“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.