The mountainous, quirky little town of Eureka Springs, Arkansas is full of surprises, but one of the most startling is the presence of supernatural visitors. Eureka Springs is home to one of the most haunted hotels in the United States: The 1886 Crescent Hotel and Spa. I personally find ghosts and their stories endlessly fascinating, so I knew I would have to go by and see the hotel for myself.
The Crescent has a long and unique history. Originally built in 1886 as a luxury resort for wealthy and famous guests, it quickly became too much to manage and fell into disrepair. It then reopened in 1908, this time as The Crescent College and Conservatory for Young Women, closed again in 1924 and opened in 1930 as a junior college. The college was closed in 1934, and for the next few years the building was leased as a summer hotel. In 1937, things really got interesting.
Norman G Baker, Charismatic Charlatan
That year, the hotel was purchased by the infamous Norman G. Baker, who turned the Crescent into a hospital and a health resort, claiming to be able to cure cancer. Baker was a flamboyant millionaire who often dressed in white suits and lavender ties and was known as an inventor, radio personality, and entrepreneur. He invented a musical instrument known as the air calliaphone or calliope (which you can still see at the Crescent) and is probably most famous for his controversial radio program KTNT (Know The Naked Truth) broadcast out of his hometown, Muscatine, Iowa and his supposed cancer cures. Though he styled himself as a doctor, Baker had no medical license and primarily used his radio show and fame to hawk his distrust of science, doctors, education, Jews and Catholics. Before coming to Arkansas, he had previously been run out of Iowa where he had been operating the Baker Institute, claiming to ‘cure’ cancer by injecting patients with a mixture of corn silk, watermelon seeds, clover, and water.
He opened the Crescent again in 1937, treating patients with a combination of his injections and the water from local springs and making a fortune. Eventually, he was jailed for mail fraud and the Crescent changed hands again. After several more years of changing owners and a fire in 1967 that nearly burned the building to the ground, Marty and Elise Roenigk purchased the hotel in 1997. They spent the next 6 years renovating the building and hotel rooms, eventually reopening it as the luxury hotel it is today.
In the present day, the hotel has been the subject of numerous ghost hunting tv programs, including Ghost Hunters, Paranormal Witness, and Ghost Adventures. It has a large and diverse cast of paranormal visitors, and guests frequently report various types of activity around the building. Some of its most famous ghosts include several unique personalities. Michael, an Irish stonemason who fell to his death during the hotel’s construction, haunts room 218 and is fond of harassing female guests; ghost gurneys are frequently heard squeaking down the hall on the third floor from what used to be the ‘pain ward;’ a little girl who fell to her death on the stairs near the fourth floor often wakes guests by poking them in the stomach and appearing beside their beds.
The second most requested room in the hotel, room 419, is home to Theodora (and, no surprise, this is where the ghost tour starts). She is most often seen outside the room fumbling for her keys and is famous for organizing things in a messy room and disliking discord among guests. If you stay in this room and leave it messy, you might return to discover things have been straightened up and folded for you. Personally, that sounds like an excellent perk! One famous story notes an arguing married couple staying in the room left to meet friends, returning to their room later to find their bags packed and waiting by the door.
Orchestra Ghost Tour and New Discoveries
When I visited the Crescent, several of us orchestra members from Opera in the Ozarks arranged a group ghost tour. We went early and had lunch at Skybar, a gourmet pizza restaurant located on the hotel’s fourth floor with spectacular views, and then met up for our tour. Tour guides dressed in period costumes gave us an incredible overview of the hotel’s long history, including stories of some former students when the school was a conservatory for girls (we were very interested, since we were all musicians!). The tour took us past all the most famous ghostly sites in the building, ending with a stop in the morgue, where we spent a few harrowing moments together in the dark with an EMF sensor. We were encouraged to take pictures, as guests sometimes report seeing images when they view them later.
Although none of us saw or felt any ghostly presences, we had a blast on the tour and learned lots about this unique building. Just this past February, the hotel’s landscape gardener uncovered several strange medical-looking bottles in some dirt. Later that April, archaeologists from the University of Arkansas’ Arkansas Archeological Survey (AAS) team arrived to see what else could be uncovered. Medical specimen jars, bottles, and gruesome surgical tools were extracted from what is believed to be a lost dump site from Norman Baker’s time. The hotel even had calls from eyewitnesses who remembered seeing these same items in the area used as a morgue and autopsy room during Baker’s ownership of the building.
The bottles have been added to a special display in the morgue as of June 1, 2019, and the burial site will be open for tours as well. If you’re in Eureka Springs, be sure to go by and see how the new activity has affected the resident ghosts!
Luxury Dining and Spa Options
Other than its unique ghostly history, the 1886 Crescent Hotel and Spa is a luxurious destination resort which hosts weddings and other events. It features a number of dining options, including fine dining in the Crystal Dining Room, baked goods and candy at Crescent Confections, and pizza at Skybar.
The hotel is also home to the fabulous New Moon Spa & Salon, which offers massages, facials, manicure and pedicures, and numerous other relaxing treatments for guests.
For more information on the Crescent Hotel or to book your stay, visit crescent-hotel.com.