A spooktacular Arkansas spa isn’t afraid to show off its community spirits
Howling winds tear across the Ozarks. We’re on the garden level of a 19th-century hotel, walking down a hallway toward the morgue. Forewarned that some spirits take residence between the morgue walls, we trudge cautiously into the old cooler, where lifeless bodies waiting for their autopsies were once stored. The door closes, and at once we’re plunged into a sea of blackness. Suddenly a woman yells out, “Something touched me!” and the room lights up in a sea of camera flashes from impromptu ghost hunters, hoping to catch a glimpse of “the other side.” Our tour guide opens the door and we pile out, laughing nervously and wondering what we caught on film. I bid the morgue farewell, but just for the night: I’ll be back tomorrow to get a massage at the spa next door.
Spanning 7,000 square feet, The New Moon Spa & Salon is the largest business of its kind in northwest Arkansas, but that isn’t its only distinguishing characteristic: It also happens to reside next door to the above-mentioned morgue, now housed in Eureka Springs’ Crescent Hotel, dubbed by many “the most haunted hotel in America.” Not exactly an ideal setting for a relaxing spa experience, you say? Perhaps. But The New Moon isn’t about to let a few stray ghosts interfere with its commitment to serving the living populace. By Jennifer Billock
The New Moon Spa & Salon
Size: 7,000 sq. ft.
Average service ticket: $85 in the spa, $50 in the salon
Facilities: 12 massage tables, two esthetician rooms, full-service salon, bridal studio, infrared sauna
Number of employees: 25
Most popular treatment: Massage
Retail product lines: Aveda, Bare Escentuals, HydroPeptide, Moroccan Oil, Sonoma Lavender
Equipment/furnishing lines: etopa, Oakworks
The Crescent opened its doors in 1886 as a luxury resort for affluent visitors. The business thrived until 1901, after which it fell into disrepair. From 1908 to 1934, the Crescent functioned as a college and conservatory for young women and, subsequently, a junior college. But when the college closed down, the building’s dark destiny began to take shape.
In 1937, Norman Baker, a self-proclaimed “cancer doctor” with no medical training, bought the Crescent and morphed it into a hospital and health resort. Claiming to have a cure for cancer, Baker solicited desperate and unsuspecting cancer patients from across the country to try his “cure”: drinking the area’s natural spring water and taking injections of a useless elixir made from watermelon seed, brown corn silk, alcohol and carbolic acid. The tragic and inevitable patient deaths that resulted landed Baker in prison and in 1946 the “hospital” was bought and renovated into the hotel it is today.
The New Moon Spa and Salon is situated on the grounds of the former conservatory’s bowling alley and gym. You can still see the marks of the bowling lanes beneath the salon chairs. Some insiders say the hotel is home to at least five restless spirits (including a ghostly cat), while others insist there are even more.
Ghosts and ghouls aside, New Moon doesn’t view itself as much different from any other spa business.
“We just focus on what we do best, which is to provide spa and salon services,” says Kimberly Owens, spa director. “We don’t offer ‘ghost specials’ or anything of that nature. I think being located where we are brings much more opportunity for us—a lot of people are interested in the Crescent Hotel because of the [alleged] ghosts. It exposes the spa and salon as an added feature for them, so I think it does broaden our demographic.”
Is it a scary place to work? The spa team members don’t seem to fear the hotel’s alleged haunted status, and Owens has no spooky experiences of her own to report. However, the same can’t be said of the guests, who appear to relish sharing their stories of inexplicable phenomena. Accounts include doors that lock on their own; personal items that are moved or misplaced; radios and water faucets that continuously turn on and off; and just the feeling of a presence nearby. But, as the spa staff is quick to point out, nothing that occurs is ever mean-spirited or dangerous. Most events are more like ethereal pranks.
Because New Moon doesn’t market itself as a haunted location, it earns its reputation through highly customized services. Each guest receives a detailed consultation that covers desired results and any medical issues that might be significant. The spa partners with Aveda, which fits with that company’s overall wellness concept.
“To us, this means that guests need to have a full experience and not just the service itself,” Owens says. “We start with the initial phone call, answering any questions that we can, making sure that we can facilitate all of the services the guest will want, and maybe even describing some they haven’t thought of. Once a guest arrives, we try to treat him or her as if they were a guest in our home, including offering refreshments.”
New Moon massage therapist Sara Bough regards this approach as paramount to her job. “I think it’s very important to tap into every kind of human energy to facilitate the attributes of well-being,” she says. “With our clients, we touch on everything, including how the client is living and her environment, and then how massage might affect those aspects. I like to nurture my clients, to make sure I tend to their individual needs.” The staff, Bough adds, has enough wellness education to be able to advise clients, whether it’s with a stretching regimen or recommendations of therapeutic products.
Despite the economic collapse that took hold in 2008, New Moon has been able to maintain its commitment to tailored service and not experience dips in revenue. In fact, Bill Ott, director of marketing and communications for the spa and hotel, reports that business has continually gone up every year since the spa’s opening. Help from the other side? More likely, it’s the spa’s flexibility, which has included continual re-evaluation and reorganization of services.
“We’re actually looking at cutting some of our services, and adding others,” says Owens. “For instance, we’ll be offering cold stone therapy in some of our facial treatments, and other add-ons. We’ll also be introducing gel polish in the salon area, which is a big trend, and some new hair services for both the scalp and the hair.”
The spa remains proactive about attracting local clients, never relying on the hotel and its steady influx of out-of-towners. Area residents can enjoy midweek pricing and sometimes a 10% discount on subsequent visits. According to Owens, most of the locals are shopkeepers and bed-and-breakfast owners who are very busy caring for their own guests. New Moon offers these hardworking folks a place to take care of themselves as well.
The hotel might be haunted, but New Moon’s business vision remains untouched.
“It seems like everybody wants to talk about the ghosts, but our business is a mountaintop spa resort, and that’s how we market it,” says Ott, who cites weddings, family vacations, romantic travel and spa getaways as the resort and spa’s bread and butter. The spirits are just icing on the cake.
“We’re a mountaintop spa resort and oh, by the way, we also have ghosts,” says Ott. “So, the ghosts are just really what the Cajuns call lagniappe—a little something extra. And if we don’t bother the ghosts, the ghosts don’t bother us. Live and let live.”