Long before the rise of Vegas, gambling, bootlegging, and prostitution was a $100 million dollar a year business in the town of Hot Springs, Arkansas.
Even though gambling was illegal, everyone from the Governor of Arkansas down to the Hot Springs mayor, police and fire departments turned a blind eye and kept an open hand for bribes.
By the late 1920s, Hot Springs legendary as a popular hangout for many of America’s most infamous gangsters, even notorious bank robbers like the Barker Gang and Bonnie & Clyde.
Historians conjecture that the reason there were no bank robbers in Hot Springs throughout the 1920s, 30s and 40s because the bank robbers hung out in Hot Springs when they were off duty.
Al Capone loved Hot Springs so much he’d ship in his armored plated Cadillac and book an entire floor in the swanky Arlington Hotel whenever he and his associates came to town.
Back home on the streets of Chicago or New York City, mobsters such as Albert Anastasia, Benny Siegel, Mayer Lansky, Bugs Moran, Frank Costello, and Lucky Luciano, might be archenemies, but when they came to Hot Springs, they were on neutral turf.
The Gangster Museum of America is appropriately located in the heart of downtown Hot Springs. Come along and listen in as the director of the Gangster Museum, Robert Raines, and Fred Mark Palmer, an associate of Raines who long ago worked at the mob controlled Vapors casino in Hot Springs talks with correspondent, Tom Wilmer.
The duo talk about the era of the mobsters, when top performers played gigs in town, like Brenda Lee, Al Marino, Phyllis Diller, Rosemary Clooney, Patti Page, Count Basie, and The Dorsey Brothers.
It was a late December day in 1961, when Tony Bennett first tested the song “I Left my Heart in San Francisco” in a Hot Springs nightclub. The next morning Bennett flew to San Francisco and premiered the classic the following night in the Fairmont Hotel’s Venetian Room.