This article was originally published with Visit Hot Springs on Oct. 1, 2023.
So, are you ready for some scary stories? With the colorful and twisted history Hot Springs is steeped in, it’s not hard to believe it has a lot of tales to tell. The Haunted History Tour does a bang-up job telling a few bone chilling stories. I took the tour, and even as a Hot Springs local, I heard countless eerie stories I had never heard before that left me lying awake at night, questioning my lack of belief in the paranormal.
Now, I could never tell the stories in the spine-chilling way my tour guide, Austin Ray, does in the dark night of downtown Hot Springs. So, for the full experience, you must check out the tour for yourself. But I must warn you, it’s not for the faint of heart or stringent historians. Quoting Harry S. Truman, Ray says if a story’s not worth exaggerating, it’s not worth telling. He also notes these stories are only based in fact.
But doesn’t every paranormal story have to come with that disclaimer? Isn’t every “unexplained” account at the sight of a tragedy years later merely one man’s take? Who's to say it’s imagination or reality? It’s up to the viewer, and it would be so much more fun to figure out for yourself. So, without further ado and without offering any major spoilers to this one-of-a-kind tour, here are a few frights you may find in the spooky Spa City.
Have you ever heard of the Bathhouse Soapery and Caldarium? With dozens of handmade soaps, scrubs and salves located across from Bathhouse Row, it’s a very popular tourist destination. But what happens when the lights go down, and the suds are washed away? This charming shop sits in its location’s unfortunate history as the site of a young girl’s murder. Previously a Japanese Tea Room, a beautiful girl named Violet Boles worked here after high school. A school friend named Elmer Jones showed infatuation with Boles for years in and after school. Never reciprocating one man’s affection cost her life, and it’s said that even today, when standing in the store’s back left corner, you too may feel the ill touch of Jones.
It’s not hard to believe the giant looming abandoned building sitting behind Bathhouse Row is considered haunted. Previously the Army Navy Hospital, this site is no stranger to death. In fact, Ray says “kill-outs” weren’t uncommon, taking out entire floors of people when one fatal illness would make its rounds. And 1941 brought about “one of the worst kill-outs in that building’s history.”
“In 1941, we had a soldier show up late in the day. All he had was swollen ankles and a light fever. He came to the doctor, and the doctor said, I tell you what, it’s late in the day. We’re going to get X-rays of your ankles. We’re going to put you to bed, get you a good night’s rest, get you some food to eat. I’ll be back in the morning to look at the X-rays and talk to you about your mobility. Sound good? He said, yes. So they put him to bed, and the next morning, the soldier woke up, and he was so sick he could hardly get out of bed. Two days later, the rash showed up. Three days later, he was dead. Seven days later, the entire floor was dead. Three weeks later, nearly 90% of the people in that hospital were dead.”
What did they do with all those bodies? Find out during the walking tour. In the meantime, just spend some time taking a gander at the structure. It’s abandoned and monitored 24/7, so you can’t go inside, but there have been numerous accounts of movement and figures seen in the windows.
Adair Park is a charming area between Granny’s Kitchen and It’s About Rocks. In the daytime, it’s often bustling with entertainers and full of happy passerbys. But what happens in Adair Park between midnight and 3 a.m.? It’s said the groans from a man who lost his life in a fire can be heard. You see, Adair Park is the empty space it is today because the wooden hotel that once sat there burned, Ray says. One unfortunate man staying in The Savoy next door stuck around. Ray says he didn’t make it out, and when standing under the second window from the back on the right hand side of the park, you can still hear his moans. Want proof? Download an EVP recording app on your phone. Ray claims some have caught the sounds on recording.
For those truly looking to venture out into spooky territory, go for a hike on West Mountain at night. The trail atop the hill between the parking garage and Mountain Valley Water Company, to be exact. The tour took us only a few feet into the trail, and that was enough to have everyone on their toes. Ray explained the long history of multiple accounts of death in the area. From a ghostly park ranger to a demented boy, this was the peak of scary stories to tell in the dark.
Scared yet? Come check out these haunts and so many more. Have a stay in the notoriously haunted Arlington Hotel, take a haunted walking tour, and if you’re here at the end of October, check out everything that's going on during Haunt Springs Halloween Weekend and come out to Bridge St. LIVE! Fright Night when the scariest is over, and you’re ready to party. Happy Halloween!