But Wait! That’s Not All! Bill Clinton grew up in Hot Springs, where I just spent a long weekend. He’s popular around his home town (he wasn’t born there, but he lived there most of his childhood and youth.) This is not a political post, but I thought that, as a public service, I might warn off those who may wish to be so warned off. That is all.
Hot Springs was surprising in a lot of ways. We went there because we each want to visit all 50 states, and we both needed to drop in on Arkansas. I like the South, I have relatives there, including an uncle from South Alabama, so the “southern” aspects of the place didn’t surprise me. Here’s what Hot Springs, Arkansas is:
Along the side of a mountain above the town, extending right down into the town, are a large number of places where hot water spews out with absolutely no effort on anyone’s part. A lot of hot water. Only one of these vents is still uncapped; it is in town, in a park that is a part of Hot Springs National Park, which is what the Postal Service and bus lines call the entire area. It’s easy enough to get in or out of the National Park: you need only wait for the pedestrian “WALK” signal and cross the street. On the National Park side of the street is what is known as “Bathhouse Row,” which has, for almost two centuries, been the site of an ever less ramshackle collection of places where one can immerse oneself in those same hot waters for a modest, or not in some cases, fee. Of course, the National Park is a lot bigger than a row of bathhouses, and it includes hiking trails, an observation tower, and a lot of trees. Such a lot of trees, says the guy who lives in the Mojave desert.
Back before the Chicago mob decided to move into Las Vegas, they hung out in Hot Springs whenever the law made things a tad uncomfortable in Chicago. Benjamin Siegal, for instance, used to hang out in one or another of the illegal gambling halls along Center Avenue. The Ohio Club is still open, and the food is quite good, but unless you’ve bought a lottery scratch ticket, you can’t really do any gambling there. The illegal business screeched to a halt when the State Police busted an owner and discovered a stash of gambling devices which they had given to the Mayor for him to destroy. The governor took over and made sure that they were destroyed properly, too bad for his (dis)honor.
The movie at Park Headquarters and Museum dramatizes a drummer for a “Doctor Adams” prior to the bathhouse business being cleaned up by the Park Service. The drummer convinced a fellow passenger on the train that “Doctor Adams really knows his livers!” You go, Doctor Adams. Adams was busted later. Not sure my liver(s?) is any heathier, but we did take the waters a bit.
We went first to the Buckstaff Bathhouse, which still does the old-fashioned, Pre-WWII, traditional bathing experience. After 20 minutes in a tub, I spent some time in a sitz bath (good for the lower back,) in a steam cabinet (yes, there still are such things, but I barely fit into one,) a shower that hit me from every direction, and a bench with hot towels draped over me. I don’t know if it helped me get healthy, but I surely got tired. The next day we went down the row to the Quapaw Bathhouse, which is modern, with pools of various temperatures, and we got massages. The massage was nice, but Quapaw charges a lot more than does Buckstaff.
We saw a listing of the mineral content of the water. It’s water. Even somebody from SoCal who is paranoid about tap water would drink it. Not sure it heals any better than anybody else’s water, but I did feel a part of something historic. That counts for something, I’m sure.
If you go, take a good appetite, as there are dozens of good restaurants in the actual hot springs area (near the bathhouses.) I was going to get some good stuff at Granny’s Kitchen, but when we got there we could see a fresh trench clear across the dining room. Guess our old neighborhood in Vegas isn’t the only place with drain issues. I’m afraid that the picture above is the only one I took, but the area is lovely. You’ll just have to trust me on that.