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Paranormal Travels: The Crescent

a large building“Fifty before forty,” we decided.  In addition to our wedding vows, we decided to see every state in the union before hitting our fortieth birthdays.

Our travel budget has never been huge.  As we checked states off the list, we stayed in motel chains of all sorts, camped, and essentially flew by the seat of our pants.  We’d plan a destination and maximize the states we could see over the course of a road trip.  The car would be packed with provisions, including Baxter’s dog bed, and we’d set off, crisscrossing highways and state lines.

The Southern Route was the destination for November 2016.  We cut down to West Virginia, into Kentucky, through Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Texas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and then into Arkansas.

We always have a mild plan in mind, but the particulars of each trip are fairly spur of the moment. Hotels are almost never booked.  We might not even know what we’re aiming for in a given state but will happen upon a site organically.  In November 2016, that’s exactly how we discovered Eureka Springs, Arkansas.

Oklahoma was boring (I’m sorry, Okla-homies, I’m sure there are lovely things to see but we missed them).  We were concerned that Arkansas would be similar, but as we thumbed through Google Maps, we found Eureka Springs, an old hot springs town that had been a big destination for its healing waters.  We Wikipedia’d it and learned it was built into a steep canyon-like terrain (those who have complained about College Hill- you would kiss our sweet hill after trekking Eureka Springs).  There were all kinds of hotels and bed-and-breakfasts to be found.  The list of those who accepted dogs thinned it out a bit.  The list of those with parking was even smaller.

The Crescent Hotel…I looked over its site.  A big old stone building perched at the top of the town.  It had a view of Ozark Jesus in the distance, a rooftop pizza restaurant (we were starving at this point) and was highly rated.  I called, they had rooms, we booked.  And my brain tingled…The Crescent…

We pulled up to a majestic building.  I have a soft spot for Victorians, and this was that times ten.  The parking lot was wide and flat, with plenty of space.  We entered a vast lobby, all dark wood and gorgeous antiques.  A cat curled around my husband’s calves.  We approached the front desk and I saw a sign: America’s Most Haunted Hotel.

The Crescent…It pinged a bell somewhere deep in my brain, but nothing specific came to mind.  There was a ghost tour on site, apparently.  I laughed.  “Maybe this will be a tax deduction,” my husband joked.

Our room was on the third floor, toward the end of the hall.  It was bright, with afternoon light pouring in through enormous windows.  It was tastefully decorated, spacious, and clean.  It was fine…except…

Baxter was unsettled.  My boy, a sweet Catahoula Leopard Dog mix from Alabama (yes, we brought him back to his home state and no, he did not seem impressed), a boy who was well-traveled and could adapt to any setting, was restless.  He paced, he circled around his bed, lay down, and got up again.  His face was worried.

“What does he see?” we wondered.

Pizza called to us.  It was late afternoon and we’d skipped breakfast and lunch to put as many miles on the tires as we could.  We trooped upstairs to the rooftop pizza restaurant.  It was a blue-sky autumn day.  We could see out over the beautiful Ozarks, dressed in autumnal finery.

We were seated near an enormous chimney.  Our server swooped over and sensed that we were famished.  She blended Southern hospitality with efficiency and was exactly who we needed.  Our beverages arrived, along with a bowl of water for Baxter, and our pizza order went in.  She stopped by to check on us and asked if we were here for the ghosts.

“Who is the ghost?  What’s the story with this place?” we asked.  The sun was starting to set.

Her eyes got big. “You don’t know?”  We shook our heads.  She had that look, a look I’ve worn before when I’m not sure someone wants to know that their home is haunted.

The following history was the report of our server, as well as information I’ve found documented.  I cannot attest to the absolute veracity of all details, as I’ve not personally reviewed historical artifacts. Any inaccuracies are unintended.

The Crescent Hotel got its start as a luxury resort, then a ladies’ college and finishing school, and then as the fever-dream/delusion of a charlatan named Norman Baker in 1937.  Baker had been chased out of various states for selling bogus cure-all concoctions.  He had a radio show at some point and was generally a snake-oil salesman.  The little town of Eureka Springs was down on its luck and a perfect place to hide out and reinvent himself, and that’s exactly what he did.

Baker advertised that he had a potion to cure cancer.  In the 1930’s, cancers were typically detected later in progression and treatment was limited.  Hope was faint.  Baker’s eyes gleamed.  He could sell hope.

He preyed upon desperate people and their families.  Terminally ill patients were loaded onto trains and made their way to Arkansas, payments in hand, ready to be cured.  Baker employed a staff that included nurses and orderlies.  He was the doctor…Except that he wasn’t.  Baker had no medical training.

Our server explained that as time passed, patients did not recover.  They died. Unfortunately, this was bad for business.  Baker couldn’t let that get out.  It was at this point that she gestured to the chimney.

“That’s where they went,” she said in a low voice with a shiver.  “There’s a furnace in the basement…He’d tell their families he cured them, put them on a train to go home, and had no idea why they didn’t arrive…But he did, because he put them in the furnace.”

Pizza was less and less of interest to us.

She went on to say Baker’s delusions advanced to him performing surgeries on patients, which obviously didn’t go well.  Again, into the furnace they went.

We didn’t ask about the hauntings.  The history was enough for us.  “Are you going to take the ghost tour?” she asked brightly.  We looked at each other.  That was a no.

We finished our meal.  It was twilight now.  The mountains felt ominous.  The building felt ominous.

We headed into town, down the steep hillside.  We didn’t feel welcome.    

The town was lovely and charming.  We found a coffee bar/pub with local brews that was perfect for the evening.  Time wore on and restaurants were closing.  We had to go back.

We’d left Baxter in the room.  We needed to get him out for a walk, so we puffed up the hill as quickly as we could.  We hustled up the three flights of stairs and down the hall to find a crowd outside our room…The ghost tour.  Stopped.  Outside our room.  My heart dropped a bit.

We took Baxy out.  He seemed grateful to get outside.  I didn’t blame him, but it was time for bed.  Inside, we all tried to settle in.  “Can we leave the light on?” I asked my husband.  “Yes please,” he agreed.

We turned on the television.  There was a marathon of Fresh Prince of Bell Air and we stuck with that.  Carlton dances were what we needed.

Baxter shifted and paced.  My husband fell into a fitful sleep.  I tried to doze, but was awakened to a squeaking, turning sound.  “The Wheelers,” my dazed brain thought, images of the Return to Oz characters flickering behind my eyelids.  My eyes opened.  Baxter’s ears were cocked.  He heard it too.

I tried to sleep, but an image of a woman crying was fused in my mind.  She was hysterical.  I could hear her.  “I’m so sorry,” I thought.  “We did not mean to disrespect you, we did not mean to make light of what happened to you.  We just didn’t know.”  I repeated this little mantra into the wee hours of the morning.  Sleep barely touched me.

Morning came.  We ate a hasty breakfast in the grand dining room and made our departure.  The day was bright, but it felt oppressive and painful.  Our GPS took us on a bizarre ride out of town, bumping up a narrow, dirt road with branches grasping at us, trying to claw us back to town.  We pushed on.  The highway emerged.  Miles and miles passed.  We crossed into Missouri.  The negative energy clung like an odor.

The Crescent Hotel will never let me go completely. I’ll always remember the sound of gurneys being wheeled through the halls, a sound that has plagued many a guest.  I’ll never know the identity of the woman who sobbed, but I’ll know the sound for the rest of my life.

Sometimes I find haunted places; other times, they find me.

Thank you to my sweet Baxy Joe who always knew when there was something lurking.

For more of my adventures (and misadventures) in paranormal exploration, hop on a ghost tour.  I’d love to show you the souls of our city.


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