“You must have a high tolerance for boredom.”
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.
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.