Albert was plagued with stomach troubles for sixty odd years. It was possibly some pathogen picked up from contaminated water on the French steamship when he was in his early twenties. Its engines gave out in the middle of the Atlantic on a return trip from Brazil.
When Albert came to America, he always sought out towns with natural springs, with reputations for their therapeutic qualities. This is what led him in 1930, at the age of seventy five, to the curious little town of Eureka Springs, Arkansas.
It is said the Eureka Springs was founded on sacred Indian grounds. There’s a local story of a Sioux princess who had her eyesight restored by bathing her eyes in the waters from Basin Spring. Considered a sacred site, legend has it that warring tribes treated it as such, and would not fight at the springs.
Later, the waters were used at “Dr. Jackson’s Cave Hospital,” to care for combatants during the Civil War. Following the war, Jackson set up a brisk business selling “Dr. Jackson’s Eye Water.” Judge Saunders, a friend of Dr. Jackson, was cured of a crippling disease by a visit to Basin Spring, and the news of the healing water spread far and wide.
In the 1800’s, photos show small crowds gathered at the springs filling jugs, tin cups, and ladles. I don’t know how legitimate the claims were for the water’s healing quality, but the story took root and was spread across the country.
Modern day mystics, who may include a lovely lady I wed in 1966, believe that Eureka Springs is an Earth “Vortex,” a rare planetary center, where body, mind and spirit are aligned. I acted as chauffeur some few years back, escorting my bride and her life long friend Nancy, on an “other-worldly” trip to Eureka Springs, where there was much conversation about crystal fields beneath the surface of Eureka Springs, accounting for the “Vortex.” Skeptical by nature, I check, and find that Arkansas has the largest singular deposit of crystal quartz on the planet. The crystal strata below the surface extends nearly 200 miles across the state. Arkansas quartz is said to be the finest in the world, containing rare electro-magnetic properties found no other place on earth. Check mate on my skepticism!
This quaint little Arkansas town is studded with cedar and has an alpine character. Steep winding streets are lined with Victorian cottages, and other unusual dwellings of all makes. Many of the buildings are constructed with local stone, and lie along streets that curve around the hills, and rise and fall with the topography. Many of the buildings have street-level entrances on more than one floor. Numerous homes, inns, and retails shops are constructed on the sides of cliffs, with stilts as support. The unscripted development of the city, with its lax building codes, has enabled the building of unique and odd shaped homes, with pronounced angles and inclusions of found and hand crafted materials. It reminds one a little of Dr. Seuss’s “Who-ville.”
Some folks, like Albert, were drawn to the city by the spring water and the spa, some by the magnetic pull of the quartz field, and others because it’s just a fun place where anything goes. My parents chose it as their honey moon destination in 1936. “The box” reveals how untrue anecdotal stories can be. The story I’ve always heard is that Leonard and Charlotte, (my parents) borrowed Plinnie’s Model-T for the honeymoon trip to Eureka Springs. Plinnie was my grandfather, father of Leonard. The story goes that Plinnie, or Plem, as we called him, accompanied Leonard and Charlotte on the trip to Eureka Springs because he didn’t trust Leonard to drive his newish Model-T. I always pictured my mom and dad in the back seat with Plinnie actins as their chauffeur. The story got a little creepy, where at some point Plinnie is sitting at the foot of their bed. Was he giving the newlyweds advice, or was he unable to afford his own room?
This story, told and re-told, was wrong I’m happy to report. Plinnie did loan Leonard his car, but did not accompany them to Eureka. The honeymooners were at the Basin Street Hotel on Spring Street, not the Crescent, which had fallen on hard times and was closed in 1936.
Albert Anatole, my mother’s grandfather, was the one who visited the newlyweds, and sat at the foot of their bed in their hotel room. Albert lived within a short trolley ride of the Basin Hotel, and may have popped in to say hello, and pick up the tab for the room. Did they have the comforter pulled up around their necks? Was this an economy room with no extra chair to sit in?
The year after the honeymoon, the Crescent Hotel was purchased by the infamous Norman Baker. He was a flamboyant, self proclaimed champion of the common man, who pitted himself against the medical establishment. Always dressed in a white suit and a lavender shirt, he owned a radio station in Muscatine, Iowa with the call letters KTNT, which stood for “Know the Naked Truth.” He preached the gospel of alternative medicine, and promoted Norman’s Magic Elixir, a useless mix of watermelon seed, brown corn silk, alcohol, and carbolic acid. He made millions promoting and selling this on his radio show.
With this money, he purchased and transformed the Crescent Hotel into the Baker Cancer Hospital. According to one U.S. Postal Inspector, Norman was raking in $500,000.00 a year between 1937 and 1939, until federal authorities closed him down.
The Crescent Hotel sits 2000 feet above sea level, and overlooks the town nestled below. Albert’s home was a modest one story with five sides, an odd little 45 degree porch extending from one corner. The house sat even higher than the Crescent Hotel. It would have been a short down hill walk between the house and the Hospital.
I can’t help but wonder if some of Baker’s profits came from my great-grandfather. He was always searching for that elusive cure to his stomach ailments. He died in Eureka at the age of 85, and his certificate of death lists the cause as “cancer of the liver.” Without an autopsy, the only source for this conclusion would have been information given to the coroner by Laura, Albert’s second wife. If he had been diagnosed before the Baker Hospital was established, he would almost certainly have been a patient there, at least an out-patient.
Laura was always secretive with details on their lives, so I don’t know where in Eureka Springs Albert actually died, or if there was even a funeral service for Albert.
I originally thought it was within the realm of possibility, and even probability, that Albert ended up on the autopsy table at the Crescent, under the knife of Norman Baker. In the basement of the hotel there’s a large walk-in cooler where Baker stored cadavers and body parts he removed from patients, in an effort to stumble onto an actual cure. Was Albert’s cancerous liver stored in that cooler?
No, it would have been a disturbing epitaph, but Albert died in mid September of 1940, and federal authorities had already closed in on Norman in the latter part of 1939.
There are colorful characters like Albert, who live out- sized lives, and somehow resist passing peacefully into the annals of history. Albert certainly would have been a welcome addition to the ghosts that now inhabit the haunted Crescent Hotel. There’s Michael, the Irish stonemason who fell to his death while building the hotel in 1885, the cancer patient of the Baker hospital days who seems to need help finding her room, Norman Baker himself, in his white suit and lavender shirt, and many remember Morris, the cat.
The morgue in the basement of the hotel, where the "Doctor" performed autopsies.
Then there’s the mystery patient, in a white hospital gown, who appears in the luxury suites, at the foot of your bed. Could that mystery ghost be my great-grandfather Albert Anatole?
The Crescent Hotel is a short one hour drive from our home, so I plan check out this mystery guest. Sharon refused my offer to stay at the haunted hotel last week, but if I book a luxury suite, and re-package the offer as a second honeymoon, she may reconsider. Who knows who may end up sitting at the foot of our bed?
Post-script – two great nieces plan to visit Florence, Italy in February of next year. They are eager to solve the mystery of Albert’s genealogy.