Friday, April 5, 2024

The Haunted Crescent Hotel

Today's post is by researcher David Claerr. Check out his Sasquatch Tool Use book HERE.

Nestled in the scenic mountains of Northwest Arkansas is the fascinating, eccentric town of Eureka Springs. Known for its quaint Victorian architecture and many cultural attractions, the berg is a haven for artists, artisans, musicians and writers, with a perennial draw for tourists and travelers.

Looming over the town, on a distant ridge, the haunted Crescent Hotel is perched like a giant Gothic castle on the crest of West Mountain. 

The massive structure is formidable and imposing, with a rough stone exterior. Thick masses of ivy cling to the walls in an emerald embrace. Balconies with whitewashed porticos, gleaming like bleached bones, are centered between the north and south wings of the building.

Within the walls are are all the appointments of a turn-of-the-century Grand Hotel; a spacious lobby, ornate dining room, and crystal ballroom.

But, the atmosphere is none-the-less really creepy.  The elaborately carved woodwork is covered in thick, black, slick paint and the walls are a lurid red-orange that clashes with the sickly green strip of patterned carpet in the hallways. Accents of metallic gold trim add to the eerie decadence.

The Crescent Hotel, for all its faded elegance, is reputed to be the most haunted hotel in America. Its ghostly history goes back to 1886, when an Irish stonemason plunged to his death during the erection of the edifice. 

According to many reports, the worker's ghost still haunts room 218, playing mischievous tricks on guests, moving their belongings, locking and unlocking doors, and rapping on the walls and windows.

The hotel building itself has experienced a long and varied history, going through cycles of decline and renovation, having served once as a college boarding school for young ladies, and, in the most dark and ghastly period, as a bogus hospital and "health resort" for patients stricken with cancer.

Paranormal investigators cite the period of the hospital as the era in which the hauntings by the most disturbed resident ghosts originated. 

The tale of its founder, the fiendish quack, "Doctor" Norman Baker is rife with intrigue, deception and the reported maltreatment of his patients.

Norman Baker was at best an eccentric genius, and at worst a paranoid liar. He originally made his fortune with the invention of a musical circus organ that was operated by compressed air rather than steam, as the calliopes of the day used. He was also a pioneer of the early radio days, having founded station KTNT (Know The Naked Truth), in Iowa where he amassed an even greater fortune with the broadcasts.

Doc Baker dressed in a lavender suit with a purple shirt. He somehow thought he was a medical expert, although he had no formal training. While practicing medicine without a license in Muscatine, Iowa, he was arrested and essentially run out of town. 

After spending a few years in Texas, working at XENT radio in Nuevo Laredo, he purchased the Crescent Hotel in 1937.

Baker remodeled the Crescent, repainting it in bright, garish colors. His own penthouse suite was painted in shades of purple. And, convinced that the American Medical Association was trying to have him killed, he hung loaded machine guns on the walls of his private quarters, and created secret escape passageways that emerged on the slopes below.

The "good doctor" set about bilking his patients and their relatives by promising cures for cancer in return for large sums of money. The "cures" apparently consisted mainly of drinking a concoction of ground watermelon seed dissolved in the local spring-water.

Some say that Baker made incisions into patients bodies or bored holes into their skulls, and poured the mixture directly onto the tumors.

According to the records of Eureka Springs funeral homes, a rather large number of Baker's patients consequently died. Rumors also abound that many of the deceased were simply burned in the incinerator on the north wing!

Doc Baker reportedly had his patients write letters to their relatives describing their progress in glowing terms, requesting more money for further treatment.

Three such letters were written early in the patient's treatment and kept by Baker, to be sent off periodically when he wanted more funds, regardless of the patients health. Some of the letters were sent after the patients had actually died. 

Eventually, this practice led to his conviction and imprisonment for mail fraud. Ironically, Norman Baker himself eventually died of cancer in 1958.

When I visited the Crescent, I made a point of locating the site of the incinerator. The spot is marked by a huge chimney, towering about 3 or 4 stories high, on the north side of the hotel. 

The sun had just set as I approached the chimney. Suddenly in the surreal twilight, thousands of black, bat-like chimney swifts emerged from the chimney in a rushing stream, and formed a swirling, billowing cloud above the hotel. Then, as suddenly as they had emerged, they began to plummet back down into the chimney, in swift, arrow-straight dives. 

A few minutes later, I snapped a few photos of the inside of the chimney, and appropriately enough, captured images of the birds clinging to the stonework, and a black-widow spider just above my head, spinning strands of its diaphanous web.

That night, we also had dinner in the Crystal Dining Room. Strangely, the dining room is decked out with black table cloths and black shrouds along the walls, which, with the dark wood paneling, gave it the atmosphere of Dracula's lair. Although the food and wine was excellent and the staff courteous and competent, we were bedeviled by what seemed to be a possessed fly that kept insanely dive-bombing into our entrees.

According to the local lore, the resident ghosts at the Crescent are a varied lot. Some seem to appear at random places in fleeting glimpses. Others are said to inhabit specific rooms and seem to take on an almost corporeal existence.

The entity nicknamed the Victorian Gentleman is sometimes seen sitting at the bar in the lobby, dressed in a dinner jacket from yesteryear, forlornly staring straight ahead. Apparently, he appears so solidly real that several patrons have attempted to engage in conversation with him. At other times he is seen on a staircase landing, peering down with a melancholy gaze at the guests.

In a startling photo taken by my wife, the Victorian Gentleman himself appears to be gazing forlornly out the window of the hotel's back entry-way. The semi-transparent image resembles a man's face with a handlebar mustache, with the hair parted down the middle.

Another, more friendly apparition sometimes greets the guests or housekeepers in room 419, introducing herself as "Theodora". She demurely informs guests that she is a cancer patient, and then, she promptly vanishes.

"Raymond" is another playful specter that haunts the hotel's basement. According to the anecdotes, Raymond is a dapper young man who is particularly attracted to beautiful ladies bedecked with jewelry. At times he appears to be quite corporeal, even fooling the women he flirts with, who think he is real, until he suddenly disappears.

Room 424 is reported as having poltergeist activity, with doors slamming shut, weird sounds and eerie, frigid sensations. Hotel patrons have reported seeing a nurse pushing a hospital gurney down the hall outside the room, at night. Other patrons also hear the gurney as it rattles and squeaks down the hallway.

The spirit of a student who met a tragic end while attending the Crescent College and Conservatory for Young Women,(at that time housed in the hotel building), is also said to manifest occasionally. The story relates that the student either fell or was pushed off one of the high balconies to her death. Guests sometimes report hearing hearing her desperate screams as she re-experiences the plummet to her doom.

Hotel staff for many years have told of phantom phone calls to the lobby desk. One source of these calls came from a phone in a padlocked basement storage area. The calls were unsettling enough that the line was eventually disconnected. But the spectral prank calls still occur, sometimes emanating from vacant rooms and empty staff quarters.

A phenomenon reported at the hotel involves the appearance of floating orbs of light. Paranormal investigators maintain that the orbs are associated with the spirits of the deceased. In two of a series of night photos that I took of the hotel exterior, there are indeed dimly lit orbs that seem to be floating both in front of the hotel and above it. Though the orbs may be an artifact of reflections, dust particles or even insects, the question remains as to why they appeared a particular photo, and not in the very next exposure taken seconds later.

On the down-hill slope directly below the hotel is the uniquely designed Church of St. Elizabeth. The structure, with a vaulted bronze dome is based on the Byzantine architecture of St Sophia in Istanbul. The church was built by one of the founding builders of the Crescent Hotel, Richard Kerens. 

An unusual aspect of the beautiful church, once featured in Ripley's Believe it or Not, is that visitors must pass through the free-standing bell-tower and down a walkway before reaching the main entrance. (There is a peculiar custom practiced by visitors to the church: offerings of coins are tossed on the roofs of the church's outbuildings below, as visitors pass by on the elevated walkway) 

Along one side of the walkway are a series of fine Italian marble sculptures depicting the traditional Catholic "Stations of the Cross". At night, the white sculptures are softly illuminated from below, and from the church garden, they they look like a parade of ghostly figures passing below the hotel.

A visitor to the hotel will find many intriguing aspects other than the legendary hauntings. The exceptional view from the east balcony overlooks miles of the steep forested slopes and the valley below. The gigantic Christ of the Ozarks statute can be seen on a distant ridge, towering over the treetops.

The hotel grounds also include a swimming pool and landscaped gardens with ornate gazebos and decorative fountains. The Crescent is also home to the renowned New Moon Spa & Salon.

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