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Ghostly Tales Big Business for Eureka Springs

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Crescent Hotel, Eureka Springs
Crescent Hotel, Eureka Springs
October 17, 2000

Ghostly Tales Big Business For Eureka Springs
Jill M. Rohrbach, travel writer
Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism

EUREKA SPRINGS -- Ghost stories are just a fun event around a campfire for some. But, for three Eureka Springs residents ghost stories mean business.

Dani Wilson, Carroll Heath and Ken Fugate are co-owners of The Eureka Springs Ghost Tours. Their tours are rich in history and ghostly tales. In addition to telling some of Eureka's colorful past the tour guides also discuss "out-of-body beings," "old energy," and "orbs" to help tourists understand the metaphysical elements of their stories.

Three tours are offered: the Historic Haunted Mansions Tour, the Eureka Springs Historic Cemetery Tour and the Crescent Hotel Tour.

The mansions tour highlights some of Eureka Spring's finest homes known to still be inhabited by the original owners from the Victorian period. It is a walking tour that does not include entering the privately owned homes. The walk includes a history of how the town was founded and the history of the area thousands of years before Eureka Springs existed. Notable homes on the tour include The Gables Tour Home, Bridgeford House and Crystal Terrace.

Cemetery tours are conducted with the greatest respect, not theatrics. "They are mostly history tours featuring the burial sites of city founders or others who are haunting buildings today," explains Fugate. Topics discussed include cemetery icons, potter’s fields, Woodmen of the World, and legendary folklore.

Perhaps the most popular tour is of the legendary Crescent Hotel, constructed in 1886. The long history of the hotel is represented through the ghosts that still inhabit its halls and walls. Not only do tourists learn about secret underground passages, they also receive a special treat of visiting the basement room that was once the morgue. It still contains an old autopsy table. That room was part of perhaps the strangest chapter in the Crescent's history from 1937-39, when Norman Baker of Iowa bought the hotel and converted it into his third cancer facility, naming it the Baker Hospital of Eureka Springs.

People who have strange experiences in the Crescent, or other places in the city, want to tell their stories, explains Fugate. So, the business owners started keeping a database of "haunted" activity. For example, if someone tells them they saw a ghost in Room 305 of the Crescent, the information is put into the database. When the same story is told numerous times by different people, the tour guides do a formal investigation.

Thus, the only ghost stories told by the guides are those with experiential evidence that have also been checked by the trio. The guides have also had numerous experiences of their own within the walls of the historic Crescent Hotel. For example, Fugate did the decorative stenciling in the hotel, which was recently refurbished. In a guest room, Fugate was stenciling high up on the wall when he heard an old lady's voice right next to his ear say, "Oh that's very nice. Thank you." He turned around to see who was talking to him, but no one was there. The small voice then said her name was Theodora and asked his name. Fugate says Theodora told him the room was nice, but not as nice as when she lived in it.

Probably the most well-known ghost of the Crescent is Michael, a stonecutter who helped build the hotel. He fell to his death at the location of Room 218, now the most requested room in the hotel. He's said to have been a good-looking man who often got in trouble for flirting with the ladies. The tour guides suspect that he could have been flirting when he fell to his death. Michael is still known for turning his attention and tricks to women guests.

"He's very active and ornery," says Wilson.

Dr. John Freemont Ellis is another "long-time" guest of the hotel. He was hotel physician during the Victorian Era. Dressed in top hat and fine clothing, he is sometimes seen on the staircase from the second floor to the lobby. Heath says the smoke from Ellis' tobacco pipe is sometimes smelled near the elevator.

Wilson says that late one evening a woman was videotaping her husband sitting in the lobby of the hotel. Replaying the tape, the couple noticed a blur. Slowing it down, frame by frame, the blur turned out to be "a proper Victorian man in a tall top hat" walking through the lobby in front of the couch where the husband was sitting, explains Wilson. The ghostly apparition on the tape is presumed to be Dr. Ellis.

Dr. Ellis is also seen at The Gables Tour Home owned by Heath and Fugate. Ellis owned the home when he was staff physician at the Crescent. "Things in the house move around," says Heath.

Theodora, Michael, and Dr. Ellis are just a few of the legends to whet the appetite. The guides know many more stories, including one of a disappearing pool of blood, the morgue ghost who hangs out by the old autopsy table, two nurses completing their duties, a young girl who visits the hotel's public bathrooms and a couple of guests that took a ghost home with them.

Wilson says there are many ghosts in the Crescent because there are 114 years of history. While she has seen ghosts from the Victorian age, Wilson says she once "saw a fully materialized Osage Indian" in the hotel lobby and has even seen modern day ghosts.

Other stories of strange happenings include those from bartenders who worked at the hotel. What is now the New Moon Spa in the hotel was once a bar. Before that it was the hotel bowling alley. Wilson says former bartenders tell stories of glasses and bottles of whiskey rising from shelves and crashing to the floor.

Wilson says most of the ghosts "don't have a clue they're dead. They're functioning on their time frame."

And, one misconception about ghosts is that they stay where they die, says Heath. While some do, he says many go back to where they liked it best when in the physical world. "The Crescent was a big summer spa," he explains. Other ghosts, says Heath, return to a location where they feel they need to resolve a situation.

"This takes a lot of effort and work to do what we do," adds Heath. "We don't invent stories. We're not just putting on a show."

While some people take the tours very seriously, others see them more as entertainment. The business owners understand this. In fact, the front of the tour guide brochure states, "Be assured that our tours do not attempt to dictate what you should think or believe. We want you to think for yourself. What we provide are simply the tools to enable you to accomplish this. With that in mind, we invite you to continue or begin your journey."

Heath says some people actually see ghosts while on a tour, but many do not. Some believe in ghosts while others just enjoy the idea. Fugate adds that Marty and Elise Roenigk, owners of the Crescent, have not seen any ghosts; but, unlike previous owners the Roenigks do allow ghost stories to be told.

The Eureka Springs Ghost Tours opened in May of 1999. The business is located in Suite 212 of The Crescent Hotel, 75 Prospect Ave., Eureka Springs, AR 72632. For cost and tour schedule information, call 501-253-6800 or visit,


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