Perched high upon a Crest overlooking the Ozark Mountains, sits the historic and infamous 1886 Crescent Hotel. I first learned about the hotel when my son went to college and his fraternity held an annual event there. He came home with photographs and tales that would spark any imagination and I was enthralled with The Crescent and it soon hit the fast track onto my top bucket list items.
I’m a history lover in many ways. Oh, not so much with lifeless facts, dates, data but the romance of bygone days, the lure of legend, the glamour lost in today’s plastic, disposable world and above all….the mystery of a tale to be told. The Crescent epitomizes all of these, especially stories that span over a century of time.
The Osage Indians once inhabited the area now known as Eureka Springs and considered it to be a sacred place for it’s natural mineral springs which they believed to hold healing powers. In 1854 Dr. Alvah Jackson was hunting in the area with a son who suffered from a painful eye condition. The doctor bathed his sons eyes in the springs for many days and the condition improved! He then bottled the water and began selling it as “Dr. Jackson’s Eye Water”. Soon, people from all over began to flood the area, pitching tents or shanty cabins and looking to be healed from a host of illnesses and Eureka Springs was born.
In 1886, with the area booming in population and wealth, The Crescent, nicknamed “Grand Old Lady of the Ozarks” was constructed as a resort for the rich and famous. Looming on the highest peak of West Mountain, it’s massive stone structure overlooks the valley like an ancient European castle. The hotel was made from limestone from the White River and hand-carved by a team of Irish stonemasons. One young mason, Michael, fell to his death during construction, and some say that his ghost still haunts room 218.
But, fortune would not smile kindly upon her for long and soon she became unmanageable and fell into disrepair. In 1908, it was reopened as the Crescent College and Conservatory for Young Women and remained so until it closed down in 1924.
In 1937, The Crescent fell into the hands of Norman G. Baker, who turned the place into a hospital and health resort. Baker, a millionaire inventor and radio personality, portrayed himself as a doctor, despite having had no medical training. He claimed to have discovered a 100% cure for cancer. Many of the hotel’s alleged ghosts come from this brief but dark time in The Crescent’s history such as Theodora, the patient who asks for her room key. Some guests have even claimed to have seen Baker himself, dressed in a white suit and lavender shirt.
Baker, a con man, fleeced the desperately ill until his arrest in 1940. He served 4 years in prison for mail fraud having to do with his “Cancer Curing Elixer”. Though he was shut down, he lived several years until his death from, as fate or Karma would have it, cancer. More on his little shop of horrors in my next post.
In 1997, Marty and Elise Roenigk purchased the Crescent Hotel for $1.3 million. They oversaw a six-year restoration and renovation of the hotel rooms. Marty Roenigk died in a car crash in 2009. Elise Roenigk, now 80yrs old, remains the hotel’s current owner and lives in the center section of the hotel to this day.
The Crescent Hotel is considered one of America’s most haunted hotels and if it is indeed, it would be due to the many lives that it’s both lived over the last 133 years and those that have passed through it’s doors.
My first venture was during the day, it’s antiquated grandeur was stunning and grounds meticulously groomed.
Stepping through the doors is like stepping into another time, perfectly preserved and surreal.
A popular wedding venue….Go up the steep stairs to the Honeymoon suite if you will….
I hope you’ve enjoyed this history in brief. Please stay tuned for my next post where we’ll examine The Crescent Hotel at night, the Ghost Tours and visit the spirits said to reside here still. Til then, sweet dreams.