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Tue Jul 7, 2020, 01:07 PM

Hazel: an excerpt from 'The Vapors: A Southern Family, the New York Mob, and the Rise and Fall of Ho

Hazel: an excerpt from ‘The Vapors: A Southern Family, the New York Mob, and the Rise and Fall of Hot Springs, America’s Forgotten Capital of Vice’



Excerpted from “The Vapors: A Southern Family, the New York Mob, and the Rise and Fall of Hot Springs, America’s Forgotten Capital of Vice” by David Hill. Published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, July 2020. Copyright © 2020 by David Hill. All rights reserved.

April 4, 1935

Hazel wasn’t sure where she was headed. She was barely sixteen years old, sitting shotgun in her daddy’s Plymouth. They were driving down Highway 70 on the outskirts of Hot Springs, and they weren’t heading back toward Ohio.

Clyde Welch turned off the highway onto a dirt road, the dust kicking up around the car like a brown storm cloud delivering them to their destination, a little farmhouse at the top of a big green hill. Clyde parked the car and looked toward the house. There on the wooden porch waiting for him was a tree trunk of a man, a long white beard draped on top of his dusty overalls. Clyde took a deep breath before he got out of the car, then headed up to meet the old man. Hazel knew this house and this old man. She watched from inside the Plymouth as her daddy shook hands and conversed with the father of Hollis Hill, the young man she had taken up with while she and Clyde were staying in Hot Springs. She was surprised that Clyde even knew about the boy. She couldn’t have known what to make of the two fathers having a conversation on the Hill family porch on Clyde and Hazel’s way out of town. Whatever it was about, it probably wasn’t good.

Hazel and Clyde Welch had come to Hot Springs, Arkansas, from Ashland, Ohio, in that Plymouth four weeks earlier. Clyde was a horse trainer, or tried his damnedest to be one at any rate. The Oaklawn Park racetrack first opened in Hot Springs in 1905, but had been shuttered off and on since the state government banned betting on horse racing in 1907. There had been many efforts over the years to change the law and bring horse racing back, but they had always been defeated.

It was ironic that the racetrack had remained dark, because for many of those years Hot Springs was “running wide open,” with casino gambling happening in full view of God and everybody. Horse racing was experiencing a surge in popularity across America, in part a consequence of the phenomenal racehorse Man o’ War winning twenty out of twenty-one races in the years after World War I. Across the country, states were lifting their prohibition on horse betting to meet the public demand for the sport. But Arkansas’s state legislature, led by conservative Baptists from other parts of the state, didn’t follow suit, and Oaklawn’s out-of-state owner, the St. Louis real estate tycoon Louis Cella, chose to keep the track closed rather than operate in defiance of the law like the casinos. He also owned racetracks in Memphis, New Orleans, Detroit, Buffalo, and several other cities. He was content to wait for the political winds in Arkansas to shift, however long that might take.

When the Great Depression that had set upon the rest of the country finally made its way to Hot Springs, the casino owners were the ones who took action to get the Oaklawn Park racetrack reopened. Horse racing, they reckoned, would be just what they needed to keep the tourists flowing to Hot Springs through the tough times. It was the casino operators, along with Mayor Leo McLaughlin, who reached out to Louis Cella in 1934, and promised him that if he opened back up they’d make sure he wouldn’t get in any trouble. They weren’t just blowing smoke. They had clearly figured out how to operate illegally without consequence. But in 1934 their good fortune was a fairly recent development. For many of the years that Oaklawn was closed down, the casinos had plenty of trouble with the law, consistently getting raided and shut down, moving their dice tables from one back room to the next. Louis Cella likely remembered those days. He also likely remembered how back in 1907 the original owners of Oaklawn had said to hell with the law and tried to open up and hold horse races anyway. They were greeted on opening day by an armed state militia.

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https://arktimes.com/history/2020/07/06/hazel-an-excerpt-from-the-vapors-a-southern-family-the-new-york-mob-and-the-rise-and-fall-of-hot-springs-americas-forgotten-capital-of-vice

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Reply Hazel: an excerpt from 'The Vapors: A Southern Family, the New York Mob, and the Rise and Fall of Ho (Original post)
LiberalArkie Jul 2020 OP
bobbieinok Jul 2020 #1
bobbieinok Jul 2020 #2
bobbieinok Jul 2020 #4
LiberalArkie Jul 2020 #3

Response to LiberalArkie (Original post)

Tue Jul 7, 2020, 02:02 PM

1. Learned about mob history of HotSprings in S. Shankman mystery He Was Her Man

Like the other books of hers I've read, the story is weird and humorous.

I'd been to Hot Springs several times but had no idea it had been a major vacation spot for the mob.

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Response to bobbieinok (Reply #1)

Tue Jul 7, 2020, 02:10 PM

2. An earlier mystery of hers is set in Tupelo MS, birthplace of Elvis

Also weirdly--or bizarrely--humorous

In the book, Tupelo is the site of a major regional chilli cook-off competion. Many very strange recipes and methods of preparation

There is a MacDonalds that is basically a shrine crammed full of Elvis memorabilia!

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Response to bobbieinok (Reply #2)

Tue Jul 7, 2020, 02:14 PM

4. Tupelo MS web page says there are many statues of Elvis, his childhood home

And an Elvis museum

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Response to bobbieinok (Reply #1)

Tue Jul 7, 2020, 02:13 PM

3. Oh, yea. Kind of neutral ground between the Chicago Mob, New York Mob and the Dixie Mafia.

Many a tale of someone telling a waiter to "Tell mister Capone that we can agree to that".

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