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Hauntings in Eureka Springs, Arkansas: Crescent Hotel

The following is an excerpt from my book Haunted Ozarks.

Rendering of Eureka Springs with Crescent Hotel in the background
Rendering of Eureka Springs with Crescent Hotel in the background

One of the most famously haunted hotels in America is in Eureka Springs, Arkansas. Like a king sitting upon his throne gazing down upon his subjects the 78-room Victorian Hotel perches atop West Mountain, one of the tallest peaks in the area. Dating back to 1884 the Crescent Hotel & Spa drew in the wealthy from all over the United States before air conditioning made summer bearable. By the late 19th Century those who could afford to, left the hot cities for the cooler climate of seashores and mountains.

Built between 1884 and 1886 by the Eureka Springs Improvement Company, the hotel possibly gained its first ghost when a red-haired, Irish stonemason named Michael, lost his footing and fell off the roof during construction. He landed in the second floor where the infamous Room 218 is located. Michael plays with the lights and TV, a pound from inside the walls or pulls pranks on hotel guests. Hands have been seen coming out of the bathroom mirror and cries of a man falling from the roof are heard. One guest reported blood splattered over the walls of the room and he refused to stay the night. Michael apparently has shaken one guest out of a deep slumber too.

A couple of friends of mine stayed in the room the night before one of them was to be married. Carol Cummings witnessed the bride’s long hair being pulled up and away from her head by unseen hands.

The designer for the grand hotel was Isaac L. Taylor, well known in Missouri as an architect and famous for a number of buildings in St. Louis. His fame grew for his work at the St. Louis World’s Fair in 1904. A Mr. Powell Clayton was a financier for the Crescent and became governor of Arkansas from 1868 to 1870.

At a cost of $294,000.00 the spa sits on 27 acres and became the stopping place for people traveling on the Frisco Railroad. Heavy, magnesium limestone was moved from the quarry on White River to be used in the construction of the Crescent.

The hotel sported architectural touches giving it a unique feature. Numerous towers, overhanging balconies and 18-inch thick granite walls lend an ominous and foreboding air to the gothic mystery of the building. The lobby remains fitted with a massive fireplace and in the original construction electric lights, plumbing and bathrooms were set in place. At one time over 500 guests could be seated in the “Crystal Dining Room”.

“Dr. Baker’s Extraordinary Bistro and Sky Bar” on the fourth floor tops the décor, designed by Dr. Baker himself in his semi-deranged color pattern of purples, orange, black, yellow, silver and reds, during the time he ran the hotel as a Cancer Hospital (1937-1939).

Outside gazebos, boardwalks, flower gardens, tennis courts, croquet, and a swimming pool, enticed the wealthy to the Victorian style village with the “healing springs” that boasted such curative qualities.

On May 20, 1886 gala ball, heralded the grandiose Crescent Hotel’s debut among a midst of fan fair.

Eureka Springs Times Echo christened it “America’s most luxurious resort hotel.” Notables across the U.S. arrived for its grand opening, complete with a full orchestra and banquet dinner for 400.

The brand new Spa that catered to the rich and famous for over twenty years, offering grand balls, use of the stables with 100 sleek horses, ladies rode sidesaddles in their long skirts and veiled hats, while the elegant gentlemen rode alongside, cantering over the trails in early morning rides.

Afternoon tea dances, parties each evening, an in-house full orchestra and excursions down into the picturesque town of Eureka Springs. Streetcar rides, hiking, picnics made up the usual forms of entertainment.

The Tally Ho was a large open coach drawn by teams of four, six or eight horses, and the Tallyho rides to Sanatorium Lake were always popular.

Flourishing until 1907 the Crescent was taken over by the Frisco Railroad leasing the property as a summer hotel. Then people began to realize the springs were pleasant, but not the “heal all” cure advertised and the “gilded age” aristocrats moved on to other pursuits. A decline in Eureka Springs’ tourism had its affect on the Crescent over the next 60 years.

Never completely abandoned the hotel became the Crescent College and Conservatory for Young Woman in 1908 as an exclusive school for wealthy young ladies. A summer crowd still visited the hotel but the tourist season was not enough to pay the bills and tuition for the college climbed. The school closed in 1924 before returning briefly as a junior college (1930-1934).

During the hotel’s stint as a college for proper young women, a tragedy occurred. One young lady was said to have thrown herself from one of the balconies seeing suicide as the answer to being jilted by her sweetheart.

The “dark days” of the hotel came about in 1937 when a new owner, Norman Baker turned the building into a hospital and health resort. “Dr” Baker had a checkered past, he was once a star mentalist on the vaudeville circuit in the early 1900’s. He was not a physician but he touted a non-surgical procedure relying on tea comprised of commonplace ingredients.

He was the inventor of the Tangley Calliaphone in 1910.This organ operated via air pressure instead of steam. Unfortunately Baker was not satisfied with the millions made from his organ and his false notion of being a medical expert resulted in many fake cures and the conspiracy ideas that the established medical field was not only hampering the sale of his cures, but was out to kill him.

Baker launched the KTNT (Know the Naked Truth) radio in Iowa in 1925 and published the TNT Magazine. He made attacks on the AMA on air and in print over established medical procedures. President Herbert Hoover helped Baker’s newspaper, the Midwest Free Press, in 1930 by taking part in a publicity stunt. President Hoover pushed a golden key from Washington D.C. to start up Baker’s printing press.

Baker first owned the Baker institute in Muscatine, Iowa but came under the scrutiny of the American Medical Association. They pulled his license in 1931 and issued a warrant for his arrest for practicing medicine without a license. Baker fled to Mexico and hid out there for several years. In 1932 and still a fugitive in Mexico, he ran a campaign for governor of Iowa.

By now the Federal Radio Commission had shut down his own radio station, so he opened a cross-border station, XENT to promote his campaign. His Iowa hospital was shut down after he was sued and he moved his cancer patients to Eureka Springs.

Upon his return he took control of the Crescent, the “Castle in the Sky” and converted it into his new Baker Hospital with his highly advertised “cure for cancer” attracting folks across the country.

He painted the hotel in garish colors and destroyed the wooden handrails. For a time Baker pulled in a lot of money from people seeking a cure, however his claims were bogus and many people died at the hospital. A morgue was established in the basement of the hotel and bodes were shipped out during the night to the railroad station. The autopsy table and freezer are still within the hotel. (Note: some accounts list the third floor as the area for the morgue)

Baker was arrested in 1939; charged with mail fraud in 1940 for his mail order claims that “guarantees to cure cancer”. He had promised his patients drinking the spring water would save them and no X-rays or operations would be performed.

After his trial he served four years in the Leavenworth Federal Penitentiary. Baker Hospital closed. His apartment was outfitted with machine guns as wall décor and secret passages hidden in the purple painted rooms, to keep him safe from the attack he fully expected from the American Medical Association.

Ghosts roaming the corridors match the date of operation for Baker’s Hospital. Witnesses see the greedy Dr. Baker himself, dressed in a purple shirt and white linen suit the sour-looking Baker is found in the basement, near the Recreation Room and on the first floor landing.

A nurse, dressed in white is seen pushing a gurney on the third floor. She’s seen after 11:00 p.m., when the bodies were removed from the hospital and she vanishes at the end of the hallway. Sounds of squeaking and rattling seem to “roll” down the hall. The laundry room was on the third floor and at night the washers and dryers are heard turning on and off.

Another ghost walking the palatial grounds is Miss Theodora, some say she cared for terminal cancer patients during the Baker Hospital days, others claim she introduces herself as one of the cancer patients and is most often seen by housekeepers In Room 419. Her voice has been captured on EVP’s.

The antique switchboard continued to receive calls from the empty basement until it was disconnected.

A distinguished, mustached Victorian gentleman is seen sitting at the bar or at the bottom of the stairway. Complete with formal attire and top hat he remains quiet, never responding to questions until he simply disappears.

In 1972 new owners breathed a new vitality into the hotel shortly after a fire gutted the fifth floor and a majority of the fourth. Urban legend says caches of skeletons have been located within the walls of the hotel and somewhere on the property are jar of preserved body parts. This tale has all the markings for a top-notch Hollywood horror film. The jars were hidden so potential buyers wouldn’t be frightened off by the body pieces. This adds to the creepy quality shrouding the “Grand Lady of the Ozarks”.

More ghosts share the Crescent, in the Crystal Dining Room paranormal activities running the gambit of Victorian apparitions to 1890’s dancers in full attire. One Victorian gentleman is quoted, “I saw the most beautiful woman here last night and I am waiting for her to return.”

A Victorian bride and groom have been seen within the dining room’s mirror. Christmas packages are moved from beneath the tree or chairs are rearranged to form a semi-circle facing the tree. Once all the menus were strewn about the room.

In the rooms blankest and sheets are pulled off the beds while guests are sleeping.

Objects move and electrical appliances go on by themselves. People have been touched or pushed.

A small boy is seen skipping in the kitchen. Often the pots and pans fly off the hooks of their own accord.

A young female is seen from the College days, her screams are heard as she jumps or was pushed to her death. Rooms 202 and 424 have apparitions and a ghostly waiter appears in the hallway carrying a tray of butter.

Other apparitions include:

  • Weeping woman who carries her child’s blanket
  • Lady in the garden
  • Handsome man knocking on room doors to ask people if they’re waiting for him
  • Teenage boy collapses, disappearing on the floor
  •  A boy with thick glasses and wearing knickers.
  • Lady with a beautiful hat
  • Hooded figure
  • Man with a crooked smile
  • The face of a man wearing a bowler hat

There are cold spots, orbs, and voices on recordings and mysterious sounds. One guest reported being held down by her legs and arms and being suffocated. This was followed by the smell of sulfur and sweat and something grabbed her ankles to pull her halfway down the bed.

Disembodied voices have been heard coming from the dining room.

TV’s Ghost Hunters filmed at the Crescent with the report of a thermal camera capture of a full-bodied apparition. The thermal camera is able to “see” heat signatures of objects.

What causes so many spirits to reside at the Crescent? The Urban legends that list the remains of Dr. Baker’s patients being hidden on the premises also conclude that he experimented on the brains of the dead as well as the living. These claims say his cure for brain tumors was to peel away the scalp and pour a mix of spring water and watermelon seed directly onto the patient’s brain. Of the dozens of people who died onsite the bodies were disposed of by incineration at night. His “incurable” cases would be confined to an asylum to cover the fact that he had no cure. These are all tall tales of course, handed down over the years. And one can imagine the person bearing the story of the hidden body parts and brain surgery wringing his hands together and laughing in the best movie-villain’s Bwaa Haa Haaa voice. The brooding hotel just lends itself to the fabrication of fantastic stories adding to the sordid history during the days of the cancer hospital.

BOOK YOUR STAY WITH EXPEDIA

1886 Crescent Hotel & Spa

1886 Crescent Hotel & Spa

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