Welcome to MarMar Monday! KB’s sister, MarMar, is excited to share her travels with you. This week we’re chatting about her road trip through central Arkansas!
Okay classic movie buffs/musical theatre children, if you are anything like me, you have been enamored by the idea of going to Little Rock, Arkansas ever since Ms. Lorelei Lee sang that she “was just a little girl from Little Rock.” Well, a few weeks ago, I hopped on a plane back home, met my amazing mom (Ames), and went off to see the sights of central Arkansas for ourselves! Our first stop: “America’s First Resort”, Hot Springs!
Stop One: Hot Springs!
Hot Springs was one of the top tourist destinations in the country back in the early 1900s. The waters coming from the natural springs supposedly cured you of ailments. People flooded in from all over the world! Unfortunately, as I learned on my Haunted Tour of Hot Springs, this was a farce created by the local government to aide in population growth and the city’s infrastructure. Nevertheless, this charming town blossomed.
Springs ‘n’ Things
So what makes Hot Springs so special? This thermal spring water naturally rests at 62°C/143°F and fills 47 springs along the western slope of Hot Springs Mountain. It was also the first federal reserve in the country, now known as Hot Springs National Park. Bathhouse Row sits at the base of the western side of the mountain. What was once a series of bathhouses for the elites enjoyment is open for anyone to visit!
Two of the houses, Quapaw and Buckstaff, still operate today. Within the other bath houses, you will can visit a national parks gift shop (Lamar), cultural center (Ozark), visitors center complete with refurbished rooms (Fordyce), and the only brewery in a national park (Superior). Oh, and my fellow IPA lovers…Superior is the only brewery in the WORLD that utilizes thermal spring water to craft their brews! Cheers!
Okay, as you will *quickly* learn through our chats, I love haunted things. A lot. Obviously the first thing that I had to do in Hot Springs was take a ghost tour. Here’s what I learned.
A Haunted Hospital
First and foremost: the old Army Navy Hospital that has perched picturesquely above Bathhouse Row since 1933. As the legend goes, a man came in complaining of a sprained ankle and was kept overnight for X-rays and treatment. Well, he never left the hospital and many of the people on his floor also began to die after his passing. Why? He didn’t just have a sprained ankle…he also had smallpox!
One of the most unique things about this Army Navy Hospital is that it had one of the first morgues, and a massive one at that. People were dying left and right, so bodies were taken to the basement where they were stacked on top of each other. They would often decay and slime (or be covered in the decay and slime of others) before their loved ones could pick them up. Gross. The Army Navy Hospital is considered to be the most haunted place in Hot Springs. It now operates as a Rehabilitation Center.
A Mafia Story
Arkansas’ Arlington Hotel is our second doozy. Long story short, a mom-n-pop hotel wouldn’t sell their building and land to the Arlington after it burned down (twice), and taunted them publicly about their refusal to sell. So…in a time where mobsters were literally running the town and crime is rampant, the hotel mysteriously burns down just hours after the taunts. Six people were said to have died, but their remains were disposed of as “debris of the building” and their spirits now haunt the halls of the luxurious hotel, terrorizing guests.
Ghosts around Town
Alright, so back to all of the tourists flooding Arkansas in the 1900s. They weren’t “family-vacation-to-Disney-World” tourists, these people were literally dying and some spent their life savings to get to Hot Springs as a chance to be healed. They normally came in groups of two: the sick and a family member. Well, while they were drinking and bathing in the water, they also needed some kind of entertainment, right? A law passed that said all of the buildings on bathhouse row needed to be at least two stories high. Why? Gambling and brothels. To make it better, these illegal businesses were to give part of their earnings to the local fire and police departments. I love a corrupt government, y’all.
Remember how I said these “healing springs” were just one big farce? And these people were on their deathbeds to begin with? You can probably put two and two together. but yeah…they were dropping like flies. The government closed all funeral homes because they could not service the amount of bodies coming in. Well… Gross Mortuary found a solution. They carved out part of their building and featured the first “drive-thru” in the world, rotating caskets weekly so that loved ones could walk or drive through this area and look through glass to say goodbye to their loved ones. God, I bet they wish they had gotten a patent.
Hot Springs Mountain
One thing you absolutely need to do before leaving this charming town is hike or drive up to the top of Hot Springs Mountain. The views are stunning! You can also opt to go up into the 140 ft observatory at the peak, giving you a 200 mile viewing point. The mountain is littered with hiking trails and is a great escape if you come from a city (like me)!
Next Stop: Little Rock
Just an hour down (up? in our case) is the state capitol of Arkansas: Little Rock. Yay, finally time to make my homage to Lorelei. Also, for any poli sci buffs (we know ya, we love ya, keep doin’ ya think on social media xoxoxo) the land of the 42nd president of these United States: Bill Clinton. Okay, so teaser, he grew up in Hot Springs, but Little Rock is really where he skyrockets.
Little Rock River Market
The first thing we did was head down to 400 President Clinton Ave to the Little Rock River Market. Y’all. Holy moly this place is adorable. Similar to the Boston Public Market, the market is a giant area with food stalls lining the sides with communal styled seating in the middle. They have everything – Mexican, sushi, salad, bakeries, burgers… there’s even a bodega in there (looking @ you, NYC)! Seriously, this was like the Oprah meme come to life! “You get your favorite, You get your favorite, Everyone gets their favorites!”
Now I need you to read this sentence very carefully. If you do not go to Platinum BBQ within the River Market whilst you are in this city, you are doing yourself such a disservice. I mean, my mouth is literally salivating just thinking about their pulled pork sandwich and homemade mac’n’cheese. Lots of other bars, restaurants, and shops line the street, but once you’ve had the best, is there even a point? (jk, please go and report back all you have found.)
Little Rock Central High School: A Chance for Equality
After I was filled to my brim with smoked meat, we headed ten minutes into town to the infamous Little Rock Central High School. OKAY. So i am going to preface this for those who may not know about what happened here. As someone who works in education and civil rights, this was, in all seriousness, the singular thing that brought me to Arkansas from NYC.
The Little Rock 9 were 9 African American students that applied and enrolled to begin classes at Little Rock Central High School in 1957. This was right after Brown V. Board of Education (1954) ruled that separate, yet equal was not ascertainable within a scholastic setting and that schools were to integrate. Well, the Governor of Arkansas, Orval Fabus, gave that a big ole’ hell to the no; he argued that they were not given a certain timeline in which they had to begin integration. The supreme court clapped back with Brown v. Board II, which said schools must begin to integrate with deliberate speed (aka: now).
So, 9 extremely brave and dedicated students enrolled in Little Rock Central High school. Ernest Green, Elizabeth Eckford, Jefferson Thomas, Terrence Roberts, Carlotta Walls LaNier, Minnijean Brown, Gloria Ray Karlmark, Thelma Mothershed, and Melba Patillo Beals began what was to be the trial of their young lives. NAACP leader of the time, Daisy Bates, aided them in their struggles, but these 9 individuals went through more psychological and physical torment than most of us could ever dream of. Death threats, assaults from rioters outside of the school, and the ruthlessness of tormenters inside those sacred walls in which they had fought so hard to be a part of were daily occurrences for these teenagers who just wanted to have the best opportunity for education.
How to Visit
Little Rock Central High School is the only school that doubles as National Historic Landmark. You can actually accompany a park ranger into the school if you are lucky and show up at the right time (or you book in advance, or are there during the summer). Let me tell you, that was a surreal experience and one I think that every educator should have.
Historic Little Rock
While in Little Rock, you should absolutely drive over to see Capitol Hill. Arkansas’ Capitol is one of the most beautiful Capitol buildings in the US (minus DC, of course). One thing that I loved about the grounds is that all of their monuments are within the hill. They each paid respect from soldiers from the Civil War, War of 1812, Vietnam War, as well as to law enforcement, fire fighters, and the National Guard.
Next, head over to take a glimpse of Union Station, because it is stunning. And, of course, no trip to Little Rock would be complete without going to visit the William J Clinton Presidential Library, where you can read about his administration and it’s accomplishments. Lastly, though, and especially if you have a car, you need to drive out to The Old Mill at T.R. Pugh Memorial Park. Basically, its a replica of a pioneer water mill, and is so fun to go back in history. Oh yeah, and the grounds are gorgeous.
Most people fail to realize a reason to visit the great state of Arkansas, but you will definitely not be disappointed if you do. Arkansas is filled with a charming southern atmosphere where the tea is just as sweet as the person pouring it.
all my love,