Coffee and Cobblestone

A Victorian-Era Gem with a Chilling History: Ghosts, Secret Tunnels, and Bootleg Liquor in Eureka Springs, Arkansas- A Weekend Getaway Guide

Tucked away in the Ozark Mountains rests one of my absolute favorite cities. Not only is the city rich in history, but virtually every building in the historic district has been restored and bask in their Victorian-era elegance. There is no place that I feel so at home, so at peace, or so incredibly happy than in Eureka Springs, Arkansas.

A few notes before we jump in

  • Don’t forget to view the links provided in both the photo captions and in the text.
  • ALL OF THE PHOTOS ON THIS BLOG UNLESS OTHERWISE SPECIFIED ARE MY CREATIVE PROPERTY. IF YOU USE THEM, YOU MUST CITE THEM PROPERLY.
  • There are so many things I love about Eureka it is hard for me to just explain a few. That being said, it may seem like I am jumping around- be patient with me, there is
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    Basin Park Hotel

    a lot to cover and I will try to do it in the most concise manner.

    • There is no way I will be able to include all of the histories of every site or be able to discuss every historic marker/site in the town. There are simply, too many- you will just have to visit to get the full scoop.
  • A few notes about the layout of the town the historic downtown is the place to be- stay there and you can walk everywhere you need to go. If you need to go elsewhere, ride the trolly to your favorite destinations outside of downtown
    • While walking through the city pay attention to detail- read the historic markers placed throughout and learn about history as you go. Don’t forget to take your time and enjoy it.
    • Eureka Springs is located in the Ozark Mountains- this means steep inclines, uneven sidewalks, and unpredictable weather; plan accordingly.
    • Eureka is very close to Beaver lake if you feel like going for a swim or trying your luck at fishing.
    • Eureka is famous for its healing springs and there are several around town (six to nine I believe) that you can visit- some feature plaques with stories of people who were healed by the waters, so look for those.
    • If you are an adrenaline junky, this is probably not the place for you. The town is filled with exciting history and informational tours but it is really a place to walk around and enjoy the Victorian atmosphere, have a drink at one of the many bars, and do some porch sitting in the rocking chairs at the Crescent Hotel. However, there are hiking trails near and Eureka is just about an hour and twenty minutes away from Branson, Mo. if you need a little more excitement.
      • If it is festivals, parades, arts, and music that interest you, this is your ideal getaway. There is a themed parade and/or festival every week in Eureka year around. They also have a two-month long celebration for Marti Gras with multiple parades Feb-March. If you have never been to Eureka and need a good time, go during Marti Gras- you won’t regret it (and it’s completely family-friendly).
      • Eureka is a welcoming, liberal town with festivals for celebrating LGBTQ diversity, drag shows, and an addictive, welcoming, judgment-free zone that is one of the reasons it is my zen place. You can truly let your hair down here and inevitably, make friends with everyone in the bar.

Now, let’s get started.

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Early Picture of the Crescent Hotel- Click Link for a List of Tours in Eureka

Our trips to Eureka are a bit different from the rest that fill this travel blog simply because Ben and I go to Eureka Springs for one reason- R&R. We enjoy long jacuzzi baths, bar hopping, and yes- naps. As our trips to Eureka are just about the only time we get to spend alone time together and/or relax due to our busy schedules, we try to make a trip at least once every three months. However, I have been visiting Eureka Springs since I was three years old with my parents. They too had a fascination with the history and atmosphere and we made frequent trips to walk around town and visit one of the most haunted hotels in the country, The Cresent Hotel.

Built in 1886, the Cresent Hotel opened as an upscale retreat for the rich and famous. Because Eureka Springs was said to have healing springs- hence the name, the hotel was strategically placed in the middle of them all. In 1908 the hotel closed in the winter and the Cresent Women’s College operated out of the building until 1938. The hotel then set vacant for thirteen years before Norman Baker arrived in Eureka.

Click to view The Crescent Timeline

Baker bought the Cresent and turned the hotel into a top-notch Cancer hospital- there was just one problem. Norman Baker only had an 8th-grade education and was consequently,  not a certified medical doctor. However, for years he had been operating a national radio show called Know the Naked Truth (KTNT) which challenged the American Medical Association on their treatments for cancer. In turn, Baker developed his own cancer serum which he then sold as his self-proclaimed cure for the devastating disease. Apparently, he decided to try his hand at curing cancer in the direct sense and ran the hospital until 1940 after which he was arrested for mail fraud and sentenced to four years in Leavenworth prison for selling his cancer serum through the mail.

 

 

Due to Baker’s ineptitude as a “doctor” and his “cures” which included injecting patients with chemical and herbal mixtures, and performing surgeries, many patients perished or went insane. For these reasons, a part of the hotel was a designated ward for the “insane” which Baker deemed his “pain ward”.

Extensive measures were taken to ensure Baker’s rouse was concealed. Those who perished were only taken to the morgue after 9PM as not to upset the other guests or visitors to the hotel. The morgue is still visited by thousands of ghost tour patrons each year. There are no concrete records that provide numbers of how many people Baker killed with his fake cancer cure and his master con- but some estimate the count is close to 200, 40 being the lowest number I have heard via town tours and folklore. Baker hired armed guards to watch for authorities, built secret tunnels under the hotel so he could move without being seen and sent well letters home to families only after the patients had died in order to continue collecting their loved ones’ boarding fees. When authorities arrived at the hospital, they found jars of body parts in formaldehyde in the morgue- a room you can still visit today.

In 2019, a Cresent gardener using a backhoe to begin a new landscaping project dug up Baker’s jars. After a thorough investigation by the state police department and after the area was cleared of being a crime scene, archeologists recovered over 400 jars and bottles from the Baker era. The site was the bottle dump used by the owners of the hotel after Baker who disposed of the many jars and bottles found in the hotel after Baker’s departure. After DNA testing, it was established that specimens found in some of the jars recovered did, in fact, contain human tissues. Some of the bottles, as well as the dig site, are now open for viewing on the Cresent ghost tour. Watch CNN’s News Story about the Bottle Dump, here.

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Norman Baker’s Mugshot. Click here to see Pinterest Pics of the Hotel

Baker was eventually, run out of town and the cancer hospital shut down just two years after it opened in 1938. Baker eventually moved to Florida and died in his 80s of you guessed it, cancer- Some would call that poetic justice.

Today, the hotel is fully restored and is one of the top resort hotels in the area. Many of the rooms are booked out six months in advance, especially the rooms said to be most haunted.

Taking the ghost tour there is a must when visiting. Not only will you get to hear more about the history of the building but you will tour the morgue and even have a chance to stand in the freezer with the lights out- if you so desire. Aside from Baker’s cancer hospital, the Cresent has many more ghosts and much more history than the two years Baker occupied the hotel. An Irish stonemason, tragic suicide, an elderly woman who’s lost her room key, and a cat are just some of the other guests who never checked out (sorry, I had to) Buy Ghost Tour Tickets Now. IF YOU ARE INTERESTED IN THE CANCER HOSPITAL JARS AND THE HISTORY OF NORMAN BAKER’S EXPLOITS, TAKE THE VIP GHOST TOUR. IT IS WORTH THE MONEY! On the VIP you get the regular tour plus exclusive access to Keith Scales, as close to a Baker historian as anyone. He is the only one who has researched and traced Baker’s life- traveling to his hometown, conducting interviews with those who knew him, visiting his grave, and tracking down all documents related to Norman Baker, his cancer serums, cons, and life. Additionally, Keith brings with him a medicine bag full of recovered jars that you can hold and examine rather than view them through the plexiglass inside the hotel morgue. If you want to read some of Keith’s work, purchase one of his books at the

BE SURE TO CHECK OUT THE CRESCENT HOTEL FACEBOOK PAGE- They regularly post pictures from the Baker hospital era and exclusive deals on lodging. The hotel also has an amazing pizza Skybar on the fourth floor and boasts an award-winning spa in the basement. Be sure to stop by for a good slice of pizza or a few wings and a facial- that may be as close to heaven as you will get without dying- just saying.

Read More About the History of the Crescent Hotel-Here

Besides visiting the Crescent Hotel, there are many other interesting aspects of the Victorian town. If you are looking for other interesting hotels head to the Basin Park and take their ghost tour. Guests get to hang out in the hotels 1920s speakeasy, taste Eureka bootleg liquor and hear stories of the hotel’s history (including the history of the slot machine and liquor raids). Although the tour is a ghost tour, it seemed to be more of an informational/history tour. In the end, guests do get to investigate in the Barefoot Ballroom for paranormal activity. The most famous spirit said to haunt the Basin is John Chisholm, a lumber baron who frequented the Perry House which was the original hotel built on the property. It is defiantly a memorable tour although, a little less grousing than the Crescent’s ghost tour. Buy Basin ghost tour tickets, here.

Being a Victorian-Era town and built into the Ozark mountains, there are many buildings with ghost ads painted on the side. When I say ghost ad I don’t mean Casper but rather advertisements that were painted before a new building was erected which then made the sign unviewable from the road. It is fun to walk around town, looking in the alleys reading all the old ads (See if you can find the ad for the undertaker’s coffins). In the Victorian era, Eureka Springs had the most mortuaries per capita than anywhere else in the country. This is most likely due to the fact that the sick came to get well in Eureka because, you guessed it, healing spring waters. Enjoy that tidbit when you are eating at the New Dheli Cafe’ (the first crematorium in town), or strolling past many of the buildings on Spring Street.

There are also tunnels that run under the entire city. As the city is built on the side of an Ozark mountain, the roads were gradually moved up due to flooding, mudslides, and three devastating fires. Mud street, which got its name for obvious reasons, is the original 1880 street and Mud Street Cafe, which is now located below the street level, was once on street level. This causes some windows in hotels and shops such as the Grand Central Hotel to look out onto brick walls. Skylights installed in the tunnels are now embedded in the sidewalks. Moral of the story- pay attention when you are strolling about. The tunnels led to a plethora of illegal activities such as bootlegging and brothels, which the mayor frequented on his lunch break through the trap door in his office. It is also known that Al Capone frequented Eureka and used the tunnels to move about. On our last ghost tour of the town, we were told he made such good friends with everyone in town that he basically had the run of it when he visited- I guess Tommy guns are pretty intimidating, who knew? Take the night walking tour, here. To get the full experience of Eureka’s underground history, take the Underground Eureka tour.  

One of my favorite sites in Eureka is the Civil War hospital cave located smack dab in the middle of town. Walk up the steep staircase directly across from the historical marker-  behind the funnel cake stand which has the best red velvet funnel cakes with cream cheese icing; to die for- and at the top of the stairs to your left will be the cave. You are not able to step off of the walkway or enter the cave as it is private property, however, you can clearly see it from the platform.

If you are a hiking fan, visit Pivot Rock and the natural land bridge trail or head to Ponca, Arkansas to hike some of the best trails in the Ozarks including twin falls and hawks beak, also known as Whitiker Point. Click here to Explore Ponca, AR. Also, don’t forget to visit the Christ of the Ozarks which can be seen from many of the hotels in town.

That being said, Ben and I don’t go to Eureka to hike but as I mentioned earlier, we relax, nap, oh- and we drink. We have a standing reservation at the New Orleans Hotel which is located right on Spring Steet,  the main parade route through town- so you always have the best view of the festivities.

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Marti Gras Parade 2017 outside of the New Orleans Hotel

During Marti Gras, you can stand on the hotel balcony with a mixed drink, catch beads, and watch the parade from the second story. If you plan to bar hop in Eureka which is what we usually opt to do, make sure to pack some alcohol to bring with you. That way, you can enjoy a few drinks in the room or on the hotel balcony. Also, if you stay at the New Orleans you are within walking distance of everything in town so no DD needed. They also have free valet parking and they park your car directly behind the building unlike some of the other downtown hotels like the Basin Park which have a parking lot about a half a mile down the road and a shuttle that takes you back and forth. The Crescent Hotel also has free parking next to the hotel and a free shuttle that picks you up and drops you off in town. However, this means there will be times you will be stranded waiting for a shuttle- sometimes for a half-hour or so depending on how busy the hotel is during any given weekend. After trying several hotels and B&B’s in the area, the New Orleans is by far the best AND their prices are more reasonable than the Basin Park or Crescent and it’s likely you will save half or more off of what you would have spent to stay at either of the other two hotels.

When we stay at the New Orleans, we opt for the Jacuzzi Queen Suite. It is fabulous. The Victorian-era furnishings give the room a cozy feel and the staff is outstanding. They also

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Lobby at the New Orleans Hotel

offer free breakfast. Book Your Stay Now.

Also, there are over 300 wonderful places to stay through Airbnb- we also recommend those and have stayed in several of those offered, here AirBnB Eureka.

Now let’s get to the food

Restaurants to Avoid

  • Forest Hill -Do Not attempt this- you’ll be sorry if you do!

Bars

We frequent all of these restaurants and bars, especially the Basin Park Balcony restaurant, Sunday brunch at the Crescent, and Eureka Live Underground. All are reasonably priced and have outdoor seating. The balcony restaurant looks over Spring street which is the main drag through town. This is also an excellent place to watch parades and festivals but be sure to get there early- tables go fast! There are countless other restaurants in town and some really tasty ones that are not in historic downtown but I have limited them to our top picks in the historic district. Mud Street Cafe has the best coffee and since this is COFFEE and Cobblestone, I had to include that tidbit. Amigos Mexican restaurant on Main Street is also one of our favorites, however, they do not have a website for me to link. If you’re walking by, stop in for some great tex-mex. If you have a hankering for pasta, Ermillio’s is your spot. Get there right at 5- there is usually an hour or so wait even right when they open if you are not in the first batch of those seated. However, don’t fret! There’s a bar upstairs, tables, and board games to entertain you while you wait! EXCELLENT ITALIAN FOOD.  I recommend the Tuscan Chicken Pasta. Click the links above to view restaurant menus and prices.

If you want a salad- hit up Local Flavor. If you’re hungover from dancing the night away at the Underground, head to the Basin Park for a huge cheeseburger and fries, or if its Sunday, head to the Crescent for an amazing brunch buffet. Chelsea’s also serves pizza although we have never tried it, and the bar offers balcony seating which is an excellent place to listen to the live bands that frequent the bar. For dancing- Underground is the best.  They also host drag shows there as well. There is cover during drag shows and while there is live music on occasion, most nights, there is a DJ and dancing with no cover charge. Mixed drinks are pretty pricey everywhere in town so be aware of that. I usually pay about $18.00 a drink for my Jack and Coke double shots. Shots themselves range from $3-6 depending on what your poison is. My advice? Bring alcohol and have a few drinks at the hotel before heading to the bar.

The Rowdy Beaver is open the latest of all the bars closing at 2 AM so if you don’t want the night to end when the last call goes out, head over to the Beaver Den for one last drink.

Shopping

These are two of our favorite stops. If you shop anywhere in Eureka- make these two shops one of your stops! We always stock up on handmade soaps from the Soapary every time we visit Eureka. Check out the scent, Cloud in both the soap and the room/sheet spray- heavenly. Sample snacks at Gourmet Eureka and find locally made dips, jellies, and seasonings, and kitchen supplies at reasonable prices. If they have it, try their pecan butter. It is made by a woman in Little Rock and it may just be the best thing in the store, YUM. Can’t get to Eureka? Order anything from both of these retailers online and have it shipped to your door!

Other attractions in and around Eureka   

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Thorncrown Chapel

Onyx Cave and Turpentine Creek do charge entrance fees but Thorncrown Chapel is open to visitors free of charge as long as there isn’t a wedding scheduled. Don’t forget to visit the infamous Carry Nation home on Steel St. Carry Nation was a prohibition activist who went around Kansas towns smashing liquor bottles with her hatchet- she would really not have had fun at the Underground, ha!

Additionally, be sure to walk around- and I mean, everywhere. Follow staircases into the woods, find the burnt down red brick schoolhouse, the old carriage road to the Cresent, and the residential district of downtown where beautifully restores victorian homes bask in all their glory on a quiet residential street. This is prettiest in October when the homes are decorated with pumpkins for Halloween. Its a scene right out of Hocus Pocus if I ever saw one. If you opt to stay in one of the Airbnb locations, it is likely you will be staying in this district so soak up the quiet, quaint atmosphere while still being emersed in Eureka’s historic downtown.

I have only just scratched the surface of what Eureka has to offer- There are so many exciting, creepy, and eclectic aspects of the town that it is impossible to discuss them all. It truly is something you have to experience for yourself. The atmosphere is unmatched to any other place I have visited and it truly is my favorite place on Earth.

Happy traveling my friends.

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