John is a mid-Atlantic writer and avid student of history. His current passions are frontier and Civil War history, genealogy and politics.
Arrival at the Hotel
The sky was heavily overcast as we drove up the steep winding roadway on Crescent Mountain overlooking Eureka Springs, Arkansas. We were on our way to the 1886 Crescent Hotel, where we had booked a room. It is an old Victorian resort hotel that has been billed as one of America's most haunted hotels.
The Crescent Hotel sits atop the mountain with high, commanding views over the vast rolling Ozarks. As the large Victorian structure came within view, its windows seemed like so many eyes watching our approach.
We drove slowly beside the hotel's lawn, which had fifty or so white folding chairs facing a white stage as if for a wedding. We were told that the hotel hosts many weddings due to its unique setting and reputation. Or maybe it was set up for a funeral for some poor soul whose last wish was to be memorialized at the haunted Crescent Hotel so her ghost could rest in peace at a famous resort and amuse visitors like us.
History of Eureka Springs and the 1886 Crescent Hotel
Native Americans and early settlers looked to the many springs in this area as healing waters. A community grew up in this steeply carved Ozarks valley that was later to become the famous resort town it is today.
The Crescent Hotel was created as an upscale resort, attracting guests not only for the healing waters of Eureka Springs but also for the clean air and attractions in the Ozark mountains.
Eureka Springs was served by a railroad with connections to Joplin, and points around the country. A 1907 advertisement for the Crescent Hotel was published in the Kansas City Star, extolling the hotel's location and urging visitors to visit Eureka Springs via railroad.
The view from the Hotel is magnificent . . . Breathe in the ozone of its clear mountain air, drink its health-giving waters, and bask in its continued sunshine. . ."
— Advertisement, Kansas City Star, 21 February 1907
We checked into the hotel in a lobby that looked like it was the setting for an old Victorian drama. Beautifully restored and furnished in dark reds and oaks, we felt like we were entering an older, bygone era.
We booked into a corner room on the fourth floor. We could climb from the lobby floor up the magnificent winding staircase with massive oak rails or take an elevator. We took the elevator.
Our room was painted dark red with gold stars carefully stenciled over the red paint so that in my mind's eye, I could visualize a red sky with golden stars. The bed was very, very comfortable. A massive Victorian sofa and a settee invited us to sit and relax.
So relax we did. We thought about the most unusual history of the Crescent Hotel and its ups and downs over the 155 years since it was built.
Tragic Events at the 1886 Crescent Hotel That Led to Its Haunting
- We thought about Michael, the young Irish stonemason who fell to his death during construction. The story is that he was paying too much attention to a pretty girl on the ground, got distracted, and fell to his death. They say his friendly ghost can sometimes be sensed in Room 218.
- We thought about the thousands of visitors who came here over the years in search of healing and pleasure. They say several guests leaned too far over the 4th-floor stairway railing, fell 4 floors, and died on the lobby floor below.
- Four-year-old Breckie died of complications from appendicitis in the hotel They say Breckie has been sensed bouncing a ball through the halls.
- The hotel was converted in the 1920s into an upscale college and conservatory for young women. They say one young woman, after learning she was pregnant, became distraught about the shame she would be facing and threw herself off a balcony to her death. They say her ghost also roams the halls.
- Theodora was a cancer patient who can now be sensed fumbling for her keys outside Room 419 and tidying up for today’s guests when they leave the room.
- In the 1930s, the hotel was converted into a hospital for cancer patients by a fraudulent doctor, Norman G. Baker. He lured patients here with the promise of a cure for their cancer. They were given fake treatments. Dozens of patients died. Blake was convicted of mail fraud and served four years in prison. They say ghosts of dead patients can be detected in Baker's morgue, still located in the basement of the Crescent Hotel.
Today, the Crescent Hotel has been lovingly restored to its original condition as a stately Hotel Resort and Spa. It attracts thousands of visitors, some for the healing balm, others to enjoy the resort and spa, and others to experience for themselves America's most haunted hotel.
A floor sign in the Hotel lobby reminds guests how to sign up for a ghost tour. Unfortunately, the tours were fully booked before we arrived. Ghost tours begin on the fourth floor, down the hallway from our room. Also on the fourth floor was the Sky Bar, where one might be fortified before the tour. We noticed that visitors gathering for the tour represented all ages—kids to adults—eagerly anticipating a unique experience. We were told that ghost tours are so popular that as many as eight may be offered in a day.
We had supper that evening on the fourth-floor balcony opposite the Sky Bar. By this time, the weather had turned to light rain. We looked into the misty darkness in the Ozarks and saw nothing. A perfect night for sensing ghostly appearances.
Crescent College and Conservatory for Young Women
According to the Encyclopedia of Arkansas, the Crescent College and Conservatory for Young Women opened its doors in the old Hotel on September 23, 1908, and operated from September through June. The summer months were devoted to hotel operations. The college remained open until 1924, when it was forced to close due to a lack of funding.
It must have seemed luxurious for these young women to be living in an upscale hotel in rooms with a private bath.
Enrollment was restricted to eighty-eight students, who originally hailed from thirty-nine different states. The college was known for its high standards and Christian atmosphere."
— Encylopedia of Arkansas, Crescent College and Conservatory
An ad in the Arkansas Star Republic, 10 August 1913, featured a picture of the Crescent Hotel—the Famous Health Resort. "In the education of young women," the ad read, " nothing is more essential than ideal health conditions." The conservatory had 23 new pianos and a new Kimball pipe organ. It offered courses including Music, Art, Expression, Domestic Science, and Preparatory College Courses. Horseback riding was a favorite activity.
. . . uniforms were 'Peter Thompson' style, a mature and elegant version of a child’s sailor suit usually crafted from dark blue serge or linen, depending on the occasion, and worn with a scarf tied in a sailor’s knot."
— Encyclopedia of Arkansas
The Norman G. Baker Cancer Hospital at the Crescent Hotel
Next, we come to a low point in the ups and downs of the Crescent Hotel. A high school dropout, vaudeville performer, broadcast wiz, and con artist by the name of Norman Baker bought the Hotel in 1937 and transformed it into a cancer hospital.
In the depths of the Depression, Baker was able to buy the Crescent Hotel for $40,000 and pumped more money into converting it into the Baker Hospital, decorating it with his personal tastes for the lavish and strange. Then he moved staff and 140 patients into the Baker Hospital from his Iowa "hospital," which had been closed due to his quackery.
Baker was not a doctor, was not recognized by the AMA, and in 1930, the Journal of the American Medical Association published an article about Baker’s “lies, viciousness, and quackery.” Nevertheless, he was able to open the Baker Hospital in November 1937, promising "Cancer Tumor Curable Without Knife, Radium, X-Ray, Serum," according to a brochure pitching his Hospital.
I'm not going into all the strange and bizarre episodes in the life of this narcissistic "doctor"; you can read the gory details in "Dr." Norman Baker: When Quackery Kills (Lessons from History on Medium.com) and in The Charlatan of the Ozarks Still Looms Over the Haunted Crescent Hotel (Smithsonian Magazine, Jan-Feb 2020).
Suffice it to say that Baker was convicted of fraud in 1940 and spent four years in prison.
Today's ghost tours end in climatic fashion in "Baker's Morgue" in the basement of the Crescent Hotel, complete with the refrigerated room where bodies were kept while waiting for their removal.
People with cancer and a whole host of other diseases flocked to the Baker Cancer Hospital, many signing away their life’s savings in the process.
Regardless of the disease they were suffering from, the treatments were the same: injections with one of his two formulas four times a day, every day, except Sunday. The 'doctors' on Baker’s staff would later testify that they jokingly referred to themselves as 'machine guns,' since they were giving so many injections in such a rapid succession."
— DeLani R. Bartlett
. . . 44 patients died at the Baker Cancer Hospital during the 20 months it was in operation. Since these folks were already dying of fatal diseases like cancer, they weren’t autopsied, and no investigation was conducted into their deaths."
— DeLani R. Bartlett,
Paranormal Gatherings at the Crescent Hotel
The Crescent Hotel is a favorite gathering place for people interested in the paranormal. In addition to the ghost tours on a daily basis, the Hotel sponsors a Paranormal Weekend each year in mid-winter led by the Crescent Hotel historian and a pair of nationally known TV ghost hunters:
- Keith Scales, a London-born actor, author, and producer, is the hotel's historian and ghost tour producer. Keith's recent book, House of a Hundred Rooms: Tales the Ghost Tour Guides Do Not Tell, gives more detail about the events and stories that make the Crescent America's most haunted hotel.
- Dave Harkins, with a life-long interest in the paranormal, was a team manager for The Atlantic Paranormal Society, which started "Ghost Hunters" on the SyFy network and other shows.
- Larry Flaxman is well-known to paranormal enthusiasts as an author with guest appearances on TV shows such as Discovery Channel's "Ghost Lab."
Our day came to an end, and we retired for the night. I lay in bed with my eyes closed, pondering all that we learned about the history of the Crescent Hotel
—the ghosts and spirits supposedly present here, of the many individuals who slept in this very room, perhaps guests, young women students, or cancer patients. I finally drifted off to sleep.
During the night, a large white moth outside our window was seen by my wife fluttering its wings as if it wanted to join us inside. My wife wondered if the moth might be the reincarnation of a deceased relative.
The next morning I looked out our window and saw the morning mist that had settled in the valley and hollows in Eureka Springs, almost as if spirit mists from the Hotel had drifted over Eureka Springs to be finally dissipated by the rising sun.
The 1886 Crescent Hotel, Garden, and Grounds
My wife and I had a delicious buffet breakfast in the Crystal Dining Room. Our table was next to a window with sunshine dappling through the holly tree outside onto our white tablecloth. Enormous chandeliers hung from the ceiling, ready to create the crystal ambiance for dinner guests that evening.
After breakfast, we explored the common areas inside the hotel and outside in the beautiful gardens. On a small grassed terrace in the garden, a pair of Adirondack chairs beckoned guests to sit and enjoy the view of the Ozarks and the picturesque St. Elizabeth's of Hungary Catholic Church on the steep hillside below the Hotel. A period of meditation was enhanced by the sound of the bell in St. Elizabeth's belltower just down the hill marking the passage of time.
From our room at the Crescent, we could see, rising about the trees on another distant mountain top, the towering statue of the Christ of the Ozarks watching over Eureka Springs as if to say, "All is well."
This is another feature of Eureka Springs that makes it a unique and unforgettable experience for visitors.
Our Stay Comes To an End
Many years ago, we paid our first visit to Eureka Springs. While it was then one of the most unique places we have ever visited in our travels, we found it even more unique and fascinating after this visit.
The Crescent Hotel has been lovingly restored. Our stay there was like an immersion in history. We were taken back in time to another place. The hauntings were like immersive theater. The comforts and amenities of the Hotel, Spa, and Resort were memorable. We wished we had booked for additional days, but our travel schedule said no.
We discovered for ourselves why the National Trust for Historic Preservation selected Eureka Springs as one of America's Distinctive Destinations and placed the Crescent Hotel in its collection of Historic Hotels of America. And we now understand why the Crescent Hotel is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and why Architecture Digest lists it among America's Most Haunted Hotels.
Well done, Crescent Hotel Owner, Manager, and Staff!
P. S. The Washington Post featured the Crescent Hotel in a recent article, Checking into a haunted hotel? Here’s how to make the most of it. The author writes about what she learned from her paranormal research and visits to eight different haunted hotels.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2021 John Dove