There’s A There There. (Part 1)

“You must have a high tolerance for boredom.”

This is a picture of the French Lick Resort Gazebo from The Lyceum Magazine, 1913. It was unchanged when I was there nearly a hundred years later.

This is a picture of the French Lick Resort Gazebo from The Lyceum Magazine, 1913.
It was unchanged when I was there nearly a hundred years later.

This is what a friend said to me when I told him I’d had an amazing time at the French Lick Resort in an Indiana town of three-hundred people. I tried to explain that the resort was this amazing artefact of an earlier time when the wealthy went to spas for both treatment and to just hang out with each other. The guy who helped me carry the bags to our room, which was spacious with ten-foot ceilings, told me it was where Franklin Roosevelt first announced he was running for President, and that Al Capone stayed there. The draw was “pluto water”, which was basically just sulfur water from a spring. This is what gave the place its name. Animals would lick the minerals from the rocks, and because it was the site of a French trading post in pre-colonial times it was known as the “French lick”. People drank “Pluto water” for their health. There was a gazebo-covered spring out back that smelled a little like rotten eggs, but it was worth going in to see the waters that Al Capone took in a vain attempt to cure his gonorrhea. On one side of the inside of the roof was inscribed, “Nature’s finest laxative.” On the other: “If Nature won’t Pluto will.” In a room below the lobby I found a couple of statues of “Pluto” who, with his Van Dyke beard, horns, and wicked grin looked more like a character out of a different belief system. The statues originally stood on either side of the main doors. That tickled me. Pluto seemed to be saying, “You’ll be cured, but the price will be your soul.”

Overall the place was kind of run down—Pluto water wasn’t sold anymore, and even when it was doctors derided the claims of its healing powers. A few mornings I went for a swim in the pool which was under a glass dome, missing a few triangular panes here and there. It was also chlorinated–no pluto water there.

Some of the claims made in an advertisement for the resort in  The Hoosier Almanack & Family Magazine, 1912. Source: Google Books

Some of the claims made in an advertisement for the resort in
The Hoosier Almanack & Family Magazine, 1912.
Source: Google Books

There were some modern touches. In the basement I found a small video arcade and couldn’t resist putting a few quarters in the Starship Troopers pinball machine. Well, this isn’t unusual since I can never resist a pinball machine, but that’s another story. The basement also held a small bowling alley and a pizza parlor that, even though it was closed when I was there, could be opened for parties.

There used to be regular railroad service between French Lick and Chicago—thanks Al Capone!—but all that remained of that when I was there was the “railroad museum”, an old rail station where I bought some postcards, and then took a train ride through the Hoosier National Forest to Cuzco, Indiana, a little town less than ten miles away. The conductor talked about the history of French Lick, pointed out the childhood home of Larry Bird–I’m not a basketball fan but that was fun–and shared some colorful stories about the surrounding forest, such as the one about a family of cannibals that had lived there.

The French Lick Resort has been renovated since then. Even though I thought the worn patches were part of its charm I understand why they wanted to update it.

I thought about how much fun it was visiting French Lick when my wife and I made a trip to Ohio on our way to another dog show. The story of that tomorrow.

Advertisement from N.A.R.D. [National Association of Retail Druggists] Notes, v.18 no.6, 1914 Source: Google Books

Advertisement from N.A.R.D. [National Association of Retail Druggists] Notes, v.18 no.6, 1914
Source: Google Books

4 Comments

  1. Gina W

    Hey– I’ve been to the French Lick Resort also! My husband I visited years ago; it was also before the hotel did their big renovation. Wouldn’t it be a coincidence if we were all there at the same time? Honestly, nothing would surprise me. The hotel was nearly completely full when we stayed and we ended up in a small, crappy room right near the noisy elevator. We asked the front desk if we could have a different room. The only room available was room 666. I guess it was the room no one ever wanted. We were OK with sleeping in Satan’s bedroom for one night. When we went to find our room, I remember we wandered the halls for a long time, unable to find the elusive room 666. Finally we realized that there was one room that was missing a room number. Our key unlocked the door. I guess the hotel was so superstitious that they didn’t even want the numbers 666 on display, because I found the metal sixes in a drawer in a bedside table.

    Reply
    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      Wow, that is an interesting coincidence. Were you there in 2000? That’s wonderful that you had room 666 but they didn’t put the numbers on the door. Or maybe the previous guest removed the offending numbers. I guess you didn’t have enough luggage to have a guy from the desk help you carry it to your room. The layout is kind of odd, so I don’t think we would have found our room without help even with the room numbers on the door.

      Reply
  2. Gina

    I’d have to ask my husband if he remembers the year, but it would have been around that time period. Probably somewhere around 2000 to 2003. Good lord, that’s already been a long time ago. I remember having some kind of spa treatment with the sulfur water and being underwhelmed. The hotel was tired and run down and desperately in need of TLC. I was just looking at some updated photos and the place looks really nice now. We might have to make another trip there someday…

    Reply
    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      You likely would have noticed Dalmatians all over the place if you were there at the same time we were.

      Reply

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