Friday, November 21, 2014

HGB Podcast 11 - The 1886 Crescent Hotel and Spa

Moment in Oddity - Gef the Talking Mongoose

In the 1930s, a talking mongoose became an international sensation.  The story began on the Isle of Man in the little village of Dalby.  Doarlish Cashen was the name of a farmhouse located there.  James and Margaret Irving lived there with their daughter Voirrey.  Between the walls of the farmhouse was a gap.  The family first saw a weasel like creature in the farm yard.  The mongoose moved into the house and took up residence in the walls.  Shortly thereafter, the animal began to talk, starting with repeating animal noises and then nursery rhymes and finally conversing with the Irvings.  People who heard the mongoose claimed that he spoke with a high pitched squeaky voice.  The mongoose claimed to be an "extra, extra clever mongoose."  James Irving claimed that the mongoose asked to be called Gef and that it could shape-shift.  Gef became violent over time threatening to hurt the daughter leaving the family to lock themselves in a room together at night.  Sometimes Gef would be nice leaving the family dead rabbits as gifts and accepting their gifts of bananas and sausages and other times he would throw stones and curse at the family.  Hairs that Irving sent as samples to a zoo came up as dog hairs and the Irvings did indeed own a dog.  Pictures that Margaret Irving managed to take of Gef do seem to show an animal similar to a cat only smaller with a long tail.  People came to believe that Gef was a hoax, but Voirrey was interviewed 40 years later and she claimed that Gef was detrimental to her life and very real.  People had claimed that she had thrown her voice and pretended to be Gef, but Voirrey said she was not that talented.  One investigator said that he had heard Gef when Voirrey was not in the house and the Irvings were in full view.  Friends of the Irvings claimed to hear Gef and Gef apparently hitched rides on the local bus where he ate stolen sandwiches and harassed people.  So, was Gef the talking mongoose a hoax?  Was he a shared delusion?  Was he a spirit of some sort?  Or was the whole thing the real deal?  Whatever the truth may be, whether fact or fiction, the whole affair is quite odd.

This Day in History - The Temple is Cleansed

On this date, November 21st, in 165 BC, Judah Maccabee orders that the Jewish Temple be cleansed.  Judah was the third son of Mattathias, a Jewish priest.  Antiochus IV Epiphanes was the ruler at that time and he had forbidden any Jewish customs to be practiced.  Mattathias gathered his sons together and they started a revolt against Antiochus in 167 BC.  Mattathias died a year later and Judah took over the mantle of leadership and took on the surname of Maccabee meaning "sledgehammer" in Aramaic.  He was ferocious in battle and lead his men in guerrilla tactics knowing that they were no match for Antiochus' military force in face to face confrontations.  Judah died in 160 BC, but the fighting continued under his other two brothers and independence for the Jewish people was attained several years later.  Judah's cleansing of the Jewish Temple by removing the Hellenistic statues and restoring Jewish worship is celebrated to this day during the holiday we all know as Hanukkah.

The 1886 Crescent Hotel and Spa 

Eureka Springs, Arkansas is home to more than 100 Victorian restaurants, galleries and shops.  Near the downtown area are Victorian cottages and the Crescent Hotel and Spa, opened in 1886 and located at 75 Prospect Avenue.  The Crescent has been recognized by the National Trust for Historic Preservation as one of America's Dozen Distinctive Destinations.  The hotel has endured controversy, fires and extensive renovations while passing through the hands of several owners.  The hotel has retained its 19th century look and is a beautiful structure built from native limestone that attracts visitors from around the world to enjoy its rooms, spa and hospitality.  But deep within those limestone walls lies a history that has lead this hotel to be declared "America's Most Haunted Hotel."

Isaac L. Taylor of Missouri was chosen as architect of the Crescent Hotel by Powell Clayton, former Governor of Arkansas, and other investors and then the site in Eureka Springs that covered twenty-seven acres overlooking a valley was dedicated.  The area was popular as it was located by the waters of the Ozarks that many people believed had healing qualities.  Construction on the Crescent Hotel began in 1884 under a partnership between The Frisco Railroad and the Eureka Springs Improvement Company, a company formed by Clayton.  The building was formed from blocks of White River Limestone that had to be transported by special wagons.  A group of specialists from Ireland had to be brought in to assist with the cutting of the stone because it was so dense and precision was needed with cutting the stone.  The walls were built eighteen inches thick and no mortar was used.  The masons constructed towers, balconies and a large stone fireplace in the lobby.  The leader of the Irish group once told a reporter that he had never encountered such stone in his life.  We will cover the significance of limestone when it comes to hauntings a little later.

During construction, a worker crashes to his death in what is now Room 218.  Undeterred, construction continues and opens under the operation of the Eureka Springs Improvement Company in 1886 with a big grand opening gala ball featuring guest of honor presidential candidate at the time, James Blaine.  Blaine was a well known politician having represented Maine in both the Senate and the House, where he served as Speaker of the House from 1869-1875, and he twice served as Secretary of State.  Blaine lost his bid for president narrowly to Grover Cleveland.  The Eureka Springs Time Echo wrote that the hotel would be "featuring large airy rooms, comfortably furnished, the Crescent Hotel offers the visiting vacationer opulence unmatched in convenience and service." 

After the grand opening, the Crescent Hotel catered to the upper crust of society and what was deemed as the "Carriage Set."  People came to enjoy the trails, riding the beautiful horses kept on the property and to partake in the afternoon tea parties and evening dance parties where the hotel orchestra played.  The hotel also offered rides aboard The Tally Ho, their large open coach that was drawn by teams of horses.  The latest amenities were a part of the hotel including Edison Lamps, electric bells, heating with steam and open grates and there was a hydraulic elevator.  There were tennis courts, croquet and a swimming pool.  The luxury of running water arrived at the Crescent Hotel in 1900.

Winters became a tough time for business and people had realized that the "curative" waters were not really all that healing and they stopped frequenting the hotel, so the Crescent Hotel opened Crescent College and Conservatory for Women in 1908.  The college stays in operation until 1934 when the Great Depression forced the closure of both the college and the hotel.  In 1937, Dr. Norman Baker bought the hotel.  He reopened the Crescent Hotel as a cancer hospital and advertised promises that people who would come to the hospital would leave cured.  Dr. Baker claimed that he could bring healing without painful tests or surgery.  There was a high price for the "cure" and many desperate people came to the hospital.  What those people were unaware of was that Dr. Baker was no doctor.  He had been convicted in Iowa is 1936 of practicing medicine without a license.  Not only was Baker not a doctor, his "cure" and various elixirs were pure scam.  He bilked people out of $4,000,000 before he was arrested for mail fraud in 1940.  Baker was sentenced to four years in Leavenworth, which seems like an easy sentence considering that people's deaths may have been quickened because cancer patients gave up conventional medicine for fake elixirs.

The Crescent sat empty until 1946 when four Chicago business men bought the building and renovated it trying to match its former glory.  In 1967, fire swept through the fourth floor of the south wing, almost completely destroying it.  The hotel continued to switch hands and undergo renovations, but the hotel continued to decline until 1997.  Marty and Elise Roenigk bought the hotel and promised to return the Crescent to its former glory and they actually accomplished that going even beyond the promise.  The couple spent $5 million dollars restoring guest rooms, the landscaping, the electrical and plumbing, lounges, rebuilding the hotel's burned out skyline, renovating the 3,500 square foot penthouse and center observation tower and opening the New Moon Spa with hydrotherapy tub, sauna, Vichy showers, tanning beds and massage tables.  The hotel is open for business with 72 guest rooms and 12 luxury suites you can book today.

Before we discuss the long list of haunting experiences, we want to touch on the significance of limestone in regards to supernatural activity.  Limestone is a sedimentary rock that is formed from several types of minerals and crystals.  Limestone is usually found near water and water tends to conduct supernatural activity as well as it conducts electricity and some believe that is the connection with limestone as well as the idea that minerals and crystals absorb energy.  The quartz found in some limestone is an electromagnetic conductor as well, which is why quartz is used in building radios.  If limestone does indeed seem to be related to hauntings, then it would most likely be connected to residual hauntings and the absorption of energy.

Ghost tours are offered nightly at the Crescent Hotel.  People wind through the halls ending up in the morgue that was once in the hospital.  On any night, people may witness apparitions or catch the scent of a bygone odor.  Perhaps they may run into Michael, an Irish stonemason.  He was the worker that died during construction that we mentioned earlier.  The room he died in, Room 218, is considered the most haunted location in the hotel.  Toilets flush on their own in this room, lights turn on and off and guests have complained of being awakened in the middle of the night after being touched.  Hands have been witnessed coming out of the mirror and people have heard what sounds like someone falling on the ceiling.  Michael was killed when he fell to his death.

In the early years of operation, a young girl had fallen over the fourth floor railing and died.  During a tour of the hotel, the guide stood in the spot where it is thought the girl landed and she suddenly felt an intense chill.  Two women standing next to her both asked the others in the group, "Did you feel that?"  A man in the group took a picture and supposedly a foggy apparition of a little girl can be seen standing near the three women.

The Crystal Dining Room is an elegant room with its own kitchen and apparently its own ghost.  A little boy is thought to haunt the kitchen.  He moves utensils and other items around.  The Crystal Dining Room plays host to several spirits that are usually seen wearing Victorian era clothing.  Many of them dance and one gentleman sits by the window and tells people he is waiting for a beautiful woman he had met the night before.  One Christmas season, the Christmas tree was moved across the dining room along with all the presents underneath it and several chairs were placed in a circle around the tree.

Dr. John Freemont Ellis was the in house doctor at the Crescent in the late nineteenth century.  Dr. Ellis enjoyed smoking his pipe and to this day, people continue to smell his cherry pipe tobacco.  The hotel is a non smoking hotel in the present era, so any pipe tobacco smell is not coming from the present.  Of further interest is that whole groups of people will encounter the smell at the same time and thus it is a shared experience.

There is much activity that seems to originate from the time when the hotel was the cancer hospital.  A nurse has been seen pushing a gurney on the third floor.  She disappears when she reaches the end of the hallway.  Sometimes no ghost is seen, but the sound of squeaking wheels can be heard.  The third floor is where the morgue and walk-in freezer were located.  Dr. Baker's autopsy table and the freezer are still in the hotel.  During tours, people can volunteer to be closed up inside the freezer.  Experiences range from nothing happening to icy chills to orbs of light being seen.  One young man even had an orb pass through him and he became ill.  Dr. Baker himself has been seen in different areas of the hotel, although he died in Florida.

Whether one books a stay at the hotel for the accommodations or for the spirits, they are sure to enjoy the visit.  So is the Crescent Hotel host to more than just the living?  That is for you to decide.

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