Last week was our annual Democratic Party IDEA Conference. This is the first one I have attended, but it won’t be my last. The conference was held in French Lick, Indiana, at the French Lick Resort and Casino – an enormous complex which includes two hotels, golf courses, and every type of amenity one could ever want.
I had a two-fold reason for going to the conference: first, of course, was to attend the conference, but second, I had been wanting to see the West Baden Springs Hotel ever since I had read about its restoration in one of my historical society magazines. Since a one-night stay was $147 at the French Lick Resort, and I knew I wouldn’t get to the hotel until later in the evening, I decided to find a less expensive alternative.
I belong to the Choice Hotels Reward program, so I located a Sleep Inn in Jasper, Indiana, for $62. Not bad, and, as long as it had a wireless connection, I was just fine. I had originally planned to leave work at about 12:00, but this past month was one of those times where chaos seemed to reign. I was running behind getting things ready so I could leave, and I started thinking maybe I would just cancel my hotel room and consider the $45 luncheon charge a donation to the Party.
But, I plugged along and completed the most critical tasks, leaving work at about 2:30. I ran a couple of errands and stopped at home to grab a few things and then was on my way at about 4:30. I took Interstate 69 to Indy and intended to take 37 through for pretty much the rest of my drive. Somewhere, somehow, I missed the connect in Indianapolis and ended up on Interstate 65 headed south to Seymour – home of John Mellencamp.
The trip down was gloomy, and I ran into heavy rain as I entered the last leg of what turned out to be a 6-hour journey. At Seymour, I hopped off at Indiana 50 and started southwest toward uncharted territory – okay, for me it was uncharted. The rain continued to pound down, and I was not familiar with the winding curves of the road. Traffic built up behind me, and I found myself muttering to myself about the disrespect of other drivers – especially those behind me. The road was steaming and the rising mist looked like fog with its stealthy fingers curving and extending into the air.
I arrived at the Jasper Sleep Inn at about 11:00 – a little worse for the wear but thankful that I was now in southwestern Indiana – a part of my beloved home state that I had not yet visited. I checked in, and I immediately “hit the hay” as we used to call it.
I awoke at 6:00 a.m. even though I was still tired from my long trip the night before. I relaxed, took my time, and left the hotel for French Lick. Call me naive, but I really had no idea of what I would see. As I drove into the French Lick Resort parking lot, I was amazed at the opulence of the Resort. Its wings spread out – tan and golden in color and several stories high with caps of red standing out in the sunlight.
I stared at the halls and the pictures and the magnificence of the building. A huge painting caught my eye with its nudging of history and what was – a “gangster” car, sleek, brilliant, and incomparable in its splendor.
The French Lick and West Baden Springs Hotel served as the campingground for America’s most infamous hoodlums.
Their entourage and guests would start out at the Kentucky Derby and then move northward toward French Lick and West Baden Springs, where they would spend days of frolicking and gambling. Then, it would soon be time to move up to the Indy 500. And, then on to Chicago back to their lives of death and destruction.
But, back to my trip to French Lick and West Baden Springs. The luncheon speaker was Ed Schultz, a well-known progressive liberal talk show host. Mr. Schultz gave a rousing speech about reforming health insurance and health care.
After the luncheon, I decided to try my luck at the French Lick Casino. I can’t stand to lose money, so I took out just $40.00. I lost $11.75, and I was done.
I had to be on my way to the West Baden Springs Hotel, which was just a mile down the road. The hotel had the largest geodesic dome in the United States until the Astrodome was built in 1963.
At one time, crews were ready to level this Hoosier treasure, but they didn’t succeed. I parked in the back, lower level, and, as I was just getting out of my truck, a hotel employee stopped and asked me if I knew where I was going. I said absolutely not. He said he would be glad to take me on a tour of the hotel, so I eagerly accepted.
The first stop on the way to the main area of the hotel was to admire paintings of the angels along a lower hallway. The paintings are replicas of the angels located in the very top of the dome, which are not visible by day.
The next stop was the main floor. As we stepped from the elevator, I could see the magnificent, open atrium with its geodesic dome. The sun was shining in and the columns and walls took on a soft glow. Several areas were closed because a wedding was being held in the garden area, and the reception area, library, and verandas were being set up to accommodate the wedding party.
I was fortunate, though, because the employee was allowed into the closed areas, and I was allowed in too. The library had that air of age and a slight darkness that reminded me of libraries of old.
After the library, we went out onto the verandas – wonderful, curving areas with their expansive views of the lawns and gardens. And, finally, the view that I was anxiously awaiting – that of the huge, domed area located in the center of the hotel.
As I stepped into the area, the employee bid me farewell and went back to work. I was absolutely entranced by the sight before my eyes. A rounded, domed cavern lay before my eyes. Many guests were milling about while others were seated on various couches, chaises, and chairs spread throughout the area. I looked up at the dome, and couldn’t help but be in awe of such a feat from the turn of the 20th century.
The area contained a couple of boutiques and a small bar area. On one side of the huge expanse was a fireplace big enough for a person to walk into – like the ones found in old, European castles. I picked a chaise lounge and settled in to spend some quality time just taking in the view. I watched as people wandered back and forth, sat at the bar, or hovered near the fireplace.
I glanced at my watch and reluctantly got up, knowing I had to be on my way home. A long drive awaited me, but I had finally gotten to see the historical West Baden Springs Hotel – something I had wanted to do for quite some time. It was well worth the wait, and I will be returning to one of Indiana’s most beautiful, historical treasures.