125 years of secrets: The Elms Hotel

The stately Elms Resort & Spa in Excelsior Springs, Missouri. Photo Credit: The Elms Hotel and Spa.

The Elms Hotel and Spa in quietly beautiful Excelsior Springs, Missouri has a history crowded with miracles and fire, ghosts and prohibition-age law dodging. I found during my recent stay that the hotel’s secrets cast an air of mystery on the property that I could actually feel. Next time you’re in Missouri, book a room and see if the notion that it is absolutely possible to touch the wall and be transported back 100 years to see one moment in time knocks on your imagination as much as it did mine.

First though, a story…

In a sad chapter of 1800s American history, many fell victim to often-fatal tuberculosis and died. A local girl named Opal became sick and set all her hopes for continued life on the spring water for which the town is now named. She was cured, reportedly by the water, and word spread quickly about the healing power of the springs. A whole industry rose around the miraculous healing effects of the springs, including the first Elms. This healing start to the hotel lives on today in the onsite spa, one of the most famous spas in the country for hydrotherapy treatments.

I say the “first Elms” because the hotel burned to the ground twice in its lifetime, once in 1898 and again in 1910. Reports say no one died in either fire, but ghostly activity in the hotel has been linked to the fires by paranormal experts from Syfy’s Ghost Hunters. Evidence and guest reports suggest an impish poltergeist and ghost in the tavern enjoy giving the living a reminder of what’s to come. The ghost of a man connected to the mob is said to haunt the spa’s basement pool — the same rooms rumored to store liquor and host illegal gambling parties in Prohibition times. As a matter of fact, police attempted raids when known gangsters Al Capone and Bugsy Morgan held parties in this quiet escape away from Kansas City (but weren’t caught).

In 1948, President Harry Truman reserved an entire wing at The Elms to sit out election day madness in peace. This is also where he celebrated his victory. Thus began golden decades for The Elms, but these sweet times didn’t last forever. In 1970, the resort had financial troubles and closed until 1978. In 1981, the infectious enthusiasm of new owners breathed life into The Elms and began a roller coaster ride where the highs were high and the lows were low. At one point, the city saved the resort until a new owner could be found. I think this is why guest reports of ghosts don’t tend to include a feeling of fear or dread. Existing in peace and banding together has been a hallmark of Excelsior Springs since the beginning.

Now on to the present…

Before pushing through the front door into the lobby, I didn’t know the history of The Elms and yet I could tell at once there were stories to be uncovered here. I have no doubt that more will come to light in time. Possibly it was because my husband, our dog and I arrived after midnight and it was so quiet I’d swear we were the only ones (living) there, but I knew instantly that a book’s worth of stories could be written about the hotel.

If you want to stay where Truman stayed, ask for room 300. We had a big, beautiful suite on the top floor just down the hall from a lounge with water and snacks. The centerpiece of this lounge is a boiler door that has outlived at least one fire. I was instantly fascinated by this survivor. Our dog, a small, exuberant Australian Kelpie mix, explored alongside me as I roamed this level of the hotel looking for more clues to the past. The Elms is a dog-friendly Missouri hotel and by far the best one in the Kansas City area.

Our bedroom layout was unique — the opposite of a “bed in a box” concept that so many hotels embrace. A large bedroom with a king bed framed by built-ins was connected by a hall to a sitting room. The hall used space brilliantly to store a wet bar with mini fridge and Keurig. The king bed boasted a memory foam mattress — what a nice touch!

In the morning, be sure to get coffee, tea and pastries from the onsite café. Their coffee is locally sourced and delicious. Next, go for a stroll, especially if you’ve brought your dog. The treed property is in a residential neighborhood and so has a “liveable” feel. There were people taking a dip in the outdoor pool and some walking their dogs like I was that day. Allie rolled in the grass and I looked for paths through the woods. When turning back, I was in awe of the beauty of the grand hotel and its rough limestone exterior. I wish we all could have stayed a little longer. While headed back to the lobby, I waved to a lady by the pool. She was in surprisingly old-fashioned swim wear. Hmmmmmm…

My recommendation: Ideal for ghost hunters, lovers of history and those who like to stroll shady grounds, The Elms is a one-of-a-kind hotel. It has my recommendation.

Learn more about The Elms Hotel and Spa and book your room at ElmsHotelandSpa.com.

Thank you to Eric Busick for his kind help with this story.