NEW YORK (MainStreet) — Embarking on a ghost tour given year-round at The 1886 Crescent Hotel and Spa in Eureka Springs, Ark., participants are taken on a tour of the hotel while given a history lesson.
The hotel, which opened as a luxury resort for the very wealthy in (surprise) 1886, was later closed and reopened as a girl’s finishing school. People are taken to Room 218, the hotel’s most haunted room, where it is thought a young mason named Michael fell to his death as the building was being constructed.
Another story includes a young student of the girl’s school who was thought to have jumped or was pushed from around the fourth-floor balcony. The eager audience is told a local policeman even saw an apparent apparition jumping one night around 10:30.
It is its’ third incarnation as a cancer treatment hospital in the late 1930s to the 1940s which gives fodder for many of the ghost stories.
“Dr.” Norman Baker, who wasn’t a doctor at all, told the wealthy he could cure their ailments. Instead, it is thought that up to 300 people died at the hotel and some may even be buried on the property.
Phantom nurses have been spotted pushing gurneys and a woman thought to be a patient is often seen in period clothing outside of her room on the fourh floor fumbling for her keys. The ghost tour ends in the basement in what was the morgue, where ghost seekers can even be shut in the “cold” room, a once refrigerated locker used to store corpses.
“Not many hotels have a morgue,” says Bill Ott, director of marketing and communications for The Crescent. “It really sets us apart.”
More than 14,000 people have embarked on these nightly ghost tours to date this year, Ott says. It helps that the hotel has been designated by TripAdvisors and the paranormal investigation show Ghost Hunters as one of the Most Haunted Hotels in America and been featured on other paranormal shows such as My Ghost Story. Ott says he will do dozens of radio and print interviews during October.
Marty and Elise Roenigk bought and refurbished the hotel in 1997. “As they became aware of the hauntings, they had no problem telling the stories,” says Ott of the couple. (Marty Roenigk died in a 2009 car accident.)
The hotel’s marketing strategy is to market it as a mountaintop resort for weddings, family trips, spa travel and girlfriends’ getaways, Ott says, and none of their premier media buys include the mention of ghosts – but their website and some of their brochures do.
“It’s given the hotel a cache, a fun reason to play around the hotel once people get here,” Ott says. “We don’t try to make believers out of people. We have just reported the stories our guests have told us. We have as much fun with it as the people do.”
Still, it has been a boon to business, Ott says. The ghost tours alone, at $19.95 per person, have netted the hotel $279,300. The hotel is typically very busy during September and October anyway due to the fall colors in the Ozark Mountains, but the connection with the ghosts to Halloween is certainly a bonus.
“We joke we wish Halloween would fall in January” Ott says. Four years ago, management decided to do the next best thing: create two Paranormal Weekends during the off season in January and the end of August when school resumes.
Guests have the same access to all of the common areas in the hotel, including the morgue – typically unavailable except on ghost tours – to use ghost-hunting equipment and cameras. Before the weekends were designated for such a purpose, Ott said average occupancy for those weekends was 20%. Since the creation of those weekends, the 76-room hotel is booked 100% those weekends.
“It only proves if you create it, schedule it, promote it, and execute it successfully, they will come," Ott says.
Haunted hotels not an industry for the faint of heart
Not every hotelier is happy to talk about reported hauntings. At least two hotels with reported paranormal activity contacted for this story didn’t want to further link the hotel’s name with being “haunted.”
The 240-member Historic Hotels of America says they have a number of hotel members who report their buildings as haunted, but also some that do not want to be included in the organization’s annual promotion of ghostly hotels.
Rob Howell, general manager for the Shawnee Inn and Golf Resort in Shawnee on Delaware, Pa., in the foothills of the Poconos, says guests have blogged about his property’s hauntings and one even wrote him a letter chiding him for not tellimh her the hotel had ghosts after she said she saw an apparition in her room that left by walking through the closed door.
Howell says he doesn’t think the unexplained occurrences happen frequently enough to justify a disclaimer to guests. “It maybe comes up once a year or so,” he says.
The inn, built in 1911, was famous early on for its golf activities and even hosted the 1938 PGA championship. It was later featured on an early 1940s variety show by one of its owners and hosted many stars of the day, including Bob Hope and Jackie Gleason.
“I guess we have just always marketed the hotel in a more authentic way, for its golf and outdoor activities,” Howell says. “We just haven’t found a way to integrate its’ ghostly past.”
Howell says the hotel staff does not discuss ghosts or any stories they may read about apparitions on the Internet. Jeremy Wo, public relations coordinator for the Inn, says they may have some concerns about scaring away repeat guests if they decided to market the hotel’s unexplained happenings.
Ott, who says he’s had at least two unexplained experiences at the hotel and reports that a few guests have become frightened enough to leave in the middle of the night, says The Crescent hasn’t experienced any negative business issues for embracing its paranormal reputation. “We’ve been told previous owners didn’t want to tell people about the hauntings,” Ott says. “But I think one reason we don’t have problem is that our ghosts are Casper-esque – friendly spirits who won’t scare or upset people.”
Ott says they like to think of their ghosts as spirits who do not know they’re deceased, “Guests who checked out, but never left.”