The Haunted History Of The 1886 Crescent Hotel In Eureka Springs
Known as the most haunted hotel in the United States, this building attracts thousands of guests every year.
The history behind the building, the crescent hotel and spa was a hospital, the hotel is open for guests, paranormal activities.
Arkansas is famous for its hot springs , a prominent tourist attraction in the region, with hotels and agencies promoting their healing properties. Located on the top of the Ozark Mountains overlooking Eureka Springs, the Crescent Hotel and Spa was announced as a secluded place where wealthy people could enjoy Arkansas' healing springs back in 1886.
Yet, due to financial problems, it didn't take long for the Crescent Hotel and Spa to close its doors. Later, the building was home to different endeavors, and several witnesses endorsed the rumors the place is haunted. For travelers looking to explore some of the most haunted places on earth , the Eureka Springs Crescent Hotel is open for reservations and promises a unique paranormal experience.
The first tragedy at the building happened during its construction when a stonemason, identified only as Michael, had a fatal accident. Many years later, people still claim to see his ghost hanging around in the same room where he fell. The accident didn't outshine the Crescent Hotel and Spa's inauguration, celebrated with a gala ball for VIP guests, including the region's most influential and wealthy people . Shortly after the inauguration, the hotel had financial problems and closed its doors to guests.
Between 1903 and 1924, the building was the address for the Crescent College and Conservatory for Young Women. This period was marked by another accident: one of the students fell from one of the windows and died. After Crescent College was closed, other people tried using the building for new business, but all failed.
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Despite the accidents, Crescent Hotel in Eureka Springs became known as one of the most haunted places in the United States, thanks to Norman Baker. The man purchased the building in 1937 and decided to open a hospital and health spa for cancer patients. He was a charlatan and had no medical education but managed to attract dozens of patients by advertising miraculous treatments on the radio.
Barker's elixir consisted of a combination of ingredients that included watermelon seeds, corn silk, and clover . He would only accept patients with no close relatives and promised that if they were cured within six weeks, they wouldn't have to pay. However, Baker's exams consisted of pitching and looking at the patients.
His treatments were far away from harmless. Baker would torture the patients, injecting his elixir through a hole in their skull . He would isolate the patients suffering in a wing known as the psychiatric ward.
Many authorities and doctors tried to stop Baker, but he always managed to find a way to get away with it. He was finally arrested for mail fraud and imprisoned for four years. Yet, the hotel's history still impacts people visiting the building today.
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After the hospital was closed, the building remained abandoned for many years, and A fire almost burned the place down in the 1950s. In 1997, it was purchased by Marty and Elise Roenigk, who spent six years renovating it and were determined to reopen the hotel. Since then, the hotel has received many recognitions, including by the National Trust for Historic Preservation as one of America's Dozen Distinctive Destinations.
The hotel has embraced its reputation as a haunted place and used it to attract more tourists. Guests can join their year-round haunted tours, chilling shows, ghost stories, and thrilling events, especially during Halloween. The ghost tours included visiting the room Barker used as a morgue and autopsy room. Every year, they receive over 3,000 guests trying to discover the hotel's mysteries.
They have different deals for guests, such as the Midweek Ghost Package , which includes one night at the hotel, two tickets for the ghost tour, and some souvenirs. Another option is the Spirits of the Crescent , which offers a night at the hotel, a ghost tour, souvenirs, dining credit, and a resort pass. It's also possible to book only the tour.
Although paranormal activities are the main attraction at the hotel, they also host weddings and other events. The place also has many trails and spa activities for guests who prefer to stay away from ghosts.
- Prices: $275 (Midweek Ghost Package) and $450 (Spirits of the Crescent)
- Price for the ghost tour : $29.95
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More than 40 people died in the building when it was a hospital retreat, and it's hardly something that will be forgotten. In 2019, over 400 glass bottles with human tissues and tumors were unearthed in the hotel's backyard, bringing the hospital's story to the headlines again.
The Crescent Hotel is known as the most haunted hotel in the United States, and there're several reports of paranormal activities on the building . People often say they see ghosts of doctors, nurses, patients, and even pets. The most haunted spot is Room 218, the same place the stonemason building the hotel fell to death.
The place became a popular destination among paranormal investigators who study the area. They believe the secret behind its paranormal activity is in its foundation. The hotel was built on an eighteen-inch-thick limestone, and it's believed this stone releases electromagnetic and psychic energies.
Ghostly Happenings at the Crescent Hotel
Built in 1886, there have been hundreds of tales of paranormal experiences at the Crescent Hotel & Spa. Given its history, it’s not surprising. Besides being a popular mountaintop resort, the hotel has served as both a girls’ college and a cancer hospital–where “Doctor” Norman Baker claimed to have the cure for cancer. Announced as America’s Most Haunted Hotel by the likes of Ghost Hunters and Ghost Adventures, an abundance of extraordinary experiences have always attracted the attention of paranormal investigators who have traveled to the property to study and research the hotel’s supernatural activity.
Famed tales include: • Room 218, where Michael, an Irish stonemason who fell to his death when building the hotel is known to hang out. • Theodora, a cancer patient is known to be seen fumbling for her keys outside Room 419 as well as tidying up for guests when they leave the room. • Breckie, a 4-year-old child of Richard & Mary Breckenridge Thompson who died in the hotel due to complications from appendicitis. He has been seen throughout the hotel often bouncing a ball. • Dr. John Freemont Ellis, the hotel’s in-house doctor circa the late nineteenth century is most often seen–or his cherry pipe tobacco is smelled–near his office which is now room 212. • Morris, the famed hotel cat, was known as the Hotel General Manager for 21 years, and later buried on the hotel property is regularly seen and heard.
While the Crescent Hotel in Eureka Springs has many ghost stories of the past, what makes it America’s Most Haunted Hotel is the activity of today and the throngs of paranormal investigators who study throughout the year and who travel to the property each year in January to share findings.
Many paranormal investigators have come to believe that limestone has a special ability to absorb and release electromagnetic and psychic energies. Crescent Mountain, the hilltop the hotel sits on, is predominantly limestone. The massive eighteen-inch-thick stones used for the body of the hotel were made of limestone as well. These factors may very well contribute to the abundant paranormal activity the hotel guests’ experience.
Part of the Mystery Unsolved
A recurring phenomenon happens in a spot on the 3rd floor where the hotel connects to an “annex” built onto the hotel when it was a hospital. The area has been said to be a portal to the other side. Multiple guests have grown faint, with a few passing out briefly, at the same stop on the nightly ghost tour with no reasonable explanation. The occurrences go in spurts, many happening over several weeks or months, and then none for some time. Guests suddenly turn pale, falling against and then sliding down the wall in a faint. Although the loss of consciousness does not last very long and complete recovery is immediate, it tends to further substantiate the hotel’s legendary supernatural connection to the paranormal.
Reports Continue from the Days of Being a Hospital
“There has been quite an uptick in activity in the morgue. I think we have stirred things up a bit with the discovery of the remains” says Debra “The Duchess”, manager of the nightly ghost tours referring to the 2019 uncovering of a secret bottle grave of the Crescent’s most infamous resident owner, Norman Baker. A certified archeological dig found hundreds of bottles of Baker’s “secret formula” as well as jars containing “medical specimens” that had been surgically removed from patients.
A dark figure has been seen recently in the morgue and there has been an increase in cold spots and reports of people being touched.
Throngs of Amateur Investigators
Year-round, the hotel hosts paranormal thrill-seekers. Over 35,000 of these ghost hunters will take the tour annually. This interest has spurred an entire community of paranormal enthusiasts who participate in a Facebook group called The Crescent Hotel Ghost Tours . Over 5000 members from across the country have shared thousands of their photos and paranormal experiences while visiting the hotel.
Researchers Meet Every Year to Study Findings
Annually, the hotel hosts a conclave ( Eureka Springs Paranormal Weekend ), to bring together interested investigators of all experience levels with nationally known paranormal investigators for overnight ghost hunts and to seek answers. One weekend became two weekends as headliners for the weekends’ best-selling author Larry Flaxman and founder of the Ozarks Paranormal Society , Dave Harkins found both the evidence of the paranormal and the interest level of amateur investigators more than could be served in one weekend.
Flaxman noted what draws so many ghost hunters back to the hotel, “The rich history of the Crescent Hotel, including the unscrupulous acts of Norman Baker and the physical, emotional, and mental pain of his cancer patients who occupied the Crescent during its time as a hospital, has left an indelible mark. Hauntings are common in locations where there has been extreme trauma and tragedy and the long history of tragedies at this property has lent itself to producing an environment highly conducive for paranormal activity and making the Crescent Hotel America’s Most Haunted Hotel.”
Evidence of the haunting came to the forefront at the 2021 Paranormal Weekend, as a full-body apparition was captured on camera with the help of a ghost hunting tool called a laser grid that creates pinpoints of lights. If a light or group of lights are missing it’s because they are being blocked by something. The picture was taken during an investigation by an amateur investigator in the Crystal Dining Room. A figure had often been reported in this location sitting on the window sill waiting for someone and now that has been backed by evidence.
Is the hotel really haunted? Numerous people believe it is. According to many, it is considered the most haunted hotel in America. There’s only one way to find out for sure. Book a stay at the Crescent Hotel and join the community of paranormal investigators.
History | January 2020
The Charlatan of the Ozarks Still Looms Over the Haunted Crescent Hotel
A notorious quack peddled cures at an Arkansas resort in the 1930s. Nowadays the con game is all for show
Photographs by Antone Dolezal & Lara Shipley; Text by Jeff MacGregor
They found the bottles buried on the edge of the woods behind the hotel last spring. Specimen bottles mostly, each about the size of a jam jar give or take, many intact, some still filled with clear liquid yellowing to brown then molasses black, the wax and rubber seals of the glass stoppers cracked but somehow holding after 80 years in the ground; others pristine, as if they’d just been shipped from the lab. In the first hour or so the groundskeeper unearthed scores of them, but even in the bright light of morning it was impossible to judge which body parts they held. By the end of that day the staff had pulled hundreds from the tree line down the hill and everyone in Eureka Springs knew what they’d found. The next day everyone in Arkansas knew and by the end of the week everyone in America knew they’d found bottles and jars and “body parts” behind the Crescent Hotel, and that the sheriff and the coroner had come and gone, and the archaeology team from the university in Fayetteville was on its way.
Built in 1886, the Crescent Hotel in Eureka Springs, Arkansas, is the grandest resort in the Ozarks. By the time of the Great Depression it sits empty. In 1937 it becomes the Baker Hospital. Norman Baker claims to have a cure for cancer. The colorful mailers and brochures he sends out refer to the area as the “Switzerland of America,” under the cheery banner, “Where Sick Folks Get Well,” and promise that cancer is curable without the knife or radium or X-ray. But Norman Baker is a quack. That’s why the medical board ran him out of Iowa, then chased him down to Mexico.
Norman Baker is not a doctor. Norman Baker is a charlatan.
He is conventionally handsome. Sharp-featured and clear-eyed. Confidence-inspiring, straight out of a B-movie casting call, he has a well-cut head of distinguished gray hair and a strong jaw balanced on a celluloid shirt collar. Is the gaze level? The handshake firm? Are the palms cool and dry? You bet.
His patients—the suckers and the gulls and the true believers—are weak with sickness, desperate, pale. They come from everywhere, and pay cash for the treatments. They pay and pay. Baker promises life, he promises vigor. No surgery. No radiation. Just Formula 5 and the power of positive thinking.
Baker drives a hand-hammered, coach-built Cord automobile custom-painted in electric lavender. He wears dark chalk-stripe three-piece suits in winter, white suits and matching shoes in summer. Lilac shirts year-round. He sports a diamond horseshoe stickpin and a watch fob heavy as an anchor chain.
In the leanest years of our history, he doesn’t hide the money he grifts from the sick and the hopeless, he broadcasts it. He brags it. He is loud with it. He is the picture of vulgar American excess.
“Formula 5” is alcohol, glycerol, carbolic acid, ground watermelon seed, corn silk and clover leaves. It is administered by injection at the site of the cancer —up to seven times a day. Baker stole the recipe from another con man. It does nothing.
Illness is an island. There is no loneliness like sickness. You feel it in these rooms. Not isolation, but desolation.
The Crescent , restored, is still open and more popular than ever. In part because it bills itself as America’s Most Haunted Hotel. On the ghost tour they tell you these stories: Michael, the stonemason flirt from Ireland falling to his death during the hotel’s construction, now and forever romancing guests in Room 218; Breckie, the 4-year-old boy taken up by illness a hundred years ago, lately playing in the hall and photobombing tourist selfies and snapshots; Theodora, 80 years dead and still trying to find her key in front of Room 419, an obsessive-compulsive packer of guest suitcases when angry; the Nurse, pushing a gurney through eternity on the third floor; and perhaps most famously, the Girl in the Mist, who from time to time to time—always around 10:30 in the moonlight—will fall or fling herself from one of the east side balconies into the garden below. She is shrouded in mist as she falls, as is her story. There’s no record of an event like this at the hotel, but folks claim to have seen the ghost, a white radiance plummeting from darkness to darkness, and they wonder...was she pushed? Did she jump? Was she—is she—a character straight out of Dreiser, pregnant and unwed and ruined, killed by despair and Victorian convention?
Here the implausible yields to history, as the hotel was, for a few years anyhow, a distinguished college and conservatory for young women. From 1908 until 1924 the hotel bolstered its summer tourist revenue by becoming a destination boarding school for the edification of American womanhood. According to the Encyclopedia of Arkansas , an early advertisement in Cosmopolitan magazine reads as follows:
“Crescent College and Conservatory for Women. On top of the Ozarks. Famous for healthfulness and beauty of location. $300,000 fireproof building. Rooms with private bath. Elevator. Accredited Junior College. General courses; art, music, expression, domestic science.”
But there’s no evidence that any fallen or falling woman was a student.
On the fourth floor, in what used to be the faculty lounge, is now a small museum and library where the history of this place is made vivid. Historian and artist and storyteller Rebecca Becker keeps the memory of the conservatory days alive. There are exhibits and display cases and even a small stage. And Keith Scales is in charge of the ghost tours that begin here, and the ghost stories, and they work together to make the hotel the lively old dame she is.
The Ozarks are a crossroads, and over the last 10,000 years or so Eureka Springs has attracted pilgrims and seekers of every kind. It was said the waters healed the sick and made you whole again, so the Osage chief who carved out the holy basin next to the spot where the Basin Park Hotel now stands on Spring Street would recognize the impulse if not the architecture. This has always been a boom-and-busttown and a hide-out and a rest cure, a place to lay low or live high. Bank robbers, bootleggers, railroad magnates and cathouse madams all made their fortunes here. Gangsters from Chicago kept the hotels and roadhouses and nightclubs busy after World War II, and when the local economy swooned in the 1970s, hippies saved the place and its storied gingerbread homes and it became an arts oasis. It remains so.
Over the years, Scales has performed a one-man Norman Baker show many times on that small upstairs stage. He and Becker do their best to make the Crescent a history project rather than merely a haunted house.
In addition to the ghost tours and the haunted hotels and the springs and the baths, Eureka Springs has galleries and restaurants and bars and a beautiful old Carnegie library. There is a Passion play here as well, and an opera company, and the Christ of the Ozarks statue, seven stories high.
The eroded Ozarks Plateau upon which all this rests is hundreds of millions of years old. Walk ten feet into the trees and you’re part of prehistory. The woods resonate with that ancient animism. The forests hum with it. You can hear them breathe.
There’s something heavy in the quiet here, though, some weight to the air. Especially at sundown, or right before dawn when the mist hangs in the cuts and hollows. There’s something eerie in it, dreamlike, something deep and uneasy.
In the hotel, it’s the same. Every stairwell and landing is fraught, every empty hallway feels crowded, and every room you enter feels as if someone just left. You are alone but never alone here. And to the suggestible, to the willing, that’s the point of the place. To be a little frightened by the supernatural. To feel alive in the company of the dead. In the dark, everything is a ghost story.
But even the skeptical are moved here—if not to fear then to sadness. The sharp historical sense of dread and of pain and of loss can be overwhelming if you open yourself to it. Because worse than any monster is a man like you or me. Weak. Greedy. Unaccountable. Selling hope to the hopeless. If you checked in to the Baker Hospital, your room holds everything you ever lost.
The morgue smells of dust. It smells of dampness and dust and stone. It holds the heat of the day in the front room, but the farther in you walk, the cooler it gets. The morgue is not in the basement, but it is dark and low-ceilinged and you imagine the weight of the hotel on top of you. The refrigerator where they kept the bodies is the last stop on the ghost tour. In an alcove are shelves with more of the specimen and sample jars of the kind that were found down the hill. Many of these hold indeterminate bits of flesh and were displayed in the lobby of the hotel when it was the cancer “hospital.” There was a “ghost sighting” in this room—right where you’re standing—on a recent ghost-hunters’ TV show. It plays on a loop behind you.
There’s a commercial kitchen utility counter and sink against one wall, which some people mistake for an autopsy table. The morgue was probably a pantry, but for the few years of Norman Baker’s Cancer is Curable Hospital, the dead were brought down here to wait for the hearse from the local funeral home.
On the day Germany invaded Poland, September 1, 1939, Norman Baker was arrested for mail fraud. That’s how they got him: the brochures. He was tried and convicted and sent to Leavenworth. Norman Baker was a charlatan in the long terrible tradition of American charlatans. A liar and a thief who sold broken promises. Norman Baker died a Florida retiree in 1958. He had cirrhosis. And cancer.
“I think they’re pig parts,” Scales says of the contents of the specimen jars. Not surgical excisions. Not even human bits cribbed from the local mortician. Pickled trims and ends bought from the local butcher, maybe; or specimens ordered from a medical school supply house. We’ll get the results once the university tests them.
But the jars will make no sense even then, even as an advertising device. Baker claimed to cure cancer without surgery. Why bother displaying fake tumors?
Because people desperate to be persuaded don’t think. They want to be convinced. They want to be sold. They want to believe. Because they ache to live. And maybe that’s what you get from coming here, from every one of these ghost stories. A lesson in longing.
Life persists. Life insists on life.
So maybe in the middle of that first long night you wake. You fumble for the light and walk to the window. Behind you the old hotel creaks and groans. Outside, the invisible valley is all silence and darkness. What you see on the glass is your own reflection. The only ghost in this room is you.
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Jeff MacGregor | | READ MORE
Jeff MacGregor is the award-winning Writer-at-Large for Smithsonian . He has written for the New York Times , Sports Illustrated , Esquire , and many others, and is the author of the acclaimed book Sunday Money . Photo by Olya Evanitsky.
Lara Shipley | READ MORE
Lara Shipley is an assistant professor of photography at Michigan State University.
Antone Dolezal | READ MORE
Antone Dolezal is a visual artist who incorporates photography, video, sound, text, bookmaking and archives in his work.