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Union Square Guest Quarters, Suite 5

by Richard Mason | March 19, 2023 at 1:53 a.m.

Union Square Guest Quarters is a good place to spend the night in the center of El Dorado, and Suite 5, although nice, is not its most luxurious. So why is it special, or I might say unusual?

The story of Suite 5 goes back to the mid-1920s, when the town was bursting at the seams with a flood of folks who arrived on one of the 22 daily trains pulling as many as 10 coaches. Guest Quarters wasn’t there, but where the Guest Quarters stands now was Central Hotel.

It was the place to stay for top-quality lodging in the center of town. When Dr. Samuel Busey brought in the first oil gusher that ushered in the fabulous oil boom, he notified the press in several major oil towns in Louisiana and Texas and announced the discovery in the lobby of Central Hotel.

“Gentlemen, I am Dr. Samuel Busey, the geologist and owner of the No. 1 Armstrong. Thank you for coming to cover what very likely is one of the biggest oil discoveries ever made. This huge oil well is flowing 30,000 barrels of oil per day!” That statement was enough to send telegraphs clicking the news across the country. The next day, six charter trains from Shreveport roared into town.

Dr. Busey wasn’t a doctor or a geologist, and 30,000 barrels was a huge exaggeration. The Busey well, as it became known, lasted 57 days, kicking off the boom. In the next 12 months, over 100 wells were drilled in south Arkansas, and some were true gushers.

The El Dorado hotels were packed not only with oilmen but also major entertainers, and many of them stayed at Central Hotel. Sometime in the late 1920s, a fire broke out in the hotel, and although the building partially survived, it never regained its former prominence, and after a few years ceased to be a hotel.

Reports of fatalities caused by the fire are sketchy, but considering the fire happened in the upper floors of a primarily wooden building, it is likely there were casualties.

We purchased the vacant shell of the building in 1986. Since it was of no historical significance, we took it down. I watched as the upper framework was exposed. There were many charred timbers in the upper floors, clear evidence of a significant fire.

Today, on the corner of Main Street and Jefferson Avenue, stands the 1987 Corinne Building which houses the Laredo Grill, and right behind it are the Corinne Court buildings. The Corinne Court’s west building, which includes Suite 5, stands almost exactly where Central Hotel once stood.

Almost immediately, we began to have reports of paranormal activities from guests who stayed in the suite. At first we just smiled when a guest said, “Someone sat on my bed last night.” But then the comments became more and more frequent, and after several unexplained noises kept coming from Suite 5, one of our housekeepers refused to go into the room unless she was accompanied by someone else.

The old Rialto Theater tops the El Dorado list of haunted structures. With that in mind, we engaged a psychic to tour the old theater. While she was in town, our Guest Quarters manager suggested we let her go to Suite 5.

She came out with this story: “There has been a fire in this room, and the person is desperately trying to escape. I don’t think he made it.” When I heard her say that, I shook my head in disbelief. There had never been a fire in Suite 5, but then I remembered seeing those charred rafters when we took down the roof of what once was Central Hotel. She couldn’t possibly know about that fire.

Just a few weeks back, I was awakened by a call around 5 a.m. that fire alarms were going off in Union Square Guest Quarters. I hurried downtown, and firetrucks and firefighters were everywhere. As they checked the various rooms, we could smell something burning, but it wasn’t in any of the suites. Finally, by eliminating other possible areas, the firefighters determined the smell of smoke came from a heating and air conditioning unit’s fan motor on the roof. Later that morning our repairman confirmed it.

A few days later, one of our regular customers came by the Guest Quarters office, and in the discussion about the alarm, said, “Yes, someone woke me up, and then I smelled smoke. It was someone singing opera, and my daughter also heard it.” They were staying in Suite 5, and they were the only guests in the building. Was it an opera-singing ghost of an entertainer, who died in the 1920s fire, who alerted the guests??

Email Richard Mason at [email protected] .


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