Perched on the crest of West Mountain above the Victorian village of Eureka Springs, Arkansas, is the historic 1886 Crescent Hotel & Spa. The 78-room resort hotel is not only known as one of America’s most distinctive and historic destinations, but also renowned for a bevy of spirits that are said to continue to walk upon these palatial grounds.
Built by the Eureka Springs Improvement Company and the Frisco Railroad, the hotel was designed by Isaac L. Taylor, a well-known Missouri architect who had designed several famous buildings in St. Louis. Twenty-seven acres at the north end of West Mountain was chosen for its majestic location overlooking the valley.
It was an important time in Eureka Springs’ history as the “healing waters” of the Ozarks had become well-known nationwide. People from near and far were swarming to the area in hopes of curing their ailments and easing their pains. The Crescent Hotel & Spa developers planned to take advantage of these many travelers by building the most luxurious resort in the country.
Powell Clayton, a former governor of Arkansas from 1868 to 1870, formed the Eureka Springs Improvement Company to take advantage of this prosperous period. Along with several other investors, the Frisco Railroad joined in on the plan, knowing that the resort could only spur their business.
Numerous stonemasons were brought in from Ireland to begin the construction in 1884. Due to the density of the magnesium limestone used to build the hotel, special wagons were constructed to move the massive pieces of stone from the quarry site on the White River. Designed in an eclectic array of architectural styles, the masons built 18-inch walls, several towers, overhanging balconies, and a massive stone fireplace in the lobby.
As construction continued for the next two years, more and more workers were hired as electrical lights, modern plumbing, steam heating, an elevator, extensive landscaping, and luxurious decorations and amenities were built into the hotel. Ultimately, the hotel cost $294,000 to build, an extremely extravagant amount for the time.
On May 20, 1886, the grandiose Crescent Hotel opened amid much fanfare. The local Eureka Springs Times Echo called it “America’s most luxurious resort hotel.” Notables from across the country attended its grand opening, including a gala ball, complete with a full orchestra and banquet dinner for 400 celebrants.
Offering large airy rooms with exquisite furnishings, a dining room that once seated more than 500 people, and outside amenities that included a swimming pool, tennis courts, and croquet, among a beautiful landscape of flower gardens, winding boardwalks, and gazebos, the luxury of the hotel was unmatched at the time.
Immediately, the well-to-do of the nation began to flock to the luxurious resort hotel as liveried footmen met them at the Frisco depot before transporting them to the inn. Once there, the guest could enjoy the healing waters of the spa and a stable of 100 sleek-coated horses, tea dances in the afternoon, and elaborate parties every evening with a full in-house orchestra.
However, the prosperity was not to last. After the turn of the century, people realized that the acclaimed “healing waters” didn’t have the curative powers that the hotel and the city were known for. Little by little, people stopped coming to the beautiful resort.
From 1908 to 1924, the building was utilized as the Crescent College and Conservatory for Young Women but continued as a summer resort. However, after operating for 16 years, the revenues from tuition and summer guests were not high enough to maintain the costs of running the large building, and the Women’s College closed. After sitting abandoned for the next six years, it briefly reopened as a junior college from 1930 to 1934.
In 1937, Norman Baker arrived on the scene and bought the aging hotel to open a cancer hospital and health resort. Advertising miracle cures that required neither surgery nor painful, extensive tests; the Baker Hospital alleged that its patients would walk away from the “resort” cancer-free.
However, what was unknown to the many desperate patients who flocked to the hospital was that Norman Baker’s “miracle” was nothing more than a scam that he had been purporting on unsuspecting patients for years. The man had no medical training and was convicted in Iowa in 1936 for practicing medicine without a license. Furthermore, the American Medical Association had condemned the many elixirs sold for several different ailments, including cancer. While operating the “hospital,” Baker was being investigated by federal authorities and, in 1939, was finally arrested for mail fraud. One US Postal Inspector estimated that Baker had made as much as $500,000 per year, selling his “miracle elixirs” through the mail while in Eureka Springs.
Baker was convicted to serve a four-year sentence in Leavenworth. The investigation revealed that over the years, Baker had defrauded cancer patients out of approximately $4,000,000. While no one died from Baker’s “cure,” the investigation showed that his treatments most likely hastened the death of those suffering from cancer when they didn’t receive effective forms of treatment. In 1944, Baker was released from Leavenworth and moved to Florida, where he lived comfortably until he died in 1958.
During the war years of 1940 to 1946, the beautiful building once again sat empty. However, in 1946, the hotel was purchased by four Chicago businessmen who began to restore the old hotel to its former elegance. Though never at the level of its first grand days in the late 1800s, the hotel again began to thrive. Unfortunately, tragedy struck in 1967 when a fire swept through the fourth floor of the south wing, and much of it was destroyed.
Over the next several years, the hotel passed through several hands as repairs and more restorations were made, but it was never fully restored to its original grandeur. However, this all changed in 1997 when Marty and Elise Roenigk purchased the historic inn. In May 1997, the couple announced, “In five years, we pledge to have this ‘Grand Lady of The Ozarks’ back to where she was 100 years ago.” But, Ozark residents, having heard these promises too many times before, were skeptical.
That year, the Roenigks began to rebuild the spas and opened a 6,500 square-foot “New Moon Spa,” including Vichy showers, a hydrotherapy tub, a sauna, massage and therapy tables, tanning beds, and exercise equipment. The next major project was to restore the hotel’s skyline, destroyed in the 1967 fire. Costing well over a million dollars, the 3,500 square-foot penthouse, original center observation tower, and the 200-pound, 24-foot-tall Crescent Moon weathervane were restored.
In the meantime, restorations of the guest rooms, lounges, electrical and plumbing, and landscaping were also ongoing. On September 6, 2002, Roenigk’s bold announcement became a reality. After 5 million dollars in renovations, the grand hotel had been fully restored to its original stately glory.
Today, the Crescent Hotel is one of the most visited hotels in the South. With its long and extensive history, it is also known to be one of the most haunted places in the Ozarks. Staff and guests alike tell stories of several ghosts that are still said to inhabit the old hotel.
The most often sighted apparition is a red-haired Irish stonemason, who the staff has dubbed “Michael.” Allegedly, Michael was one of the original masons who worked on the hotel’s building in 1885. However, while working on the roof, he lost his balance, fell to the second-floor area, and was killed. This area now houses Room 218 of the hotel and is said to be the most haunted guestroom. Michael is a mischievous spirit who likes to play tricks with the lights, the doors, and television and often is heard pounding loudly on the walls. Others have witnessed hands coming out of the bathroom mirror and heard cries of what sounded like a man falling in the ceiling. Yet other guests have been shaken during the night, and on one occasion, a patron ran screaming from the room, professing to have seen blood splattered all over its walls.
From the days when the old hotel served as Baker’s Cancer Hospital, the lingering spirit of a nurse dressed all in white is often seen pushing a gurney on the third floor. Only spotted after 11:00 p.m., when they used to move the deceased out of the cancer hospital, the ghostly spirit vanishes when she reaches the end of the hallway. Others who have not seen the apparition have reported the sounds of squeaks and rattles that sound like a gurney rolling down the hallway. During the 1930s, this area was used as the morgue and even today still houses “Dr.” Baker’s old autopsy table and walk-in freezer. The laundry area is also located on the third floor, where a hotel maintenance man once witnessed all of the washers and dryers inexplicably turning on by themselves in the middle of the night.
The greedy “Doctor Baker” apparition has also been seen in the old Recreation Room in the basement and at the foot of the first-floor stairway. Dressed in a purple shirt and white linen suit and looking somewhat confused, the apparition appears identical to old photographs of the infamous “quack.”
For a time, the antique switchboard continued to be utilized in the hotel, but when it continually received phone calls from the otherwise empty basement, the old switchboard was discontinued. It was here in the basement that “Dr.” Baker’s hapless patients were often convinced of his miracle cures and handed over their life’s savings for the “treatment.”
Another remnant of these old “hospital” days is a ghostly figure who calls herself “Theodora.” Most often seen by housekeepers in Room 419, Theodora courteously introduces herself as a cancer patient before quickly vanishing.
In the lobby, a gentleman dressed in formal Victorian clothing, complete with a top hat, has often been spotted at the bottom of the stairway and sitting at the bar. Described as distinguished-looking with a mustache and beard, many have claimed to entice him into a conversation. However, he sits quietly and never responds before he suddenly disappears.
The hotel’s Crystal Dining Room is another place in the hotel that is said to contain frequent paranormal activities. Here, other Victorian dressed apparitions have often been encountered. Many have seen groups of 1890’s dancers, in full-dress attire, whirling around the room in the wee hours of the morning. Other reports tell of a 19th-century gentleman who has been seen sitting at a table near the windows. When approached, he says, “I saw the most beautiful woman here last night, and I am waiting for her to return.”
A former waitress reported that she spied the vision of a Victorian bride and groom in the dining room’s huge mirror. The groom allegedly made eye contact with her before the couple faded away.
The Victorian spirits that linger in the dining room are said to be very playful. On one occasion during the Christmas season, the Christmas tree and all its packages were found mysteriously moved to the other side of the room. Additionally, all the chairs had been moved to circle or face the transported tree. On another occasion, staff arrived in the morning to find the dining room in perfect order, except for all of the menus scattered about the room.
In the dining room’s kitchen. The apparition of a small boy has been seen skipping around, and sometimes pots and pans are said to come flying off the hooks of their own accord.
One other often reported spirit is a young female who once attended the Crescent College and Conservatory for Young Women, which was open between 1908 and 1924. According to the tale, the young girl either jumped from or was pushed from a balcony to her death. Today, guests report hearing her screams as she falls.
Other apparitions have been sighted in Room 202 and Room 424, as well as a ghostly waiter carrying a tray of butter in the hallways.
Whether you visit the historic Crescent Hotel to get a peek at one of its many spirits or want to experience its long history and luxurious accommodations, you will certainly not be disappointed.
Today, the fully restored hotel creates an ambiance that has transcended time while providing all the amenities that the modern-day traveler requires. Surrounded by 15 acres of formal gardens and nature trails, the hotel offers 72 guest rooms, many with their balcony, and 12 luxury suites throughout the building. The New Moon Spa features a full menu of treatments, a salon, and a wellness program.