On the Baseball Trail in Historic Hot Springs

Every summer, Hollywood pitches a new film about baseball to American moviegoers.  Although the sport isn’t as popular as it once was, Americans still regard it as their ‘game’ and the nostalgia for baseball’s golden age sets in.  This year’s baseball film entry is ’42’.  I finally had the chance to see it the other night and it hit a home run in my book.  It’s a solid baseball biography about the legendary Jackie Robinson and Brooklyn Dodgers team owner Branch Ricky who had the courage to add Robinson to his roster of players.  The only fault I found with the film is that it wasn’t made long before now.

Ball players from baseball's major league teams arrived for spring traiing by train. The station is still in use today and houses display cases of baseball memorabilia.
Ball players from baseball’s major league teams arrived for spring traiing by train. The station is still in use today and houses display cases of baseball memorabilia.

As I watched, I thought of my recent visit to Hot Springs, Ark.  Before World War II, Hot Springs hosted most of baseball’s biggest teams for spring training.  The teams arrived by train and included the Chicago White Stockings (later to be the Cubs), the Cincinnati Reds, the Boston Red Sox, the Pittsburg Pirates and, of course, the Brooklyn Dodgers.  At its height, Hot Springs had five fields where as many as 250 players came to train.  Cy Young, Smokey Joe Wood, Walter Johnson, Babe Ruth,Joe DiMaggio, Satchel Paige, Dizzy Dean and yes, Jackie Robinson, were among the greats who trained or played in Hot Springs during its golden years of spring training.  In fact, more than half of baseball’s Hall of Famers trained there at some point during their careers.

They were attracted by the area’s natural mineral waters that gurgle up from inside the earth at 143 degrees. Native Americans first enjoyed the healing properties of the thermal waters. Soaking in the hot springs became part of the baseball player’s daily regimen during spring training in Hot Springs. Prior to or after a practice or game, players would take a plunge at one of the turn-of-the-century bathhouses located on the city’s Bathhouse Row.

Built at the turn of the 20th century, the bathhouses of Hot Springs were elaborate palaces for those who came to  'take the baths.'
Built at the turn of the 20th century, the bathhouses of Hot Springs were elaborate palaces for those who came to ‘take the baths.’

All of the historic buildings are now managed by the National Park Service.  (The area became a National Park  in 1921.)  These grand bathhouses, each with their own architectural style, were built by promoters in an effort to outdo one another and attract those who sought relief in the mineral waters. Only two still function as spas. The Buckstaff retains a traditional style treatment with men’s and women’s tubs located on separate floors.

The four baths at the Quapaw Bathhouse lie beneath stained glass skylights.
The four baths at the Quapaw Bathhouse lie beneath stained glass skylights.

The Quapaw was renovated and reopened in 2008 as a full-service spa with four co-ed soaking pools that range  from 99 to 104 degrees.  Like many who come here, I relaxed in the tubs after a refreshing massage.

Flags fly over the entrance that  welcomes guests to the Arlington Hotel.
Flags fly over the entrance that welcomes guests to the Arlington Hotel.

My friends and I also enjoyed a cool drink in the lobby lounge of the historic Arlington Hotel, located at the end of Bathhouse Row.  The grand old hotel remains a popular stop for travelers, just as it was in the heyday of spring training.  It too has its own bath house for guests.

On another day, you can take the self-guided tour of the Baseball Trail, just as I and my friend did.  At each of the 26 stops, a pre-recorded message, delivered on your cell phone by punching in a special code, takes you back to the bygone days of baseball.  At stop number 11, in front of the Arkansas Alligator Farm, you learn that Babe Ruth knocked a 573-foot homer from Whittington Park, once located across the street ,to that spot and and became baseball’s first 500-foot plus drive.  The astonishing hit remains remarkable even today.  Stop 21 is designated for Jackie Robinson who played an exhibition game at the Jaycee Field in 1953.

Stop number 18 salutes the start of spring training in Hot Springs in 1886.

Although the major leaguers left Hot Springs shortly after the  U.S. entered World War II in 1942, the hot, soothing waters of Hot Springs, Ark. continue to draw tourists who want to experience the bathing ritual as so many before them have done.  Some even fill bottles with the scalding water from the fountains found on the street in order to take  piece of Hot Springs, and a little of its history, home with them.

See more of  my photos of historic Hot Springs on my blog’s Portfolio page. http://cherylcrooksphotography.wordpress.com/portfolio/  Learn more about the historic Baseball Trail at http://www.hotspringsbaseballtrail.com/begin-your-journey/

All Aboard!

Today is National Train Day.   I have a long history, as well as a love, with passenger trains.  I grew up in a town where the Missouri-Kansas-Texas railroad had its regional headquarters. The company was one of the largest employers in town.  Two beautiful, brown brick three-story buildings owned by the railroad sat in the middle of town. One housed the company’s regional offices, the second was the station.  I still remember the marble floors, the tall, pane glass windows and wooden oak benches of its interior.

Sarah had just returned from spending a semester studying abroad in Europe and missed the trains that she took there to travel. When I suggested we stage her senior portrait in the old train station, she instantly loved the idea.
Sarah had just returned from spending a semester studying in Europe and missed the trains that she took there to travel. When I suggested we stage her senior portrait in the old train station, she instantly loved the idea.

Many passengers departed from this station; soldiers on their way to the World War II, sisters on their way to visit family in Kansas City or Chicago, or kids, like me, taking a short ride to the town only 20 miles away just so I could spend the day with a girlfriend.

Sarah was in search of a setting with a Bellingham landmark for her senior portrait.  The beautiful orange brick round towers of the abandoned Georgia-Pacific plant seemed ideal made even more perfect when  when the Amtrak made an appearance!
Sarah was in search of a setting with a Bellingham landmark for her senior portrait. The beautiful orange brick round towers of the abandoned Georgia-Pacific plant seemed ideal made even more perfect when when the Amtrak made an appearance!

On another occasion, my aunt bravely packed me at age 7 and my brother, age 4, onto the train for a cross-country trip to the coast of Oregon.  And what a trip it was.  I took lots of black and white snapshots with my Brownie Hawkeye as we passed through farmland, cr ossed mountains androde through ranches until we reached the spectacular shores of the Pacific Ocean.

The old train stations evoke a nostalgia of a romantic travel time gone by, at least in many parts of the country.  How wonderful if this country could have as many high-speed passenger trains as elsewhere in the world.  Perhaps as gas prices continually rise and fuel for cars becomes even more expensive, trains will once again come into widespread use and get people where they need to go.

Ferenc was safely perched on a pile of rusty old iron pieces when the Amtrak's train to Seattle went whizzing by.
Ferenc was safely perched on a pile of rusty old iron pieces when the Amtrak’s train to Seattle went whizzing by.

I love to stage photo sessions in the historic train station here in Bellingham whenever possible and always with permission. In recent years, there has been a trend among some photographers to use railroad tracks as a background.  This has been an especially popular location among the high school seniors.  I explain to my senior clients who come in with that idea in mind that it’s dangerous to shoot on the tracks and refuse to shoot on an active train track.  I have safe spots where I  shoot where the trains or the tracks are in the background.  But again, you must be extremely cautious even in these situations.

So here’s a big salute to National Train Day and all the choo-choos that pass your way!