Probing Hot Springs

The "healing waters" of Hot Springs, Arkansas have been attracting the ailing and agile alike for centuries. And Veronica was one of them, chomping at the bit for a bit of pampering, a massage and an inside look at one of the world-famous bathhouses. But first, a stop at one of those cheesy tourist diversions we're so fond of.

Hot Springs is not exactly the big city, but I wouldn't call it tiny either. It is however, home to Tiny Town. More than just a town, Tiny Town is its own little world, all made out of cast off scraps, odds and ends, whatchamacallits and whatnot gathered by Frank Moshinskie over decades, then recycled into a wondrous miniature landscape. Frank began building the scenes as a teenager and never stopped.

Tucked away in an old residential corner of Hot Springs, we found Tiny Town well off the beaten path. Since Frank has passed on to his reward -- to the not-so-tiny town in the sky -- the presentation is carried on by his son and daughter-in-law, Charles and Barbara Moshinskie. Barbara was there to greet us and promptly began the story of how the collection grew and took on a life of its own.

Everything from old west storefronts to modern airports come to life as the scenes are animated with elaborate systems of cables and pulleys. Frank connected the conglomeration to discarded motors from junked washing machines, old barbeque rotisseries, defunct record players -- anything he could get his hands on.

Through the years he recreated

his family and friends -- and celebrities -- to populate his little world. We had to look close, but sure enough, there were Dolly Parton and Willie Nelson walking along with Mr. T. Now that's not something we see everyday!

As we made our way around the display, Barbara pointed out the highlights. She kindly included us in the show, “Push that button in front of you.” We did, and a part of the town sprang into motion. Push another and trains begin to roll. Hey, who doesn't like that?

Hog heaven, I'd say. Veronica practically had to pry me away

from playing master-of-all-I-surveyed. Starting and stopping the Ferris Wheel, the guy chopping wood, an airplane, cars, dogs barking -- yes-- I was controlling anything that moved. I could turn on lights in the houses and buildings -- even in an outhouse -- there was no stopping me.

Barbara didn't mind, she'd seen it all before. Everyone, regardless of age, is transformed into a kid at Tiny Town. I think Frank would be happy.

Once my fingers began to ache, I started to snap out of the trance. Veronica, still bit-chomping, was ready for some bathhouse babying. She had a point -- I pried my trigger finger away to go check out the springs, since they are the whole reason Hot Springs exists.

Humans have been taking in the waters of Hot Springs for their healing powers as far back as history can record. Long before Hernando de Soto came along to claim the area for Spain, the Quapaw, Caddo, Cherokee, Choctaw, and many other tribes enjoyed these springs. Native Americans called this The Valley of the Vapors and hostilities were left aside while partaking of the 140-plus degree healing waters.

Later, bathhouses were built over the springs, drawing folks from far and wide to partake in the perceived curative properties of the waters. And still they come, drinking and/or bathing to cure what ails them.

By 1832 the springs were so popular that the federal government decided to declare the area a protected reservation, making it the oldest federal reserve in the nation. Later it
became a National Park. Through the years an array of grand bathhouses developed into the famed Bathhouse Row that is now a part of the park.

These stately spas are preserved in fine detail and several are still in operation, so we certainly had to check out the inside of one. The Fordyce Bathhouse now serves as the National Park Visitors Center, so it was the obvious choice. We wandered in, were handed a map and shown the way for the self-guided tour.

Rambling around, we gawked at the stunning stained glass ceiling of the Roman style men's baths, sat in the locker rooms, checked out the old tubs and steam boxes, and generally enjoyed a glimpse into a bygone era.

Then we went upstairs.

Things changed.

At some point along the way, someone decided that the water alone wasn't good enough. Nope, tools -- really scary tools -- were necessary to supplement the healing powers of the hot springs. We had stumbled upon what looked like a Frankenstein movie torture chamber.
Mortified by the collection, we still had to look. Good God, that one has an electric plug! I don't even want to think what a long glass tube with a 120 volt plug out the back could be used for. I actually started getting a queasy feeling deep in my innards. Things were skrintching up a good bit. Orifices were tightening in a precautionary manner, with the hope of preventing any unwanted insertions.

I moved ahead while Veronica stood frozen in either shock or wonder. She had to be scared, but what I found in the Women's Hydrotherapy Room wasn't going to reduce her fears any. It looked like it should be on top of a fire engine.

She rounded the corner and stood face-to-face with a large box containing several firehose-like nozzles protruding from one side, and a bevy of levers, knobs, pedals, valves, gauges and dials on the other. The whole room was tiled and waterproofed, so obviously the idea was
to soak down the patient until whatever afflicted them drowned -- or begged for mercy. Hey, I'd be begging as soon as Igor touched that first knob.

If this was the stuff they showed the public, I'd hate to think what's behind some of those locked doors. Oh gee, look at the time, we ought to get going.

The whole ordeal had us a bit shaky, so we found a regular, no-tools-required massage for Veronica while I went in search of a malt beverage to calm my nerves.

I decided to go for a shot of the

steamy medicinal elixir bubbling up out of the ground instead.
I'm much better now.

No wonder people keep coming here.

David & Veronica,

Did you know that Hot Springs hosts the World's Shortest St. Patrick's Day Parade?


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