HAUNTED ARKANSAS

THE CRESCENT HOTEL
Eureka Springs, Arkansas

 

An Excerpt from Troy Taylor's book, The Haunting of America!

Located in remote resort town of Eureka Springs, Arkansas stands the gothic Crescent Hotel. Called by some the "Grand Old Lady of the Ozarks, the hotel has served as many things over the years and yet strangely, each incarnation was reported to be haunted and each one also contributed to the legion of phantoms believed to walk the corridors of the building.

If there is a single place in the Ozark Mountain region that can be called "most haunted", it is this one!

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The hotel was built on the crest of West Mountain between 1884 and 1886 and may have gained its first ghost when a workmen fell from the roof during the construction. His body landed in the second floor area where Room 218 is now located. I doubt that itís a coincidence that this room is considered to be one of the most haunted in the hotel!

The Crescent was designed by Isaac L. Taylor, a well-known Missouri architect who was famous for a number of buildings in St. Louis and who would go on to greater fame for his designs during the 1904 Worldís Fair. The financing for the hotel came from a number of wealthy individuals and businessmen, including Powell Clayton, the governor of Arkansas from 1868 to 1870, and later the U.S. Ambassador to Mexico. Clayton formed the Eureka Improvement Company to seek investors and to acquire land, hoping to take advantage of the "boom time" of the period. Many of the other investors included officials with the Frisco Railroad.

The construction of the hotel, and development in the area, was so important at that time thanks to the national attention that had come to Eureka Springs (and other locations in Arkansas) for the ďhealing watersĒ that were bubbling from the earth nearby. During the late 1800ís, people traveled from all over the country to take in the waters and to hopefully ease and cure their particular ailments. In addition, spring water could also be bottled and shipped out, further enhancing the small townís reputation.

The officials from the railroad were involved in the development plans because of the excursion train trips that had become so popular in the 1880ís. The Frisco Railroad had built a spur from Seligman, Missouri to Eureka Springs to accommodate the tourists who wanted to visit the area. It was in their best interest to also develop a fine hotel for them to stay in. As the Crescent neared completion, liveried footmen would meet guests at the railroad depot and transport them by coach to the portico the new hotel.

The hotel itself combined a number of architectural styles to create a unique (and sometimes foreboding) setting. It is equipped with numerous towers, overhanging balconies and granite walls that are more than 18 inches thick. Numerous renovations have altered the five-story interior, but the lobby is still fitted with a massive stone fireplace that dominates the room. At one time, more than 500 people could be seated in the dining room. Electric lights were included in the original construction, as were bathrooms and modern plumbing fixtures. The lawn outside was decorated with gazebos, winding boardwalks and flower gardens and guests were offered tennis courts, croquet and other outdoor recreations.

The Crescent became almost immediately popular and attracted people from all over the south. It flourished for several years and from 1902 to 1907, it was taken over by the Frisco Railroad, which leased the property as a summer hotel. Not long after, people began to realize that while the local hot springs were certainly wonderful, they held no curative powers. The springs soon lost the interest of the wealthier class, who had many other pursuits in that "gilded age" and business for the town dropped off. The loss of revenue convinced the railroad to quickly abandon their attempt at running a hotel.

The next 60 years were not good ones for the Crescent. It was open year-round, but it was starting to slip into a more run-down and decrepit condition. Various attempts were made to keep the place up and running, but as time passed, Eureka Springs lost its past prominence and the hotel became a forgotten curiosity. But it did not stand empty, as history goes on to testify.

In 1908, the hotel was opened as the Crescent College and Conservatory for Young Women and served as an exclusive academy for wealthy ladies. During the summer it still catered to the tourist crowd, but the money it made was not enough to keep the aging monolith in business. The costs of running, heating and repairing the place were so overwhelming that they were not ever offset by the staggering tuition charged to the students. The school closed in 1924 and then reopened briefly from 1930 to 1934 as a junior college.

By the 1920's, the automobile was transforming Arkansas into a vacation state. One estimate even claimed that nearly a half million people drove to the Ozarks for vacations in 1929, a staggering number for the time. Because of this, there were a number of businesses that leased the Crescent as a summer resort after the school closed down.

However, in 1937, Norman Baker leased the hotel for another purpose altogether. These were the darkest days of the hotel and according to most, the time when the haunting really began at the Crescent Hotel. The deeds committed during this era have unquestionably had a lasting impact on the building... and perhaps on the spirits who still linger here.

When Baker took over the hotel, he had plans to turn the place into a hospital and "health resort". Baker was an Iowa-born charlatan who had made his fortune by inventing the Calliaphone, an organ played with air pressure and not steam. He had made millions of dollars by 1934 but he was never content with this. He considered himself something of a medical expert, although he had no training. He claimed to have discovered a number of "cures" for various ailments but he was sure that organized medicine was conspiring to keep these "miracle medicines" from the market. He was also sure that these same "enemies" were trying to kill him.

Baker started a hospital in Muscatine, Iowa but ran afoul of the law over his "cure" for cancer. He was convicted of practicing medicine without a license in 1936 and all of his medicines were condemned by the American Medical Association. Nevertheless, he purchased the Crescent Hotel and remodeled it, tragically tearing out the distinctive wooden handrails and balconies and painting the wonderful woodwork in garish shades of red, orange, black and yellow. He decorated his own penthouse in shades of purple. He also added a few other touches to his private rooms, hanging machine guns on the walls and installing secret escape passages that would save him should his AMA "enemies" attack.

Baker moved his cancer patients from Iowa to Arkansas and he advertised the health resort by saying that no X-rays or operations were performed to save his patients lives. The "cures" mostly consisted of drinking the natural spring water of the area and various home remedies... or so the "official stories" say. According to most reports, no one was actually killed by Bakerís medical claims, but local legend tells a different story.

The legends say that when remodeling has been done at the hotel over the years, dozens of human skeletons have been discovered secreted within the walls. It has also been said that somewhere within the place are jars of preserved body parts that were hidden so as to not scare off prospective buyers. They still have not been found to this day.

These same stories also claim that Baker was no harmless quack, but a dangerous and terrible man who experimented on both the dead and the living. One of his "miracle cures" for brain tumors was to allegedly peel open the patientís scalp and then pour a mixture of spring water and ground watermelon seeds directly onto the brain. Dozens of the patients died and Baker was said to have hidden the bodies for weeks until they could be burned in the incinerator in the middle of night. As his publicity claimed that he could cure cancer in a matter of weeks, he had to keep the press from finding out that many of his patients died every month. It has been said that he would put the extreme and advanced cases into an "asylum", where they would die in extreme pain. That way, no one would know that they actually died of cancer.

These are the legends that have been told, although most sources will say that these events never actually took place. They will say that they are nothing more than tall tales that have been attached to the Crescent over the years. And perhaps they are right....

Regardless, federal authorities caught up with Baker and he was charged with using the mail to defraud the public about his false medical claims. He was convicted in 1940 and sentenced to four years in Leavenworth. The hospital closed and Baker vanished into history. But would those who died at his "health resort" disappear so easily?

The brooding old hotel stayed closed until 1946, when new investors took it over and began trying to restore the place. The hard years still showed and the hotel was described as being "seedily elegant". Since then however, it has started to regain it's lost glory and it remains an odd and historical piece of Ozark history. It also remains haunted.

Staff members receive frequent reports from overnight guests of strange goings-on in their rooms and in the hallways. Room 424 has had several visitations but the most famous haunted spot is the previously mentioned Room 218. Several guests and employees have encountered strange sounds and sensations in that room. Doors have slammed shut and some people claim to have been shaken awake at night. One man, a salesman, was asleep in Room 218 one night when his shoulder was violently shaken back and forth. He awakened just long enough to hear footsteps hurry across the floor. He saw no one in the room.

Who this particular ghost may be is unknown, although some believe it is the spirit of the man who was killed during the hotelís construction. His body was said to have fallen just about where the room is currently located. Other than that, there doesnít seem to be any particular macabre history about this room. A story of the hotel has it that the wife of one of the hotelís past owners stayed in the room. At one point in the middle of the night, she ran screaming from the room, claiming that she had seen blood spattered all over the walls. Several staff members ran up to take a look but found no blood and nothing else out of the ordinary. Could the spectral blood have been connected to the fallen construction worker? Or perhaps an operating room from Dr. Bakerís days of depravity?

Another ghost of the hotel is that of a distinguished-looking man with a mustache and beard and who dresses in old-fashioned, formal clothing. He seems to favor the lobby of the hotel and a bar that is decorated in the style of the Victorian era. People who claim they have talked to the man say that he never responds, he only sits quietly and then vanishes. In an interview, a staff member recounted one odd experience with the silent ghost: "During the summer, we had two auditors work for us because weíre so busy. One of these men left the front desk to get a drink of water in the bar, after it was closed. He told me that he saw some guy sitting on a barstool, staring straight ahead. He didnít say anything and he didnít move. Our guy left to get his partner, who was still at the front desk. They came back and spoke to the man. They thought he was drunk".

When the man again did not respond, the two auditors decided to leave him alone and go back to work. As they looked back over their shoulders on the way out of the bar though, they saw that the barstool was now empty. The man was nowhere in the room.

"One of them started searching for the man," the staff member added. "He looked around the lobby, which is about 25 to 30 yards across, everywhere in that area. The auditor who was looking around went over to the steps (a staircase ascends from the lobby). The fellow from the bar was on the second-floor landing, looking down at him. He went up but as he got to the second floor, he felt something push him back down again. Thatís when he got the manager and told him what had happened."

Itís possible that the era of Bakerís hospital may have left the greatest ghostly impression on the place. In July 1987, a guest claimed that she saw a nurse pushing a gurney down the hallway in the middle of the night. The nurse reached the wall and then vanished. It was later learned that a number of other people had witnessed the same vision and had seen it reenacted in just the same way.

An apparition that is believed to be Baker himself has been spotted around the old recreation room, near the foot of the stairs going to the first floor. Those who have seen him say that he looks lost, first going one way and then another. Could Baker be "trappedí in the hotel, perhaps paying for misdeeds that were committed many years ago?

Some time back, an antique switchboard from the days of the hospital was finally removed because of all of the problems it caused. A staff member explained: "In the summer we would get phone calls on the switchboard from the basement recreation room. There was no one on the other end because the room was unused and locked. We could check it out and find that the phone had been taken off the hook. There was only one way in or out of the place and the key was kept at the front desk."

This same staff member checked out the recreation room one night after receiving another of the strange calls. He found the phone on the hook, but he still maintains that he felt another presence in the room with him. "I just wanted to get out," he added.

He locked the door and went back upstairs, but within five minutes the switchboard buzzer went off again, indicating that a call was coming from the same room that he had just left. This time, he decided not to go and check it out!

To go along with all of the stories, accounts and experiences, the hotel even has a legendary ghost photo from Room 202. No one knows who took it or why, but the photo contains a misty figure slouching in the closet of the room. The room was empty except for the photographer at the time.

So what makes the Crescent Hotel such a haunted place? Are memories from the past somehow stored here, replaying themselves over and over again on a regular basis to the fear and delight of the living? Or are the deeds of the past simply revisiting the present, reminding us that history is never really forgotten?

Whatever the reason for the strange happenings though, the Crescent Hotel remains one of the Southís most haunted spots and the perfect vacation place for those with ghosts in mind.

You can read more information about, and even make reservations to visit, the Crescent Hotel by visiting their website. Click here to see more!

The town of Eureka Springs is located in the northwestern part of the state, near Beaver Lake and in the heart of Ozark Country. The telephone number of the Crescent Hotel is (479) 253-9766 and their haunting web site is America's Most Haunted Hotel!


(C) Copyright 1998 / 2001 by Troy Taylor

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