The Crescent Hotel
Construction on The Crescent Hotel began in 1884, 100 years before I was born. I visited this castle in the mountains many times with my family as I was growing up in Arkansas. My husband and his brother both worked there for a time before we even met, and we had our wedding reception in the conservatory just off the lobby in the fall of 2009. I have always loved this grand and peculiar place, knowing it was special long before I heard any of it's stories. It holds a great significance to me for personal reasons, but it already had quite a rich and infamous history long before I first walked through it's doors as a child.
A Grand Resort Hotel
The Crescent Hotel is situated in the Ozark Mountains, standing atop the highest peak in the quaint town of Eureka Springs, Arkansas. When the hotel opened in 1886, it was one of the grandest resort hotels in America, attracting an elite class of travelers. Like many tourist towns, Eureka Springs has had its ups and downs and The Crescent has certainly seen it's share of tragedy.
Due to the remote mountain location, The Crescent was operated as a seasonal hotel during its early history. It was opened to guests during the summer months, and from 1908-1934 it operated as The Crescent College for Women during the fall and winter. But the depression brought an end to the college years, and the hotel fell dormant for a time.
Where Sick Folks Get Well
In 1937, the hotel was purchased by "Doctor" Norman Baker, and that's when things got really interesting. Baker is rumored to have rolled into town in a lavender Cadillac, wearing a lavender suit. He brought money, jobs and optimism to Eureka Springs, and the locals welcomed him with open arms. He purchased The Crescent Hotel and transformed it into Baker's Cancer Curing Hospital.
Norman Baker was a showman and a quack who claimed to have found the cure for cancer. He made headlines with his experimental tonic in his homestate of Iowa after he performed an open-air brain surgery in front of thousands. He was eventually ran of Iowa as a fraud, and found his grand vision fully realized at The Crescent Hotel.
He "treated" patients with his miracle cure, took their money and watched them slowly die.
Some facts are known about Norman Baker, but much of the stories surrounding the eccentric visionary have become legend. He made many changes to the hotel, including remodeling in an art deco style with bold shades of purple and black that some consider to be detrimental to it's original victorian design. He had a getaway tunnel constructed in his office closet that is still there to this day, and some say there were armed guards on the roof at all times. He is also rumored to have performed experiments on some of his patients, switching out body parts with those of animals. He was an associate of John R. Brinkley, also known as the "Goat Gland Doctor", so these rumors may be due to a bit of confused history, or possibly borrowed techniques.
For all the shenanigans he managed to pull off, Baker was eventually caught in a scheme that got him convicted of mail fraud. The exact details aren't completely clear, but I will share my favorite story surrounding the aforementioned fraud. He asked his patients to write many letters at once that could be sent to their loved ones over time. These letters would would express how wonderful they were feeling at the Baker Hospital and would ask for more money to be sent. Once the patient was dead, Baker would stash their bodies down in the morgue (which now serves as a maintenance room) and continue to send their letters one at a time at regular intervals. Once he had bled the family dry, he would inform them that their loved one was dead, and move on to the next one.
Baker was convicted in 1940, and spent four years in the United States Penitentiary in Leavenworth, Kansas. Once released, he retired to Florida and died of cirrhosis of the liver in 1958.
Any hotel with this much history is bound to have a few ghost stories, and The Crescent is no exception. It's often referred to as the most haunted hotel in America, and the current management has embraced it's spooky history. They have nightly ghost tours, which is where my fascination with the dark history of the hotel was born when I was 15. The most popular tales aren't anything unique, but interesting nonetheless.
A young Irishman named Michael fell from the scaffolding and died during construction. He is said to be a friendly and mischievous ghost, and is referred to fondly by employees and patrons alike. Michael can most often be found in room 218, which is located in the area where he fell to his death.
A man in victorian dress has been seen exiting the elevator and walking through the halls. This man is believed to be Dr. John Ellis, who was on staff at the hotel when it was a resort. Some guests have also smelled cherry pipe tobacco on occasion, which was Dr. Ellis' favorite.
The Woman in White
A young woman is said to have committed suicide by throwing herself off the balcony during the years of the The Crescent College for Women. People have reported seeing a woman in white on the balcony and roaming the halls.
Theodora was a patient at the Baker Hospital, and she lived in room 419. Theodora likes to keep the room tidy, and guests have reported having their things rearranged and moved about. Theodora's room is one of the most requested rooms in the hotel.
The Crescent Hotel Today
The Crescent has operated as a regular year-round hotel since 1946. It continues to be a popular destination for tourists, and especially for weddings. The location and architecture are still inspiring to new visitors and regulars alike. She's not flawless and perfectly preserved like some of the swanky historic hotels in bigger cities. There's evidence of the Baker Hospital, as well as a century of wear that isn't always concealed by renovation efforts. But she's got character and wisdom.
She's got a unique voice that resonates through the hallways and speaks to each person that walks through the door.
Against the odds, she's still standing, and she truly is The Grand Old Lady of the Ozarks.