The Crescent Connection

On several occasions, I have heard tales of a mysterious underground tunnel leading from the historic Crescent Hotel to an unknown location on Spring Street. Some say that the tunnel was constructed by Norman Baker, founder of the phony Baker Cancer Hospital, as a way to escape the feds when/if they were to discover his fraudulent enterprise. Others have suggested that the tunnel was used as a secret thoroughfare for undesirables to traverse from the red light district to their upperclass clientele on the hill. Some even point to the location of the "Little Crescent" Hotel just below the Eureka Springs Carnegie Public Library and its historical role as black servants' quarters, and theorize that the tunnel was used as a discrete thoroughfare that kept off-the-clock staff members out of sight when commuting from the lower class German Alley neighborhood to the prestigious realm of their upscale employers staying at the Crescent Hotel. And a third theory has surfaced - namely that the tunnel ran from the Crescent Hotel all the way down to the railroad depot on North Main Street, serving as an illegal channel of liquor transport during the prohibition days. But it's difficult to say which one of these theories (if any) could be true, particularly when we haven't been able to locate the tunnel!

Determined to solve this delicious local mystery, Team Underground decided to investigate each of these claims. We found very little evidence to support the first claim, which proposes a veritable "escape tunnel" built by the quack doctor Norman Baker. Baker didn't take possession of the Crescent Hotel until about 1937 - much too late to construct a tunnel below the existing St. Elizabeth's Church or Carnegie Public Library. One of the operators of the hotel's ghost tour suggested that there was an underground escape route, but that it only led to an area in the woods just beyond the Crescent Hotel parking lot. He also stated, however, that neither this escape tunnel, nor its alleged exit in the nearby woods of Glenwood Park, have ever been found. The hotel's owners have indicated that they have searched their property extensively for such a tunnel, but have found nothing. Secret tunnel or not, the federal authorities had no trouble tracking down Baker, and in January of 1940 he was charged with seven counts of mail fraud.

The second group of claims suggest that an underground tunnel led from the Crescent Hotel down to an area near the present day location of the Carnegie Public Library on Spring Street, and that this tunnel was used as a secret passageway by women of the red light district and other lower class "undesirables" of society. Historical records do indicate that the area below the library, known as German Alley, did host one of the early black communities in Eureka Springs, and fire insurance maps note that the Little Crescent Hotel did serve as a "negro" hotel and later as the servants quarters for visitors to the Cresent Hotel. We also know from early photographs and town surveys that prior to the construction of the library, a gazebo and staircase led from this location on Spring Street up to the Crescent Hotel. This staircase was later replaced by the stone steps leading up to the library's main entrance. Some have speculated that, if a tunnel did exist for these purposes, the most likely location would have been directly beneath the staircase.

We've extensively surveyed the basement area of the library, as well as the surrounding topography, and have not yet found anything that would suggest such a tunnel existed. We did find an opening in the stone retaining wall directly behind the library, but it appears to be nothing more than an open-air culvert penetration. While interviewing several local sources, one moonshine-maker turned barkeep informed us that such a tunnel did once exist, but that it had collapsed many years ago. He suggested that the entrance was located nearer to the present day library annex building and antique shops. There is a spring cave for Congress Spring behind the library annex, but if it once connected to the Crescent Hotel, it collapsed a long time ago. The tunnel remains elusive.

As for the idea of a "moonshine tunnel" between the Crescent Hotel and Railroad Depot, this seems to be the most unlikely of the three theories. Not only does the extreme distance of this tunnel seem impossible, but the construction of such an "illegal" tunnel would certainly not go unnoticed, since it would run beneath existing structures in town and require some extensive blasting with dynamite. In addition, during the years of prohibition, the hotel was mostly closed or operating as a college for young women. Taking on such an engineering feat seems like overkill during a period in which the hotel, when actually operating as a hotel, only served visitors for a couple of months out of the year. We've surveyed areas near the railroad depot, just in case, but have found nothing to support this last theory.

At this point in time, the mysterious underground tunnel between the Crescent Hotel and Spring Street, which we have affectionately dubbed the "Crescent Connection", remains an unsolved mystery. We welcome any insights or commentary that may help us to further investigate this local legend, but for now it remains just that - a legend.

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