Any traveller in the United States looking to sleep with the spirits will want to add the Crescent Hotel in Eureka Springs, Arkansas, to their itinerary. The hotel, built in 1886 claims to be America’s most haunted, and has the web address to prove it.
The Overlook Hotel in The Shining is one of the most famous fictional hauntings in history, but the Crescent’s chequered history could give Stephen King’s creation a good run for its money. It looks the part too, perhaps not quite the slab of menace that the Overlook was in Stanley Kubrick's famous film, but imposing and ivy clad in a land that loves the shiny and the new.
The place had a chequered history from the start. The Crescent was designed to tempt the rich and famous of the day. The name of the city is the giveaway, and Eureka Springs had a spiritual and spa history that dated back into the mythologies of the local Native American peoples.
Today, Eureka Springs is celebrated for its well-preserved Victorian streetscape. The Crescent Hotel is a fitting addition to the heritage scene. But back in the real Victorian era, the Crescent was a crashing failure.
Even before it opened, a man had died in what is now room 218, and just 22 years after James Blaine - a presidential candidate no less – had cut the ribbon on the smashing new building, the town’s waning fortunes had seen the Crescent converted into a college.
That only lasted until 1924, and a second attempt to make an educational success lasted only four years, closing in 1934.
Then things got really dark. In 1937 Norman G Baker turned up in town and turned the Crescent into a hospital. Unfortunately while Baker was happy to sign himself Doctor Baker, he had no medical training.
He was a very American sort of celebrity, a pioneer in the exciting new world of radio broadcasting who used his massive transmitters to give his personal hobbyhorse a platform. Baker's special, and very lucrative, obsession was the “cures” he himself invented for anything that might ail you. History remembers him as one of the most dedicated of the “Radio doctors”, who spouted nonsense while accusing the medical establishment of all sorts of chicanery.
Baker was a natural for the role, a colourful, eccentric character who was said to always insist on having two machine guns within arm’s reach.
Baker’s medical malpractice had already seen him run out of Iowa, but undeterred he brought his cancer treatment (injections of all sorts of strange substances, including watermelon seeds, and drinking spring water) to one of America’s most famous spa towns.
Baker was finally jailed, for mail fraud in 1947 rather than his useless quackery, and the Crescent was empty again, limping on until it was given a new lease of life in the 21st Century as a heritage attraction with a creepy backstory.
There are at least eight unquiet spirits at the Crescent, including:
A female college student who may have jumped – or been pushed – from the roof in the 1920s or ‘30s.
Dr John Freemont Ellis, the original hotel doctor.
Michael, the unfortunate Irish stonemason who died while the Crescent was being built.
Brecky, a young lad from the hotel’s heyday, who died after suffering appendicitis.
Theodora, a cancer patient who fell for Norman Baker’s big con and succumbed to her disease in his hospital.
A bearded man, said to be Victorian.
Finally, Norman Baker himself, who died of cirrhosis on a yacht in Miami in 1958. Perhaps a bad conscience has brought him back to the scene of his infamy.
The Crescent now does a good business as a haunted hostelry, with one of the most popular ghost tours in America running every night.
Baker’s hospital is at the heart of it, and the room he used as his morgue is the site of many of the unexplained phenomena visitors report, including recently the voice of a child and a pair of freezing hands reaching out to grab a visitor.
Paranormal investigators are regular visitors among the tourists, and usually have something to report for their efforts.
In daylight, the Crescent is a beautiful resort in the mountains, by night its guests might meet a few residents who aren’t registered.
There are loads of videos, many collected here: