Where I am: a town with springs, where people once came to heal.
I’m on a writing retreat in Eureka Springs, Arkansas, a place I like to come from time to time, and a place I give my partner and he gives back, alternating months, because children are little beauty machines that run on minutes and hours, like noisy parking meters that accept only time.
It’s good to get away—and then it’s good to come home.
I’ve worked hard this trip—not much time for fun—but during a recent visit I went on a popular ghost tour at a grand hotel, the Crescent Hotel. (I didn’t see any ghosts. It seems I am willing to believe in them somewhat more than they are me.)
The tour recounted the hotel’s start as grand resort, with tea dances and coach rides, then as a college and conservatory for women, but most significant to the tour was its stint as a hospital for the desperately ill, starting in 1930.
To shorten a long tale, the person who started the hospital, Norman Baker, a former magician and radio personality, gave cancer patients pseudo-treatments made from watermelon seed, corn silk, and clover. The tour guide recounted how he had patients sign blank pages upon admission, and then his staff wrote letters home on their behalf, touting the patient’s improvement and enjoyment of the stay. Some of these letters were apparently sent after the patient’s death, and the ghost tour culminates in a basement room where bodies were sometimes kept on ice until one last check arrived.
It’s a macabre tale, to be sure, but it’s also documented. Scores of cancer patients were swindled and their lives were shortened through trickery, and Baker, the millionaire pseudo-doctor, was fined $4,000 and imprisoned for his crimes—for four years.
It’s a terrible thing, how some can take a pure good and twist it. Eureka Springs was visited long before European settlement by people looking for real healing. Some say there’s a powerful energy vortex here, and it makes sense, if you believe that kind of thing—something like sixty-three springs in the city limits, crystal-rich mountains all around.
And I’m here. I’m not sick—the body, mind, and spirit keep doing their thing—but sometimes my writing self gets buried; sometimes the ideas roll down like water and I have nothing to catch them with—no vessel, just my hands, shallow as they are.
For me, contemplation and writing are the healing spring. The town of Eureka Springs has several public springs, some passing through stone basins or at the base of rock stairs. Locals have planted gardens and provided benches nearby. Some are quite pretty; one is sheltered by a purple gazebo with twin statues of couchant animals—I’m not sure what, but perhaps lambs?—giving watch.
They’re beautiful, these springs—and I’ve driven by them, glancing their way.
Sometimes that’s my relationship to poetry. There is magic, right there, and I view it through glass, on the move.
But yesterday I stopped to touch it. I stopped at a spring I feel especially drawn to—Sweet Spring, it’s called. Historic photos show it perfectly encircled by stonework, but today it’s a ruin, and it’s better for it. It’s possible to scale down a few rocks and stand in front of the spring, put your hands under the flow—and I did. I let the possibly healing waters move over my fingers, my writing hands, and then I sat in the sun beneath a lilac in bloom and breathed deeply as they dried.
I’m not the first to come here to have something restored. And I came in good faith, like so many before, since before there were records.
I admit I put a kind of trust in this magic—I wanted the cold waters to wake something in me. The trick, I think, is not to let anyone come between you and the magic—no charlatan touting a cure. If you want to be saved, you have to touch the good earth—let it touch you back. That’s the source. That’s what can make you whole.