designs of St. Louis architect Isaac L. Taylor. It was a huge gamble, one that required the enormous investment of nearly $300,000. It took two years, with dozens of stonemasons brought over from Ireland to finish the job. When complete, the hotel was called one of the most luxurious hotels in the world. Its construction, however, did not come without an even higher price. According to legend, at least one worker lost his life in the rapid pace of getting the hotel operational.
When it opened, the hotel did great business, catering to the rich and famous of all of the United States. However, its success was short-lived. Once people realized that the “healing waters” of the Ozarks had no medicinal powers whatsoever, they simply stopped coming. The hotel fell into ruin, closing its doors a mere twenty years after it opened.
In 1908, the Crescent Hotel reopened, this time as the Crescent College and Conservatory for Young Women. During the long semesters, high tuition kept the place operating, while opening as a resort during the summer. However, the money proved to be too little, as the upkeep on such a massive structure was enormous. It once again closed its doors in 1924, laying abandoned for the next six years. 1930 saw the doors open again, but for only four years as a junior college.
Three years later, the empty structure was again purchased, this time by a man named Norman Baker, who had recently been run out of Iowa as a charlatan. Despite having no medical training, the man billed himself as a doctor, and claimed to have cures for a number of ailments, most notably cancer. He reopened the Crescent Hotel as the Baker Hospital. Over the next three years, hundreds came in search of his "miracle elixirs," which turned out to be only drinking the waters of the natural springs. Though there are no confirmed reports, local folklore paints an even darker picture of the fraudulent doctor.
According to unconfirmed reports, remodeling the building uncovered dozens of human skeletons hidden within the walls, jars of cancerous body-parts preserved and stashed, and scores of patients who died under the Baker’s “care” who were cremated in midnight burnings. Also unconfirmed are stories that he performed experiments on the living and the dead, driven by his pursuit to become a legitimate doctor and find the cure to cancer. He was reputed to treat brain tumors by exposing the brain of a living patient (without the benefit of proper anesthesia) and pouring a mixture of spring water and ground watermelon seeds directly onto the brain.
Whether or not Baker was the monster he was made out to be, the fact of his dishonesty did not go unnoticed. He was arrested for mail fraud and sentenced to four years in Leavenworth in 1940, leaving the hotel vacant again.
1946 saw the hotel again purchased by Chicago businessmen, who seemed determined to make a go of it as a spa and hotel. It was slow going, with renovations ongoing for years, and while it never did reach the beauty of when it originally opened, it began to prosper. However, in 1967, the fates intervened again in the form of a fire that raged through the fourth floor of the south wing, destroying much of the structure. The investors gave up, selling the hotel.
Over the next few years, the hotel changed owners often, with each new owner promising to restore the old building to her former glory. None fulfilled their promise until, in 1997, the hotel found her saviors in the form of Marty and Elise Roenigk. It took them five years, and over five million dollars, but on September 6, 2002, their dream of revitalizing the grand old girl came to life.
There have been sightings of more than a dozen different ghosts in the hotel, ranging from every era of the building’s existence. The most common occurrences include cold spots and phantom noises, but phenomena also include slamming doors and people being shaken awake at night.
The most common apparition is believed to be the Irishman who fell to his death in 1884. Nicknamed Michael by the hotel staff, this prankster seems to enjoy playing with the lights and doors. He is also known for pounding on walls. More incredible phenomena include reports of blood spattering the walls and hands reaching out of the mirror, all attributed to Michael.
A phantom nurse is also seen roaming the halls, pushing a gurney, and disappearing when she reaches the end of the hallway. Most believe her to be a nurse from the time of the Baker Cancer Hospital. Also from the same period is the apparition of a man in a white linen suit and purple shirt who, those who’ve seen him say, bears an uncanny resemblance to Dr. Baker himself. There is also the ghost of a woman who calls herself Theodora, a victim of Baker’s fraudulent claims. The old switchboard in the hotel also used to be frequently lit up with calls from the unoccupied basement, which was where Baker convinced many a dying person to hand over their life savings.
There are other apparitions, including Victorian-dressed brides and grooms, dancers, and even children. During Christmas one year, a tree and every present beneath it were inexplicably moved from one end of the ball room to the other. Chairs have moved, pots have flown off the hooks, and even ghostly waiters still apparently prowl the halls with no warning.
The Crescent Hotel & Spa has once again regained her place as one of the most luxurious hotels in the world. Her guests are treated to the finest in amenities, with spacious rooms, long walkways, massages, and, of course, the natural springs.
However, though the hotel most often prefers to emphasize its unique and remarkable history, ghost tours do run nightly. The tours take those eager to experience the paranormal not only through the public areas, but to the underground passageways where guests are not usually allowed.
The hotel’s amenities ensure that, no matter the time of year, guests will enjoy a luxurious stay. However, if it’s a glimpse into the supernatural one is after, one should book one of a few rooms that seem to have the most activity. Room 218 is the domain of Michael, the stonemason prankster. Room 424 also has its share of visitations, as does room 202, in which a photo was taken that reveals a ghostly figure crouching in the closet. Other hot spots include the base of the stairs where Dr. Baker tends to lurk, the kitchen where a small boy has been spotted playing, and the Crystal Dining Room, in which a phantom waiter still takes orders. The hotel bar even has its own specter, a well-dressed Victorian man who sits quietly at the bar. A more pertinent question might not be "when do phenomena occur," but “when don’t they?”
See you in two weeks!