We awoke to the beautiful blooming dogwoods of Oklahoma and hit the road for our next national park: Hot Springs, Arkansas.
We would find this park most unusual, and overwhelming to my female constitution.
The visitor center was definitely the most beautiful of all the ones we have visited thus far. Housed in the old Fordyce Bathhouse (reviewed as the best in Hot Springs in 1915), visitors get to travel back in time and see the strange history of bathing in America.
The stream fed by the springs is actually located under Hot Spring’s main promenade, Central Avenue, and springs feed into two remaining bathhouses. I thought I’d be able to see a steaming pool or two, but alas, the only hot water you can view comes up from the basement of the Fordyce.
The Hot Springs, like most things enjoyed by the natives in America, were “discovered” and taken over by white settlers. By 1921, the Hot Springs Reservation (set aside by Congress in 1832), had become popular with vacationers and those seeking better health. It became the 18th National Park, but by the 1960’s, due to the decline of traditional bathing, many of the bathhouses fell into disrepair. It was an interesting experience visiting a park that mainly preserves history. I wonder if one day it will be demoted to a national historic site.
The place is a mix of the zany and bizarre crossed with tried and true home remedy. Let us take you on a tour of bathing in America after the turn of the century.
The needle shower below looks like a medieval torture device, but was just high pressured water hitting the body at many angles. Still kind of freaked Ryan out.
The Buckstaff (a bathhouse in use today) still offers the needle shower. I asked Ryan if he’d like to go and try it out. It was a resounding “no.”
The machine below (also still offered at the Buckstaff) is a giant body sauna. I understand the idea, but personally I feel hesitant about my body being locked in a metal box while sweating out toxins.
We tried to heal my female hysteria, but were unsuccessful.
My favorite room was the Chiropody because feet need some loving too.
We found some useful information that my brother, Stefan can incorporate into his patients’ healing protocol.
Nothing like a good ol’ knuckle punch to get you moving again.
If your feet were feeling good but you wanted a little TLC, you might get a full body massage with some questionable electrical equipment.
We also got to view the modest swimwear of a gal about to be craned down into a tub.
If you weren’t being water boarded and had full mobility, you might be scrubbed down by a lady wearing this attire:
There was a definite race element to bathing, as all the pictures we saw had white bathers and black workers. It made us feel kind of gross, which was a great appetizer for our next stop at the National Civil Rights Museum, but that’s another post.
Let us continue with our tour of white privilege bathing in America.
You wouldn’t be able to complete your healing at the bathhouse without adding a layer of chemicals to your freshly detoxed head. After drying out on the shadow deck (no one would dare tempt their creamy skin’s fate in the sun), and getting decked out, you might listen to piano with other members of the weaker sex.
Maybe beauty wasn’t your thing. Maybe you were a strapping man in search of vitality and/or virility. In that case, you might work out on some leather gym equipment, or take up some wooden juggling sticks for exercise.
Whatever your reason- arthritis, jaundice, weak character- the bathhouse row had a cure for you. I know we don’t put a lot of stock in bathing today, but coming from a gal who hasn’t bathed in three days, there is something close to miraculous about a little soap and hot water.