Get to Know Sean Fitzgibbon, Six Bridges Featured Author
Tell us briefly about your book.
What Follows Is True: Crescent Hotel is a graphic nonfiction book that explores the stories surrounding the Crescent Hotel’s strange and tragic two years as the Baker Hospital, a Depression-era cancer hospital. The 240-page, fully painted graphic narrative blends oral histories, newspaper articles, and Norman Baker’s biography to examine this historical happening and the complicated determinations of yesteryear’s monsters.
What motivated you to write it?
When I was a kid, my family would visit the Crescent Hotel in Eureka Springs, Arkansas. I was intrigued with its bizarre, dark, and haunted history. Years later as an adult I stayed at the hotel and went on the ghost tour. What lingered with me was the story of Norman Baker, the fraudulent medical practitioner who transformed the hotel into an abnormal hospital. Who was Baker and how could something like this have happened? After conducting extensive research, I learned of Baker’s varied and controversial past.
This is my best interpretation of this peculiar person, place, and time. Although Baker has been gone for many years, echoes of his strange and contentious time in Eureka Springs still reverberate throughout the Crescent Hotel.
What kind of research went into your book?
The most time-intensive part of putting this book together was the research, which involved conducting interviews, scouring library archives and databases, and traveling to both Muscatine, Iowa, and Eureka Springs, Arkansas. I was offered a week-long residency at the Writers’ Colony at Dairy Hollow in Eureka Springs, so I was able to conduct a great deal of research and did many drawings of the town during that time.
All my investigative material was consolidated into two milk crates. I organized it all according to subject matter and created a chronological timeline. This was the most complicated part of the process. It’s like in movies where the detective is putting the pictures up on the corkboard with tacks and then connecting those tacks with string and threading together a connective narrative.
After developing a rough outline of the book with thumbnail (storyboard-like) drawings, I compiled my outline, thumbnails, research, sketches, and photographic material, and began drawing the final pages of the book. After they were all drawn in pencil, I worked back into the pencil drawing with very tight watercolor. Once the 240 pages were completed, I scanned all the pages and made digital color embellishments and corrections and began lettering the book digitally.
What was your favorite part of writing this book?
I’m a visual storyteller, so putting the narrative together in a series of drawn and painted panels based on my research and interviews was one of my favorite aspects of creating this book. This is a departure from the traditional graphic novel because it’s an illustrated nonfiction work combining narrative and documentary-style storytelling. I utilize techniques from my gallery work by collaging bits of information from old newspaper and photos mixed with painting and drawing to create a blend of media forming a hypnotic journey throughout this haunting past. I draw myself into the story interviewing people, so there is a meta aspect to the book.
I love the idea of telling a story that happened in an actual place that you can visit. In a sense, you can go and become a small part of the story.
What are you reading now?
· They Knew: How a Culture of Conspiracy Keeps America Complacent by Sarah Kendzior
· Michelangelo and the Pope’s Ceiling by Ross King
· The Lottery and Other Stories by Shirley Jackson
What does it mean to you to be promoting your book as a local author?
Last October, I raised nearly $29,000 through Kickstarter to cover the printing costs, and I’ve been selling the books on my website store as well as in Arkansas bookstores, through book fairs, and at various art events. It’s been a tiring yet wonderful journey and great way to meet other people interested in the strange history of the Crescent Hotel and one of the darkest and most controversial legends in the unique town of Eureka Springs.
Are you excited to see any other authors at the Festival? Who/why?
· I’m excited to see fellow graphic novelist Sofia Warren. I’ll be sitting in on a panel with her. I’m a fan of her intimate graphic memoir Radical: My Year with a Socialist Senator as well as her work in the New Yorker.
· I’m also looking forward to Kevin Brockmeier. I’m drawn to his thought-provoking, poignant, and haunting tales.
· Brooks Blevins is on my list as well. I’m a huge fan of his extensively researched and richly detailed books about the Ozarks.
What is something that even most locals don’t know about the Crescent Hotel?
There are many stories floating around about the period the Crescent Hotel was transformed into the Baker Hospital in the late 1930s by charlatan Norman Baker. In 2019, jars containing grisly cancerous specimens dating back to the Baker Hospital were unearthed on the grounds of the Crescent Hotel. This made national news. I met a gentleman in 2008 who snuck into the Crescent Hotel as a kid in the early 1940s just after Norman Baker was arrested for fraud. The hospital/hotel sat empty during this time. The strange discoveries made back then were unknown to most locals. This can be found in my book.
What’s the scariest/most unbelievable thing you’ve encountered during your research?
Norman Baker was a dangerous charlatan and demagogue who came to Eureka Springs in 1937 claiming to have the cure for cancer. He was profiting on sick and dying people. Many city officials knew he was a fraud, but he was welcomed to Eureka Springs anyway. Many people suffered and died at the Baker Hospital, and though some locals were outraged, many profited from the hospital and its patients and chose to look the other way.