Did You Know? (Hot Springs, AR National Park Trivia)


Story by:Guest Contributor

First posted on 10-17-2007

• Did you know that Tony Bennett first sang his signature song “ I Left My Heart In San Francisco” at the Black Orchid Club in Hot Springs after performing earlier that night at the Vapors Club? His piano player had him try it out and when the bartender said he would buy it if Bennett recorded it he added it in his act the next night at the Fairmont Hotel in San Francisco. The rest is history.

• Did you know that Hernando DeSoto, the famous European explorer, was the first European to visit Hot Springs way back in 1541? Prior to that Native Americans had enjoyed the soothing waters for generations.

• Did you know that during the late 1800’s and 1900’s Hot Springs was the off season capitol of Major League Baseball? The Chicago Cubs, Pittsburgh Pirates, Brooklyn Nationals, Chicago White Stockings, and the Boston Red Sox all held spring training in Hot Springs.

• Did you know that five miles outside of Hot Springs in 1874 a stagecoach was robbed by none other than legendary outlaws Frank and Jesse James?

• Did you know that the Alligator Farm in Hot Springs was the first of its kind in the country when it opened back in 1902? It is the oldest tourist attraction in the State of Arkansas.

• Did you know that The Miss Arkansas Pageant that has produced two Miss America’s, Donna Axum in 1963 and Elizabeth Ward in 1981, has been held in Hot Springs since 1958?

• Did you know that the first Hot Springs Mountain Tower was constructed in 1870? The current structure, the fourth generation, was erected in 1983.

• Did you know that the gymnasium on the third floor of the Fordyce Bathhouse was the first gymnasium in the State of Arkansas?

• Did you know that heavyweight boxer Billy Conn, the former light heavyweight champion, trained for his 1946 rematch with Joe Louis in the gymnasium at the Fordyce Bathhouse? Unfortunately he lost that fight just as he lost the earlier fight in 1941 to Louis that is often referred to as “the fight of the century.”

• Did you know that in 1961 the U.S. Department of Justice concluded that Hot Springs had the largest illegal gambling operation in the country?

• Did you know that the last “house of ill repute” closed in Hot Springs in 1963?

• Did you know that Hot Springs was a neutral territory for gangsters from Chicago and New York who would come down to enjoy the baths and racing?

• Did you know that the proprietor of the famed Cotton Club in Harlem, Owney Madden, relocated to Hot Springs where he lived until he died of old age?

• Did you know that Al Capone maintained a suite, Suite 443, in the Arlington Hotel?

• Did you know that Al Capone ordered a taxi to take him from the Southern Club, the current location of the Wax Museum, to the Arlington Hotel? When the driver pointed across the street and suggested he could walk the 100 feet Capone growled “drive”.

The driver proceeded down the block u-turned and proceeded to the Arlington Hotel with a car full of F.B.I. agents right behind. Capone tipped the young driver, Jack Bridges, $10 dollars, a princely sum in those days, and walked in the hotel. The F.B.I. agents immediately descended on the car to ask the wide- eyed driver “what did he say!”

• Did you know that all gambling activities, the illegal ones that is, ended in Hot Springs in 1967?

• Did you know that Mountain Valley Spring Water is headquartered in Hot Springs, only twelve miles south of the famous spring that gives the water its name, and that Randolph Hearst once owned it?

• Did you know that Marjorie Lawrence star of the Metropolitan Opera moved to Hot Springs in 1941 after she was crippled by polio and taught voice to local children in her spare time?

• Did you know that William Jefferson Clinton, the 42nd President of the United States, grew up in Hot Springs and graduated from Hot Springs High School in 1964?

• Did you know that Texas hero Sam Houston spent a month in Hot Springs in July of 1833 bathing the days away?

• Did you know that Harry Truman had a favorite club in Hot Springs where he played his favorite game, poker? He played for small stakes according to local legend also tipped small, one silver dime!

• Did you know that Bat Masterson, of O.K. Corral and Wyatt Earp fame, liked Hot Springs so much that when part of it was destroyed by fire in 1905 he helped raise money to help those that lost everything.

• Did you know that Joe T. Robinson accepted the Democratic nomination for Vice-President on the steps of the Arlington Hotel in 1928?

• Did you know that John F. Kennedy addressed the Arkansas Bar Association at the Arlington hotel in June of 1957, three years before becoming President of the United States?

• Did you know that Franklin D. Roosevelt and Eleanor Roosevelt visited Bathhouse Row in 1936?

• Did you know that Theodore Roosevelt came to the Spa City in 1910 to attend the Arkansas State Fair at Oaklawn Park?

• Did you know that in 1832 President Andrew Jackson signed the first law in history to preserve land for recreational purposes? That land was the area now known as Hot Springs National Park, Arkansas. Yellowstone National Park may have the official designation as the nation’s first National Park but now you know who really was first!

• Did you know that famous boxing champions from the past liked to visit Hot Springs? Notable boxing visitors include Jack Dempsey, John L. Sullivan, Jim Corbett, Joe Louis, and Jess Willard.

• Did you know that Babe Ruth first visited Hot Springs as a young pitcher with the Boston Red Sox but returned often to take the baths and play golf? On one such trip he purchased a small alligator at the Alligator Farm to take back to Boston as a Hot Springs souvenir!

• Did you know that the Hot Springs Convention Center is the largest meeting facility in the State of Arkansas with 363,200 square feet of space, over 8.36 acres, under its roof?

• Did you know that Lucky Luciano was arrested in Hot Springs for the last time on the promenade behind the Ozark Bath House? He was in town gambling and taking the baths.

• Did you know that Gussie Busch (of St. Louis beer fame) was married in a civil ceremony in the lobby of the Majestic Hotel?

• Did you know that Bill “Bojangles” Robinson celebrated his sixty-sixth birthday in Hot Springs on May 25, 1944 by dancing from upper Park Avenue to the Pythian Hotel on Malvern Avenue, a distance of almost 2 miles! Over 1,000 people watched Robinson as he danced and stepped his way through downtown Hot Springs.

• Did you know that “The Cinderella Man” James J. Braddock, the heavyweight champion of the world, frequently visited Hot Springs and worked out with the Hot Springs High School football team during a visit in October of 1935.

• Did you know that Senator Huey P. Long of Louisiana spent his honeymoon in Hot Springs on November 22, 1934?

• Did you know that famous movie actor Alan Ladd was born in Hot Springs on September 3, 1913?

• Did you know that each St. Patrick’s day that Hot Springs plays host to the First Ever Shortest St. Patrick’s Day Parade? The parade is 98 feet long and was attended by over 15,000 people last year.