(excerpted from the Chapter Steam, Shadows and Smoke, Book One)
Hot Springs was a curious place in 1882. It was a mixed-up sort of place. Fancy in some parts and so natural, steamy, muddy and messy in others. There were grand hotels, fancy carriages and broad promenades for fine ladies and gentlemen to parade up and down on the Avenue. Then there were the shacks across the creeks, or up the hills that served as reminders of what lay underneath and behind the curtain of finery. It was like being in two different worlds at the same time. For every elegant lady with an ostrich plume in her hat entering a grand Hotel Spa, there was a man on homemade crutches who probably hadn’t eaten in days heading to the free Government Baths for the wondrous cures that were offered.
I had never seen so many poor souls, regardless of their financial status, in one place. And it was hard not to stare, which I was constantly corrected to stop doing. Hot Springs could not have been more different than St. Louis if we had moved to the moon. My brother Willis often decried this removal from civilization as unjust.
“My entire future depends on my being in a City,” he’d moan. “Cities are the birthplace of ideas, taste and refinement. This is some purgatory from which one can only work to escape. The steam rising from every crevice is proof enough of how close we are to the Inferno.” He and Dan were already conspiring to escape. Endie and I explored.
Curiosity seekers who delight in hunting up the ill-writ, mis-spelt, ludicrous and startling signs, would find a prolific source of amusement as we did by just looking about. I wrote them all down in my notebook and found a new one almost every day. Every home had a carved and painted name sign, and every shop, farm and wayside fruit stand had signs that might advertise Sausiges sold hear; also Cigars, Ice Cream and Drug Store. Or an alliterative example Sweet Sider, five sents a skooner, or Oranges, pea nuts, summer drinks and Book store. A necromancer on Malvern Avenue had Fortunes told hear, past and further — a unique future as far as a sign is concerned don’t you think?
Rebus signs were everywhere hanging above shop doorways resembling hats or hammers to distinguish the business conducted therein with few words. One of my favorites, a jewelry stores known as The Can was decorated with a proper teapot. Most appropriate because teapots were in constant use here. On any pleasant morning one could see throngs of people on Central Avenue bearing tin cans either filled or about to be filled with hot water from the public fountain supplying spring water.
We had seen medicine shops before in St. Louis, but we had never seen so many. Shops promising in bold window paint and sign boards to cure any ailment, even ones I have still never heard of.
“relief from gout, rheumatism, neuralgia, malarial poisoning, paralysis, Bright’s disease, dropsy, functional diseases of the liver, chronic diarrhea, and chronic skin diseases. Cures for all diseases of the skin, blood, digestive and secretory organs, and nervous afflictions and ailments peculiar to women.”
I was not yet a woman and wondered what this meant. Now as a woman, I can assure you there is nothing peculiar about it.
Doctors office windows along Central Avenue promised further relief with prescription hot water treatments for alcoholism, catarrh, chronic inflammation of the bladder and urethra, chronic ulcers, eczema, gout, hysteria, indigestion, insomnia, kidney and liver troubles, malaria, nervous prostration, locomotor ataxia, paralysis, phthisis, psoriasis, rheumatism, scrofula, stomach diseases, tobacco poisoning, and more.
Are you wondering what the waters didn’t cure?
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WR HEARST PLANS
HOT SPRINGS 1882
A WILLIS POLK GIFT
THE RLS CONNECTION 1896
EARTHQUAKE TALES FROM COPPA
PANDEMIC OF 1889
THE BOMB THAT SHOOK SF
MILAN:CITY OF WATER
POLK ON THE MAP
FEATHERS, FASHION & FLY FISHING
RARE AVIATION FILM - WWI 1914-17
1906 SAN FRANCISCO
WTF FILES - TECHNOLOGICAL
GET ME OUTTA HERE!
NO HORSES, NO TENTS, NO $
DAISY IN FRENCH LITERATURE
DAISY ON FILM!
THE WHITE DEATH
THE SYMBOLISM OF FLOWERS
POSTE DE SECOURS WWI
TRAVEL 1900: LONDON TO PARIS
DAISY: REST IN PEACE
KEITH'S, DRANE'S & KENTUCKY
MOTHER: MISSOURI COMPROMISE