Friday, February 21, 2014

The Crescent Hotel’s Quack Doctor Part I

This hotel designed by Isaac L. Taylor was built atop a mountain in 1885 in Eureka Springs, Arkansas. It was touted as “America’s most luxurious resort hotel.” 

Its purpose was to cater to the many tourists who came to partake of the “healing waters” of the Ozarks. It had a 500-seat dining room, swimming pool, tennis courts, and beautiful gardens. The views from its terraces and rooms are spectacular.

At first, the hotel was a great success, but as time passed people slowly stopped coming to Eureka Springs realizing the healing waters in the area were not as effective as they were made out to be. The hotel no longer able to pay its bills closed.

By 1908, the former hotel was being used as a Women’s College, but by 1924 this school closed down finding student tuitions were not enough to sustain the upkeep on the large building. In 1930 a Junior College took ownership, but they sold the old hotel shortly afterward in 1934.

Normal Baker
In 1937, Norman Baker, a quack doctor who was a con man, bought the building. He reopened the building as a cancer hospital and a health resort. 

He advertised that the combination of the area’s healing waters in conjunction with his “miracle elixirs” could cure cancer without unnecessary tests or surgery.

Cancer patients from all over the country flocked to “Bakers Hospital” to be cured. Unfortunately, Baker was not a real doctor--in fact in 1936, he had been arrested in Iowa for practicing medicine without a license. The Federal authorities becoming aware of his false claims swooped down and arrested him in 1939 on a charge of mail fraud.

“It is said he had each patient write home three times asking for more and more money.”

Baker was also mailing his “miracle elixir” around the country--it was estimated that he had conned 4 million dollars out of desperate cancer patients over the years that he ran Baker Hospital. He served five years in Leavenworth and then moved to Florida where he died in 1958.

He had not cured one patient--instead he managed to shorten the life span of many.

After this, new investors from Chicago bought the quack doctor's hospital and started to restore it, but in 1967 a fire destroyed most of the 4th story and south wing.

By 1997, when a couple, Marty and Elisa Roenigk purchased the hotel stating they were going to restore the Crescent Hotel to its original glory, not many people in Eureka Springs believed them. 

But within 5 years, and with millions of dollars, they did precisely this. It has been over 100 years since the hotel’s original opening, and the Crescent shines once more.

Today the Crescent Hotel is a popular tourist destination in the Ozarks. An added attraction is the hotel’s large assortment of ghosts.

Norman Baker’s apparition has been seen. Witnesses have spotted him wearing a white linen suit and a brightly colored shirt. He is seen in the hotel’s recreation room in the basement-- it is here where he coaxed patients to write home to request money. 

His ghost is also seen on the 1st-floor stairway. When old photos are shown of Baker, these witnesses state he is the man they saw.

Another ghost is believed to be a staff nurse that worked at the hospital. She is seen in the middle of the night wearing all white on the hotel’s 3rd floor. Her ghost is seen pushing a gurney on this floor with a deceased patient. Many witnesses stated that she just disappears as she reaches the end of the hall.

Other witnesses have not seen her but heard the gurney’s squeaky wheels as it passed their rooms late at night.

These sightings also fit in with the hotel’s history. Dr. Baker kept a morgue in the basement--and deceased patients were always moved in the middle of the night from their rooms so others would not see them. The hotel still displays the morgue’s autopsy table and freezer.   

Another ghost seen connected to this time is one of Dr. Baker’s unfortunate patients. The hotel’s cleaning staff sees this female ghost. They describe her as a shy elderly woman, oddly dressed, who calls herself “Theodora.” She approaches these staff members, and politely introduces herself then she vanishes right in front of them.

The laundry room on the 3rd floor is also said to be active. The washers and dryers turn on in the middle of the night without cause.

In Part ll of this post entitled, The Crescent Hotel’s GhostsPart II I share more stories about the ghosts seen at this grand old hotel.

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