Ghosts of Christmas Past

25 Linda Tree ArlingtonLinda Burton posting from Arkadelphia, Arkansas – Every year we hear about Bah Humbug Scrooge and the ghosts that visited him on Christmas Eve. I’d say there are just as many ghosts roaming around the Arlington Hotel, indeed, the entire city of Hot Springs. Oh what tales the tour guides tell! The most famous ghost of the Arlington’s past is Al Capone, and it is a fact he had a favorite suite on the 4th floor back in his gangster days. That way he had a clear view down Central Avenue. No sneaking up on Al. I went looking for the ghosts of Santa Claus today, however, and 25 Arlington buffettalented chefs, with plans to enjoy a lavish Christmas feast in the Venetian Room. Hot Springs is just 35 miles from Arkadelphia, the weather was sunny and fine, and after presenting my early-morning Christmas gift to Alex and Jack (a walking kitty-cat which they regarded with great disdain) I set out for Hot Springs and the Arlington. Did you know that Hot Springs was Arkansas’ capital city for a short period of time? Did you know that Hot Springs was a 25 Arlington buffet salmonfavorite spot for gangsters and gambling, back in the roaring twenties? Did you know that Bill Clinton grew up in Hot Springs, and graduated high school there? I didn’t, nor did I realize that Hot Springs was the spring training camp for Chicago’s White Stockings, or that famed Bathhouse Row still has spa services available. But back to the Arlington. The groaning-table buffet was worthy of the drive, and the gingerbread house in the art deco lobby was charming, but I confess to checking over my shoulder once or twice. You can never be too careful when it comes to ghosts.

What the Tour Guides Say About Hot Springs

25 hot springs bath houseHot Springs, Arkansas, has been a resort town since its establishment. The thermal spring waters found here were believed to have healing properties, which is why presidents, athletes, outlaws, and other notable figures visited The Spa City. Some interesting moments in early Hot Springs history include:

  • Native American tribes called this location the Valley of the Vapors and believed that the naturally hot springs had healing powers. Even warring tribes are said to have bathed here in peace.
  • Hernando de Soto was the first European explorer to visit Hot Springs in 1541.
  • In 1832, Congress designated Hot Springs as a federal reserve, essentially establishing the first national park.
  • In 1862, during the Civil War, Arkansas Governor Henry Massie Rector feared that Little Rock might be captured by Union troops. He had all of the state records relocated to Hot Springs, and from May 6 through July 14 of that year, Hot Springs served as the state capital.
  • The Arlington Hotel was completed in 1875, and was the largest hotel in the state at that time.
  • In 1886, the Chicago White Stockings baseball franchise began spring training in Hot Springs. Hot Springs, Arkansas, was the premier baseball spring training site from the 1880s-1940s. The Chicago White Stockings, Cincinnati Reds, Pittsburgh Pirates, Boston Red Sox and others came here.
  • In 1887, the Army and Navy Hospital, the first combined general hospital treating patients from both the US Army and US Navy, opened in downtown Hot Springs. It was the first hospital of its kind in the nation.
  • Between 1892 and 1923, eight bathhouses were built on what’s known today as Bathhouse Row. This area along the Grand Promenade was designated as a National Historic Landmark District in 1987.
  • Thoroughbred racing began in Hot Springs with the construction of Essex Park in 1904. The following year, Oaklawn Park opened, and it was soon the only racing venue in the city.
  • Leo McLaughlin was elected mayor of Hot Springs in 1926, and fulfilled a campaign promise to allow gambling. During his 22-year reign, Hot Springs became a haven for notorious criminals and mobsters, including Owen “Owney” Madden, Charles “Lucky” Luciano, and Al Capone.

Some attractions to visit:

25 arlington frontThe Arlington Hotel, since 1875. 239 Central Avenue.

Hot Springs National Park Visitor Center located in the restored Fordyce Bathhouse. 101 Reserve Street.

Bathhouse Row, a National Historic Landmark District. Two bathhouses are still in operation: Buckstaff Bathhouse Company, 509 Central Avenue; Quapaw Baths & Spa, 413 Central Avenue.

The Gangster Museum of America, about the mobster era. 510 Central Avenue.

Hot Springs Baseball Trail documents the birthplace of spring training. Plaques are located at important sites along the trail. Brochures are available for walking tours as well as digital tours using your smart phone.

Oaklawn Racing & Gaming, 2705 Central Avenue.

25 Cat Alex Use25 Cat Jack usePhotos of Alex and Jack disdaining their 2013 Christmas gift – a walking-talking kitty-cat.