Arkansas’ Haunted Hotel
There’s a spa town in America nestled in the mountains, surrounded by a Wildlife Refuge that is home to big cats and bears.
This town features natural springs that have been bringing visitors for hundreds of years. And for fans of Victorian architecture, the Historic District features preserved well-preserved era homes and hotels.
The town is Eureka Springs, in the Ozark Mountains of northwest Arkansas, and there are famous hotels built around those natural springs… including one that is famously… haunted…the historic Crescent Hotel.
But before we dive into the spooky nature of the Crescent Hotel, you should know that Eureka Springs is so-named because of all the natural springs that flow from the mountainsides surrounding the Arkansas town.
Over sixty springs have been flowing from the Ozarks into the town, playing a big part in the development of the community. Many have believed that the mineral waters had curative properties, and it is true that the Eureka Springs area has many springs of unusually high quality. In real estate they say location, location, location and the very existence of this resort community is because of the proximity to the springs; visitors came to ‘take the waters,’ meaning drinking the pure mineral water and soaking in the spas.
In real estate they say location, location, location and the very existence of this resort community is because of the proximity to the springs; visitors came to ‘take the waters,’ meaning drinking the pure mineral water and soaking in the spas.
More than a dozen of the original springs have been restored, including Basin Spring—surrounded by a park in the heart of Eureka Springs; Grotto Spring, on Spring Street—which flows from a mountainside cave—and, also on Spring Street, Crescent Spring– from which the Crescent Hotel takes its name.
Crescent Spring is covered by a beautifully restored Victorian gazebo, at the bottom of the stone staircase on the mountainside leading to the hotel itself. The Crescent Hotel is perched not only on top of the mountainside, but in fact at the highest point in the entire county, seemingly surveying the whole of the town and the surrounding area.
Architect Isaac L. Taylor designed the hotel in 1886 and it was erected with death seemingly in its very foundation: an Irish stonemason known only by his first name—Michael– fell to his death during construction. By 1908, finances dictated changing from a hotel, and the building opened as a school called the Crescent College and Conservatory for Young Women. During this time a young woman fell to her death from one of the top-story windows—which couldn’t have been good for attracting students.
The school closed in 1924, and reopened in 1930 as a junior college. Finally, in 1937, a flamboyant, self-proclaimed medical maverick touting his new cure for cancer bought the hotel. His plans were to operate it as a facility serving people suffering from the disease.
According to the historical pages on the hotel’s website, the only problem was that while Norman Baker had experience as a former vaudeville magician, radio host, and investor—what he didn’t have was any kind of medical training whatsoever. Worse were Baker’s criteria for accepting patients: he preferred patients with no close family members, and upon their admission would encourage them to sign undated letters stating they were much improved by their stay. Patients who didn’t benefit fully from Baker’s treatments (including unlicensed surgical procedures in the basement) and those who cried out in pain ran the risk of being sequestered in the ‘psychiatric ward’ until they died. Their bodies would be spirited away under cloak of darkness, and the previously signed letters sent to whatever family was left, along with a request for funds to take care of the ‘arrangements.’
Baker was eventually imprisoned for fraud, leaving the Crescent Hotel again without an owner until 1946. After a fire some ten years later, the hotel seemed finished, until it was purchased in 1997 for 1.3 million by former CompuDyne CEO Marty Roenigk, who along with his wife Elise undertook a multi-million dollar renovation.
The renovation went so well that the hotel became one of the largest employers in the area; Roenigk was named Eureka Springs’ “Man of the Year” in 2001.
But on June 18th, 2009, Marty Roenigk died in a car accident, leaving Elise Roenigk as the sole current owner.
Ghosts and rumors of ghosts? Absolutely.
Staff members tell of receiving reports from guests of strange occurrences all over the property. Doors slam shut by themselves; people are awakened at night; a middle-aged man with a moustache is seen sitting quietly in the lobby or bar and then suddenly vanishes. Not surprisingly, reports are common of spectral sightings of nurses, doctors, and patients. Some guests even report seeing Norman Baker himself, who promised hope to so many but in the end, bequeathed them only pain and a lonely death.
Some of the more persistent sightings happen in room 218, with reports of strange sounds, sensations, and apparitions. Oddly enough, the Irish stonemason—Michael—who fell to his death reportedly landed directly on the spot where room 218 was built.
It’s fun to talk about spooky things around Halloween time. But in real life, scares are a lot less fun.
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