What is it? A palatial hotel built in 1886, the Crescent is recognised by the National Trust for Historic Preservation as one of the United States' Dozen Distinctive Destinations. More commonly, it is known as America's most haunted hotel.
Wait. Where is this place? In Eureka Springs, a small Victorian town in the state of Arkansas, which is known for the Ozark Mountains, caves, hot springs and being the home of Wal-Mart and former American president Bill Clinton. The University of Arkansas' sports team is named after razorback hogs; this is not New York.
So, is this hotel really scary? Scary enough to justify a two-hour ghost tour of the premises. The tour covers at least seven ghosts apparently seen regularly by visitors, ranging from a little girl who pokes guests in the stomach to nurses pushing dead patients on gurneys down hallways. In 2005, prominent ghost hunters captured what appeared to be a ghostly human image on camera in what was once the morgue. At least once a month a guest will spend the night in the lobby (below), choosing to endure bright lights, uncomfortable Victorian sofas, loud swing music and the piercing yellow eyes of two hotel cats rather than the solitude of their dark room.
Nurses? A morgue? What kind of hotel is this? Although built as a hotel, the Crescent fell on hard times during the Great Depression. In 1937, Norman Baker, a quack, turned the building into a "cancer curing" hospital. He eschewed painkillers and concocted "cures" from watermelon seeds and cornsilk. The ghost tour features a séance in Baker's morgue and a visit to the "parts room", where the dubious doc saved human remains in jars of formaldehyde. For obvious reasons, many unhappy ghosts date from the "cancer curing" period.
Hmm. What are the rooms like? Quite pleasant, with Victorian wallpaper and headboards, and modern plumbing and mattresses. Options range from the basic king room (right) to the governor's suite, which features two king bedrooms, wet bar, tub with jacuzzi jets and a balcony. Luxury Craftsman-style cottages are set apart in woodlands surrounded by walking trails.
I don't believe in ghosts. Which rooms will convince me otherwise? The most haunted spots are rooms 218, 419 and 3500. Guests in the latter report glimpsing a lady in Victorian lingerie. Nurse Theodora haunts room 419, packing up the suitcases of guests she dislikes. Room 218 is the most notorious. Michael, an Irish stonemason who fell to his death during the hotel's construction, harasses female guests by grabbing their bottoms or climbing on top of them in bed.
What's there to do besides chase ghosts? The Crescent offers on-site activities that include yoga, watercolour painting classes, historical tours, afternoon socials and a scavenger hunt for children. The hotel's New Moon Spa occupies a whole floor of the building.
Ghosts don't eat, so is the food any good? The Crystal Dining Room is best known for its steaks, fish and pork chops with wine pairings. The champagne Sunday brunch draws locals as well as hotel guests for a huge smorgasbord overseen by black-tie waiting staff. Casual and late-night diners devour gourmet pizzas and calzones while admiring a panoramic view of the Ozarks from the fourth-floor Sky Bar. Yes, fourth floor; again, not New York.
What happens in town? The population of Eureka Springs numbers just over 2,000, about half of whom are artists. Galleries line the town's winding streets. Expect to see brides, as Eureka Springs is known as the wedding capital of the south. Just outside town, religious tourists flock to the Great Passion Play theme park. This Christian spectacle features a camel and chariot caravan and a Jesus ascending into the sky.
How much will the Crescent set me back? During off-season - January to March - you can get the Governor's Suite for as little as US$242 a night. Most rooms and suites range from US$200 to US$388 in-season, with cottages costing a little bit more. For more information, visit www.crescent-hotel.com.