MY NECK OF THE WOODS

That would be just about anywhere in Texas.

Haunted Eureka

thatsjustme
Yesterday I wrote that my husband and I chose to stay at The Crescent Hotel when we went to Eureka Springs, Arkansas for a visit. I said that we wanted local flavor and didn’t want the intimacy of a bed and breakfast. I lied. We stayed at The Crescent, because it’s haunted.

I confess that the Eureka Springs Ghost Tours caught my attention. I’m a sucker for things like that. They offered a tour of the historic hotel led by real live psychics and said we would hear lots of legends about the hotel. That’s what I wanted.

We checked in at The Crescent and discovered our room was right next door to the office for the ghost tour. That seemed convenient at the time. We were anticipating the tour that evening, but decided to take a look around the hotel and perhaps book massage for the next day.

The New Moon Spa is located in the basement of the hotel, so we walked down the stairs and into their offices. The frazzled woman behind the desk explained that they had no openings that day. As I stood there listening to her, I was getting a little dizzy. The room seemed to be swirling. It had been an exhausting drive from the Dallas area. We had been in the car eight hours. I didn’t feel like standing around trying to figure out another time for an appointment, so we went back to the hotel lobby.

Upstairs, the air seemed more fresh, and I perked up a bit. There is an art gallery located in the lobby of the hotel. A sculpture and some blown glass were beckoning me to visit, so my husband and I entered the shop to explore. We “ooohed” and “aaaahhhed” over all of the exquisite works by nationally known artists. But, as I talked to the clerk at the checkout counter, I began feeling light headed again. We decided it would be best to rest in the room for awhile before the tour. I didn’t want to miss it.

I decided to relax on the veranda outside our room to enjoy the view. After a few minutes, the hotel cat came prancing up the stairs. Though she seemed quite friendly, and seemed to want attention, she wouldn’t stay to let me pet her. Instead, she scampered on to the room two doors down. She rubbed all over the door, dancing around and arching her back as if she were being stroked, then went on her way. It seemed like strange behavior. But, it was a cat. Cats are strange.

When 7:00 rolled around, we lined up for our ghost tour. Our tour guide led us first to the basement outside of the New Moon Spa. The man related to us that this area was one of high energy and a lot of paranormal activity. In this part of the hotel, when it had been a cancer hospital, many people had been operated upon and died. This basement is where Dr. Norman Baker and his colleagues performed gruesome experimental surgery, and then autopsies on the victims. Supposedly, when renovations were done on the hotel several years back, workmen found human bones cemented into the walls.

7ourguideAs our guide droned on (and on and on and on), I was feeling dizzy and overheated. I needed to sit down. Just then, a young girl near me slumped into a faint. It seems she had been standing with her knees locked (which can cause you to faint). But, then our guide also told us that when that paranormal activity occurs (OK, when a ghost comes near you), it can cause fainting, dizziness, or the sensation of feeling extremely cold or hot! The hairs on the back of my neck began to stand at attention. Especially so when he explained that another area of high energy was in the gallery upstairs (where I had been feeling dizzy earlier in the day!).

I won’t spoil the tour for you by telling you ALL about it. We got the opportunity to explore the basement areas that were normally off limits and to take pictures hoping for orbs (bright lights) or images of ghosts. Then, we went upstairs. We traveled through different parts of the building hearing many different tales of ghostly encounters. We took lots of pictures. Do you see any orbs? I don’t.

1 4 stairwell stairwell2

hallway

After touring the rest of the hotel, to my surprise, we stopped two doors down from our room. The guide then explained that this was probably the most “haunted room” in the building. He told us about a ghost named “Michael.”

michaelsroomIn life, Michael was an Irish lad who worked on the construction of the hotel. He was reportedly a good humored young man, who was quite a practical joker. He loved to scandalize the ladies by flirting with them and flexing his muscles for them in his sleeveless undershirts (this was the Victorian era, and he made many a woman blush with his antics). Tragically, Michael slipped while working one day and fell through several floors of scaffolding. He died on what would later become Room 218.

5michael
Now, Michael haunts that room. He plays a myriad of mischievous tricks and makes banging noises in the walls and in the halls. I had to wonder if Michael’s presence was why the hotel cat was attracted to the room. Was she being petted by a ghost?

Though the tour that night took us through several other halls with interesting stories, Michael stuck in my mind. Perhaps because there is a statue of him in the lobby … or perhaps because he was two doors down from us. I lay awake half the night hoping to hear banging in the walls or the sound of a ghost gurney being wheeled down the hall (another common occurence). But, there were no peeps out of any ghosts.

The next morning, as I drank coffee on the veranda, the guest in room 218 came out on the balcony, too. I couldn’t resist calling out (in my fake Irish accent), “So, Darlin’, did you see Michael last night?”

He laughed and sauntered over with his coffee. Here’s the story he told me:

My wife and I had stayed in Eureka Springs several years ago in a b&b downtown. We had come up to The Crescent just to look around, and because they served Starbucks coffee. I went to the basement to use the Men’s room. When I entered, there was a gentleman washing his hands at the sink. He was dressed in an old fashioned suit and wore a bowler hat. I thought nothing of it, because there was an antique car show in town, and many people were dressed in vintage costumes.

The man smiled at me as he smoothed his handlebar mustache and said, “I really must be going, I’m late again.” He walked around the corner, but I never heard the door open.

That seemed odd, so I looked around the corner, and the man wasn’t there. As I took the elevator back upstairs, I noticed a picture on the wall of the elevator. It was a group of the townspeople from back in the 1800’s. In the midst of the group, was the man I had seen in the restroom.

So, when I got the chance to come and stay here, I asked for Michael’s room, because I had heard the legend. I wanted to see a ghost.

When I checked in, I brought my briefcase up the room, turned on the lights, and opened the drapes. Then, I went down to my car to get my luggage. When I came back to the room, the lights were off, the drapes were closed, and my briefcase was by the door. Room service swore they had not been in my room!

Last night, after the ghost tour was over, I heard noises outside my door. I opened it to find two women taking pictures of each other in front of the haunted room. I asked if they would like to see Michael’s room, and of course they did. They came in and took some pictures, but as we stood talking, the bathroom door slowly creaked closed and clicked shut. That room is level, so I don’t know how it happened. I opened the bathroom door again, and the women went on their way. Later, as I sat watching television, the door closed and clicked shut again.

Before I went to bed, I opened the bathroom door. I crawled into bed and turned out the lights. As I was drifting off to sleep …. the door creaked to a close and clicked shut. I just pulled the covers over my head.

Other than that, nothing unusual happened.

During our stay, several different guests were in that room trying to take pictures of the ghost. I don’t know if anyone saw anything more. I know that I didn’t see a ghost, darn it. The only noises I heard in the night (other than my own snoring) were from the people who lined up in the hall each evening to buy tickets for the ghost tour. Don’t get a room near that office if you like peace and quiet!

Oh, yes, I had felt that dizziness when we arrived. But, I have to remember that I have a vivid imagination, I’m old and tired, and I’m experiencing the “change of life.” Any of those could have caused me to feel dizzy and hot!

Are there ghosts in that hotel? Check it out for yourself and see what YOU think.

By the way…it’s only me in that top picture.

Eureka!…Eureka Springs, that is.

I’m looking out the window at a bleak Texas day. The sky is curdled and gray, the grass is wheat colored, and even the squirrels are hiding in their nests. It’s hard to believe that Spring Break is around the corner. At least it is for planning a vacation.

I have no idea what we may want to do this year, but thought I’d share some information on one of our favorite places: Eureka Springs, Arkansas. Whether you want a romantic getaway for two or you want to take all six kids, Eureka Springs would have something for everyone.

View from the balcony of our hotel

View from the balcony of our hotel

Last year, my husband and I decided to take a few days to visit there for the first time. We knew that the area was scenic with plenty of things to do … especially shopping. I’m the official “activity director” at our house, so I began with an internet search. It took me to www.eurekasprings.org where I hoped to get enough information to plan our trip. Sadly, some of their information was out of date, and they didn’t give me enough to please me, but it was a starting point. I looked at the page this morning and it seems a little more up to date.

It was disappointing that we would be there too early in the year to enjoy a train excursion on the Eureka Springs and North Arkansas Railway. The season doesn’t begin until April. However, there would be a Saint Paddy’s Day parade followed by a concert featuring an Irish band called Grada at THE Auditorium. There were several opportunities for taking spa treatments, shops galore, and plenty of fine dining. I made my list.

Since we had never seen the town, lodging was a major concern. I travel for a living, so I didn’t want to stay in a generic hotel that would feel like a room in Anytown, USA. I wanted local flavor. There were scores of delightful sounding B&Bs listed, but we didn’t feel comfortable with the intimacy of such lodgings. We opted for a room at The Crescent Hotel, a historic hotel on a hill overlooking the town. It was established in 1886 and boasts a very colorful history. Rooms at The Crescent are pricey, but we decided to splurge.

With a vague plan in mind, we packed our bags and headed north from the Dallas, TX area. One good thing to have known is that Google directions become very confusing in northwest Arkansas. When we got totally bumfuzzled, we decided to wing it with a very small Atlas of the United States. Both of us were too blind to read the tiny highway numbers on it. Finally, road signs pointed us to the town, but we wound up coming in from the north on AR62. The road offered a sweeping view of the Arkansas hills, but it was VERY steep and winding. We discovered ourselves behind a huge semi that was inching its way down the mountain. I still can’t get the scent of his burning brakes out of my lungs. It was a frightening descent into Heaven.

My mouth hit the floorboards as we drove down Spring Street. So many shops … so little time! We only had three days. During our stay, we barely scratched the surface of the shopping… and the eating. The town is rife with art galleries and funky little shops. There are too many restaurants to ever hope to hit them all (and still be able to zip your pants without lying on the bed using pliers to pull up the zipper!). I will warn you that if you plan to visit a parade in Eureka Springs, it will probably parallel our experience.

From the publicity on the website, we expected something a little more grand … with lots of floats and marching bands. As you can see from the photos below, it was what would be expected in a small town. I think you had to live there to understand it.

Ummm... what?

Ummm… what?

There seemed to be a lot of inside jokes with the folks in the parade and the townspeople on the street. As foreigners, we didn’t get the humor. Most of the parade was made up of local folks who had decorated their cars to drive down the street. I wouldn’t base a trip there on getting to watch a parade.

This is too exciting.

This is too exciting.

Don't you dare kiss my husband! You DID!

Don’t you dare kiss my husband! You DID!

A highlight of the trip was the night we went to The Auditorium for the concert by Grada. The auditorium isn’t extremely comfortable (drafty with folding wooden seats) but the lively Celtic music more than made up for it. We were delighted at the opportunity to stand and dance after a spell of being cramped in our seats.

On Saturday, we explored the area around Eureka Springs, even heading into Missouri to visit Roaring River State Park where my family had vacationed every summer during my childhood. If you are taking children with you, this might be an enjoyable excursion. There is horseback riding, hiking, camping, fishing, and a fish hatchery to explore.

We will definitely return to Eureka Springs. Maybe we will see you there.

EUREKA SPRINGS DIVERSIONS

The list below is by no means complete. I’ve compiled a few of the things we found interesting, and some we hope to explore next time. Visit http://www.eurekasprings.org/ to find out more.

The Crescent Hotel:

Lobby of The Crescent

Lobby of The Crescent

1886 Crescent Hotel & Spa
75 Prospect Ave
Eureka Springs, AR 72632
Phone: 479 253 9766 Toll-Free: 800 342 9766
www.crescent-hotel.com/

Whether you decide to choose this as your lodging, or just as a destination to visit, the hotel is worth a look. The elegant lobby is restored to its Victorian grandeur. In springtime, the gardens around the hotel would be a lovely sight. The observation deck has a wonderful view of the town.

Our room was a bit “cozy” for two people. OK, it was a matchbox. It might not be the place to stay with children. It didn’t have enough storage space, and it would feel cramped in bad weather. Get a room with a balcony to extend the space and afford an excellent view of the town.

We had a high speed internet connection, but no desk for the computer. We loved it anyway. If you wanted, you could spend your entire vacation on the grounds of the hotel. It sports a restaurant, a bar, a spa, and a ghost tour! I’ll write more about that tomorrow.

If you like that vintage feel and enjoy being away from the crowd, the seclusion here is wonderful. It’s still within walking distance from town (at least downhill … if you are in good physical shape the walk back might not be bad either!). The trolley runs past every twenty minutes or so, as well. DO ask for a room away from the office for the ghost tour! It gets rather noisy in the evening as people line up to take the tour!

Dr. Baker’s Lounge:
http://crescent-hotel.com/bakerslounge.htm
Located on the fourth floor of The Crescent, this art deco style room is a fine place to try a light lunch or afternoon cocktail while enjoying a panoramic view.

The Crystal Dining Room:

http://crescent-hotel.com/dining.htm

The food is tasty with an artful presentation. The room itself is quite lovely and the staff is attentive.

New Moon Day Spa:

http://www.newmoonspa.com/

We didn’t get to enjoy a massage here, because we didn’t plan ahead! It advertises that “walk-ins are welcome,” but don’t count on that during spring break. Everywhere we asked about spas, we were told that the New Moon was the best in town. It’s located in the basement of The Crescent. We’ll hope to try that next time.

Eureka Springs Ghost Tour
http://www.eureka-springs-ghost.com/crescent.htm

Yes, The Crescent is a “haunted hotel.” During its history, it was at one time a “Cancer Cure Hospital” run by a quack named Norman Baker. He called himself “Dr.”, but he had no medical training. His skills were in fleecing people out of their money. Our ghost tour took us into the bowels of the hotel where Dr. Baker’s staff performed some pretty gruesome experiments on people back in 1930s in an attempt to find a cure for cancer. We walked the halls of the hotel with about 30 other people listening to a psychic telling us spooky stories and legends. We took pictures hoping to capture an image of an “orb.” It was great fun and I’d even recommend it for families (as long as the children aren’t young enough to be frightened by it all or are too young to care). The tour office is on the second floor of The Crescent. If you like this type of thing (and we do!), you will enjoy the tour (see related article tomorrow).

Once you leave the hotel, here are some of the things you will find:

The Oasis 53-C Spring Street
2nd staircase past New Orleans Hotel- downstairs on landing

A feast for the eyes and the belly!

A feast for the eyes and the belly!

You don’t need directions … follow the aroma! Billing itself as an “Ark-Mex” restaurant, this tiny hole in the wall below street level is a delightful treat. You will feel as if you stepped back into the 1960’s with the “wall art” . Try it for breakfast or lunch (it closes at 4:00). We had “migas” which were quite good. But, the pork mole enchiladas were sublime! The chef, who is quite a character, told us that their food was voted The Best Fresh Cooked Food in Arkansas. I believe her!

Mud Street Espresso Cafe
22 South Main Street
http://www.mudstreetcafe.com/

Oh, the coffee!

Oh, the coffee!

Coffee! There are very few coffee bars in town … and I have to have it! Locals told us about an “underground cafe”…it’s below street level…with the best coffee around. Mud Street’s mocha espresso is delicious with a tiny chocolate covered coffee bean in the bottom as a surprise. The “Mud Street Breakfast” and the “Veggie Grits” platter were so good, we returned the next day for more. Go to their website for menus. But, go to the cafe!
Rogue’s Manor

124 Spring Street
http://www.roguesmanor.com/

Put on your fancy duds and prepare for some fine dining! This restaurant is a do not miss! The food is delicious, the presentation is excellent and the atmosphere is charming. It’s less pricey than The Crystal Dining Room, and much better! But, when they tell you that the ribs are “smothered in sauce” remember they mean it! Order the sauce on the side to keep your dainty demeanor.

Sweet’s Fudge Kitchen

36 Spring Street
http://www.sweetsfudgekitchen.com/

Chocolate, Chocolate, Chocolate!! Need I say more?

Iris at the Basin Park

8 Spring Street

Wonderful fine art!

Bath Junkie

8½ Spring Street

Yesss! This delightful store will mix up a concoction for your bath with any scent you want. You can get perfumes as well. I had been looking for sandalwood … and got a heavenly body mist made to order!

Crazy Bone

37 Spring Street

A fun little shop with a variety of items: shoes (for dainty feet), funny t-shirts (to bring home for the kids), greeting cards, and art.

Paper Moon Attractions

If you are planning a trip to Eureka Springs and want to enjoy an evening show, contact them (479-363-0363) to see who might be playing at The Auditorium. They’ve had big names and newcomers, but if something is happening there you don’t want to miss it.

Eureka Springs & North Arkansas Railway

http://www.esnarailway.com/schedule.htm

Tuesday-Saturday from April to October
$10 adults $5 children Children under 4 years are FREE with accompanying adult (Now what the heck does THAT mean? Did they think someone would just ditch their kid on the train?)
We were sorry to have missed this. The train takes a 4 ½ mile ride through the Ozark hills pulled by a 1940 era diesel locomotive. The dining car serves Baked Chicken, Prime Rib, and Rainbow trout with soup, salad, rice pilaf, veggies and Baked Alaska for $36.50