The Crescent Hotel: Ghosts and Debutantes

No Telling
Crescent Hotel, Eureka Springs, AR c. 1890s (Wikimedia Commons)

Had a marvelous getaway this summer – shopping, knitting, scribbling, eating, ghost touring – up in the Ozark Mountains where a Very Big Outstreched Jesus looks unsmiling on all of Eureka Springs, Arkansas. He turns most of his stern gaze across the mountain toward the Crescent Hotel. After what I discovered, he probably should.

A Little Background Music

The Crescent Hotel was built in 1886 and spent its first fifteen years as a year-round hotspot for the ridiculously rich. To the hounds, and all that. It appears the rich nouveaued elsewhere after a while and owners needed to keep the place running for the eight or nine months their clientele were otherwise entertained. In 1908 the Crescent Hotel opened the Crescent College and Conservatory for Young Women that catered to wealthy men’s daughters and kept the place financially afloat.

In 1937, a charlatan and failed magician named Norman Baker bought the hotel after he was run out of Iowa on a rail for practicing medicine without a license. He immediately turned the Crescent into a homeopathic cancer hospital and pulled in over 500k a year watching people die while he gave them his own special watermelon seed and carbolic acid elixir. By 1940, he was convicted of mail fraud and spent his final days in Leavenworth dying of cancer. Karma.

The Hauntings

The Crescent Hotel is famous for its ghosts, and there are plenty. A lusty stone mason named Michael tends to be inappropriate with women who stay in room 218. Theodora is a cancer patient who regularly moves in and out of room 419, although she sometimes forgets her key. A nurse rattles a gurney down the second floor hall at all times of night. Dancer Irene Castle twirls around here and there as a celebrity spirit. Even Dr. Baker himself has been seen roaming the basement that was once his autopsy room.

The one I’m most interested in is an unnamed Woman in White, a student of the Conservatory for Women who either threw herself or was pushed from the third floor balcony. She was “with child” and rumored to be in love with a local boy. Although I didn’t see her, it’s said she often tends to float upward from the place she fell.

The Best Stories begin with Questions

And I have plenty. While I find the good doctor’s story intriguing, tales of chicanery and confidence men in Arkansas are fairly commonplace. The handsy stone mason ghost is more of an anecdotal punchline. For true story power, it’s the Conservatory for Women and that young thing tumbling over the balcony.

A nine-month finishing school for wealthy young women. What rich man sends his precious daughter in the best marriageable years of her life to such a remote location? I didn’t buy this initially, and for a day or so assumed these were Working Girls housed at the Crescent Hotel for the convenience of wealthy male visitors. It’s still a possibility.

One of the few pictures of the girls at the Conservatory. They’re bowling.

If the Conservatory was truly the school it purported to be, there should be attendance records, and those easy enough to research. It’s the “why” that’s compelling. Were these girls troublesome enough at home to require shipping off? Or were they In Trouble, and the Crescent Hotel a lying-in hospital for unwed mothers? The historical and physical juxtaposition of St. Elizabeth’s Church, with it’s odd bell tower entry yards from the hotel’s front door is curious. The sisters of St. Elizabeth’s operated a small hospital and girls’ school at the same time, although probably for a less moneyed clientele. Was there an orphanage? Makes me wonder.

So do the stories about laundry being lowered up and down via pullies and a large basket. And there’s that Woman in White plunging over the third floor railing.

Bottom line, at the turn of the last century wealthy girls in their late teens and early twenties were busy making their debuts and finding husbands, they were not lingering most of a year far away from home in the Arkansas Ozarks. There were reasons girls were sent away like that, and none of them were flattering. 

There’s the story.

And the Very Big Jesus? No connection. It turns out the 65 1/2 foot statue was the centerpiece of a late-60s religious themepark that never quite materialized. God I love Arkansas.

For the curious:

Links to videos from visitors, including my favorite series featuring some charming kids who do a great job narrating their investigation. In addition, a few ghostly photos taken by hotel guests and visitors.

10 thoughts on “The Crescent Hotel: Ghosts and Debutantes

  1. There's a wonderful book by Ann Patchett, named Patron Saint of Liars. It is about a hospital/home for unmarried women, in a setting very much like this Crescent Hotel. In my book, it is a must read.

  2. Now I want the book and to go to the Crescent Hotel, even though staying in a reportedly haunted hotel in San Antonio this summer about sent me over the edge. Plus, I've always wanted to see the big Jesus.

  3. So good to see you India! Are you still on walkabout?

    Candance, you can come hang out with me at the new digs any time. I'll supply the ghosts and tall glasses of sweet tea.

  4. My name is Stephanie. Last night my roomate and I went on the Cresent Hotel ghost tour. Sitting in the room at the beginning, the tour guide asked the early crowd, if anyone had actually seen a ghost in their lifetime. I spoke up when everyone else seemed to reply with a 'no' shaking heads. I was too shy to tell my ghost story, for one of my most memorable experiences was quite scary. It was possibly equally as scary as seeing an apparition but my story was much more personal-much more haunting. I am a huge skeptic but what I have experienced- I cannot deny. There is a certain feeling you get…

    Anyway- Back to the beginning.

    We went on the tour and I recall the tour guide asking the group to mention of we happened to smell pipe tobacco on the (second?) floor. Where it is said a commonly seen ghost is smoking a pipe. I really thought this was irritating, they could scent the air with such a smell/hotels have weird smells (especially ones as old as this). Also, putting the idea into your head can make things come to life- in a sense.
    But, I recall smelling the tobacco scent before I even realized we were right where the ghost's old room was. No one else seemed to smell it, but I did and kept silent about it.

    Upon entering the hotel I could feel a vibe- a strange one. This 'vibe' is very similiar to the feelings I get around 'paranormal activity' and I could certainly sense something more there.

    Before we took the tour we walked around the hotel. Mind you I knew NOTHING of this hotel or any ghost stories therein PRIOR to the tour. After the tour I became slightly is why:

    Walking around the hotel I was drawn to certain areas of it. One area was the annex which was added on to house servants in the younger days of the hotel. Later this annex became the “asylum” for patients who were very much suffering during the days of this being a hospital.

    Lastly, the garden terrance area/the grounds surrounding it and the balcony above it. (Where it is said that a young woman fell to her death- Now seen as a misty apparition at night) I took a walk by myself on the grounds and could feel something. Not particularily a presence- but some kind of energy..and a very strange pull to the area.

    Also, I am a huge cat lover. I love cats! I feel I am rather in tune with them- and communicate sometimes on a deeper level with cats.

    I noticed there that the hotel cats (specifically Jasper, the black and white cat) had a strange energy to him. He seemed to be sort of haunting himself.

    ( I am not religious ) There is a church that rests below the hotel across the street. I went there and walked the grounds- I felt CALM whilst in the church gardens. (I suffer from anxiety/heart complications so this is especially noticeable when that happens)
    After leaving the garden I felt that calmness quickly wash away.

    We came upon a grey cat by the entrance to the church. She had the same weird stare that Jasper (the hotel cat) had. But quickly warmed up to me and allowed me to pet/hug/kiss her.

    When I left the hotel, the door was opened by my friend, and that same grey cat came running through the entrance, passing by me.

  5. And that cat has an odor.

    Stephanie, I'm so glad you went to the Crescent Hotel and even more excited that you shared your story! I know that annex – it's where I stayed the night and heard the cart screeching down the hall. St. Elizabeth's church is strange and lovely. My next trip I'll spend more time there.

    It's marvelous old hotel, isn't it?

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