Today, Mom and I headed back into downtown Hot Springs to check out The Gangster Museum of America. This was another recommendation from the lady at our hotel. She hadn’t steered us wrong yesterday, so why question her today?
I’m glad we once again followed her advice because the Gangster museum is a lot of fun. Located right on Central Avenue, in the building that once housed The Hatterie, a business once owned by the common law wife of gangster Alvin ‘Creepy’ Karpis, it starts off with a mural of what Hot Springs looked like before they put the Hot Springs Creek under town through a tunnel.
There are seven rooms you go through and a short movie is presented in each room with information that pertains to that particular gallery. You start in the Madden Gallery. Owen ‘Owney’ Madden was a gangster in New York, who once owned 15 of the biggest nightclubs in New York City, including the Cotton Club. It was once remarked, supposedly by Ed Sullivan, that if you wanted to get anything done in NYC, you went to see Owney. Madden was an Irish immigrant who moved to the US when he was 13 and soon made a name for himself. He had been shot on numerous occasions and wasn’t well liked by government officials. In fact, he managed to get himself exiled from the state of New York by the governor, Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
Owney made his way to Hot Springs because it was known that the police looked the other way when it came to gambling. Once there, he fell in love with the Postmaster’s daughter and settled down into a respectable life.
The time of the gangsters was also the time of Prohibitions and the gangsters who vacationed in Hot Springs conducted business while here as well. Al Capone is said to have orchestrated the Valentines Day Massacre from the bath houses and figured out how to get prime Arkansas moonshine to the big cities. He shipped the alcohol in altered water jugs of Mountain Clear Water, that were then distributed by an associate at the other end of the rail line. The way you could tell the moonshine from the water was the direction of the label. If it was upside down, then it was water. If it was right side up, moonshine.
Even though alcohol was illegal at the time, your doctor could prescribe it to treat your depression or what ever other ailment you had. Below are some examples of the prescriptions.
Our tour guide was fount of knowledge. He told us that Hot Springs had always had a way of bringing in the bad guys. Back in the 1800’s, outlaws like the James gang were known to come through to enjoy the waters.
The next to last room showed what one of the back rooms in the hotels, where the gambling would take place, looked like.
The slot machine still had nickels stuck in it!
Finally, the last room was a theater that showed another short movie the director of the museum sloshing through the underground tunnel that houses the Hot Springs Creek and runs right through the middle of town and has openings into the basements of some of the buildings on Central Avenue.
Al Capone seemed right at home, watching the film. He even seems to have enjoyed all this talk about him and his friends. An enjoyable museum with lots of neat exhibits and information. The tour is about an hour long and a lot of fun.