By Ruth J. Katz
Well, I’m embarrassed to admit it, but I slept with the lights on, the night I spent in the 1886 Crescent Hotel and Spa in Eureka Springs, Arkansas. The facility cautions: “Guests check out, but they never leave.” Ouch! This very fitting tagline is grounded in countless documented incidences of paranormal activity, some of which have been reported on the Biography Channel’s My Ghost Story.
Built-in 1886, as its name makes clear, the hotel was a major destination for anyone seeking the curative waters of the sixty-some springs that bubbled up in the area. Countless stories of strange goings-on also percolated over the years; among the most notorious are those that revolved around one Dr. Norman Baker, a name that is a bit too close to that of Norman Bates, of Psycho fame.
The so-called physician bought the building in the late 1930s and established the Cancer Curable Baker Hospital. Smart money says that nobody was ever cured here. When the hotel was bulldozing the grounds for a new outdoor activities area last year, workers discovered jars and jars of medical specimens. Last April, teams from the Arkansas Archeology Survey arrived in their excavating gear to meticulously unearth whatever else lay beneath. To wit: Hundreds and hundreds of glass containers among the gruesome surgical tools and other “artifacts.” Bottom line: The hotel offers ghost tours each night, and I will tell you honestly—and I’m no sucker—there is truly something worthy of The Twilight Zone going on here. You may want to sleep with the lights on, too!
The 1886 Crescent is but one attraction in the Ozarks—northwestern Arkansas and southwestern Missouri. I was moved by the stunning, take-your-breath-away Thorncrown Chapel, snugly tucked into a leafy, woodland setting. It will serenely transport you to a place of calmness, with its soaring 50-foot high ceiling and its 425 panes of glass, measuring a total of 6,000 square feet, all of which provides unfettered communion with the surrounding towering oaks and cedar trees.
A STEP BACK IN TIME
Touring the charming Eureka Springs is also a must. In this architecturally charming village, there are classic Victorians, carpenter Gothics, and other period-style residences, almost all of which have been painstakingly and lovingly restored. The homes are awash in a vibrant palette of persimmon, burnt umber, and soft aquamarine, among the vibrant rainbow of hues. (Homes bear sweet appellations, such as “Daffodil Cottage.”) There are no traffic lights here, no stop signs, and no cross streets. Tour it all on the local trolley, and you’ll understand why it was named one of America’s Distinctive Destinations by the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
Taking its name from the Eureka Springs and surrounding natural springs, the spellbinding Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, designed by storied architect Moshe Safdie, is another compelling attraction here. A gift from Alice Walton, whose father’s original 5 & 10 store still stands here and is a museum-like “shrine,” the ingeniously structured buildings that comprise the museum are smartly ensconced into the surrounding, 120-acre wooded site. The permanent collection features five centuries of American masterworks. Also, on the grounds is the famed Bachman-Wilson House, a Frank Lloyd Wright jewel (transported from New Jersey), built in the master’s USONIAN (United States of North America) style.
Before leaving the area, grab a meal at the always interesting 21c Museum Hotel, part of the group bearing the same name, referring to the twenty-first century. The owners, art collectors Laura Lee Brown (think Brown-Forman) and Steve Wilson, wanted to establish a museum with a hotel, much as there are, mostly in Europe, restaurants with rooms. Of course, 21c is an excellent place to bunk down, but the revolving art exhibitions are even more of a draw and worth a visit.
Across the state line, of course, into Missouri, is Branson, a targeted destination for its 40 entertainment venues. (Some can accommodate as many as 2,000 seats, and tickets are very reasonably priced.) The entertainment roster includes everything from country music performers to tribute bands to comedians and magic acts.
There are countless other attractions in and around Branson. I had time for Silver Dollar City, a 100-acre theme park that brings the Wild West alive. Of course, there are rides, like the daunting Time Traveler (think roller coaster on steroids), as well as countless snack kiosks, including a “shoppe” with the best cinnamon buns ever. I liked, above all, the authentically recreated artisans’ workshops.
There is something for couples, families, and large groups in and around Branson, including the Ozarks National Golf Course for the duffers; the Aerodium, a vertical wind tunnel that lets you, well, fly. For go-karters, there is Thunder Alley; for shoppers, there’s the storied Dick’s 5 & 10 with the advertising slogan, “The Last of an American Tradition” (and it is!); for curious kids (of all ages) there is WonderWorks, a science-focused indoor amusement park, featuring more than 100 hands-on educational and entertaining activities, including exhibits where you can experience zero-gravity, hurricane-force winds, or lie on a bed of nails.
Just don’t think about a bed of nails while at the 1886 Crescent!
For more information on The Ozarks, visit theozarktraveler.com.
©2020 Ruth J. Katz. All rights reserved.