Eureka Springs, Arkansas
“America’s Most Haunted Hotel” sits perched on the crest of West Mountain above the Victorian village of Eureka Springs, Arkansas. Construction was started in 1884 on the 78-room luxury resort hotel, strategically situated on twenty seven acres chosen for its majestic location overlooking the valley.
The developers of the Crescent Hotel planned to capitalize on Eureka Springs’ recent popularity for its “healing waters” of the Ozarks. People from near and far were swarming to the area for a drink of the magical waters with the hopes of curing their ailments and easing their pains.
Stonemasons from Ireland were brought in to begin the construction. The density of the magnesium limestone used to build the hotel required special wagons to move the massive pieces of stone from the quarry site on the White River. The resort boasted an array of architectural styles and included built 18-inch walls, a number of towers, overhanging balconies and a massive stone fireplace in the lobby.
Construction continued for the next two years, and the build went further and further off budget. When complete, the building cost totaled $294,000, extravagant for its time. The building featured electrical lights, modern plumbing, steam heating, an elevator, extensive landscaping and luxurious decorations and amenities.
Upon its opening on May 20, 1886, the Crescent Hotel was quickly dubbed “America’s most luxurious resort hotel.” Celebrities and members of high society from across the country attended its grand opening, which included an extravagant gala ball complete with a full orchestra and banquet dinner for 400 celebrants.
The opulence of the Crescent was unprecedented and included spacious rooms with exquisite furnishings, a dining room that could seat more than 500 people, a swimming pool, tennis courts and croquet, beautifully landscaped flower gardens, and boardwalks and gazebos situated throughout the property.
Alas, the prosperity was not to last as the claim of “healing waters” was found to be fraudulent. The initial draw gone and the novelty experienced, the flow of guests began to wane around the turn of the century and the resort became unable to financially sustain itself.
The Crescent underwent several manifestations over the next thirty years, first serving as a college and seasonal resort, then sitting abandoned for almost a decade, then briefly reopening as a women’s college, before closing again in 1934.
The hotel’s most notorious incarnation began when it was purchased in 1937 by a radio doctor named Norman Baker, who bought the aging hotel for the purpose of opening a cancer hospital and health resort. Marketing more toward the “resort” aspects of his “miracle” techniques, he advertised treatments that required neither surgery nor painful extensive tests. The Baker Hospital, as it was renamed, alleged that its patients would stroll out of his resort cancer-free without the use of x-rays or surgery.
Unbeknownst to the thousands of 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. Mr. Baker had no medical training and in fact, had been convicted in Iowa in 1936 for practicing medicine without a license and was subsequently run out of town. Furthermore, the American Medical Association had condemned the many elixirs that he sold for a number of different ailments, including cancer. His elixirs were an inefficacious combination of water, corn silk, red clover and watermelon.
Baker was a charismatic charlatan who duped hundreds out of their money while robbing them of actual medical treatment. He would have patients sign blank sheets that he would later fill in as a request to send more money for treatment. Naturally, families were eager to donate to their loved ones “cure” and would send any requested sums, which Baker would receive and deposit into personal secret safety deposit boxes scattered throughout the state. During this time, 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 in one year, just through the mail.
Baker was convicted and sentenced to serve a four year sentence in Leavenworth. The investigation revealed that Baker had defrauded cancer patients out of approximately $4,000,000 over the years. Released from prison in 1944, Baker moved to Florida, where he lived comfortably until his death in 1958. Accounts of his later life describe his physical decay and girth, as well as his paranoia. He was reported to always have had one or more submachine guns within his reach.
During the war years of 1940 to 1946, the beautiful building in Eureka Springs 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 once again began to thrive. Unfortunately, tragedy struck in 1967 when a fire swept through the fourth floor of the south wing and much it was destroyed.
The Crescent is again a functional hotel and its former beauty, while dimmed, remains. Guests claim to hear patients roaming the halls at night, perhaps searching for the greedy fraudster who dashed their chances at living. There are two rooms in particular that have a high concentration of paranormal experiences reported, one thought to be linked to an accidental death which occurred during the long construction. The Crescent has seen more than its share of sickness, deceit and death, and it seems inevitable that at least some of that negative energy would remain trapped where it was born.