This historic landmark in the Arkansas Ozarks has a personality all its own. Nightly ghost tours reveal the disturbing secrets behind its grand facade.
By Randy Mink, Senior Editor
Like the artsy mountain village of Eureka Springs itself, the 1886 Crescent Hotel & Spa has a personality that definitely borders on the quirky side.
This historic hilltop “castle in the air,” once billed as the “premier resort hotel of the Ozarks,” originally catered to the “carriage set.” Its affluent guests enjoyed afternoon teas, dances in the ballroom, tennis and shuffleboard courts, stables and bridle trails, and two bowling lanes. (The original floor of one lane can be seen in the New Moon Spa & Salon).
rescent Hotel’s front desk, guests are transported back in time.
Watch Out for Ghosts as You Poke Around
Many of today’s guests come to soak in the genteel, yesteryear vibe. Others come for supernatural encounters, as the Crescent has been called “America’s Most Haunted Hotel.” Indeed, since its inception in 1886, the majestic limestone building has played host to inexplicable phenomena. Countless guests have reported apparitions and unexplained noises, from the nurse with her gurney wandering the halls to the little boy bouncing his ball in the dead of night.
Talk about a hotel with character. What fun it is roaming the warped floors of the dim, high-ceilinged corridors. Guests encounter cockeyed door frames, scratched woodwork, peeling paint, chipped plaster, and old-fashioned, steam-heat radiators. Each guest room has its own configuration.
While I didn’t witness anything out of the normal, I did wonder why, on two stays a year or so apart, I was assigned both times to Room 219. And I was a bit nervous being next to 218, or Michael’s Room, the most paranormally active—and most requested—room. Michael was one of the Irish stonemasons brought to America to build the hotel and fell to his death in the footprint of Room 218.
Furniture in my room included a wooden rocking chair, a beautiful armoire, granite-topped nightstands and a blemished dresser that looked like it had been there for decades. One wall consisted of exposed brick and mortar. The mattress, pillows and plush white towels were comparable to those found in any top hotel, and there were a refrigerator, coffeemaker and television. The bathroom was totally up to date, though the tub and sink were down a few steps from the toilet-in the-closet just steps from the bed. My spacious balcony afforded views of the hotel garden, woodlands and St. Elizabeth of Hungary Catholic Church.
The Crescent Hotel’s Public Areas
The fourth-floor pizzeria and cocktail bar also have outdoor perches that showcase the Ozarks’ splendor. In the adjacent hallway are exhibits of old hotel photos, brochures, ads, postcards and newspaper clippings. One local report on the Crescent’s 1886 opening called it “the most luxurious resort hotel in America” and “a showplace of today’s conveniences.” There’s also memorabilia from the period (1908-1934) when the hotel housed the Crescent College and Conservatory for Young Women.
Breakfast is served in the Crystal Dining Room, the former ballroom, a cavernous space with tall windows, walnut walls and crystal chandeliers. At dinner time the room becomes La Cena, an Italian restaurant with red-and-white-checked tablecloths.
Out in the lobby, you may find Jasper, a black cat with white chest and paws, curled up on the floor, perhaps on the rug by the vintage organ. He is one in a long line of resident cats.
For recreation, guests enjoy the heated outdoor pool, yard games and sporting endeavors like hatchet throwing and BB gun shooting.
Ghost Tours Reveal Secrets Behind the Grand Facade
On the hotel’s nightly ghost tours, you learn about millionaire businessman Norman Baker, who bought the building in 1937 and turned it into a cancer hospital, a clinic touted as the “World’s Most Beautiful Health Resort” and a place “Where Sick Folks Get Well.” But the shady “doctor,” who claimed to have the cure for cancer, was convicted of mail fraud and the hospital closed in 1940.
The eerie tour’s last stop is the “morgue,” an area that long ago served as the hotel’s kitchen and later the hospital’s autopsy room. On display are the autopsy table and walk-in cooler where Baker kept cadavers and body parts. Shelves contain jars of human tissue floating in liquid, medical specimens (perhaps tumors) discovered in 2019 during a certified archaeological dig on the hotel grounds. They apparently had been surgically removed from patients. Groups can book a theatrical presentation by a local actor who takes on the persona of the infamous Baker.
Exploring Eureka Springs
The town of Eureka Springs was founded in 1879 and soon became a popular health resort, attracting visitors from around the country to the restorative and healing waters of its natural springs. Some guests stayed for months at hotels like the Crescent and its sister, the 1905 Basin Park Hotel (which also offers paranormal tours).
Eureka Springs Tram Tours conducts 90-minute narrated excursions through the historic district, with stops at the Crescent Hotel and Grotto Spring, one of the 60-plus springs inside the city limits. Getting around the hilly town by foot is challenging, as steep stairways often substitute for sidewalks. Most group tours allow time for perusing the downtown specialty shops and art galleries.
Visible across the valley from the Crescent Hotel is a local landmark—the gleaming white, 67-foot-tall Christ of the Ozarks statue. It is part of The Great Passion Play campus, one of northwest Arkansas’ top visitor magnets. Performed in a 4,000-seat amphitheater on select evenings from May through October, the epic drama about Jesus Christ’s last days on earth features a cast of over 150 actors and dozens of live animals.
Besides seeing the “The Greatest Story Ever Told” acted out, visitors can schedule a bus tour through The Holy Land, an area of the Passion Play campus where they meet costumed characters at exhibits replicating the Jerusalem Marketplace, Garden Tomb, Sea of Galilee, Upper Room, Moses’ Tabernacle and other Biblical sites.
Many Eureka Springs itineraries include guided tours of Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge, a sanctuary for rescued tigers, lions and other big cats, most of them survivors of the exotic animal trade.
For more information on group-friendly hotels, be sure to Subscribe to Leisure Group Travel for FREE