Spa or Torture Chamber?

Due to its natural mineral waters, the tiny town of Hot Springs, Arkansas, became a resort destination back in the 1870s. The first bathhouses were log cabins built straddling the springs, but they burned down in the early 20th century, and were soon replaced with beautiful, “modern” structures.

Several bathhouses have been renovated and are open to the public, but one was preserved by the parks department in its original state. The white-tiled facility, with its archaic machinery, reminded me more of a sanatarium than a spa. The tubs and cots were outfitted with tubes and wires that looked like some sort of medieval torture device. Considering they had “electrotherapy,” a treatment in which low levels of electricity were piped into your bathwater, it’s not that far off. The wall label told us that “there were no reported deaths from the procedure, but it has since been discontinued.” I’m fairly certain there is at least one ghost living in that building.

But the town was lovely, a Saratoga of the south. Walking along the promenade overlooking the bathhouses and boutiques, we felt transported back in time. We came across several public drinking fountains sourced from the springs, but noticed steam rising up from them. The water was hot.

Finally, we found a cool water fountain, standing alone on the path. Andy approached it like Indiana Jones in Raiders of the Lost Ark, and sipped. The water was completely tasteless, like liquid air, but refreshing.

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