Day Trippin: Hot Springs weekend getaway in Arkansas

CR Rae, More Content Now, USA TODAY NETWORK
Whittington Park in Hot Springs.

This beautiful Arkansas city of more than 35,000 residents is known for a multitude of things to do, from peaceful soaking in the mineral waters of the hot springs to taking a quiet hike in the nearby national park. However, the city boasts a not-so-quiet past with a deep history, including Babe Ruth and Al Capone.

Hot Springs is the birthplace of spring baseball, with a historic presence of America’s favorite pastime. Visitors can stand at home plate where Ruth hit his historic home run of 573 feet. The ball landed inside the Arkansas Alligator Farm and was the first more-than-500-foot hit in baseball history, occurring March 17, 1918.

Ruth was not the only player to have a record in Hot Springs as Boston Red Sox pitcher Smoky Joe Wood, on March 28, 1913, pitched five scoreless innings at the famed Whittington Park against the Pirates. He struck out Honus Wagner twice in that game.

Baseball history began in Hot Springs as a destination for spring training in 1886, when manager Cap Anson of the Chicago White Stockings (now the Chicago Cubs) took his team to a warmer climate for training. The players spent time in the mountain mineral waters. It was thought that the warm springs would “boil out the alcoholic microbes” in the players while getting them in shape for the season. They also hiked the mountains and played baseball.

Other teams began to follow in the White Stockings’ footsteps of training in Hot Springs. Although the famed Whittington Park no longer exists, visitors traveling the Hot Springs Baseball Trail can stand where The Babe and other famed players once stood. Remnants of the stands where fans would watch these historic players can be seen. The white home plate that marks where Ruth hit his historic homer sits in a parking lot.

It is easy to follow the baseball trail by downloading the app. In the App Store or Google Play, search “Hot Springs baseball tour” and begin your journey through baseball’s beginnings. Visit hotspringsbaseballtrail.com.

Hot Springs, the city known as America’s first resort, also was where the most infamous of gangsters came to relax and vacation. It is hard to believe as one walks the historic Central Avenue that it was a mecca for gambling, bootlegging and prostitution in the ’20s, ‘30s and ‘40s. At that time, the street was lined with clubs like the Southern Club and Ohio Club. The Ohio Club continues to be Arkansas’ oldest bar. The Southern Club is now the wax museum and displays many items from the club’s gambling history. These were two of the places where many left their prints, including Capone, Bugsy Siegel, Pretty Boy Floyd, Bugs Moran, and Bonnie and Clyde.

A great place to learn about the era of illegal acts and visits by gangsters is the Gangster Museum of America. The tour is entertaining and loaded with history. Visitors will travel through a variety of galleries to hear the stories and experience high-tech audiovisuals in the Felony Theater. Take a spin on the roulette wheel from the Southern Club and enjoy the memorabilia from the Hot Springs gangster era. Visit tgmoa.com.

The Arlington Hotel also offers a history of those days. Capone’s suite is there, where he stayed when visiting the city. It overlooks the action on Central Avenue and the hot springs. A display of memorabilia and history of the hotel is in the lobby. The Arlington Hotel has hosted activities, grand balls, politicians, actors, gangsters, sports legends and more. Visit arlingtonhotel.com/history.

Hot Springs is in the Ouachita Mountains and widely known for its healing springs and Hot Springs National Park. For more information on places to stay, eat and more visit hotsprings.org.