Nothing strikes wonder into my heart like storied objects, whether that’s an ancient crystal, an eerie, aging music box, or a hundred and thirty-two-year-old hotel sitting atop a mountain in the middle of a dense forest that stretches for nearly 50,000 square miles. I mean, come on – how much cooler can you get than a haunted hotel in what is perceived as the middle of nowhere?
Of course, the Ozarks is a name heard more often through the success of the recent Netflix show, but it has always been home to the people of Arkansas. Deep inside the trees and winding roads, there sits Eureka Springs, built into a quaint valley, and above it, sitting on the peak of West Mountain looms the 1886 Crescent Hotel & Spa.
The Crescent Hotel was built originally in 1886 to capitalize on the “healing waters” of the Ozarks, which had become known far and wide as people made their way in hopes of curing their incurable illnesses in Eureka Springs. The Crescent Hotel was meant to be a luxury destination for the wealthier patrons of these waters. Stonemasons from Ireland were hired overseas and began construction in 1884. They were told to aim for grandeur and architectural excellence, and as grand additions like electricity, modern plumbing, steam heating, an elevator and a plethora of extravagant landscaping projects were added, the cost rose to around $294,000 to build – today, that would be between seven and eight million dollars.
Upon opening in May of 1886, the newspapers called it “America’s most luxurious resort hotel”, and many rich and famous individuals of the era traveled to witness its magic. However, as the 1900s neared, people became savvy to the reality of the supposed healing waters of Eureka Springs – they were a fake. Slowly but surely, the Crescent Hotel had fewer and fewer guests, and the hotel had to adapt. It became a college for young women for almost two decades, but in 1924, it closed down because the cost could no longer be supported. It was abandoned for six years, reopened in 1937 as another school, but met the darkest fate when it was later acquired by a man named Norman Baker.
Norman wanted to return to Eureka Spring’s roots and decided he would capitalize on the sick and desperate. He turned the Crescent Hotel into a cancer hospital and health resort, promising miracle cures that required no tests, no surgeries, and alleged that his patients would leave the resort free of cancer. This could not be farther from the truth. Norman had no medical training and was convicted in Iowa in 1936 for practicing medicine without a license. These miracle cures had been peddled by him before, and it was nothing but a scam. The luxurious and appealing mask he’d given it this time, however, made him much more dangerous.
Baker’s cures did nothing to help his patients with cancer and ultimately sped up their untimely demise. His treatments, reportedly, were not the direct cause of his patient’s deaths, but during his time in Arkansas, he treated thousands of people, and we can only assume how many died there as well. After his conviction on fraud charges in 1939, the Crescent hotel fell into abandonment again and traded hands many times over the next half-century. The Crescent Hotel we know today came into being in 1997 and has been restored to its former glory, minus a few sinister details. After five years and five million dollars, the 1886 Crescent Hotel reopened in September of 2002, and now welcomes people from around the world to experience their ghost tours, their history, and the beauty of the Ozarks.
My experience with the Crescent Hotel began innocently. I was craving adventure, and a friend of mine was too. We packed our bags and headed out for the supposedly haunted hotel, unsure of what to expect. I was always a skeptic and preferred scientific evidence for phenomena over simple recounted experiences, but my perspective was forever shifted by what I saw and felt in the Crescent Hotel over the next three days.
Getting out of the car, the first thing that struck me about the Crescent was just how old it seemed. Not only physically, but it felt like I was walking toward something from an old Gothic film. The pale bricks kept it in a sustained state of sepia, and on the peak of the tallest rooftop there stood a crescent moon looking down on us – fitting, given the name. Everything about it oozed charm, but I knew I was walking into something I’d never experienced before.
The lobby of the Crescent Hotel was gorgeous – the entire interior felt comforting, with dark wood and red fabrics and an old piano that I’m sure had a thousand stories of its own sitting by the stairs up. We checked into the hotel and got our keys for our room – room 218 – and briefly wandered through the lobby area, reading a few of the informative historical plaques before heading upstairs. There was an elevator, but I wanted the full experience and the hotel was only four floors anyways – I didn’t want to miss a chance encounter with something odd on the way to the room!
And here’s where we encountered our first strange experience. We were provided two keys, and they were actual keys – old, cold iron keys. We tried both, several times, over ten minutes and we could NOT get the door to open. I thought, surely, we were given keys for another room, so we wandered back down to the front desk and one of the housekeepers came back up with us… and in one try, the door unlocked for her.
I questioned if this was a trick by the staff to make it seem haunted – a simple but likely effective marketing scheme – but I hadn’t seen her hide the key at any point. It was in her hand, visible, from the time I gave it to her to the time she opened the door. I watched it intently because I suspected that very trick, and it never disappeared. So, another part of my mind was telling me that a ghost was playing with us and didn’t want us to come in the room. I was intrigued by the possibility of even this level of activity being real and had no idea what was coming later.
We were staying in a King Room – it was small but beautiful. All of the furniture was glistening dark wood, and the bed was adorned with patterned, Victorian style fabrics. Aside from the electronics, this very much looked like something out of the 1800’s. I felt on edge but was excited to go explore Eureka Springs, so we left our bags and headed into town.
Later that night, upon returning to the Crescent Hotel, the cover of the night provided an entirely different feeling to the hotel. Eerie would be an understatement – it certainly wasn’t uninviting on any level, but if you are going there to experience ghost activity, seeing the building after the sun has gone down is enough to assure you that you’ve come to the right place.
I was dozing off, eyes closed, almost asleep, when suddenly – a shriek.
Because I’m deaf in my left ear, I couldn’t really tell what direction it came from, but it wasn’t in our room. It sounded like it came from down the hall or the floor above, or outside, but it wasn’t clear if it was a guest that was spooked by something or an echo of the past. Either way, it was a scream of terror, not of playful fun. We managed to brush it off as none of our concern, because quite frankly, we were exhausted from the travel and tourism of the day.
The following morning started out uneventfully, but very pleasantly. As the light returned to the hotel, it felt more like a bed and breakfast with a ballroom than a haunted old structure in the middle of the Ozarks. Light flooded the dining room during breakfast, and in combination with the high ceilings and brilliant white color scheme, it created an ambiance that reminded me of spring mornings as a child – hopeful, bright, full of love. It’s odd how much power a room can have.
During breakfast, my companion inquired with the server if she’d experienced anything paranormal. And, of course, she said she had. She recounted a few experiences, but particularly, the bar had some strange phenomena. Sometimes shot glasses would shatter at night when the space was empty, and other times when a bottle of alcohol would fall from a high place, it wouldn’t break when it absolutely should have, as if it was caught just before hitting the ground and then placed gently where it would’ve fallen. She hadn’t experienced any apparitions or seen any ghosts when we asked about that, and we assumed we wouldn’t either.
We spent the day in Eureka Springs again, visiting cute little antique stores and gift shops, and I spent more than I should’ve on body butter and soap – exploring the bits of nature we had access to was a pleasant break, and the way the town weaved back into the cliffs and trees of the Ozarks was remarkable and like nothing I’d ever seen. It felt like a hamlet out of a fantasy novel – I’m reminded of the Gammage Cup and its village that wins awards for its beauty and prosperity. I was excited to get back to the Crescent Hotel, anticipating maybe another scream in the dead of night, but was not prepared for what I experienced that night.
I woke up suddenly at some point in the early morning – between two and four. We had fallen asleep with the TV on some random news channel, but the first thing I noticed was that the TV was displaying silent static. Then I noticed movement out of the corner of my eye, towards my companion’s side of the bed. I figured he was just getting up to go to the washroom, and that I was stirred from my sleep by him… but then I realized the figure was facing me, as if on the bed on its knees, looking at me.
Watching me sleep.
It was backing away – and I could see it very clearly, but it had no features. It was black, a black shape, blacker than the darkest parts of the room. Just a silhouette of a person. It backed away slowly, off of the bed, around the foot of the bed towards the door, and disappeared around the corner where the closet was – all while facing me directly.
Now, as an aside, I experience sleep paralysis often, and what I’ve just described could be attributed to that. However, because I experience it often, I know what it feels like and what that experience is and this was definitively NOT sleep paralysis, because I could move and speak. I was wide awake. This was not a dream, and not sleep paralysis.
After the figure disappeared around the corner, I looked to my companion to be certain it wasn’t him, and I was startled by him sitting up in bed, facing the wall, unmoving.
I asked him, “Did you just get up to go pee?”, thinking that maybe time is distorted by my waking state or something of that nature, and he replies, “No. Go back to bed.”
It was his voice, but not his inflection. It was as if he was a puppet speaking in a Microsoft Sam voice. I didn’t really think anything of it at the time – I’m not sure what was going through my head, but I felt very calm about the whole thing and easily fell back into a slumber.
When I woke the next day, I asked him what he was doing up – and he confidently informed me he had slept through the entire night. He didn’t wake up at any point, and he didn’t see any figure in the room.
I had seen a ghost. I was certain of it.
The topic of what a ghost even is and whether or not they’re real, even when we see them with our eyes, is another topic entirely that I’m very open-minded about – but I had seen something while awake and sober, and I didn’t see things like this before (outside of sleep paralysis) and have not since – this was a unique experience. This was a defining experience for my interest in the paranormal.
Now on our final day at the Crescent Hotel, my experience that night had intrigued me deeply. I was sad to leave, but already thinking of new locations I’d love to see, new haunts to explore. We finished packing our things fairly quickly and put our bags in the car, and then I went back inside looking for our room keys to check out. I found one sitting on the dresser, where I’d put them… but only one. We had two keys.
We searched the room top to bottom. Under everything, moving furniture, unraveling every used towel, digging in our garbage, unmaking the bed, checking under the mattress. Everywhere. There was not a stone left unturned in that room, and no key insight. Running back to the car, we searched through our luggage, unpacking and repacking every bag. Confused, I returned to the room one last time to give it another round, and just when I’d given up and said to my friend, “We should just tell the concierge we can’t find the key”, he pointed at the chair at the foot of the bed.
The key sat right in the center, where we’d looked a dozen times already, in plain sight. There is absolutely no way we would have missed it there.
Evidently, our ghost likes to play with guests’ keys.
We grabbed the key, checked out, loaded ourselves into the car, and said goodbye to the Crescent Hotel and Eureka Springs. After our experience, I started researching the encounters people have had at the hotel. You can find limitless stories all over the internet – but the ones that struck me were the stories that had startling similarities to mine. I learned that the ghost in my bedroom was most likely a man named Michael, one of the aforementioned Irish stonemasons who built the original hotel and fell to his death from the roof to the second floor area – the same floor I was staying… and, what luck – the room that now houses the spot he died was room 218.
SOME OF THE GHOSTS AT THE CRESCENT HOTEL
Michael is the most commonly spotted spirit at the Crescent Hotel, and I’m glad to have encountered him. He is known to be mischievous – hence us not being able to unlock the door, and our keys going missing later – and is also known to play tricks with the television (the static when I woke to see him standing over the bed). People say they’ve been shaken and forced awake in the night, which is likely how I woke to see Michael in the first place. Other guests report hearing a scream as if someone has fallen a far distance, but before you say it, the scream I heard the first night was distinctly female. That being said, guests often report hearing that very same scream which has been attributed to a young woman who fell to her death while the Crescent was a young woman’s college.
There are several other spirits that I didn’t encounter including a nurse, often seen pushing a gurney on the third floor from the structure’s time as a cancer hospital. Reports of encounters with Norman Baker in the basement are common, as well as at the foot of the first-floor stairway, appearing confused and lost. The basement is where Norman would convince his “patients” of his miracle cures and treatments and likely administered them there too.
Another figure known to many is Theodora, often seen on the fourth floor, mostly room 419, who introduces herself as a cancer patient before promptly vanishing from sight. The dining room is home to many more minor apparitions, often seen in the form of orbs or flashes of light and distinguished men in top hats “waiting for beautiful women to return” to them.
I’LL BE BACK
Whether you believe in the paranormal or not, the Crescent Hotel in it’s beautifully restored state transports you into a timeless pocket of intrigue and glamour that is worth experiencing. It provides all the amenities a modern day traveler would want, as well as fifteen acres of gardens and nature trails, 72 guest rooms (many with balconies), and 12 luxury suites dispersed throughout the building (that I fully intend on staying in one day!) One highlight many people look forward to is the New Moon Spa, featuring a full menu of treatments, a salon, and a wellness program to keep you feeling chipper during your Ozarks adventures.
The absolute highlight for me, aside from the paranormal, was the proximity to the beautiful and wondrous downtown of Eureka Springs, just a short shuttle ride away from the front door of the Crescent Hotel. You can find the 1886 Crescent Hotel just south of the Missouri border in northwest Arkansas, adjacent to Beaver Lake, located at 75 Prospect Ave, Eureka Springs, Arkansas.
I can’t say if it’s because of the implication of existence after death that I was absorbed into this world, or it’s resemblance to fantasy literature that I adored as a child, or just because I love to be scared, but I do know that nothing is more fascinating to me now than experiencing paranormal activity. What I saw in that hotel was something entirely new – and something I never thought could be possible.
Until next time, remember: Mystery is still out there. That childlike fascination with the unknown is waiting for us. Let’s chase it together.