The Vapors and Hot Springs’ Heydays

Audible book cover for The Vapors
October 30, 2020 stephhwilliams 0 Comments

As a native of Hot Springs, you really should read The Vapors.

Christi W.

That’s what a friend and fellow book lover told me not long back. So, of course, I downloaded the audiobook stat.

The Vapors: A Southern Family, the New York Mob, and the Rise and Fall of Hot Springs, America’s Forgotten Capital of Vice, is a book by David Hill, a Hot Springs’ native transplanted to New York who regularly writes for several publications.

He spent something like two years researching it. So it’s historically accurate but reads like a novel.

Mike T.

That’s what a colleague in the faculty writer’s group I’m a member of said when I mentioned my latest listen.

Both my friend and colleague were correct: any Hot Springs’ native should read the book and it does read like a novel – with all the intrigues of plot – but grounded in the reality of a place I know quite well.

I was born in Hot Springs and, save a couple of pre-school years where we lived out of state for my dad’s job, I grew up there. I attended a few different schools – Cutter, Langston, Southwest Junior High – before finishing up at Lake Hamilton. Most of my adolescence was spent going back and forth between my grandparents’ “out in the country” house and a tiny white house “in town” on Seventh Street.

My grandparents had been Pearcy folks for most of my life. (FYI, “Pearcy” is pronounced like piercing a veil, rather than like “per,” or “Searcy” even, Arkansas town names are weird). Aside from their own short-term moves for work, they’d always been Hot Springs’ folks. But, at some point, they decided to move “out of town” a bit. By the time I was a teenager, they lived in a house off Aldridge Road that backed up to the Lake Hamilton Optimist Club and was firmly situated in the blink-and-you-miss-it locale of Hempwallace.

So I spent the whole of The Vapors listening for familiar places and names. I’d known some of the town’s history but certainly not to the extent shared by Hill. Some of the places mentioned still exist in some form today …

The Vapors today, Park Avenue 2020

… while others are, for one reason or another, merely a thing of the past …

The spot where the Majestic Hotel sat for more than a century before a fire destroyed it in 2014.

Hill weaves much of his own family history into the “rise and fall” of Hot Springs in a way that makes even the names you don’t know relevant to you. He doesn’t pull any punches either, calling out well-knowns (to the area, at least) for some less-than-savory behavior. All in all, whether you’re from Hot Springs or not, The Vapors is a great read.

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