Thursday, June 14, 2012

America's Most Haunted Hotel

The 1886 Crescent Hotel
As I drove around a corner and caught my first glimpse of the Crescent Hotel, I thought, “Wow, that is a spooky lookin' place!”

Dubbed America's most haunted hotel, the Crescent sits a couple thousand feet above sea level in Eureka Springs, Arkansas. The bottom line is I spent a night at the hotel and thoroughly enjoyed myself. Two enthusiastic thumbs up. My visit was both interesting and fun, and I would eagerly go again. A more detailed description follows.

Eureka Springs

The staff was extremely friendly and helpful. I was already in town at the time – mid-April – for the Ozark UFO Conference. I did some Internet searches for things of interest around Eureka Springs, and came across the Crescent. All the locals I asked highly recommended it and I now see why.

I stopped by the place to have a look and find out some things the day before I ended up actually checking in. A female employee, Dani, patiently and competently answered my many questions. 

The Crescent is more than just a hotel with spirits wandering hither and yon, but also offers spa services which are popular in the area due to healing powers believed to flow through the many local springs. Dining options, ghost tours and performance art are also offered. I therefore asked Dani several questions and came to feel qualified to make an informed decision about what worked best for me.

I confidently reserved a room for the following night consisting of various amenities and a ticket for an evening ghost tour. The next day when the UFO conference wound up I moved camp to the Crescent Hotel.

Eureka Springs is a very old and small town with many, many stories. The Crescent Hotel alone dates back to 1886. The town has somewhat of an appearance of a movie set out of an old western, creating the feeling that most any moment one might hear the clicking and clacking of horses approaching. The town also has a large tourist draw and a historic district in which I found myself often wondering what the walls would say if they indeed could talk.

It might help the reader more accurately envision the overall mood one might have when visiting the Crescent Hotel, Eureka Springs and the vicinity to understand a couple things about the area. The geographic features, for instance, are more than noteworthy in and of themselves.

Actually, it becomes increasingly apparent that no one hanging out is overly concerned with the fact the Ozark Mountains are not conducive to supporting human life. Homes, inns, retail shops and everything else are constructed on sides of cliffs. Stilts hold such structures in place and are the only things between you and a several-hundred-foot drop. The stilts, structures, cliff sides and overly pronounced angles not present in traditional architecture create an effect strikingly reminiscent of illustrations from Dr. Seuss.

Roller coaster-like roads originally forged by horse and wagon wind all through the area and, all kidding aside, frequently have no shoulder whatsoever – just the road, you, the cliff and your flipping gut. Sidewalks are sometimes constructed in which on one side is the street, and on the other side is, well, I am not sure exactly what because I was not crazy enough to lurk up close enough to peek over the edge and see. Suffice it to say whatever it was, it was a helluva long way down and I wanted nothing to do with it.  

Birds and insects, yes, they should thrive in the Ozarks. People, no, at least not unless you are some kind of person that can defy gravity and walk vertically on icy jagged rocks jutting thousands of feet into the air.

Some of the many ghosts said to be haunting the Crescent Hotel were individuals who fell to their deaths. 'Magine that.

It's a Mystery, Scoob!

So, you may ask, how did the Crescent come to be called America's most haunted hotel? At least part of the answer seems due to a rather amazing turn of events that went down when an investigation was conducted by The Atlantic Paranormal Society, which those familiar with the ghost genre will quickly recognize as TAPS. 

TAPS investigators were operating a thermal imaging camera in the former morgue of the hotel (What the hell is a morgue doing in a hotel, you want to know? More on that later, 'cause it is indeed an interesting story!). While poking around the old morgue located in the creepy basement, investigators recorded a stunning human silhouette, assuming, of course, all is as it appears. 

As I understand it, TAPS made multiple efforts to confirm the amazing image was not some type of reflection or similar such relatively mundane malfunction. Nope, they seemed to have a genuine unknown. Check it out:

After the TAPS investigation hit television and the 'net, Dani and her coworkers got lots of experience booking reservations and registering guests. Like something right out of an episode of Scooby Doo, the popularity of the Crescent Hotel skyrocketed following the TAPS incident and the apparent anomaly.

There are many more interesting tales contained in the 126-year history of the hotel, which is what TAPS was doing on site in the first place. Let's explore some of that history. Most of the following I learned while taking the ghost tour, which wound from the top of the hotel all the way down into the windy night air of the front yard and finally into the dark and isolated basement housing the former morgue. 

Norman Baker

Far and away the most intriguing story to emerge from the shadowy corners of the ol' Crescent is that of Norman Baker. This tale is simply wild, people, with or without the undead.

Baker was incarnated upon the planet in 1882. Flamboyant and colorful by all accounts, he amassed millions of dollars during the early 20th century via such entrepreneurial ventures as performing as a talented magician, inventing and selling variations of musical instruments, and hosting a radio show in which he denounced big business while declaring himself a champion for the common man - true or not.

Baker apparently became fascinated with the large amounts of money that could be made by medical doctors in relatively brief periods of time. This led him to taking up trying to cure cancer - without so much as a single day of medical training. By 1937 he had purchased the Crescent, a seemingly perfectly isolated spot for attracting the wealthy ill while eluding his ever increasing number of enemies and political foes. 

While continuing to verbally attack the establishment (Baker was prone to calling the American Medical Association the American Meatcutters Association, for example), he claimed to hold no false pretenses of being a medical doctor, although he had been convicted in Iowa of practicing medicine without a license. He contended wealthy cancer victims were entirely free to choose whether or not to employ his alleged services.

The sink and counter in the basement morgue
where bodies were dissected and dismembered
Norman Baker sold hope to the terminally ill, by any other name and at very expensive costs. Some estimate he raked in as much as half a million dollars per year via his supposed elixir mail order business and hosting wealthy cancer victims at the luxury hotel. It seems at some point he may have actually believed he could accomplish something or other of possible medicinal value, as he led his human research subjects through increasingly strange and painful procedures, such as injecting their cancers with various concoctions. The elixirs and mixtures were apparently nothing more than fruit juices and vitamins, but Baker seems to have become rather obsessed with such activities - and this is where the morgue comes in.
The former morgue cooler
Baker built a morgue in the basement. He froze and stored the deceased, sometimes dismembering them and apparently studying their cancers, saving corpses for months in possible hopes of learning to improve upon his failed treatments. According to Thomas, a tour guide, the cooler at one point held some 28 total bodies (creepy, huh?). However historians might describe it, the fact of the matter is Norman Baker effectively persuaded people not only to allow him to do with them as he chose, but paid him to do it, whatever his ultimate motives may have been.  
For those wondering, Baker indeed angered enough people in positions of authority that he eventually ran out of places to conduct his bizarre affairs. He vacated the Crescent by 1940. The powers that be put Norman Baker in prison for sending unsubstantiated claims via the US mail; he went down for mail fraud. Perhaps it is fitting that some of the loved ones of the deceased testified at the trial.

Crescent History

Additional history surrounding the Crescent includes the death of a young lady that occurred during the hotel's incarnation as the Crescent College and Conservatory for Young Women from 1908 to 1924. It seems a woman fell, jumped or was thrown to her death from a room within the hotel. Stories abound and surround the incident, including tales of star crossed lovers. Several hotel visitors have claimed to see an apparition of a young woman floating alongside the hotel, and I think I would promptly fall over undead as an undoornail if any such apparition were to sashay past the window of my room.
redrum, redrum
Some of the more interesting of the many tales include 'the woman searching for her room key.' This woman is consistently reported in the vicinity of the same room, often seeming to need assistance entering the room. Not only does she seem to be confused about whether she is coming or going, but those who rent her room - I mean, uh, the room - claim their belongings get moved around, as if they are being urged to leave.

Certain rooms with such histories are naturally more popular than other rooms, being booked for weeks or even months in advance. Thomas explained how the crew from TAPS used the room of the woman searching for her key, and they swore on one occasion they returned to the room to find that some of their belongings, including a laptop case, had been moved and placed by the door.
Photo taken from a lounge atop the hotel
Another of the more popular rooms involves the story of a man who fell and died during construction of the building. The ghost of this man is said to have quite a fondness for the ladies. Women who stay in the room beside the spot where he is said to have fell to his death report phenomena ranging from hearing their names whispered to having the shower curtain inexplicably fly open (talk about falling over undead).

No haunted hotel could be complete without felines, and a couple of cats currently call the Crescent home. The Crescent Hotel is an animal-friendly destination where your pets are welcome to join you during your visit. As a matter of fact, former Crescent resident Morris the cat was sorely missed when he passed on, his funeral in the yard attended by many adoring townspeople. He is naturally reported to still meander the halls and grounds. 

A current hotel resident
As you might imagine, a lot of crap has hit the fan in a hotel that has stood for some 126 years. There is much history and it is ever increasing with each passing guest. Visit the hotel's website to learn more, view ghost photos and view videos of interest.

I was most impressed with the ghost tour, as Thomas not only filled the tour with intriguing information, but it was indeed interesting to view the old structure from top to bottom. I highly recommend visiting the Crescent and taking the tour.

I found my fellow tour-takers to be fun and friendly. The folks I met at the Crescent were rather upbeat and enjoyed joking about the subject matter while taking it seriously enough to be respectful. It was entertaining with a certain camaraderie.
The late Morris
I retired to my room for the night and slept as soundly as I could recall in recent memory. I seemed to sleep straight through the night and felt fully refreshed when I woke. A friend back in my home state of Florida asked if I might attribute my restful night to the mountain air, having by that time had a few days to work its magic.

"I'm sure the mountain air didn't hurt," I replied, "but mostly I think I just felt a lot safer around a bunch of ghosts than I felt around some of the people at the UFO convention."

Breakfast Reflections

The next morning I sat in the large dining room enjoying an absolutely outstanding breakfast buffet. The meal centered around vegetable quiche with choices of meats, cereals, breads and beverages. It was truly a treat.
The dining room
After my fill of sausage and eggs, I sipped coffee, people watching and wondering about their stories. Where were they from? Were they interested in ghosts? What were they doing here? 

Notes from Tennessee Waltz rang true throughout the hardwood floor dining room and lingered down the adjacent hall past the former office of Norman Baker. The old, old trees outside the large windows swayed slowly in the morning breeze, their shadows dancing both inside and outside the over-sized room.

I found myself wondering what an extended stay might cost. I found myself contemplating various entrepreneurial ventures one might undertake in Eureka Springs, Arkansas.

Sitting there in the 1886 Crescent Hotel, I realized my thoughts had changed a great deal since first arriving in the area just a few days earlier. Concerns first stowing away from Florida now seemed lifetimes away. As the 'Waltz played on and the shadows continued their endless dance, I indeed felt as I confidently suspect thousands before me had felt when sitting atop that mountain at that hotel: as if they could stay right there, just like they were, indefinitely. It seemed not only possible but almost palpable.

In that moment, it was not difficult at all for me to suspend judgment on the notion that some people might become overly attached to a place... or a person... or a fight, and could simply refuse to detach and leave. For a moment there it felt so very inviting to just... stay... as I suspect it may have felt for many before me.

I ordered a coffee to go. As Jake told Roland in the imagination of Stephen King, "Go then, there are other worlds than these."


  1. Jack wrote: "I retired to my room for the night and slept as soundly as I could recall in recent memory. I seemed to sleep straight through the night and felt fully refreshed when I woke. A friend back in my home state of Florida asked if I might attribute my restful night to the mountain air, having by that time had a few days to work its magic.

    "I'm sure the mountain air didn't hurt," I replied, "but mostly I think I just felt a lot safer around a bunch of ghosts than I felt around some of the people at the UFO convention." " - - -

    Hehehe......You are naughty, Jack! ;-)

    ~ Susan

  2. Hiya Jack, it's always worth being sceptical of ghosts shows and whatever they turn up. Nevertheless I watched the clip with interest and it certainly looks like a figure. Amusingly, the 'hot spot' of the right upper arm caught my attention. It looks very much like a question mark ( and would appeal to any of those who like 'Trickster' motifs.

    It's a pity they didn't pass comment on the possibility that the figure was actually a person. I don't want to be 'that Klassy skeptic' who puts everything down to shady guys trying to attract business to their respective towns. Still, in this case, it makes me wonder!

    The hotel and location look beautiful and hauntings are far more substantial than the ideas held by some of those Ozark speakers.

    1. Hey -

      I agree one should proceed with skeptical caution while also enjoying the entertainment value offered at such destinations as the Crescent Hotel. About the TAPS investigation, I of course cannot endorse or oppose it, but I can offer a little more info than was contained in my post.

      I viewed a video while at the hotel which suggested the TAPS crew unsuccessfully attempted to recreate the image captured on the thermal imaging. I do not know how extensively they tested the different possibilities, but, for what it's worth, TAPS says they ultimately concluded they do not know what was filmed.

      Also, the highlighted 'question mark' is indeed a point of interest. According to the same video, the mark was not actually on the person/image but on a wall behind it. If I recall correctly, TAPS investigators were a bit puzzled why something or other on the wall was emitting such apparent energy. They were also, if I remember accurately, curious as to why the energy from the item on the wall could be viewed so clearly through the 'person.'

      I just don't know, K! ...but kinda interesting, ain't it?

      I also agree that the ghost genre has quite a bit of substance one can sink their teeth into as compared to a lot of other Fortean stuff such as ufology. It would be both fun and interesting to check it out further as resources permitted.