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If you compare Eureka Springs’ most famous historic hotels, the Crescent Hotel and the Basin Park Hotel, you’ll find many similarities. They are two of the most incomparable hotels in the United States, and they are located less than a mile apart. They both share tales of grandeur and ghosts, and they are operated by the same owners. But if the Crescent Hotel, with its regal mountain top location and former girls school history, is the classy lady at the top of the hill, the Basin Park Hotel is the edgier sister who prefers life downtown.
My daughter and I decided to spend a few nights in the historic Basin Park Hotel during spring break. We were upgraded to a suite upon check-in (without requesting it). We also enjoyed easy parking at the bottom of the hill and access to a free hotel shuttle. This shuttle not only took us back and forth to our car, but also took us back and forth between the Basin Park Hotel and the Crescent Hotel. This allowed us to sightsee and explore the entire town without driving our car. Navigating Eureka Springs by automobile can feel a bit like traveling through narrow medieval streets, and I appreciated the break from driving.
The Basin Park Hotel sits on the site of a famous hotel fire. The original structure, The Perry House, was a lavish hotel built in 1881 by Captain Joseph Perry. Perry was disabled, and found healing in the Basin Park Spring. So, he decided to build a hotel right next to it. But, like many wooden structures in Eureka Springs, it burned to the ground after just a few years of operation.
Built in 1905, the Basin Park Hotel was every bit as lavish and luxurious as Perry House. It offered hot running water, electricity, and private bathrooms in many of its rooms. It was purported to be “fireproof” because it was built out of limestone and every floor featured an iron catwalk. In the event of a fire, guests could leave through exit doors on every floor, onto a catwalk, and escape to the mountain behind the hotel for safety. This particular attribute caught the attention of Robert Ripley in 1930, and became part of “Believe It or Not!” cartoons as the hotel where “every floor has a ground floor.”
I hadn’t stayed in the Basin Park Hotel in more than a decade and found the hotel packed with improvements. Our suite was roomy, given the narrow and historic footprint of the hotel. The bathroom was large and remodeled with a luxurious shower. Our windows overlooked the center of the hotel and the sun deck and large Jacuzzi. At night we could hear soft laughter from guests enjoying these features, but it wasn’t enough to disturb our rest. At one point my daughter said, “They’re having a good time out there, but we’re having a better time here eating fudge and watching “Everybody Loves Raymond.” That sentence alone sums up all you need to know about the women in the Harrell family.
The hotel’s amenities include a high-end spa, billiards area and the Balcony Restaurant and Bar. Guests can also take Ghost Tours throughout the hotel. The top floor Barefoot Ballroom is an impressive space that’s hardly changed in the last 117 years. We explored the old ballroom during a thunderstorm. It was deserted and the floor creaked as we walked. As we looked out at Eureka Springs from our high vantage point, the thunder rumbling and sheets of rain pounding the stained-glass windows, it was easy to see why this town, and this hotel, in particular, have so many ghost stories attached to it.
The Barefoot Ballroom has a history as colorful as its stained-glass windows. In 1948 a young couple from California won a trip to the Basin Park Hotel courtesy of a radio show called “Truth or Consequences.” They won the trip, but with the caveat that they had to walk around town barefoot the entire time. Shoes were a dealbreaker. The couple, apparently very good sports (not to mention champion rule followers), enjoyed their Basin Park Hotel vacation sans shoes. Impressed by their commitment, the owner of the hotel held the first Barefoot Ball in their honor. Instead of checking coats, guests checked their shoes, and that is how the ballroom earned its name.
Over the years the Barefoot Ball has been held regularly, although the 1972 ball deserves an honorable mention. That party became so unruly the police used tear gas to put a stop to the festivities. My daughter and I encountered no such drama, just a very quiet peaceful room where the thunder reverberated through the mountains. We imagined that the Basin Hotel might make an excellent American version of Hogwarts.
The hotel’s spicy history is also closely tied to the Prohibition era. During this time period, much of Eureka Springs became a vacation destination for wealthy Chicago families (which is just a fancy historical way of saying mobsters). Business was booming, illegal liquor was flowing, and it was rumored that the hotel had an on-site madam. The hotel’s profitable and illegal activities had a good run until 1955. The local sheriff raided the Barefoot Ball, confiscating liquor and shutting down gambling in the hotel. One of the hotel’s most famous Prohibition guests was Al Capone’s sister. Capone had eight siblings, but only one sister survived into adulthood, Mrs. Mafalda Capone Mariote. According to hotel history, Mafalda spent an entire month there, enjoying the Prohibition era highlife Eureka Springs had to offer.
As my daughter and I shopped and ate our way through town, we visited with some of the staff at Oracle and Sage (one of Eureka Springs’ newer metaphysical stores and an all-around delightful shop). They informed us that there are many energy vortexes in the U.S. And one of the major ones is located at the Basin Park Spring, directly next door to the hotel. My daughter asked, “Is a vortex like when my little brother gets excited and throws his Hot Wheels at us?”
In truth, I had no idea what energy vortexes were, although her guess sounded plausible to me. As I’ve done more investigating, some believe that energy vortexes are special spots on earth where supernatural energy is higher. Given Eureka Springs’ history of “magical healing springs” and New Age shops, it should come as a surprise to no one that this is a big pull for local tourism. Other locations around the U.S. believed to contain vortexes are Sedona, Arizona and Ojai, California. But, perhaps that extra dose of energy in the park next door is one of the attributes that gives the Basin Park Hotel such a special feeling. However, my daughter and I feel certain that her younger brother’s propensity to create Hot Wheel tornadoes should definitely be classified as a vortex to rival any mountain spring.
I’ve been vacationing in Eureka Springs since I was a child. But this particular trip with my daughter was perhaps my favorite. Seeing the city anew, through her eyes, was like experiencing it in a new way. She loved it as much as I do, and we both agree that when we go again, we’ll be staying in the Basin Park Hotel. It’s a destination that promises historical character, fascinating stories, and a hotel stay like no other.
For more information about the hotel or to book a room, visit their website here.
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