Featuring: Academics Plus, Atkins, Bigelow, Central Arkansas Christian, Clinton, Concord, Conway, Conway Christian, Conway St. Joseph, Danville, Dardanelle, Dover, Greenbrier, Guy Perkins, Heber Springs, Hector, Maumelle, Mayflower, Morrilton, Mount Vernon-Enola, Nemo Vista, Perryville, Pottsville, Quitman, Russellville, Sacred Heart, Shirley, South Side Bee Branch, Two Rivers, Vilonia, Western Yell County, West Side Greers Ferry, Wonderview.READ ONLINE
Eerie and macabre found along Spa City’s Central AvenuePublished October 27, 2013 at 12:00 a.m.
While today this building holds a store for handmade soaps and scents, at one time it was a fancy tearoom and the scene of the murder of Violet Bowles, a young woman who was followed by a stalker. The building is said to be the home of both the stalker, who taps people on the shoulder just as he did with Violet, and of Violet herself. The storefront is one of the stops along Central Avenue during the Hot Springs Haunted Tour.
A walk down Central Avenue on a warm day is one of the great joys of being in Arkansas. There are the grand bathhouses and quaint old buildings of downtown Hot Springs, tucked between the two mountains that make up the Valley of the Vapors. There are always people talking about the sights, as well as laughter.
But on a cool night when the streets are almost deserted, the darkness seems eerie, especially if the walk is taken as part of the Hot Springs Haunted Tour. The tours are held every night of the week all through the year, unless the weather is bad, but the crisp night air near Halloween seems the perfect time to learn more about Hot Springs’ dark side.
“I came to Hot Springs to photograph some of the old buildings,” said Terry
Riciano, who created and owns Hot Springs Haunted Tours. “After I took the pictures, I was researching the history of the buildings and found out some of the places have a very morbid history.”
Riciano is an artist and a photographer specializing in black-and-white photography, and he said he has researched and been in many of the old buildings in the city, including some that have been empty for decades. During that time, some strange things have happened.
“Many times, I have had my camera turned off while I would step away to open a door or something,” Riciano said. “If you know anything about good cameras, it is hard to turn off a camera; you have to move a switch. It just doesn’t happen automatically.”
As he went through the town taking pictures, he said, the film and digital images he made often carried something extra, like unexplained spots of light, or shadows that might be interpreted as a person who wasn’t there.
Meanwhile, he said, he and his wife fell in love with Hot Springs, and he sold his home and art gallery in Conway and moved to the Spa City.
Along with operating Riciano Gallery on Central Avenue, the new resident started the Haunted Tours.
“I used to do the tour myself, but after a while, I could not work on my pictures or have the gallery,” Riciano said. “I didn’t have a day off for years.”
So he recorded what he said during a tour so that people Riciano hired could learn the stories about the spooky sites and lead their own tours.
“They can make the talk their own, but I’ve checked the facts, and those stay the same,” he said.
On Tuesday night, Jeff Arnold of Hot Springs led the 8 p.m. tour. He said the tour was a job and hobby and that he considers himself a “novice ghost hunter.”
Along for the tour on the quiet weekend were two couples, Marc and Margaret Schnider, on vacation from St. Louis, and Bradley and Jessica Haren, honeymooners from Dallas.
Arnold said he would end with a special marriage ghost story and would include a honeymoon story on the trip. The couple said they were looking forward to hearing the tour’s tales.
The first stop on the tour was at three houses in a row on Court Street just up the hill from Exchange Street.
He said there had been another house there, but it burned after the incidents in the story.
Early in the history of Hot Springs, a man was hired to be a judge for the city. He moved into one of the houses, and his mother and other family members lived in the house next door.
“During those years, there were more than 200 unnecessary deaths — by that I mean murders,” Arnold said.
“The judge told his law-enforcement officers that he could sometimes look the suspects in the eye and tell if they were guilty,” Arnold said. “When that happened, the accused would often be summarily hung from a tree in his backyard.”
“The townfolk were scared,” Arnold said.
So one time, some people were looking for the judge, but he did not answer the knock on his door. According to Arnold’s story, they found the judge in the backyard, where a member of the community was “tied to a tree, begging for his life.”
The police were summoned, and the judge and his family were put on a train, never to return. Soon afterward, the judge’s house burned, and people said the two other houses were evil, and they remained empty for years. Later, when the homes were sold, their residents would soon leave, and the houses would remain vacant for years to come.
By the 20th century, the houses were sold to Maxine Temple Jones, the infamous madam of Hot Springs during the mob era. Although the houses are still named for some of the establishment’s most popular ladies, few stay long in the buildings allegedly made evil by the judge.
The madam asked a team of priests to exorcise the evil in the houses.
“She asked them to bless the houses early in the week,” Arnold said, standing in the street in front of the houses. “She returned on Saturday to find the priests piling into a carriage and returning her money as they quickly left to go back to Dallas.”
Another tour stop was up from the Exchange Place parking lot in town that looked across to Bathhouse Row and the Arkansas Rehabilitation Center, the old Army-Navy Hospital, built in 1933.
While the facility was huge for the day and had a mortuary that could hold 60 bodies, during World War II, thousands of men were wounded and sent to “take the waters” at Hot Springs.
“Soon the hospital was flooded with wounded, many of whom died, not because of anything wrong with their care, but just because of the sheer number of soldiers received,” he said. “More than 800 wounded veterans of the D-Day invasion died at the hospital.”
Soon the time it took to remove the bodies for burial either locally or to their homes across the country slowed to months, and the bodies piled up.
“To this day, they regularly paint the walls of the facility with odor-resistant paint, but the smell returns,” Arnold said. “Some of the soldiers told of feeling the presence of other soldiers who seemed to want their beds for themselves.”
Arnold said he has heard the building scream.
“It is not a human sound and not the wind,” Arnold said. “It seems to come from the building itself. It’s creepy.”
There is a store that sells soap downtown, and Arnold stopped in front of it.
He said that in the early 1900s, the building was a European-style tea room where a young woman named Violet Bowles worked.
“Each day, she would be working, and a young man would some in and tap her on her shoulder and ask her out,” Arnold said. “He was Elmer Jones, and Violet never accepted the invitation. One day, he tapped as Violet turned, and Elmer shot her three times in the face. She fell to the floor.”
According to Arnold, people tell of feeling a tap on the shoulder when no one is near. Once, paint was spilled during a remodeling of the building, and the paint was left for the cleanup crew in the morning.
“The next day, they could see some paint left by a small footprint on the top of a high cabinet,” he said. “The owners had the only key, and no one had broken in.”
As the tour reached the Arlington Resort Hotel, where the newlyweds were staying, Arnold said that while the official word is that the hotel is not haunted, the tour operators hear stories all the time about strange things happening there.
He said one guest told of being followed down the hall by three women who were laughing and talking. As the guest stopped at her room, she looked to see the happy women and saw that she was alone in the hallway.
Another story told of a honeymooning couple who would have the covers pulled from their bed. The woman blamed her husband, who denied that he was doing it. Staying awake, they waited, and soon the covers began to come down, then were ripped off the bed. Both bolted from the room, somewhat undressed, the story goes.
The last stop on the tour was the vacant Majestic Hotel. Arnold told of a story in which a bride-to-be wore her wedding grown all week before the wedding and often sat in the top-floor window looking out to the street. As the hour of the wedding drew close, she could not be found. She was later found in the bushes below. She had fallen or was pushed out of the window, but it was locked from the inside. Arnold said people often report seeing the woman in white. He said he has never seen her, but a member of the tour once reported spotting her before Arnold told the story.
The Ohio Club, the former Savoy Hotel whose empty windows overlook Adair Park and other locations, also carries strange and unexplained stories. One story is that a hole in the front door where the doorknob used to be has cold air blowing from it in all weather. Marc Schnider of St. Louis stuck his hand in the hole and said it didn’t seem much colder than the outside air, but perhaps a little.
The newly married couple from Dallas said they enjoyed the stories about the bride and the flying covers, then said they were returning to their hotel room in the Arlington.
Arnold said he is impressed with the research that has gone into the tour and that he believes all of it.
“Every week, we talk with townspeople or visitors who tell us about something strange that happened,” he said. “I think Hot Springs is one of the most haunted cities in the country. That’s one reason it is such a great place to live.
No one really ever wants to leave.”
Staff writer Wayne Bryan can be reached at (501) 244-4460 or at email@example.com.