In the peaks of Arkansas’ Ozark Mountains, a gardener is at work in the grounds of a sprawling Gothic building. Over the years, the Crescent Hotel has developed a sinister reputation as guests and workers report eerie apparitions stalking its halls. And now, that legend looks set to grow as Susan Benson pulls a macabre discovery from the soil.
Set above the Victorian resort of Eureka Springs, this 19th century edifice is known to many as America’s most haunted hotel. And even today, many of the visitors who flock here are keen to experience things that go bump in the night. But while ghost hunters have been busy stalking the historic building, something horrifying has been lurking beneath the ground.
For years the owners of the Crescent Hotel have hosted ghost tours, regaling visitors with tales of the resident spirits. But back in the 1930s, the building was home to an even stranger enterprise. Under the management of Norman G. Baker, the grand rooms once housed the terminally ill.
A quack doctor with no medical qualifications, Baker had promised to “cure” those dying of cancer. But there was no miracle cure, and many patients spent their final days within what is now the Crescent Hotel. So have some of their tortured souls returned to haunt the living over the years? Well, what Benson discovered buried in the garden has shed new light on this horrifying tale.
So the story of the Crescent Hotel began back in 1879, when a judge claimed to have located healing waters in a spot in the Ozark Mountains of northwest Arkansas. Before long, a boomtown had sprung up as visitors flocked to experience the magic for themselves. And the following year, the city of Eureka Springs was founded.
As droves of people arrived in search of a cure for their ailments, officials hatched a plan for a grand hotel. And after selecting an enviable, 27-acre plot on the mountains above the city, they called in a renowned architect from Missouri. Eventually, in 1884, construction began on the Crescent Hotel.
And by the time that it was finished, the hotel was being heralded as one of the most luxurious in America. Built from magnesium limestone, it was constructed in a Gothic style and featured a number of balconies and turrets. Inside, meanwhile, the spacious rooms were decked out with luxurious furniture, and the dining room had seating for 500 guests.
Therefore, on May 20, 1888, the Crescent Hotel opened in a blaze of publicity with a grand gala ball. And for years, it was the accommodation of choice for moneyed Americans keen to take the waters of Eureka Springs. But as the 20th century arrived, people grew suspicious of the town’s healing powers, and the visitors began to dry up.
Soon, the Crescent Hotel had become a shadow of its former self. And in 1908, it was repurposed as a school for young women – although it still operated as a resort during summer. However, this venture was not financially viable, and the facility closed its doors for good in 1924.
Sadly, for six years the Crescent Hotel sat empty and disused. Then, in 1930, it began a new life as a junior college. But just four years later, this venture also failed. Next, someone stepped in to run the premises as a summer hotel. But it was in 1937 that the building got its most famous owner – an ex-showman named Norman G. Baker. The rest, they say, is gory history.
By the time that he arrived in Arkansas, Baker had enjoyed a varied and colorful career so far. A vaudeville entertainer, he had spent time as a radio presenter and was known for his impressive inventions. And in 1914, he had patented the Tangley calliaphone – an air-powered musical instrument popular with circuses and fairgrounds.
In 1930, however, Baker’s career changed direction. Claiming to have stumbled upon a cure for cancer, he developed his own “medicine” and opened a clinic in Muscatine, Iowa. And despite no medical training, he treated a number of patients before receiving an injunction for practicing without a license. You’d think that might’ve put him off.
But no. Undaunted, Baker left Iowa and purchased the ailing Crescent Hotel in 1937. And under his management, the building reopened as the Baker Hospital and Health Resort. However, the picturesque setting did little to help his unfortunate patients. In fact, it’s believed that as many as 40 of them passed away while in the conman’s care.
Eventually, in 1939, Baker was arrested for fraud and spent four years in jail. And on his release he fled to Florida, leaving the Crescent Hotel empty once more. Six years later, the building was bought by businessmen who set out to restore it to its former glory. And although they did so, in 1967 a tragic fire destroyed all of their hard work.
So for three decades, the Crescent Hotel passed through many different hands. However, no one seemed able to bring it fully back to life. Then, in 1997, a couple named Marty and Eloise Roenigk purchased the building, determined to restore it. But in the end, they acquired more than just a legend of the Ozarks. According to some at least, the property also came complete with several resident ghosts.
In fact, the Crescent Hotel had developed quite a reputation over the years, and some consider it one of the most haunted places in America. Perhaps the most famous apparition, according to lore, is that of Michael, a mason who supposedly died during the building’s construction. Apparently, he fell from the roof onto the second floor – in a spot now occupied by Room 218.
Today, Michael’s spirit is said to linger in Room 218, messing with the lights and slamming doors. And in an even more terrifying twist, some guests have allegedly witnessed disembodied hands emerging from a mirror on the bathroom wall. However, this isn’t the only spot where ghostly goings on have been reported.
No, because according to those who work there, the grand dining room of the Crescent Hotel is also haunted by ghosts. Over the years, staff have reported seeing a number of apparitions dressed in Victorian clothing, including a bride and groom. And on one occasion, a large Christmas tree complete with presents was moved across the room overnight.
Elsewhere in the hotel, many of the ghosts seem to date to the time of Baker’s grim enterprise. In fact, some claim to have seen an apparition of the conman himself. Meanwhile, in the area that was once used as a morgue, a phantom nurse has been spotted stalking the halls. And in Room 419, the spirit of a deceased patient named Theodora is said to have spoken to startled employees.
Now, when the Roenigks took over the Crescent Hotel, they were curious about the ghostly rumors. And so, they hired two mediums to get to the bottom of the hauntings. According to the current general manager, Jack Moyer, one of them claimed to have identified a supernatural portal within the building. And later, staff realized that this spooky spot was located directly above Baker’s old morgue.
With such a sinister reputation, it comes as no surprise that the Crescent Hotel is renowned for its popular ghost tours. Drawing on the legend of Baker and his macabre enterprise, these occasions see spook hunters descend on the once-genteel building. But in February 2019, a discovery was made that brought the stories to life in a terrifying new way.
Yes, on the fifth of that month, landscape gardener Susan Benson was busy in the grounds of the Crescent Hotel. Apparently, plans had been made to install a new archery range in the property’s back yard. But as Benson used a backhoe to clear the earth in preparation, she stumbled upon a bizarre sight.
There, buried in the ground behind the Crescent Hotel, Benson discovered a collection of glass bottles. And when she showed them to the other staff, some realized that they looked oddly familiar. In fact, the items bore an eerie similarity to those that appeared in a poster dating from Baker’s time.
In an attempt to reinforce his medical reputation, locals believe, Baker kept an spine-tingling collection in his makeshift hospital. Apparently, he stocked the shelves in the morgue with glass bottles – stuffed with tumors that he had allegedly removed. In fact, he even published a poster on which a photograph of the specimens was clearly displayed.
“We have hundreds of specimens like these,” the advertisement read. “Actual cancer specimens and laboratory data proves all… All specimens are preserved in alcohol.” Today, a similar poster is displayed in the Crescent Hotel. And when tour guide Keith Scales saw what Benson had discovered in the garden, he recognized the artifacts immediately.
“So I see that [the poster] every day when I’m doing the tours,” Scales told KY3 in April 2019, “so as soon as I saw the bottle I recognized it from that.” But while staff suspected that Benson had stumbled upon Baker’s grim collection, they couldn’t be sure. And so, the authorities were called in to assess the scene.
After a brief investigation, police were able to determine that the bottles were not part of a crime scene. Furthermore, officials from the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality also attended and took samples from the bottles. But soon, they confirmed that the contents were mostly alcohol – and therefore safe.
Now that the coast was clear, the Crescent Hotel called in the services of the Arkansas Archeological Survey to get to the bottom of the mystery. And staggeringly, within two months, their team had pulled over 400 bottles from the site. Crucially, they noted that at least 20 of them contained a substance that looked like… human tissue.
According to these experts, the potential tissue samples were still submerged in the alcoholic solution that had been used to preserve them. In addition, archaeologists also discovered a further 100 bottles that had once contained the same liquid – although they were now empty. And even though they could not say for sure, they suspected that these might also contain organic matter.
So had they really discovered Baker’s sinister collection of specimens after all these years? According to Scales, previous owners of the hotel claimed to have dumped the conman’s bottles back in the 1960s. And up until Benson’s discovery, the tour guide had believed they had been disposed of at a nearby landfill site.
Weirdly, however, it seems likely that the owners disposed of Baker’s macabre decorations by burying them in the backyard. In fact, archaeologists suspect that the area where the discovery was made was once a root cellar. After the bottles were placed in the cavity, they believe, they were then covered with a layer of dirt. In other words, the burial appears to have been an intentional attempt to hide the collection.
“As we get down and get to the bottom of the pit itself, we can tell it was dug out into a square basin which gives us information it was a little more premeditated,” archaeologist Jared Pebworth told KY3. And in an April 2019 interview with the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, he added, “They were hiding their trash.”
Amazingly, the strange samples weren’t the only bizarre discovery to come out of the dig at the Crescent Hotel. According to reports, archaeologists also discovered some bottles which they believe contain Baker’s legendary – and completely phoney – cancer cure. Moving forwards, experts hope, this find could shed more light on the pointless treatments once peddled at the institution.
Now, back in 1932 records show that Baker was challenged in court by lawyers representing the American Medical Association. And during the proceedings, they produced damning evidence surrounding his alleged cure. Apparently, it was far from a medical miracle – in fact, it contained just a few basic ingredients. Can you guess what they were?
Well, according to court records, lawyers claim that Baker’s cure was made up of corn silk, watermelon seeds, clover and water. Later, Scales claims, an additional investigation revealed additional ingredients such as carbolic acid and glycerine. And shockingly, it’s believed that patients received up to seven injections of this useless formula every day.
Currently though, historians do not believe that anyone passed away as a direct result of Baker’s alleged cure. However, they acknowledge that his patients may not have died so quickly if they had received genuine treatment elsewhere. Might the needless suffering that the conman inflicted on those in his care have contributed to the hauntings at the Crescent Hotel?
As well as the bottles, archaeologists also discovered some reels of 16 millimeter film in the same location. And on closer inspection, they spotted the words “Before Baker Treatments,” etched into one frame. Could the find finally reveal the terrible conditions in the so-called hospital? At the moment, sadly, it’s not clear what state of preservation the footage is in.
Amazingly, experts believe that there could be hundreds of glass bottles still buried at the site. But after taking a representative sample, they explained, it seemed unlikely that any further excavations would take place. In fact, Pebworth hoped that the team would soon be able to hand control of the area back to the Crescent Hotel.
Meanwhile, the substance that many suspect to be tissue has been sent to both an official crime laboratory and the University of Arkansas for analysis. And if it proves to be human, experts may be able to learn more through DNA tests. However, there is also a possibility that the samples could be props fabricated by Baker in order to promote his cure.
At the Crescent Hotel, Scales plans to transform the sinister discoveries into another spooky attraction. “I think we’ll put up an interactive display of what we’ve found – the innocuous stuff – and it’ll be part of our ghost tours,” he told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. But in the meantime, has the disruption disturbed the spirits that many believe haunt the building? Well, Scales doesn’t think so, although he’s calling in some expert ghost hunters just in case.