Tuesday, November 10, 2015

French Lick in 1944

Sometimes insomnia leads you to interesting discoveries. Tonight, after several hours of fruitless pillow surfing I dug into the Life Magazine archives to while away the midnight hours and I came across a 1944 article about the French Lick spa, what we currently call the West Baden Hotel. Back in the days of World War II, French Lick was slowly passing into obscurity. It'd been a Midwestern hot spot during the Jazz Age, but by black '44 the "It Girls" who'd rouged their knees and caught the midday train from West Baden to the Kentucky Derby had joined the varicose vein club and were more interested in Pluto Springs' purported ability to maintain regularity than catching the eye of the fellows.

Even the staff looks a bit past prime. Hard eyed fellows who looked like they belonged at the sort of sanitarium where the guests aren't allowed to leave whenever they want. It wouldn't be long until the statue of Pluto would be gone from the entryway and the state would be looking for someone to take on the tremendous job of maintaining the hotel and its sprawling grounds.

Eventually a group of Jesuits from Chicago took over the hotel and its grounds. Sometime in the fifties they poured concrete into the springs rather than maintain them, but even with the help of God they couldn't keep the place up. Today all that remains of their attempt is a tiny Jesuit graveyard on the property. It'd take a multi-millionaire with an eye for historic preservation to bring the hotel back to something like it's original glory. I guess money goes where angels can't afford to tread.

Anyway, it was nice to see the place as it used to be - even if it wasn't at its prime. A glimpse of a simpler time whose days were numbered back when this article ran. An ocean away the children or grandchildren of these folks probably were fighting the Nazis or the Japanese. The Grim Reaper was sitting on the veranda, rocking in one of the hotel's famed rocking chairs, and waiting to sweep all of this aside. Time waits for no one and nothing.

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