|There were a lot of folks around Mineral Wells in 1914 that thought building a major hotel in this rural community 50-miles west of Ft. Worth was a crazy idea.
Built over a water well known as the Crazy Well, the hotel was branded as an early 20th century health resort. The sulfur waters of the well, which were used throughout the hotel for drinking and bathing - even for mixing with "Prohibition" cocktails - were said to have healing properties that addressed such common health issues as arthritis, dyspepsia, neuralgia, sore eyes, paralysis, insomnia, liver and kidney problems, rheumatism, scrofula, and impurities of the blood.
The hotel got its eclectic name because, as local legend has it, a woman suffering from "mental and emotional problems" would often drink the water of the well before the hotel was built over it. It is theorized the high content of lithium in the water had a positive effect on the woman and the locals began calling it the "Crazy Well." When the hotel was first erected in 1914, the name stuck.
It didn't take long for the reputation of the hotel and its "magic" waters to take hold. After all, America was obsessed with miracle cures that would increase the longevity and quality of life, and the water of Mineral Wells was as good as any in their search for natural remedies that helped men (and women) stay young and vibrant.
It wasn't long until the fame of the mineral-rich waters of the area spread far and wide and a series of lodges and bathhouses were erected to take advantage of this new found glory, of which the Crazy Water Hotel was the first.
In 1927 the Crazy Water Hotel burned to the ground, but Dallas businessmen Carr and Hal Collins bought the property and reconstructed a larger, more lavish hotel complete with a pair of natural bathhouses in the basement, claiming the miracle waters that bubbled up from the old well beneath the hotel were akin to the fabled waters sought by explorer Juan Ponce de León, the proverbial Fountain of Youth.
The hotel originally sported seven stories of hotel luxury, but by 1930 hotelier T. D. Baker bought the property and expanded the service to 14 stories of grand luxury, complete with its original roof garden for dancing, medical suites, an expansive drinking pavilion and water bar of semi-Moorish design, bathing and steaming facilities, and a vat lobby where Crazy Water Hotel orchestras played for nationally broadcast radio programs.
Nearly 100,000 visitors flocked to the health resort every year bringing with them a Hollywood-style of living large. Guests and guest performers included the likes of Will Rogers, D.W. Griffith, Marlene Dietrich, Tom Mix, General John J. "Blackjack" Pershing, Elliott Roosevelt, Lyndon Johnson, Jean Harlow, Sam Goodwyn, Dr. Charles Mao, Jack Dempsey, Sam Rayburn, Clark Gable, Helen Keller, Roy Rogers, Ronald Reagan, the Three Stooges, Minnie Pearl, Judy Garland, and many more.
But the rich and famous, the world travelers and miracle seekers, weren't the only ones to claim the "Baker Hotel" as their home-away-from-home. As local lore has it, Baker kept a mistress in the hotel, providing her an upper-floor apartment where he could call on her as time and desire required. But a tragic end to the mistress, who some say jumped from her bedroom window, may have sealed her fate to remain a lasting guest of the old hotel which has now crumbled into a terrible state of disrepair.
Mistress Baker isn't the only ghostly guest that is said to roam the empty halls. The redheaded, green-eyed woman is said to haunt her seventh-floor suite and more than one visitor has reported getting a whiff of her perfume while walking the halls of the old hotel. But others report the ghostly appearance of a former elevator boy as well, chopped in half in a grisly elevator accident in the 1950s. Witnesses claim the boy is only visible from the waist up.
Even the ghost of T.D. Baker has been spotted in the hotel by former employees.
The Old Baker Hotel, a.k.a. the Crazy Water Hotel, is now closed and fallen in disuse though the towering building remains a landmark of the Mineral Wells skyline, lasting evidence of the broad appeal of a community known for its healing waters and grand accommodations.
But it's doors swing open wide at least once a year as the community celebrates its heritage. On the third weekend each June the city opens its doors for the annual Crazy Water Festival. And the annual Palo Pinto County On Tour spotlights historical sites and special attractions on the next to the last Sunday in October, while the Crazy Chili Showdown heats up the third weekend of February each year.
In spite of its failing health, the old hotel, thanks to the effort of local historians, are hopeful its rich heritage can be protected in the years ahead. There had been talk of converting the old hotel into a sort of indoor theme park that would have showcased the many faces of historical Texas. In recent years, the building has served as a retirement home and there was once interest in converting the building into a medical services institution.
Supporters of the historical landmark say they are hopeful the usefulness of the old hotel has not yet run its course. And while the building seems to patiently await its next reincarnation, it still stands to serve up more than one good yarn after another about the heyday and the afterlife of its long existence.
Paranormal researchers claim the building is a warehouse of strange activity and a number of paranormal research projects have been conducted within its walls. Whether the building will remain the domain of the dead (or undead) or whether there is a future utilitarian use for the landmark, only time will tell. Until then, the history and legend of the Crazy Water Hotel looms over the community as a lasting memory of grand days gone by.