Seeking the truth about quack’s use of Crescent Hotel to defraud cancer patients results in graphic novel
Sean Fitzgibbon was surprised to break his Kickstarter goal on the first day, erasing any doubt the book would be published
Sean Fitzgibbon’s decade-long project of exploring what happened in the 1930s when Eureka Spring’s Crescent Hotel was used to sucker cancer patients is finished except for getting the graphic novel in print.
Any doubt there would be enough interest to get “What Follows Is True: Crescent Hotel” printed was erased the first day his Kickstarter campaign launched Friday. As of Tuesday morning, the campaign had blown past its original fundraising goal of $11,000 and was nearing $20,000.
Sean’s interest in the hotel’s past goes back to his childhood when he visited Eureka Springs, Ark., with his parents, John and Debbie Fitzgibbon and sister, Anessa.
“I was always so fascinated by Eureka,” Sean remembers. In that historic, hilly town, he marveled at the Basin Park Hotel, with each of its seven stories on a ground floor, and St. Elizabeth Catholic Church, the only church you enter through the bell tower.
He was most fascinated by the hotel perched at the top of the city, the Crescent. It seemed to him “something like a Stephen King thing.” They took the ghost tours, and even as a kid Sean realized the tour guides “didn’t know the history that well.”
When he went to grad school at the University of Arkansas, he and his girlfriend (now wife, Willow) took the tour again and found it even more sensational as the guides just made things up. It made Sean wonder what really happened. “This can’t be right.”
“I’ve worked on it (the book) for more than a decade, off and on,” says Sean.
His research has taken him as far as Muscatine, Iowa, the hometown of Norman Baker, who turned the Crescent into a fake cancer hospital.
According to the Visit Muscatine website, Baker, an entrepreneur, radio personality, and cancer quack during the 1920s and 1930s, was a master propagandist with a populist flair. Part of his shtick was warning the public against vaccinations, aluminum utensils and greedy physicians.
After Baker’s cancer hospital in Muscatine was discredited by a national newsreel, he relocated to Eureka Springs to make a “million dollars out of the suckers” there. However, he was convicted of mail fraud three years later and was sentenced to four years in federal prison.
Sean also took a week in residency at the Writers Colony at Dairy Hollow in Eureka Springs, which helped him learn and write the real story about the Crescent’s use as a cancer hospital. Yesterday, he gave a presentation at the Eureka Springs Public Library, which was sponsored by the library and Writers Colony.
“What Follows Is True: Crescent Hotel” will be a 240 page hard-cover book of Sean’s writing and illustrations in graphic novel form. It blends oral histories, newspaper articles and Baker’s vanity biography to examine the history and yesteryear’s monsters.
Sean, a graduate of Webb City High School, now lives in Fayetteville, Ark., with his wife, Willow, and their daughter, Sadie. He has been teaching art to college students for 16 years. He has master’s degree in art and a passion for making art and visual storytelling. His art has been exhibited throughout the nation.