Theodora the ghost is not always a pleasant hostess to guests in her room.
Local legend has it that Theodora, once a patient and later a resident in what is now the 1886 Crescent Hotel & Spa in Eureka Springs, still haunts Room 419. Stories passed down tell of travelers returning to the room to find their luggage stacked against the door to prevent their re-entry, and of other, more welcomed visitors finding their bed exquisitely made.
“We have been told by people to go in and say, ‘Hi, Theodora, thank you for letting us stay in your room; we’re not here to bother you,’ if you don’t want anything to happen,” said Bill Ott, the hotel’s director of marketing and communications. “You have a better chance if you talk to Theodora when you walk into the room.”
(Full disclosure: An Arkansas Business reporter spent the night in Room 419 while researching this story and experienced nothing spooky.)
Theodora’s is considered Crescent’s second-most-haunted room. The top honor goes to Room 218, known as Michael’s Room, where an Irish stonemason who died while building the hotel in 1884-85 is said to still reside.
The story goes that Michael died while leaning out to eyeball a pretty young thing he saw walking toward the hotel, causing him to fall from the roof into what would become his namesake room.
Tales like Theodora’s and Michael’s have made the Crescent popular for its nightly Ghost Tour, and guides say that Michael still has an eye for women: some female guests have reported curtains being pulled back while they showered.
And, this being America, the room’s alleged Peeping Michael has become a lucrative attraction. The room is highly requested, especially by groups of women who want to see if they can entice a reaction from Michael.
“We had a woman who tried to convince her husband to sleep on a couch in the lobby so she could be alone with Michael,” said guide Lavoisare Blair Caruthers, also known as local preschool teacher David Bailey. “Her husband said he wasn’t going to leave her alone.”
America’s Most Haunted
The hotel’s haunted history wasn’t embraced by management until Marty and Elisa Roenigk bought the four-story building for $1.3 million in 1997. The Roenigks were told that ghost sightings and paranormal phenomena had been kept secret, but they decided to open up the windows and air out the draperies.
“Marty and Elise’s attitude was, if we have stories to tell, let’s tell them,” Ott said.
Originally, the ghost tours were run by a pair of local clairvoyants, but the Crescent ownership decided to bring the operation in-house with hotel guides telling the stories. As word spread, the ghosts were mentioned on NBC’s “Today” show, and then the Syfy channel aired a “Ghost Hunters” episode that claimed to have captured a full-bodied apparition on camera in the hotel’s morgue. (More about the morgue later.)
As with anything involving ghosts, UFOs or Bigfoot, the credibility of any claim is colored by the mindset of the beholder. But Ott said the show catapulted the hotel’s paranormal profile, and it now calls itself “America’s Most Haunted Hotel.”
Before its fame grew, the hotel typically held three 75-minute ghost tours every weekend. In 2017, General Manager Jack Moyer said, the hotel hosted 12-16 tours every weekend and two to three every weekday; Ott said the hotel runs nearly 20 tours a day the closer it gets to Halloween.
“To paraphrase ‘Saturday Night Live,’ ghost tours have been berry, berry good to us,” Ott said. “You have all these ghosts and one tour ghost guide, and he is the only one who gets paid. The ghosts don’t ask for a check at the end of the month. There’s not a lot of overhead because we just walk people through the hotel. We don’t have special effects.”
Moyer, who has been with the hotel for more than two decades, said total revenue for the hotel was $6.1 million in 2017. Of that, $2.3 million came from rooms and about $520,000 came from ghost tour tickets at $22.50 each for adults and $8 for children.
“It’s a significant and important piece for us,” Moyer said. “We didn’t fully understand until after, but it allows us to connect to a new generation of travel with the ghost aspect, the paranormal aspect and kids. It has restimulated our family market; historical resorts typically struggle attracting family travelers. It has been great for us because that piece along with the historic resorts have been restimulated.
“Then there are people who are thrill seekers. When people come to resort destinations, they are always looking for unique things to do. Ghosts would qualify as a unique thing to do.”
Moyer said the ghosts may make the hotel famous, but the tours still trail weddings and family vacations as the Crescent’s top moneymakers.
The hotel also has a big market in corporate meetings.
How much any of those segments are influenced by the presence of ghosts is impossible to say; certainly anyone getting married at the hotel is OK with having their ceremony at the nation’s most haunted hotel.
“It’s what the people in south Louisiana call ‘lagniappe,’ a little something extra,” Ott said.
Moyer said most visitors usually have at least a knowledge of the hotel’s reputation, so accommodations are made for those more squeamish.
“It’s why we put in our cottages; it’s a cheesy thing we said, but it’s a ghost-free zone,” Moyer said.
“Sometimes meeting planners are concerned someone might be weirded out about ghosts.”
The tours start at 8 p.m. on the fourth floor and hit all the known ghost spots: Theodora’s and Michael’s rooms; the Little Boy; the Lady in White; and Dr. Ellis, who floats legless through the second-floor elevator door.
The hotel has a fascinating history — enjoyable for believers and nonbelievers — as a college for women before being bought in 1937 by con man Norman Baker, who claimed to be a miracle doctor. He opened Baker’s Cancer Curing Hospital, which is why the hotel’s basement had a morgue and walk-in cooler for the unfortunates who came in search of a cure.
“I’ve had sightings, and I’ve had weird things happen,” Moyer said. “I try to remain skeptical on it, but, to be honest, there have been so many things happen that it is difficult to be skeptical. Certainly, I believe there is another energy, no doubt about it. Stretching it much further than that — I don’t know.”