How do you define haunted?

Grand old hotel rattles with ghostly tales

Posted: October 29, 2017 at 1 a.m.

Nothing went bump in the night. In fact, I slept like a happy baby.

But that doesn't mean the ghosts of the Crescent Hotel were silent.

And the living participants in a Friday night ghost tour couldn't stop talking about it.

I have always wanted to "hunt" the 1886 Eureka Springs landmark, ever since I first heard the stories about its purported hauntings in the late 1980s. So when my sweetheart arranged a weekend getaway, he knew he'd be on his own for a couple of hours.

"Do you want to come?" I asked him, mostly to be polite.

"Are you insane?" the look on his face replied.

"No, dear, I don't think so," his mouth said.

And I was off, grinning from ear to ear, headed for the gathering spot on the hotel's fourth floor.

A group of 10 or so was greeted by "Lady Katherine," who admitted upon questioning that she is a believer. Her boss, Keith Scales, who runs the tour business for the hotel, is a skeptic. Both assured me their personal stance didn't matter. They're there to do a job -- to share the history and the mystery of this beautiful queen of the Ozarks.

The story actually starts with Dr. Alvah Jackson, who used the healing waters of Eureka Springs to cure his son of an eye ailment in 1856. The waters were later offered at "Dr. Jackson's Cave Hospital" to care for combatants during the Civil War and, following the war, Dr. Jackson set up a brisk business selling "Dr. Jackson's Eye Water."

A couple of decades later, in 1886, the Crescent Hotel opened as a year-round haven of luxury and privilege for the "carriage set," who enjoyed morning horseback rides, afternoon tea parties and evening dances, all the while treating themselves to the healing waters of Eureka Springs.

The first ghost story dates back to the very beginning. Michael, an Irish stonemason, fell to his death during his work on the hotel, as history has it. Young and mischievous, legend says he was flirting with a lassie walking by below when he lost his balance and fell two floors. Now, it is said, he likes to cause different kinds of mischief in Room 218, including plugging the bathtub so it will run over, moving objects and blocking doors.

At the beginning of the 1930s, the Crescent Hotel also became the Crescent College for Women -- which, by the way, had a basketball team so good it played for the national championship again a team that included Babe Didrikson. But I digress.

There are ghost stories from that era, too, including the student who ended her unwanted pregnancy by leaping to her death -- or was she pushed? It is said she can be seen poised along a railing at the back of the hotel almost every night.

The Depression that followed the stock market collapse of 1929 continued to take its toll, and the hotel and school both closed in 1934. Then along came Dr. Norman Baker, who bought the hotel in 1937 and turned it into a cancer treatment center.

Some people think Dr. Baker was a monster. New research shows he was probably simply a quack. He offered patients a lovely sort of seclusion with every kind of amenity -- but no cure.

History says the dying patients were segregated to one end of the third floor to keep them from bothering the others. Experiences seem to say that those patients are still around -- and still in pain.

This is one of my personal experiences on the tour: When we stopped on that end of the third floor, I felt like someone had punched me in the stomach -- hard. I thought I was going to have to leave. Another tourist, a woman who later said she has lupus, was equally ill.

When we got down to the second floor, we were both fine.

The story on the second floor is about a little girl whose mom was a nurse at Dr. Baker's sanatorium. She allegedly fell to her death after poking her way through the stair rails.

And what might have been her spirit was the source of the other cool experience we had. Our guide pulled out an EMF detector -- used in the paranormal world to read electromagnetic energy that doesn't have any simple explanation.

At little kid height, the EMF detector went crazy -- and unless there's wiring running through the stair railing, I can't explain it.

And last but certainly not least, there was the basement.

Legends have sprung up around Eureka Springs about the gruesome experiments conducted there during Dr. Baker's ownership of the hotel. Nope, the tour guide said, but autopsies did take place and there was a morgue, complete with cold storage.

On our tour, there was a young woman who was not -- NOT -- having a good time. She was in tears before the tour started, and by the time we got to the basement, she'd had about all she could take. She did not want to be shut inside the cold storage room any more than I did. I have claustrophobia. She apparently has phasmophobia -- fear of ghosts. Had I been seated, she would have crawled in my lap!

The even worse part is that she and her boyfriend were supposedly staying in one of the hotel's most haunted rooms, 401. The worst part is that everyone else on the tour wanted to go shout "boo" outside their door later!

Well, you might ask, is the Crescent Hotel haunted? Isn't every building that's more than years old? Hopes, fears, fights, honeymoons, deaths, family reunions have all left their marks. Of course, it's haunted. It just depends on how you define the word.

Becca Martin-Brown is an award-winning columnist and Features editor for the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. This column first ran two years ago. Email her at bmartin@nwadg.com or follow her on Twitter at @nwabecca.

NAN Profiles on 10/29/2017