Ozarks History

Information and comments about historical people and events of the Ozarks region and surrounding area.

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I'm a freelance writer specializing in the history of the Ozarks and surrounding region. I've written fifteen nonfiction books, two historical novels, and numerous articles. My latest books are Bushwhacker Belles, Wicked Women of Missouri, and Yanked Into Eternity: Lynchings and Hangings in Missouri.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Norman Baker and the Crescent Hotel

Eureka Springs, from its very beginning in 1879, has always drawn a lot of unusual characters. I don't mean this as a put-down of Eureka Springs, because I like the town. I especially like its quaint shops and its artistic leanings, and I'm sure my opening observation is not as applicable nowadays as it used to be. At least in the town's early days, though, many eccentric, adventurous, or sometimes even desperate people flocked to Eureka Springs to "take the cure" of the town's healing waters or otherwise be rejuvenated, and along with the seekers came hucksters and charlatans ready to take advantage of them.
One such faker was Norman Baker, who purchased the Crescent Hotel in 1937, at a time when the historic landmark had faded and was in disrepair and the city fathers looked to Baker to help revitalize the town. Baker had already earned a reputation as a medical quack and a political demagogue even before he landed in Eureka Springs. Despite having no medical training himself, he had started a hospital in his home state of Iowa that offered alternative cures for cancer and also started a radio station that he used to hawk his phony cancer cures and to promote a sort of right-wing populism that fostered distrust in government, science, education, and any religious tradition other than Protestant.
In Eureka Springs, Baker painted the Crescent in flamboyant colors, turned it into a hospital, and once again began hawking his dubious cancer cures. He was soon charged with mail fraud for sending literature through the mail promoting his unconventional cures, was convicted, and spent over three years from 1941 to 1944 in a Federal penitentiary at Leavenworth. He later returned to Iowa, where he tried unsuccessfully to reopen his medical facility there. He lived the last several years of his life aboard a yacht off the coast of Florida. He died in 1958, and his body was returned to Iowa for burial.

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