The Crescent Hotel is shown circa 1886. (Photo courtesy www.crescent-hotel.com.)
My mom worked at a school in the area, and when class was out for whatever reason -- spring break, fall break, summer, a three-day weekend -- she and some of her colleagues would hit the road for girls' weekends. Usually the trips involved a long drive away from their everyday lives to a cabin -- the destination always changed -- where they would relax away their stress by soaking in a jacuzzi and indulging in junk food and chick flicks for a few days. This was fine for Mom, for a while. But if they happened to be near a reportedly haunted location, she made sure they took a break from the relaxation to go on the tour. Such was the case for destination No. 10 on my list of Top 10 Places I'd Love to Investigate, the Crescent Hotel in Eureka Springs, Ark.
Designed by Isaac L. Taylor, a well-known Missouri architect, the Crescent Hotel was built in 1886 by the Eureka Springs Improvement Company and the Frisco Railroad at a cost of $294,000. For 15 years it was operated year-round as a resort hotel. Various forms of recreation were provided to the hotel's wealthy guests: horseback riding, an in-house orchestra, hiking, picknicks, dances, etc.
The Eureka Springs area had gained national attention at that time for the reportedly "healing" waters of the nearby springs. People came to the springs in the hopes that the water would cure what ailed them. The spring water was also bottled and shipped to be sold.
From 1092 to 1907, the Frisco Railroad operated the Crescent as a summer hotel. A short time later, the springs lost their appeal as it became apparent they had no healing powers after all. Business dropped off, and the railroad gave up the hotel. Over the next 60 years, attempts were made to keep the building open -- as a resort, a girls' academy, a junior college -- but it eventually fell into disrepair.
However, with one of these attempts, Norman Baker's lease on the building for use as a health resort, the Crescent's history took a dark turn. Though Baker had no training, he considered himself a medical expert and claimed to have cures for many ailments. He claimed there was a conspiracy among medical professionals to keep these remedies off the market.
Barker had previously opened a hospital in Iowa, but was convicted in 1936 of practicing without a license. After that, he leased and remodeled the Crescent. According to Troy Taylor, http://www.prairieghosts.com/cresc.html, Baker also thought many of his medical enemies were out to kill him and installed several escape passages in the hotel so he could make a quick getaway should they come after him. Yeah, I'd trust this guy to cure my cancer.
Anyway, Baker's cancer patients were moved from Iowa to the Crescent. His big selling point: No operations or X-rays were performed on his patients -- they were cured by drinking the spring water and through the use of home remedies. Some legends say no one was killed by Baker's "remedies." Other legends range from skeletons being found in the walls during various remodels (why are skeletons always found in walls?) to Baker running experiments on the patients and dead bodies. Eventually, Baker was charged with mail fraud (I know, right?) because of his false medical claims. After his conviction in 1940, he was sentenced to four years in Leavenworth.
The ghost stories
The Crescent, of course, being a good tourist attraction, has decided to capitalize on its eerie past. There are many ghost stories and photos on the hotel's website, and it even offers ghost tours and seminars and contests to win a chance to sleep in the morgue.
Hotel employees have reported seeing the spirits of a man in a long, black coat in the gift shop, a lady in the garden, a little boy wearing glasses in the kitchen and pots and pans flying off their hooks, among others. Guests say they have recorded EVPs. TAPS caught intriguing video with a thermal imaging camera in the hotel's basement.
Some of the most common reports deal with a woman named Theodora. Stories about Theodora say that she often introduces herself as a cancer patient to housekeepers in room 419, then vanishes. Other sources say she was a woman who cared for terminal patients.
In the 1980s, 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. Others apparently have seen similar things.
In room 218, several guests and employees have reported strange sounds and feelings. The story goes that a construction worker fell from the roof as the hotel was being built and landed in the spot that room was to be built.
The bulk of the stories lead me to believe that the hauntings are residual. Most of the claims are pretty vague, true. But the sheer number of stories out there about this place make it interesting to me.
Videos taken at the Crescent
TAPS' thermal footage from the Crescent
More alleged EVPs