Category Archives: searching for a ghost

day 15: photo thursday: the magic teapot

magic teapot

This is the magic teapot in the “Petite Cuisine” room for solo travelers at Deetjen’s Big Sur Inn. Deetjen’s is more than 100 years old and is a treasure in and of itself. It has no telephones, internet access, or televisions, and it uses woodburning stoves, so it always smells like campfire.

I stayed in the Petite Cuisine last December, and on my first night I went through the cabinets and found stacks of community journals dating back to the mid-90s. They were filled with the kind of raw honesty only solitude can bring.


People came to Big Sur to forget old lovers and rediscover themselves. They drank red wine and went hiking in the rain, placing their clothes to dry in front of the room’s tiny electric heater. One guest was an unusually wise teenage boy whose parents were staying down the hall. One was an old woman who had stayed in the exact same room nearly half a century earlier.

I felt an almost tangible connection with these other solitary travelers. I laughed and I cried. It was spiritual as fuck.

My cabin at Deetjen's.

My cabin at Deetjen’s.

When one entry said that I should “be sure to check the teapot,” I knew right away to reach for the tiny copper thing on the windowsill behind the bed.

I popped it open and found a collection of treasures: photographs, pieces of cloth, dried flowers, inspiring quotes written on napkins, chewing gum. I laughed and cried some more.


Before I left, I deposited a tiny pinecone from my last hike in the teapot. Multiple journal entries claimed the teapot held some sort of magic, and in a place like Big Sur, it’s easy to accept such statements as truth. A childlike part of me hoped that shoving some more crap inside the teapot would somehow bring me peace long after I returned to my cubicle in the Midwest.

But the magic faded when I got lost on the drive to the airport.

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how i survived the most haunted hotel in america

“There — right there,” the tour guide says, pointing where I stand.

I’m on a ghost tour at the Crescent Hotel in Eureka Springs, Arkansas, the most haunted hotel in America. We’re on the third floor, where many visitors claim to have seen a nurse pushing a corpse on a gurney. The nurse is, of course, a ghost. When she’s spotted she looks guilty, like she’s doing something she shouldn’t.

The view from Dr. Baker’s Lounge on the fourth floor of the Crescent.

Instinctively, I step back. The group laughs nervously. Our guide, a 70-something gentleman wearing a top hat who introduced himself as “Ramsey, the butler,” has been giving me lots of shit about the extreme paranormal activity in my room, number 330, where I’m staying alone.

I’m certain he’s just messing with me until he says we’re standing in the pain asylum. Like the nurse with the gurney, the pain asylum existed during the hotel’s “dark period” in the 1930s, when it was the Baker Cancer Hospital. The soundproofed wing was created so no one could hear quack physician Norman Baker’s sickest patients tossing and turning at night, howling in agony thanks to the not-so-good doctor’s “cures.”

You sure there’s nothing behind me?

“Think about it,” Ramsey says. “Why would a hospital that’s curing cancer need a pain asylum — or a morgue?”

He looks at me. “Where did you say your room was again?”

I point a few doors down, and for the first time I think maybe he’s not joking about the ghosts that are going to bang my bathroom door, rearrange my luggage, and creep around my bedside all night.

View of the Crescent from the parking lot.

I’m here for my annual Halloween adventure; in 2011, I watched five horror movies in a row, and in 2010, I explored local haunts. This year I decided to visit the Crescent after reading a novel by a good friend of mine that is set in a fictional version of the grand Victorian hotel. I became enchanted. I had to visit.

But sitting alone in my room shortly after arriving, I’m having second thoughts about my decision. The antique chair in the corner is giving me the creeps — it seems to have its own dark aura. I feel like someone is watching me, and I keep looking over my shoulder, expecting to see a face reflected in the television, maybe, or the curtains swaying back and forth on their own. Unnerved, I decide to explore.

The Crescent’s resident cat enjoys the crisp morning air in the garden.

The hotel sits on top of a mountain overlooking miles of forested Ozark valley, so I check out the view from the fourth-floor balcony in Dr. Baker’s Lounge. The gray evening drizzle dulls the stunning autumnal reds and yellows and obscures the 67-foot-tall Christ of the Ozarks in the distance.

I stand at the balcony’s edge until I’m damp and shivering, hoping to catch a glimpse of the student who leapt from the balcony when the hotel was a women’s college in the 1920s. Wearing a white dress, she sometimes takes the final steps of her morbid dance when people are wining and dining outdoors. She doesn’t materialize.

Eureka’s formerly healing springs are now toxic.

I head downstairs and catch the free shuttle to Main Street. The driver tells me Eureka’s once-healing springs are now toxic — “They call that progress,” he says.

The Victorian shops and homes along the town’s tiny main drag seem to be carved into the hillside, a smattering of jewelry shops, bars and restaurants that have somehow been sheltered from the conservative lunacy of the surrounding area, where I saw no fewer than 10 pro-Todd Akin yard signs. In that way, it reminds me a lot of Lawrence, Kansas — an eclectic hippie enclave in the midst of the Bible belt.

Eureka Springs seems out of place in the Ozark mountains.

I have wild rice and portabella mushrooms for dinner in a sleepy café called Local Flavor. I talk myself out of looking at the wine list. Only a year ago I would have downed an entire bottle. It occurs to me that even now, no one would know if I did, and I realize this whole town is filled with ghosts.

Before the ghost tour, I sprawl on the bed in my underwear, eat a pumpkin spice truffle and a salted, dark-chocolate-covered caramel, and become so certain something is lurking behind the bathroom door that I tiptoe across the room and fling it open, only to be greeted by a mysterious fart stink. I read somewhere that ghosts can manifest themselves as smells. Fuck, I think, my ghost has gas.

Room 330 at the Crescent

Our last stop on the ghost tour is the morgue, which is now used for storage. Ramsey the tour guide shows us the locker that was featured on Ghost Hunters when their thermal cameras revealed something that looked like a silhouette. Ramsey waves an EMF sensor in front of the locker, and the device starts blinking red and beeping like something from Ghostbusters.

Ramsey asks if we want to turn out the lights for a minute. We all enthusiastically agree. He places the EMF reader on the floor, and we stand in a circle, staring down at it.

This room served as the morgue when the Crescent was a cancer hospital in the 1930s.

“If anyone is here, could you make yourself known?” Ramsey says, but the reader is quiet. “There’s a girl from Kansas City here for Halloween, and she’d like it if you said hello.”

The reader starts blinking and beeping wildly.

Back in my room, I sleep with the lights on.

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