Thursday, March 28, 2013

Not Particularly Exotic Destination: Hot Springs, Arkansas

Another place I visited last fall was Hot Springs, Arkansas.

For the sake of my continued identity vagueness, I'll say that it's a three-to-five-hour drive from where one of the family members I stay with in America lives. I went there to meet a Russian girl that I know from the old days, who was also living a three-to-five hour drive away.

Hot Springs is famous, of course, for its hot springs; but these days only a couple of its famous bath-houses remain open, and you pay quite a bit to bathe in the piped-in thermal waters. (Formerly advertised as healthy due to low amounts of radioactivity.)

Now it's mostly a pretty quiet place; families roving about with ice cream and balloons, elderly people trying to ease their arthritis, and so forth. Its main claim to fame now is being the birthplace of Bill Clinton.

I had a pleasant enough couple of days there, though I can hardly say it was exciting.

But 100 years ago? That place was off the fucking hook.


I only bring it up as an example of my earlier statements (regarding Russia but applicable to anywhere) that you need to be not only in the right place, but you need to be there at the right time.

Back after the Civil War, Hot Springs became a center of illegal gambling, controlled by two Irish mobs. (Back before indoor plumbing was commonplace, don't underestimate the draw of taking a nice bath, also.) A powerful, blatantly-corrupt political machine took over, rigging elections and happily accepting payoffs from both sides.
One night the parties got so out of hand they burned half the fucking town down

There was even a wild gun and knife fight between corrupt cops one day in 1899, right in the middle of the main street.

As the century turned, major league baseball teams brought their players their for training. By all accounts, the nightlife was insane, with hardy-partying ball players like Babe Ruth rubbing shoulders with gangsters like Al Capone and Owen Madden in the swank hotels, speakeasies, and gambling dens. Prostitution was rife, of course.


While all of that lasted quite a while, relatively speaking, after World War II the political machine was dismantled by crusading returning GI politicians, and the illegal gambling was finally stomped out in the late 60s, and its now just another middling family tourism destination.

Ah, but of course, some things never change ...

1 comment:

Eccentric Expat said...

Nice little history lesson on Hot Springs. I was there a long time ago, mainly while passing through, and it was pretty much just like you described. I didn't see any prostitutes, though.