Of Outlaws, Nature, and Elegance: Excelsior Springs & The Inn on Crescent Lake

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“The road is now calling and I must away.”—Billy Boyd

The presents were opened.  The cheer was shared.  And, once more, the road was calling me to a new destination.  So it was that I found myself heading southwards on a pleasant, but frosty, Sunday towards the spa town of Excelsior Springs in Missouri where I would visit the Inn on Crescent Lake.

Excelsior Springs was famed for its mineral waters once upon a time and people came from miles around to bathe and be cured of their myriad illnesses.  The town pays tribute to its past with its Hall of Water exhibition in the downtown area, but it is also known as a bit of a resort area thanks to the Inn on Crescent Lake and the Elms Hotel & Spa.

Excelsior Springs is also located near several historical towns such as Liberty and Kearney as well as being a suburb of Kansas City.  In short, it has all the elements for a nice little weekend away.

I arrived in town shortly after noon and immediately headed downtown to have a bit of lunch.  Unfortunately, my initial choice was not open on Sundays.  Luckily, I found the Mill Street Restaurant and proceeded to have an enjoyable meal.

The restaurant was bustling, but I managed to find a seat and perused the menu.  Opting for a patty melt and fries, I sat back and relaxed, reading my Christmas gift, The Last Confession of Sherlock Holmes.  Within a few minutes, a piping hot plate was set before me and I enjoyed a perfectly prepared melt as well as some crisp, crinkle cut French fries.

Once lunch was done, I made my way to the town of Kearney, MO so I could visit the Jesse James Farm & Museum.

The James farmhouse.

The James farmhouse.

Jesse James and his brother, Frank, were two of the most legendary, and notorious, outlaws of American history.  They planned the first daytime bank robbery in history and embarked on a 16 year crime spree before Jesse was shot in the back of his head by Robert Ford.  Frank had retired from crime to raise a family and ultimately surrendered himself to the Governor of Missouri after being promised a fair trial and protection.  Frank and Jesse had been bushwhackers, a term used to describe guerrilla Confederate troops who attacked in quick bursts and slipped away.  Bushwhackers were often mobbed and hung and were stripped of many citizen rights after the Civil War.  The James brothers were often lauded as heroes fighting the tyranny of the Union which contributed to their legend as Robin Hoods of the South.

The James Farm is a very interesting piece of history.  The original farmhouse still stands and carries many interesting tales as related by our tour guide.  The most notable tale was the story of the Pinkerton raid in which Pinkerton agents attempted to capture Frank and Jesse (who were not at the farm at the time of the attack).  The raid resulted in the bombing death of Frank and Jesse’s 8 year old half-brother, Archie Samuel, and the loss of the arm of the James matriarch, Zerelda.

Jesse was buried on the family farm, but the tombstone erected on site is not the original.  We were informed that it was the third replica of the original marker.  The first two had virtually been eradicated by souvenir hunters who had chipped the two into oblivion to gain a piece of Jesse James’ tombstone.  What is left of the original is housed in the museum.

The James’ family was nothing, if not entrepreneurial.  Zerelda gave tours of the farm until her death.  She sold the rocks covering Jesse’s graves as souvenirs for 25 cents apiece.  When she ran out of the original stones, Zerelda brought stones from the nearby creek and sold them as “originals”.  She also was known to protect the original tombstone by keeping a loaded shotgun by her bed which faced the tombstone so she could always discourage would be souvenir hunters.  At her death, Frank took over tours until his death.  Eventually the county bought the land from the James heirs to build the museum and continue the tours.

After my visit to the farm, I returned to Excelsior Springs to check into the Inn on Crescent Lake.

I admit that I was blown away when I laid eyes on the estate.  The Inn on Crescent Lake is the most beautiful and luxurious inn I have visited since I began this project.  The 100 year old (it still looks brand new) Georgian Colonial Mansion is seated on a 22 acre property encircled by two crescent shaped ponds known as Crescent Lake.  Aside from the mansion, there is also a swimming pool with a hot tub and pool house that holds a massage room and extra suite for guests.  The property also boasts a small walking trail.

I rang the doorbell, which was attached to an intercom.  It was answered by owner, Beverly Bohnert, who told me to enter the foyer where I would be greeted.  I was met by owner, Craig Bohnert, who gave me a quick tour of the place.

My jaw nearly dropped as I gazed at the beauty of the inn.  My personal favorite was the living room which had a Christmas tree and a beaut of a fireplace.  I still marvel at the fact that the house is 100 years old because it looks pristine and new both inside and out.

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Eventually, Craig led me to the McCleary room which would serve as my home for the next two days.  The room was massive with a king sized bed gracing the center of the room.  The soft blue of the walls began relaxing me from the moment I entered.  After giving me a list of restaurant recommendations, complete with directions, Craig left me to my own devices.  I settled into the room and began exploring the rest of the mansion.

The McCleary Room.

The McCleary Room.

The Solarium.  This also doubles as the breakfast room.

The Solarium. This also doubles as the breakfast room.

After exploring the inn (and enjoying a couple of fresh baked chocolate chip cookies, courtesy of Beverly), it was time for supper so I decided to try El Maguey for a bit of Mexican fare.  I had a delicious quesadilla fajita and continued reading my latest adventure of Mr. Sherlock Holmes.  My server forgot to tell me that I needed to head up front to pay the bill, so I spent a half hour wondering why he wasn’t picking up my check until I saw someone heading up front with their bill.  Well, at least, I got a lot of reading in.

I returned to Crescent Lake and enjoyed my whirlpool bathtub where I scraped off the beard I had been growing for the last few months and nearly took a nap in the hot, swirling waters.  Afterwards, I posted some pics while I watched an episode of A Touch of Frost.  When the show was over, I read myself to sleep on the nice firm mattress of my king sized bed.

The next morning I finished my novel and headed downstairs to the solarium for a hearty breakfast and I emphasize the word, hearty.  Craig presented me with a glass of orange juice and a meal fit for a king.  It consisted of two biscuits, a hash brown, two small sausage patties, a slice of orange, and a piece of casserole that contained sausage, egg, cheese, onions among other ingredients.  It was so tasty, but I ended up losing to the meal which bested me by a biscuit and an orange.  But, trust me, defeat never tasted so good.

After that wonderful meal, I hopped in my car and drove to Watson Mills State Park.  I had hoped to get a tour of the Watson House and the wool mill at the park, but found that those tours are only held during the weekend at this time of year.  It wasn’t a complete loss as I enjoyed a 4 mile hike around the lake which brought back memories of my walk through Azabu-Jaban in Tokyo several years prior.

With the completion of my constitutional, I returned to Crescent Lake where I began a new mystery novel featuring Frank Cannon and relaxed to the music of the night as I listened to Highlights from the Phantom of the Opera.

At 1pm, I headed down to the pool house for a 90 minute massage with LaVerne Gardiner.  If you stay at this inn, be certain to schedule some massage time with LaVerne.  It will be well worth your while.  This was one of the best massages I have ever received as I could feel muscles knots pop and dissolve under her ministrations.  I was loose, limber, and had full range of motion in my neck after that session.

I kicked back in my room for another couple of hours before taking another whirlpool bath and then went downtown for supper at Ventana’s Gourmet Grill, the personal favorite of Craig and Beverly.

As I went into the restaurant I was greeted by the smiling visage of a mannequin depicting a Victorian Santa Claus and another Christmas tree.  I entered the little eatery and sat down at a table.  The service was a little slow and a couple who entered after me had their orders taken before me.  But the quality of the meal made up for the misfires in the service.

I began my meal with an American salad with a slight drizzle of ranch dressing.  The vegetables were fresh and crisp.  For the main course I had the Garden Chicken plate which consisted of a lemon pepper chicken breast with grilled zucchini, mushrooms, and the fluffiest, tastiest mashed potatoes I had ever tasted.  I savored each delicious bite and polished off both my plate and my other novel.  From there, I returned to the inn, enjoying the Christmas decorations and lights along the way, to relax for a few hours before another blissful night of sleep.

The next morning, I was back in the solarium reading an old Reader’s Digest and enjoying another fabulous breakfast of honeydew and cantaloupe, bacon, and blueberry French toast.  I peered out over Crescent Lake and felt sorry that I would have to leave the inn.  I would definitely like to return to this inn, especially if they mount a mystery weekend which is something Craig and Beverly have been considering.

I give this place my highest recommendation for a visit.  If you want sweet seclusion, elegance, and fine dining then the Inn on Crescent Lake should be your lodging of choice if you find yourself in the city of Excelsior Springs.

AUTHOR’S NOTE:  I’ve compiled a large list of inns to visit for this project, but there are undoubtedly many, many more which I’ve yet to discover.  If there’s an inn that you think I absolutely must visit, feel free to comment on my B & B posts and I will add it to the visitation list.

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One Delightful Disaster

You’ll shed a tear for Charles Dickens as his beloved classic, A Christmas Carol, is butchered by the inept hands of the Farndale Avenue Housing Estate Townswomen’s Guild Dramatic in the comedy The Farndale Avenue Housing Estate Townswomen’s Guild Dramatic Presents “A Christmas Carol” written by David McGillivray and Walter Zerlin, Jr.

This splendid play within a play centers on the hapless Farndale Guild Dramatic and their pathetic attempt to mount Dickens’ legendary holiday tale.  Missed cues, rancid acting, egos, ill timed scene changes, wardrobe malfunctions, and wounded performers are just some of things that allow the Farndale Guild Dramatic to reach new highs in lows as it completely redefines the meaning of bad play.

This is the most believable play this writer has seen in years.  It takes a very great actor to come off as a very bad actor and this entire cast superbly pulls it off as they seem like the rankest of rank amateurs and kept the audience howling all night in the process.

Laura Marr portrays Phoebe Reese, the platinum haired president of the guild.  While not explicitly stated, it’s implied that Phoebe “directed” this train wreck as she calls the shots of the show as well as serving as narrator, announcer, and playing multiple characters.  Ms Marr’s comedic timing is spot on as she schmoozes with the audience, enters scenes as the wrong characters, and stops the play for an impromptu monologue about a dress she wanted to wear as the wife of Scrooge’s nephew, Fred.  A song and dance number insulting Ebenezer Scrooge is the highlight of Ms Marr’s performance as she awkwardly dances with a sword and continuously hurts herself in the process.

David Sindelar shines as Gordon Pugh, the put upon stage manager of this farce.  Sindelar’s Gordon is utterly hopeless as a stage manager as he brings scenery and props on too soon, too late, or not at all.  As bad as he is a stage manager, he is even worse as an actor as he delivers his lines in a stilted, monotone voice while keeping his arms pasted to his sides.  Sindelar nearly steals the show with a gutbusting rendition of Jacob Marley whose constant shrieking, “Whooo!!!!” frustrates the actress playing Ebenezer Scrooge to no end.

Rose Glock is fabulous as Thelma Longbottom.  Longbottom is a diva of the worst kind.  Not only is she snooty and demanding, but she believes she is an acting goddess when she actually does not even have the chops to outperform a brick wall.  Ms Glock performs a bit of theatre magic with her character’s take on Ebenezer Scrooge.  Her interpretation of Longbottom’s Scrooge does little more than strut around the stage with jutted jaw and bent knees in a performance so ludicrously awful, it’s wonderful.  Ms Glock’s Longbottom reaches the height of arrogance when she spontaneously adapts Macbeth’s “Is this a dagger?” speech for Scrooge’s conciliatory dialogue with the charity collector simply because the vicar thinks she should be performing on the West End stage.

Seldom has this writer seen a performer do more with less than Sherry Fletcher’s portrayal of Mercedes Mildenhall-Smythe.  Mercedes plays multiple characters despite the fact that she is terribly injured.  Wearing a neck brace, eyepatch, and a sling, Ms Fletcher shuffled her way through an amazing performance that somehow managed to be incredibly animated despite little to no body movement.

Lorie Obradovich’s Felicity Jones-Potter vastly outstrips the other characters in terms of acting ability.  Ms Obradovich’s Felicity is the only actor who actually possesses talent as she ably portrays diverse characters such as Fred, Belle, and one of the thieves who loot Scrooge’s home after his death.  However, the stage is the only place where she shows confidence as Felicity is quite mousey away from it.  She is easily dominated by the others as she makes tea for the cast and is compelled to deliver dialogue praising Thelma Longbottom’s beauty.  Yet this mouse manages to somewhat pull the group’s collective fat out of the fire when she improvises a Christmas dance to buy time for a costume change.

This gaggle of comedic geniuses provides a great night of comedy.  You will never have more fun seeing “bad” theatre than this show which is certainly a comedic triumph for the Circle.

The Farndale Avenenue Housing Estate Townswomen’s Guild Dramatic Presents “A Christmas Carol” plays at the Circle Theatre for three more performances on Dec 12 & 19 at 8pm and Dec 20 at 2pm.  An optional dinner is served one hour before curtain.  Tickets for dinner and show are $25 for adults, $23 for seniors, and $20 for students and TAG members ($15, $13, and $10 for show only).  For reservations call 402-553-4715 or e-mail dlmarr@cox.net.  The Circle Theatre is located inside of First United Methodist Church at 7020 Cass St in Omaha, NE.