Thursday, May 21, 2020

HGB Ep. 337 - French Lick and West Baden Springs Resorts

Moment in Oddity - Fake Hero Dog
Suggested by: Darren Koch

Dogs are great aren't they? They are loyal companions and smart too! Maybe too smart sometimes. Back in the early 1900s in Paris, there was a really clever Newfoundland. These are really big dogs, so it's not hard to believe that a Newfoundland could pluck a child from a river to save him or her from drowning. And that's just what happened on a particular day in 1908. This dog heard the cries of a child who had fallen into the Seine and was drowning. He jumped a hedge and plunged into the water and pulled the child to the shore. The child's grateful parents rewarded the dog with a nice juicy beefsteak. Two days after this amazing rescue, another child had fallen into the river and was drowning. The Newfoundland was off to the rescue once again and was rewarded with another beefsteak. A few days later, another child had fallen into the river and thankfully, the brave dog conducted another rescue. The people of the town were concerned at this point. This was not normal to have so many children falling into the river this close together. They assumed that a criminal was pushing the children, so they set up a sting to catch the culprit and they were shocked when they caught him. It was the dog! He figured out after the first rescue that a drowning child pulled from the river equaled a beefsteak. When he saw a child near the river, he would push the child in and then promptly rescue him or her. A hero dog that turns out to be a fake because he is causing the emergency, certainly is odd!

This Month in History - American Airlines Flight 191 Crashes

In the month of May, on the 25th, in 1979, the worst domestic air crash in U.S. history occurred. This was American Airlines Flight 191 that had taken off from Chicago-O’Hare International airport heading for its destination in Los Angeles. The plane was a DC-10 with 271 souls aboard. Flight 191 took off in its usual way and was banking into its takeoff rotation when the left engine separated from the left wing. This separation sliced into hydraulic fluid lines and as the engine flew over the top of the wing and back down to the runway, it damaged the left wing. This caused the plane to be unbalanced and it inverted with the wings past the vertical position and the nose dipped below the horizon. The plane crashed down into a field about a half-mile from the runway. This killed on 271 people on board the plane and also two people in a nearby trailer park. An investigation revealed that the engine had undergone some recent maintenance and the use of forklift to hold the engine and then return it back to its position on the wing had caused damage that resulted in the engine breaking away during takeoff. It took 32 years before a permanent memorial was made and a sixth grade class from Decatur Classical School in Chicago raised the money in 2009. The memorial was dedicated in 2011 and features the names of the victims on interlocking bricks on a 2-foot high concave wall. Last year, 2019, a special remembrance ceremony was held because it was the 40th anniversary of this tragic crash.

French Lick and West Baden Springs Resorts (Suggested by: Danielle Daniels)

When it comes to gorgeous hotels, the French Lick Springs Resort is at the top of the list and is one of the most beautiful buildings in all of Indiana. Just a mile away is an even more impressive resort, the West Baden Springs Resort. This hotel was once considered one of the eighth wonders of the world. Both of these resorts shared mineral springs that were believed to have healing qualities and they both are considered two of the most haunted locations in Indiana. Join us as we explore the history and hauntings of the French Lick and West Baden Springs Resorts!

French Lick is a town in southern Indiana that became well known for its mineral springs. The town was originally called Salt Spring and it started as a French trading post. The name eventually changed to French Lick most likely because this had started out as a French property and there were mineral licks nearby. Apparently, back at that time, French Lick didn't have the same giggle-inducing effect. *Fun Fact: This is Larry Bird's home town* Just as was the case for Manitou Springs that was the topic of our last episode, a doctor came through the area and realized the benefits of the mineral springs there. His name was Dr. William Bowles and in 1845, he built the French Lick Springs Hotel. This original hotel was made from wood and stood three stories. He attracted hundreds of people to come from all around to partake of the healing waters of the nearby springs. In 1897, everything almost went bust when the springs dried up in a drought. Then a fire burned down the Hotel Windsor on the property.

The French Lick Hotel that stands today was built by Mayor Tom Taggart. He bought the property with a small group of investors in 1901. He put yellow French Lick brick over the wood frame. There are several architectural styles represented here with the main hotel being the Free Classic subtype of Queen Anne Victorian. There are also 19th and 20th century Revival Italian Renaissance stylings and the golf shop is a Craftsman bungalow. Architect W. Homer Floyd designed the hotel. The foundation is limestone with brick, wood, asphalt, terra cotta and metal for the walls and roof. The main building is built in a T-shape with 471 rooms. One step inside the two-story lobby and you are mesmerized. The word "gorgeous" barely does it justice. There were originally Victorian influences, but these were exchanged for the Italian Renaissance and the floors are Italian marble mosaic. There are several structural pillars and pilasters that are painted either white or painted to look like marble. There are ceiling beams embellished with dentils and modillions. Much of this dates back to a renovation done in 1911.

There is so much to the property with the main hotel building and other outbuildings and gardens, that it took 95 pages for the National Park Service to describe everything. The hotel also has a golf course that was originally designed by Donald Ross. There was a wood framed casino and bowling alley that have been demolished. Taggart was able to bring more people to the resort after convincing the Monon Railroad to build a track that made daily runs from Chicago right to the hotel. There was also a trolley line added and Taggart is responsible for bringing electricity to French Lick. He also started his own mineral springs water bottling company he called Pluto Spring and began distributing the French Lick spring water nationally. They were shipping 450 car loads on the rail lines every year. One of the taglines of the Pluto water as "When Nature Won't...Pluto Will" describing its laxative affect. There are several springs in the area and each seems to have its own mix of elements reflected in its name. For example, the Lithia Spring contains lithium oxide. *Fun Fact: Chef Louis Perrin created the first tomato juice drink in 1917 when the resort ran out of oranges and couldn't serve orange juice.*

Diane has never golfed, but Kelly used to go with her dad many times. One of the things that French Lick became well-known for is golf. Taggart hired golf course architect Tom Bendelow to design the resort's first championship golf course. They named it Springs Valley Golf Links Course and it was completed in 1910. Seven years later, golf architect Donald Ross built the second course here and it was called French Lick Springs Golf Course. This is most commonly referred to as The Hill Course. In 1924, the PGA Championship was held at this course.

We like to talk about the Roaring Twenties, at least until Covid -19 hit, and the hotel had it's own roaring feel during that decade with guests like the Rockefellers, the Studebakers sports legends, the Vanderbilts, movie stars like Lana Turner and gangsters all staying at the hotel. Before there was a Las Vegas, illegal gambling was going on in the Springs area. Taggart didn't like gambling, but he enjoyed the benefits he received from it and he protected it. Taggart died in 1929 and his son Thomas D. Taggart, Jr. took over and kept things going. The French Lick Springs Hotel rose to prominence in the 1930s when Taggart Jr. became the Democratic National Chairman and in 1931, the hotel hosted the Democratic Governor’s Conference. It would be here that Franklin Delano Roosevelt would drum up support for the party’s presidential nomination and he was elected in 1932. Taggart Jr. also hosted President Truman and his wife at the hotel.

The French Lick Hotel was sold on Nov. 29, 1946 to a syndicate out of New York City. Not long after this, the police raided the hotel and shut down the illegal gambling. This was called the Derby Weekend Raid on illegal gambling. The derby part referred to the Kentucky Derby and guests arrived back to the hotel after the festivities to find the hotel chained and padlocked. The Sheraton Corporation bought French Lick in 1955 and they remodeled, so they could target convention business. The changes they made were ugly to say the least as they covered the beautiful mosaic floors with black and white linoleum square tiles and carpet. The ornate plaster cornices were covered up too. Sheraton sold the property in 1979 to the Cox Hotel Corporation of New York. And this would be the case for years with the hotel changing ownership over and over. There would be a time in the 1980s when villas were added as part of timeshare packages.

Thankfully, Luther James had the winning bid at an auction of French Lick in 1991. He launched a restoration shortly thereafter to return the hotel to its glory days and updated all the guest rooms. When he was nearly done, he sold it to the Boykin Lodging Group in 1997 and they finished the refurbishment. The next ownership would begin in 2005, but we'll wait to tell you about that because this same person bought the West Baden Springs Resort at the same time and we haven't told you about that hotel yet. This hotel was built in 1850 by Dr. John Lane and is about a mile away from the French Lick Resort. The West Baden was originally called the Mile Lick Inn and it served the same purpose of bringing people to come bathe in and drink the healing mineral water of the springs. The name was later changed to West Baden Springs after the famous mineral springs in Wiesbaden, Germany. Dr. Lane sold the property to Lee W. Sinclair in 1888. Sinclair made several additions including a couple of golf courses, ball field, a church, opera house and double-decker horse and bicycle track. On the inner part of the track, Sinclair added a baseball field and tennis courts.

The grand hotel that stands today with the world's largest free-span dome was not the original hotel. That burned to the ground in 1901, so Sinclair built this better one and modeled it after spas found in Europe with the help of architect Harrison Albright of West Virginia. Because of that spectacular dome, this has been called the "Eighth Wonder of the World." Incredibly, the hotel and dome were built in less than a year using techniques that were used to build suspension bridges. That dome wasn't the only big thing about the West Baden. The fireplace in the lobby could burn 14-foot logs inside and there was a 220-foot diameter atrium. *Fun Fact: That atrium was large enough to host the Hagenbeck-Wallace Circus one year.* (1918 train fire in Hammond, Indiana.) The hotel opened for business in 1902. Major league baseball teams would train here and the Chicago Cubs did that on their two runs to winning the World Series in 1907 and 1908. And my, how long it took to get back to that. Perhaps they should've trained there all along.

Lee Sinclair died in 1916 and the business passed on to his daughter, Lillian, and her husband . The hotel was leased to the military as a hospital during World War I. Lillian and her husband did some renovations after this that cost more than they expected and in 1923 they sold the hotel to Ed Ballard. And while the French Lick Resort was maneuvered deftly by Taggart Jr. through the Great Depression, the same would not happen for the West Baden. When the Stock Market crashed in 1929, the hotel emptied out almost overnight. Ballard was draining money fast and wanted to unload the property, which is just what he did. He sold the grand hotel to the Jesuits, the Society for Jesus, for...$1. The turned the hotel into a seminary and removed many of the elegant embellishments, including the four Moorish towers. They called the seminary the West Baden College and it would stay that way until 1962 when the Jesuits abandoned the property and it sat empty until 1966 when a Michigan couple bought the property and donated it to the Northwood Institute, a private college. They operated until 1985 and sold to a real estate developer who shortly thereafter declared bankruptcy and this left the property in limbo for years with litigation.

Even though the West Baden Resort managed to get listed on the National Historic Landmark register, there was no one taking care of it and the elements hit it hard. Things became so unsafe that the public was banned from entering starting in 1989 and by 1991, a portion of the exterior wall had collapsed. There was a real danger of demolition, but Indiana Landmarks stepped in to save the property and they managed to stabilize it enough to attract buyers. Minnesota Investment Partners would be that next buyer in 1994 and they optioned it to Grand Casinos Inc. But it wouldn't be until 2005, that the French Lick and West Baden would come together under joint ownership and both be developed back into the gorgeous properties that they are today. Bill and Gayle Cook and their son Carl under their partnership Cook Group, Inc. bought both properties and they invested multi-millions of dollars to renovate. This endeavor had actually started earlier when Indiana Landmarks initially started the stabilization. The Cooks funded that with $2 million.

Gambling was legal at this point and the French Lick got the last casino license in the state of Indiana. The French Lick reopened in 2006 with the addition of the French Lick Casino. The Hill Course was also refurbished and reopened and in 2007, the restoration of the West Baden Resort was completed. In 2014, trolley service was brought back and runs between the two hotels. After $600 million, the hotels are back to their former glory and it would seem that several of the spirits from that glorious past are still hanging around the property. Both of these resorts are reputedly haunted.

Before we get into that though, you know we like to talk about legends and there is one connected to the West Baden that is a bit of a mystery. The story goes that the giant medallion that is at the center of the dome when you look up, is not just a pretty embellishment. This was actually a bandstand that could go up and down. At least, that is according to some older folks who claimed to have witnessed the medallion going up and down with the help of cables and that indeed, there would be a band that was playing on that bandstand. The Springs Valley Herald looked into the claims of this descending bandstand in 1981 and they concluded that there was no way that this medallion could function that way. So what's the truth to this mystery? Did the medallion at the center of the world's eighth wonder have the ability to go up and down? There is no photographic evidence. Carl Cook investigated the claims during renovations and he found a lot of steel that was very solidily attached. There are mirrors that go all around the inner part of the medallion that are part of a light show that dates back to 1917. Before renovations, those mirrors had turned black and so it's possible that people thought they were chairs for a bandstand. But what about the eyewitnesses. Diane listened to their stories and they seemed pretty certain of what they had seen. So I guess we'll just have to leave that mystery up to you guys to decide. One thing we know for sure though is that there are angels painted up above the medallion and they watch over the atrium even though nobody can actually see them. We think they are pretty creepy. We have several pictures of them up on Instagram.

Now for the ghosts! We'll start at the French Lick Hotel. Hellanormal Investigations did an investigation at the French Lick Resort about three months ago. They had an EMF detector like ours and a spirit box that did have a few words and phrases, but it's so hard to tell if this is legit or just words and songs coming over the radio. They also had something that looked similar to a REM pod that would light green for yes, red for no and pulse blue while it waited for EMF flares. Twice when they asked if Thomas Taggart was with them, it lit up red. While we're not sure we would say they captured evidence, their chance of interacting with Taggart is a possibility according to many witnesses. He loved this hotel and that seems to be something that holds spirits to a location. It also seems to either be love of a location or tragedy at a location.

Taggart seems to like hanging out at the service elevator. The scent of tobacco is smelled near the elevator, which is attributed to him, and Taggart runs the elevator sometimes. He'll stop it on floors that haven't been called and sometimes buttons will light up on their own. People claim to see a mist near the elevator too. Strangely, witnesses have claimed to see Taggart riding a horse in the ballroom or down hallways. The ballroom has the residual sound of parties heard. A former African-American bellhop appears as a full-bodied apparition near his former work station. When guests see him and then ask about him, they will point to him in old hotel photos. Employees claim that they get phone calls from the sixth floor with no one on the other end. It is this floor that is said to be the most haunted. There are cold spots here, shadow figures and disembodied laughter. A woman killed herself on her wedding night in a room on the sixth floor and in that room is a red stain that appears in the bathtub and the cleaning staff has a hard time removing it, only to have it reappear later. Room 521 has a spirit that scatters clothing around and turns on the shower.

Ed wrote on the Ghosts of America website, "My wife and I stayed one night on the 4th floor around four years ago in May 2014. We were unfamiliar with the hotel and its reputation. A friend gave us the trip as a getaway golf outing. That night I awoke in the middle of the night (around 1 or 2 am) and heard sobbing coming from the bathroom. I figured it was Elaine, but I couldn't guess why. After a few minutes of this she reached up to the toilet stool handle and began jiggling it. Metal on porcelain makes a very distinctive sound. The room was semi-dark, the bathroom darker, and the water-closet pitch dark. I got up and went to the bathroom to ask what was wrong. I looked around the corner to the water-closet and spoke ''Elaine?'' There was no response. The sobs and noise had stopped when I got out of bed. I went back to bed and slowly reached across the mattress and found that my wife was still sleeping on the bed. I didn't get back up. I decided that I am a Christian and that if something was to happen, I was confident that all would be okay. Then I went back to sleep until morning."

The West Baden Resort is full of haunts. The crash of the Stock Market caused some people to commit suicide at the resort. There are those who claim to see residual scenes of people jumping from the higher floors. Connected to this is some evidence that has been captured over the years. There is an EVP that was captured of a female voice saying, "He's gone, it's gone." Another EVP captured a man saying, "I've lost everything." There is a female apparition that is seen in the atrium wearing a period dress that is quite elaborate. The second and third floors are said to have the most activity. There are green orbs of light that have been seen and there is an apparition of a man wearing a bowler hat that has been seen. His clothing is said to date from the early 1900s. Disembodied footsteps are heard in the hallways and guests claim to have something knock on their doors, but when they open the door, there is no one and nothing there. Shadow figures have been seen in the basement at night. And most troubling, some guests claim that they have been pushed.

Brenda wrote of her stay at the West Baden Resort on Ghosts of America website, "My husband and I just stayed a couple of nights at the West Baden Resort. The hotel is absolutely beautiful, and we really enjoyed our stay. There is an elevator right off the atrium lobby just down from where you check in. This appears to be an original elevator of the hotel. It has glass windows that overlook the dome. On several occasions when we reached the 6th floor the door would open, and there would be an overwhelming smell of roses that hit you as soon as you stepped off. There was no denying the smell, but as soon as you turned to go down the hallway towards the room the smell would disappear. I didn't think much of it at first, but this happened every time we would go to or get off this particular elevator. This only occurred in the evening hours. Never during the day. We never had this happen on any of the other elevators. We finally asked one of the staff if they had anyone else notice this, and she herself had. She indicated that one of the former owners wife had passed away, and she would always bathe in the evening and always had rose petals in her bath water. We never felt threatened or scared at the hotel, but we definitely believe there are spirits roaming the halls of this, which I will call 'the 8th wonder of the world.'"

Don wrote on the same website, "My nephew and I were walking on the lawn by the swimming pool last autumn about 10:30 pm and I had the strangest feeling and turned about and saw the shadow of a very old gentleman standing by one of the trees when we approached him he vanished. A very moving experience that neither frightened myself or my nephew but one we continue to ponder."

Apparently, there are spirits of some of the Jesuits still here too. Judith wrote, "I saw my first ghost at the West Baden Hotel when it was still Northwood Institute of Indiana. I had awakened from a deep sleep to see a figure that looked like a monk in a long robe with the hood up. The next day my roommate and I asked our security guard, Will, who was a local resident, if he had ever heard a story of one of the Jesuits having died of anything other than natural causes. The Jesuits had a college there before NI, and some are buried on the property in the little cemetery on the hill. He said there was a story of one of the Jesuits falling down the steps and breaking his neck. Our room was right by the stairs. Other than that I was never afraid my two years living there. In fact I never wanted to leave. I continued to come back and stay at the French Lick Resort and go on over fifty tours of WBS at its worst and now at its best. When the renovations on the hotel were still going on I took my daughter and two friends on a 'ghost hunting tour' on Halloween in 2002. I made the reservation for the last tour, so we would be there at midnight. While on the tour I was asked by my daughter to tell my college story. After I finished the story, one of the 'ghost hunters' said, 'ahhh, the monk.' I was really surprised because I had never heard of anyone else saying they had seen the monk. After the tour we stopped to use the restroom before leaving. We entered to see a young boy in the women's restroom, a few young people were asking questions. As they did, the lights overhead went on and off in response to the questions. They thought they were talking to Lillian Sinclair. I went on another tour in 2005 in the daytime. As we were leaving, we stopped by the restroom. As I told the story to my friend, Michele, she opened the door confidently, but as she stepped in some of the lights went out, and she hightailed it out of there, almost knocking me down. At the French Lick Springs Hotel when they were doing their renovations in 2005, my daughter's boyfriend got off on the wrong floor, and it was one that was closed off for construction. He said he saw a little boy by himself. He tried to talk to the boy, but he turned and ran away."

A hotel worker claimed to have a weird experience, "I work at the West Baden Hotel as a cleaner. After being there for a few weeks, I was cleaning the library up wiping tables when I noticed out of the corner of my eyes something moving. Out of the middle window a rocking chair was rocking on its own. Among all the other ones that were dead still across the porch; it just kept going. Wind was barely even blowing, and no one was on the porch recently. I wanted a better look, so I walked around the other side of the room losing my line of sight with it passing the first window. Then in my head thinking 'is it just gonna stop?' I looked out the 2nd window, and it has stopped. Dead stopped. Freaked me out. I made my way to exit out of one of the doors again and looked back to see if it would move again. All the sudden, one of the wall lamps started flickering faintly next to that window, and I felt my body shudder from the waist up accompanied with goose bumps. Oh god. It drove me out of there walking very fast toward the safety of the atrium. This was around 12 noon fall of this year."

Ed wrote, "I visited the hotel about 2 years ago along with my wife and daughter. My wife and I were admiring the prints of the angels (smaller copies of the paintings found inside the dome) in the main hallway. Suddenly my wife says ''stop it! ''. I turned to see her circling around with a confused look. She told me that someone had strongly tugged on her ponytail. At the time of the tugging I was standing at the other end of the row of pictures and our daughter was at least 10 feet away in a lounge chair--both of us well out of reach!"

The elevator here seems to be haunted too. Anonymous wrote, "My husband and I stayed at the West Baden Springs hotel... It's absolutely gorgeous and the service is fantastic. I told my husband that I thought the hotel was haunted. After he did the historic tour he came back and said that ghost trackers visit the hotel every year - confirming my suspicion. When we left yesterday the elevator stopped on the first floor but the door would not open. We were pressing various buttons and nothing happened... All the sudden the elevator went to the second floor - the door never opened and than by itself went back down to the first floor."

Tabitha wrote, "Two years ago my mother, myself, my daughter, and a friend of ours were staying at west Baden hotel. My daughter was 8 years old at the time and she reports seeing a full body apparition leaning over our friend it was about 5:30 am. My daughter was trying to figure out at first who was in the room. The ghost that she saw was a woman dressed in ''old time'' clothes just leaning over and looking at our friend my daughter didn't realize what she was seeing until the woman disappeared. My mother was the only other person awake and was around the corner when she came from around the corner the ''lady'' disappeared. My mom and daughter left the room and my daughter then told my mom what she had seen. I would like to add that they left me sleeping in the room!! Actually my daughter wasn't ever really afraid and after two years still tells the same story not changing anything. She now watches ghost hunters and would like taps to investigate."

There are many ghost stories connected to both of these resorts. They are gorgeous properties. Are the French Lick and West Baden Resorts haunted? That is for you to decide!

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