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Thriller Thursday – Major Harris Survives Baker’s Hospital

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Crescent Hotel, formerly the Baker's Hospital Photo by Melanie Myhre 2010

In 1937, a man named Norman Baker, having been kicked out of Iowa where his original hospital was, fled to the Ozark Mountains where he bought a majestic Victorian Hotel and turned it into the Baker’s Hospital.

My Great Grandfather, Major Harris checked into Baker’s Hospital and he checked out.  Alive.  Not many did.  The fact that he was at this hospital at all, is why I choose this story for Thriller Thursday.  I’m totally creeped out that my great-grandfather could have suffered a terrible fate in the hands of Norman Baker.

Norman Baker.  Yes, that’s right.  You heard me.  Norman Baker, not Bates.  Although, I think they have a lot in common.  Both were murderers.  Both worked in old Hotels.   Anyway, thinking of either of them doesn’t make me want to go jump in the shower, I can tell you that.

In 1938 my father, Rufus Higginbotham, a boy of four years old remembers the trip to take his “Grandpa” to the Baker’s Hospital in Eureka Springs, Arkansas, now the Crescent Hotel, very well.

Back in the day, before seat belt laws, my father stood right behind his father, Earl Higginbotham, clasping the front seat as Earl drove.  My father watched out the
front glass as Earl drove them up the mountain on the winding road.  My father became so overcome with motion sickness that he passed out.

It was a hard journey, but they made it.  They dropped off Major and his wife Mollie at
the hospital and headed back home, to Texarkana, Arkansas.

Major and Mollie Harris

Little did they know that Norman Baker, founder of the Baker’s Institute, inventor, radio station owner of KTNT (Know The Naked Truth), and self-proclaimed doctor was actually a flamboyant con man who took the lives of many people who believed that he had the cure for cancer.

What he actually used was the Hoxsey’s Treatment, which according to this article by Walter Bissell, proved to be no more than crushed up watermelon seeds in mountain water.  According to this Wikipedia entry, it was a topical paste of antimony, zinc and bloodroot, arsenic, sulfur, and talc for external treatments, and a liquid tonic of licorice, red clover, burdock root, Stillingia root, barberry, Cascara, prickly ash bark, buckthorn bark, and potassium iodide for internal consumption.  Wikipedia states that this paste was highly caustic, and could burn or scar the skin.  It is in fact, still being administered today in Mexico!

How my great-grandfather walked out of Baker’s hospital alive, I just don’t know but I do
believe he took that medicine and I offer up proof via two postcards that I found in my grandfather’s memorabilia.  They are very hard to read, so I transcribed them.  The postcards were sent from Major and Mollie while at the Baker’s hospital, to my grandparents.

The first postcard, dated Feb 9, 1938 talks about Rufus being drunk.  My Dad says that they are talking about him passing out from the motion sickness, so that must have been shortly after they arrived at the hospital.

They talk about the medicine in this second postcard, dated April 2, 1938, and from what they say, it appears they must have been getting ready to come home.   That is almost two months that Major stayed at the hospital, and lived to tell about it.

There are tales that Norman Baker would often have patients send home for more money, convincing the patient that they needed it for various things, when in fact he would just pocket the money.

The fact that Mollie stayed by his side is probably what saved his life.  The patients that were there alone suffered a fate different from Major’s.  Having no family nearby, when his patients died, he would hide the bodies until they could be burned later in the incinerator, often at night.

I’m happy that my great-grandfather Major didn’t die in that hospital.  In fact, he lived until 1955 when he suffered from internal bleeding in his brain.  He was working under a door that was propped open with a stick and it fell and delivered a blow to the top of his head.

Did Norman Bates, I mean Baker, (I can’t keep them straight) cure Major during his stay at the hospital?  I don’t think so.  I wish I knew Major’s medical history, but I don’t.  I don’t even know what he went to the Baker’s Hospital for.  My father remembers him having surgeries on his stomach at a later time, so my guess is that no, Norman Baker didn’t cure anything. I think Major was just lucky he didn’t die in that hospital.

It was only a matter of time, before Norman Baker was convicted in 1940 of mail fraud, and was sent to Leavenworth Federal Penitentiary to serve four years.  He was released in 1944 and retired to Florida where he died in 1958.

Norman Baker

I wonder if Major and Mollie ever knew who and what Norman Baker really was?  I wonder if they knew what a close call Major had by being in that hospital.

You can read all about the Norman Baker and the Baker’s Hospital on the Crescent Hotel’s
website, by clicking here.  I won’t put all that information in this post but it is very interesting.   Many believe the Hotel to be haunted, and Ghost Hunters have even done a TV show about it.  You can check that out here.

Maybe I will take a Ghost Tour at the Crescent Hotel and see if I can catch a glimpse of Ole Norman Baker who is reportedly still hanging around, in his purple suit no doubt.

~Susie Higginbotham Reynolds~

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