When Elise and Marty Roenigk bought the historic 1886 Crescent Hotel in Eureka Springs back in 1997, it was not long after that they were being told story after story from their employees about strange paranormal activity happening at the hotel.
Bill Ott. Director of Marketing, said the staff had previously been told not to share the stories for fear it would scare away future guests and have a negative impact on the business.
In fact, it's been the exact opposite. Elise and Marty took a 180 approach to that way of thinking and started on the track of - ‘If we have a story to tell, let’s tell it,’
. . . and that was when they started offering ghost tours.
Originally, the Roenigks hired two clairvoyants to conduct the ghost tours, but eventually moved the tours in-house which turned out to be a brilliant business move.
Today, 2019, approximately 35,000 people take a ghost tour at the Crescent Hotel each year.
The Crescent Hotel was built of native limestone and opened in May 1886. It was considered a premier hotel in the country at the time. After its grand opening, which was attended by the rich and famous, it was operated by The Eureka Springs Improvement Company as an exclusive resort. At that time, people still believed in the healing powers of the flowing springs around the city, and it was a time when Eureka Springs flourished.
At the turn of the century and with the advent of modern medicine, some of that tourism began to dissipate.
In 1908, the Crescent Hotel opened as the Crescent College & Conservatory for Young Women to bring in revenue during the off-season (spring, fall and winter.) It still operated as a hotel in summer. Then, the Great Depression decimated tourism, and the hotel closed in 1934.
In 1937, the hotel was purchased by “Dr.” Norman Baker, who was not a doctor at all. He was a ruthless charlatan quack.
Baker had a very peppered past. He was a vaudeville actor, inventor, self-made millionaire and started a radio station in his hometown of Muscatine, Iowa. Using his radio station, he attacked the American Medical Association, and this was how he began to gain notoriety. He used the airwaves to promote his newly founded Baker Institute in Muscatine, where he claimed to have a cure for cancer — despite the (later discovered) fact that all five test patients died after multiple doses of his cancer-curing elixir.
In 1931, he was forced off the air after the Federal Radio Commission refused to renew his license, but Baker had already amassed a large following of believers. He was charged with practicing medicine without a license and fled to Mexico where he resided for a few years.
When he returned to the USA, he focused his attention on the Ozarks. Baker purchased the vacant Crescent Hotel and transformed it into a bogus cancer hospital. People flocked to him hoping for a cure, but hundreds of people were tortured to death from his false medical practices.
After patients passed away, Baker wrote letters home to their families pretending they were still alive and continuing the theatrical charade that his bogus hospital of death and doom was some sort of paradise and is curing people of cancer every day. As these false-words continued to spread, patients were dying while more were checking in.
Baker was said to have made millions of dollars from these evil acts.
The evil energy that he poured into these purely money-making efforts are said to have trapped hundreds of ghosts on the grounds of the Crescent Hotel and for this reason, amidst much national activity, this hotels is known today as "the most haunted hotel in America."
Television | 2005 | Ghost Hunters
In 2005, the hotel was featured on the Ghost Hunters television show, and an unidentified image that looked like a human figure was captured on a thermal camera. The series hosts referred to it as the “holy grail” in ghost hunting. After that episode aired, ghost tourism exploded at the Crescent. About a dozen national media outlets have featured the hotel’s eerie past and the paranormal business continues to attract tourists to this Northwest Arkansas establishment.
“We can’t repute it or prove it,” Ott said. “There are enough photographs of unexplained things. If something happens, first try to find a reason for it. If there is no reason, the unexplained will be taken as a paranormal experience."
On a Crescent Ghost tour, you will learn about Dr. John Freemont Ellis, who was a hotel physician during the Victorian era. He’s been allegedly spotted dressed in a top hat and fine clothing, and smoke from his tobacco pipe is sometimes smelled near the elevator.
The tales and “ghosts” date all the way back to 1885. During the construction of the hotel, Michael, a young Irish stonemason who was said to be attractive and flirtatious, fell to his death while supposedly trying to get a young woman’s attention. He died above what is now Room 218, the most requested room in the hotel.
In fact, the three more popular rooms are all said to be haunted, and that is why people want to stay in them. Depending on the time of year, there can be a waiting list (several month's long) to snag a reservation for one of the most haunted rooms.
Room 419, the second most popular option, is known as Theodora’s room. Theodora was a cancer patient at the Crescent when it was the Baker Cancer Hospital. There have been reports of seeing an image of her fumbling for her keys outside the door and reports that she is tidying up and organizing the room if it’s in disarray. She has even once packed the belongings of guests staying in Room 419.
Room 3500 has become known for the “lady in a Victorian nightgown” who is believed to be one of his cancer patients. This room is one of the hotel’s luxury suites, which was once the servant’s quarters and then became hospice area for the most critically ill during the Baker period.
Television | 2019| Ghost Adventures
In January 2019, Zak and the crew from the Trvl Channel investigated the hotel. They captured a curtain moving on its own and made contact with Michael. If ghost tourism exploded at the Crescent after the 2005 airing of Ghost Hunters. this new show is surely going to cause a spike in visitation especially because since this visit from the Ghost Adventures crew, another layer of hotel history has been peeled away from this intriguing story.
On February 5, 2019, while working to extend a parking pad at the north end of the 1886 Crescent Hotel, a chance discovery was made by the hotel’s landscape gardener, Susan Benson. There in that first scoop of dirt were a couple strange, medical-looking bottles. Knowing part of the hotel’s history that it was once a cancer curing hospital in the late 1930s, Benson called the hotel’s ghost tour manager, Keith Scales. Upon his arrival, Scales realized the hundreds of bottles he was looking at were identical to those that appeared on an advertising poster of the late charlatan "Dr." Norman Baker. These were the same methods that he revealed in his brochure which was mailed out to thousands across the country boasting his miraculous cure.
On April 9, 2019, team members of the Arkansas Archeology Survey, part of the University of Arkansas system, arrived from the nearby Fayetteville campus, to begin their meticulous study. They began to carefully peel back layers of dirt and rock. Cutting root clusters as needed, the “find” was slowly uncovered.
All the folklore, all the hair-raising stories, all the rumors were now proving to be true with each and every bottle. medical specimen jar, gruesome surgical tool, etc. as they arose from their 80-year-old grave. Actual physical remnants of Baker’s Cancer Curable Hospital could now be seen, studied and displayed. The discovery echoed throughout the United States thanks to such news outlets as Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, CNN, and Newsweek, to name just a few.
Copies of that brochure are now in the hotel archives.
During the many tours offered these days at The Crescent Hotel, guests visit the basement, which served as the morgue during the Baker days, and get to see the original autopsy table is still in the morgue. At one point, to match the lure of the brochures that Baker sent out all over the country, the Crescent staff had displayed prop-bottles (body parts kept in formaldehyde in jars) in this room for realistic effect indicating what was alleged to have happened in the morgue.
Now that these bottles have been properly unearthed, cleaned, labeled and categorized recently this year, actual artifacts to support these "alleged medical methods" with formaldehyde and actual body parts are on display in the basement. It just so happens that the basement is also the location where Ghost Hunters captured the figure on their thermal camera back in 2005.
Eventually, the hospital was shut down, and Baker was arrested for mail fraud. He served a few years in prison from 1941-45 and then lived comfortably until his death (in an ironic twist of fate) from cancer.
Ghost tours: Tours are offered nightly. Tours are limited to 25 people. When one tour fills up, they start another. Advance reservations are recommended. Cost is $22.50 for adults; $8 for children 12 and younger. There are a variety of tour times a night, which varies by demand. Children younger than 16 must be accompanied by an adult. Tours are intended for ages 8 and older.
Note: The Ghose Adventures episode is scheduled to air again (in its entirety) on the Trvl Channel at 10pm (Eastern Time) on June 29, 2019 and again just hours later at 1:00am (Eastern.)
Where: 75 Prospect Ave., Eureka Springs