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Gangster Museum recalls when Capone slept here

By Jack Schnedler

This article was published July 24, 2014 at 2:25 a.m.

Special to the Democrat-Gazette/MARCIA SCHNEDLER A portrait of a Prohibition Era mobster greets visitors to the Gangster Museum of America

HOT SPRINGS -- The famously notorious Al Capone was a ruthless mobster kingpin responsible for a string of gangland murders and a titanic flow of bootleg liquor during Prohibition. He was also a generous tipper, to judge from memories shared with visitors to the Gangster Museum of America.

Located on Central Avenue across from Hot Springs National Park's Bathhouse Row, the museum offers some upbeat recollections regarding Capone's stays in the 1920s and early '30s at the Arlington Hotel.

A long-ago taxicab driver is quoted calling Capone "a big tipper. He once gave me $100 to drive him from the Southern Club to the Arlington." The hotel was virtually across the avenue from the club.

A Hot Springs native whose family worked back then as housekeepers at the Arlington Hotel tells museumgoers via video that the Chicago hoodlum and his men tipped lavishly while being friendly to the staff.

The son of a house detective at the Arlington recounts having caddied for Capone and his brother Ralph at Hot Springs Country Club. The $5 tips they handed out amounted to big bucks back then.

But these were mobsters, don't forget. So visitors also learn that Capone's foursome always included one player without clubs. This underling carried a golf bag that packed only a Tommy gun, just in case.

The Capone Gallery is one of six rooms on the museum's required guided tour, which takes about an hour and costs $12 for adults, $11 for senior citizens, $6 for kids 8-12 (younger children admitted free). Video presentations in each gallery provide the bulk of the information, supplemented by a costumed guide.

Visitors start in the Madden Gallery, devoted to mobster Owen Madden, who transferred his gambling operation to Hot Springs after authorities ordered him out of New York. Madden is described as a quintessential behind-the-scenes operator who strove to avoid the limelight. Actress Mae West once described him as "sweet, but oh so vicious."

The Power Brokers Gallery focuses on the years after Prohibition was repealed in 1933, when Leo Patrick McLaughlin served as mayor and was pivotal in making Hot Springs the prime illegal gambling locale in the United States.

After learning in the Capone Gallery that the Chicago mob boss owned a fourth-floor suite at the Arlington Hotel, visitors move on to the New York Connection Gallery. There they hear about the Hot Springs visits of such Gotham kingpins as Lucky Luciano, Frank Costello and Albert Anastasia. Luciano was arrested on federal orders in 1936 while walking in Hot Springs National Park, which placed him under U.S. jurisdiction.

The Outlaw Gallery features Alvin Karpis, the last of four criminals labeled by the FBI as Public Enemy No. 1. A video recounts his role with common-law wife Grace Goldstein in managing a house of prostitution above the Hatterie, which is now part of the Arlington Hotel. Visitors are told whimsically that "there was a lot more than hats being sold at the Hatterie."

More about the world's oldest profession is conveyed in the Casino Gallery, where a video presents the only known footage of bordello madam Maxine Harris Jones talking about her years in Hot Springs. On display is a roulette wheel of the sort found in many of the 103 gambling establishments that operated here at the height of the city's illegal-gambling era.

And yes, there is a gift shop. No actual Tommy guns are for sale, nor any pairs of loaded dice. But you can buy a deck of playing cards with a gangster motif and tuck a couple of aces up your sleeve.

The Gangster Museum of America, 510 Central Ave., Hot Springs, is open 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Sunday-Thursday, 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Friday-Saturday. Call (501) 318-1717 or visit tgmoa.com.

Weekend on 07/24/2014

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