Podcast Episodes

The Nine

This episode of the show was written and hosted by Jason Epperson with audio from the National Park Service archives.

Listen below:

Before this episode begins, I want to let you know that we began working on it before the current unrest began in our country. We don’t want to come off as taking advantage of the situation, but at the same time, it would be insulting to delay this episode. I have to warn you, the following contains depictions of racism, abusive actions, and the use of a racial epithet.


Introduction:

On May 17, 1954, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka that segregation in the public schools of the nation was unconstitutional. One of the first big tests of that decision came in Little Rock, Arkansas. The NAACP had attempted to register black students in previously all-white schools in cities throughout the South after the supreme court decision. In Little Rock, the school board agreed to comply. Virgil Blossom, the Superintendent, submitted a plan of gradual integration to the school board on May 24, 1955, which the board unanimously approved. The plan would be implemented during the fall of the 1957 school year.

That fall, nine Black children attempted to enroll in the all-white Central High School. They would become known as the “Little Rock Nine.” Several segregationist councils threatened to hold protests at Central High and physically block the black students from entering the school. Governor Orval Faubus deployed the Arkansas National Guard to support the segregationists on September 4, 1957. The sight of a line of soldiers blocking out the students made national headlines and polarized the nation. Regarding the crowd, one of the nine students, Elizabeth Eckford, recalled:

They moved closer and closer. … Somebody started yelling. … I tried to see a friendly face somewhere in the crowd—someone who maybe could help. I looked into the face of an old woman and it seemed a kind face, but when I looked at her again, she spat on me.

On September 9, the Little Rock School District issued a statement condemning the governor’s deployment of soldiers to the school, and called for a citywide prayer service. President Eisenhower attempted to de-escalate the situation by summoning Faubus for a meeting, warning him not to defy the Supreme Court’s ruling.

Woodrow Wilson Mann, the mayor of Little Rock, asked President Eisenhower to send federal troops to enforce the supreme court’s order and protect the nine students. On September 24, the President ordered the 101st Airborne Division of the United States Army—without its black soldiers, who rejoined the division a month later—to Little Rock and federalized the entire 10,000-member Arkansas National Guard, taking it out of Faubus’s control.

As much as it was a momentous occasion in American history, that had ramifications far and wide forever to come, it’s easy to forget that these nine children had to walk into a building full of people that thought their very existence was going to destroy their version of America. It’s easy to forget that the crisis didn’t end with them walking through the doors. These are their stories, in their own words, from an oral history project conducted from 2007-2009. 

ORAL HISTORY:

STATE AND FEDERAL INVOLVEMENT

Elizabeth Ekford

Minnijean Brown Trickey

Jefferson Thomas

Carlotta Walls LaNier

Gloria Ray Karlmark

Melba Pattillo Beals

Thelma Mothershed Wair

Though the military was on hand to keep the peace, the school still needed to function. These nine students would need to go to class with dozens of other students and teachers that either didn’t want them there, or decided that it was too difficult to stand by the nine, or a select few that fought for their right to be there. 

THE NINE ATTEND CLASSES

Dr. Terrance Roberts

Ernest Green

Those few teachers and students that stood up for the nine were certainly not enough. And when the 101st cleared, these 9 kids had to live through unimaginable challenges every single day. 

STUDENT INTERACTION

Among the many other egregious events the nine lived through, Minnijean Brown was taunted by members of a group of white male students in the school cafeteria during lunch. She dropped her lunch, a bowl of chili, which splashed onto the boys. She was suspended for six days. Two months later, after more confrontation, she was suspended for the rest of the school year. 

In the summer of 1958, as the school year was drawing to a close, Faubus decided to petition to postpone the continued desegregation of public high schools in Little Rock. He took control of the school district and fought for a two and a half year delay, which would have meant that black students would only be permitted into public high schools in January 1961. The Federal Courts ruled against him, so Faubus called together an Extraordinary Session of the State Legislature on August 26 in order to enact a new segregation bill that enabled him and the Little Rock School District to close all public schools. He ordered the closure of all four public high schools, preventing both black and white students from attending. Despite Faubus’s decree, the city’s population had the chance of refuting the bill since the school-closing law necessitated a referendum. The referendum, which would either condone or condemn Faubus’s law, was to take place within thirty days. A week before the vote Faubus urged the population to vote against integration, telling them that he was planning on leasing the public school buildings to private schools, and, in doing so, would educate the white and black students separately. He won the referendum. But Faubus’s intention to open private schools was denied by courts the same day the referendum took place, which caused some citizens of Little Rock to turn on the black community. They, and especially the nine, became a target for renewed hate crimes, now that they were blamed for the closing of the schools.

 Even though Faubus’s idea of private schools never played out, the teachers were still expected to attend school every day and prepare for the possibility of their students’ return. They were completely under the governor’s control and for many months the school stayed empty, in what became known as “the lost year.”

In May 1959, after the firing of forty-four teachers and administrative staff from the four high schools, three segregationist board members were replaced with three moderate ones. The new board members reinstated the staff members and began an attempt to reopen the schools, much to Faubus’s dismay. 

Still, when the new year began, the black students had a difficult time getting past mobs to enter, and, once inside, they were still subject to physical and emotional abuse, as the Lost Year would be used as a pretext for new hatred toward them.

Visiting Central High School:

Today, Central High School is an operating public school, and the building itself is no slouch. Built in 1927 as Little Rock Senior High School, Central was named “America’s Most Beautiful High School” by the American Institute of Architects.

Designed as a mix of Art Deco and Collegiate Gothic architectural styles, the building is two city blocks long with more than 36 million pounds of concrete and 370 tons of steel. It cost $1.5 million to construct in ‘27; the most expensive school ever built in the United States up to that time. 

In 1953, the school’s name was changed to Little Rock Central High School, in anticipation of the construction of a new high school for white students.

The school is not open for visitors to tour on their own. Ranger-guided tours are limited to groups of 10 or fewer and reservations must be made two weeks in advance. The best place to begin your visit is to go to the park visitor center, across from the school. Exhibits tell the story of those times, and interactive oral history stations give you a chance to hear the people who were there tell the story in their own words. 

In 1998, President Clinton signed legislation designating the school and visitor center across the street as a National Historic Site. Central is the only operating high school in the nation to receive such designation—and it is a historic site that includes not only a past, but a present and a future as well—in the form of an ever-evolving student body.

The Visitor Center is located diagonally across the street from the school, and opened in Fall 2006. It contains an interpretive film on the Little Rock Integration Crisis, as well as multimedia exhibits on both that and the larger context of desegregation during the 20th century and the Civil Rights Movement.

Opposite the Visitor Center is the Central High Commemorative Garden, which features nine trees and benches that honor the students. Arches that represent the school’s facade contain embedded photographs of the school in years since the crisis, and showcase students of various backgrounds in activities together.

Opposite the Visitor Center in the other direction is a historic Mobil gas station, which has been preserved in its appearance at the time of the crisis, when it served as the area for the press and radio and television reporters. It later served as a temporary Visitor Center before the new one was built.

This episode of America’s National Parks was hosted by me, Jason Epperson. The interviews come from an oral history project, documented on the site’s website. We’ll link to the video interviews in the show notes. 


America’s National Parks is part of the RV Miles Network of Podcasts, which also includes the RV Miles and See America podcasts. To learn more visit RVMiles.com.

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Today’s show was sponsored by L.L.Bean, follow the hashtag #beanoutsider, and visit LLBean.com to find great gear for exploring the National Parks.

Podcast Episodes

America’s Spa

In the mountains of western Arkansas, there’s a place where rain waters are absorbed through crevices in the earth’s surface, then warmed and enriched with minerals, percolating deep underground. The water then flows back to the surface in steaming hot springs, filling the cool mountain air with steam in the winter. It’s a place that humans have been using for millennia for rest, relaxation, and healing. It’s also our first piece of federally protected recreation land.

On this episode of America’s National Parks, the American Spa —Hot Springs National Park.


Listen

Listen to the episode in the player below, or wherever you get your podcasts. 

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Learn More

Links to some of the resources we used and the website links we mentioned in this episode. 

Hot Springs National Park – National Park Service Website

Buckstaff Bathhouse – Historic Hot Springs Spa Treatment

Quapaw Baths – Modern Hot Springs Spa Treatment


Transcript

The America’s National Parks Podcast is sponsored by L.L.Bean.

L.L.Bean believes the more time you spend outside together, the better. That’s why they design products that make it easier to take longer walks, have deeper talks, and never worry about the weather. Discover clothing, outerwear, footwear and gear made for every type of adventure, with the outside built right in. Because on the inside, we’re all outsiders. Be an outsider with L.L.Bean.

—–

In the mountains of western Arkansas, there’s a place where rain waters are absorbed through crevices in the earth’s surface, then warmed and enriched with minerals, percolating deep underground. The water then flows back to the surface in steaming hot springs, filling the cool mountain air with steam in the winter. It’s a place that humans have been using for millennia for rest, relaxation, and healing. It’s also our first piece of federally protected recreation land.

On this episode of America’s National Parks, the American Spa —Hot Springs National Park.

Here’s Abigail Trabue.

—-

In 1541, Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto was the first European to visit what the indigenous people called the Valley of the Vapors — a confluence of 143-degree springs flowing from the western slope of what is now known as Hot Springs Mountain, part of the Ouachita Mountain range in modern day Arkansas. Tribes used it as a neutral gathering place for over 8,000 years, believing that the water of the thermal springs possessed healing properties. De Soto and his conquistadors spent several weeks resting in the steam and waters.

In 1673, explorers Pere Marquette and Louis Jolliet claimed the area for France. For the next 130 years, the land would move between Spanish and French control, eventually finding its way into the Louisiana Purchase. In 1803, the hot springs of Arkansas became a part of the United States.

White settlers began arriving almost immediately after, fascinated with the springs and the mysteries of the water. It became a tourist destination almost as quickly. Resourceful settlers built boarding houses for visitors entranced with the promise of healing every ail.

Recognizing concerns over conservation of such a specific, special area, In 1832, President Jackson made the Hot Springs the first piece of federal land protected for recreations. Some would call it America’s first national park, though such a title didn’t exist until Yellowstone was formed 50 years later.

47 hot springs release nearly a million gallons of water every day off the southern wooded slope of Hot Springs mountain. It was believed the waters benefited diseases of the skin and blood, nervous affections, rheumatism and similar diseases, and the “various diseases of women.”

The earliest baths involved reclining in natural pools for long periods of time. Crude vapor baths stood over the springs, which bathers would inhale. Wooden tubs were added, and physicians began arriving in the 1850s. Bathhouses were established to harness the springs in a more formal way. During the 1870s the bathing regimen became more diverse, and physicians prescribed various types of six to ten-minute baths for patients and two-minute steam treatments.

Drinking and bathing in the waters would cause a profuse perspiration, which was considered important for fighting disease. The advice of a physician who was familiar with the use of the waters was considered necessary to avoid injury, and it was specifically cautioned against for those with respiratory illnesses. Often massive amounts of medication were combined with the treatments.

The hot baths were usually taken once a day for three weeks, followed by a period of rest. A second three weeks’ course was then taken, followed again by another break. The usual stay at the springs was from one to three months, but many of the very sick stayed a year or longer.

One description of the process in 1878 told of a hot bath of 90 to 95 °F for about 3 minutes, timed with a sand-glass, followed by another three minutes with all but the head in a steam box. The bather would also drink hot water during this period. Afterword, the bather was rubbed down and thoroughly dried by an attendant, and then returned to their room to lie down for a half-hour to let the body recover its normal temperature.

The bathhouses began using vapor cabinets a few years later, which look like a medieval torture device, where all but the head are shuttered into a trunk. The bather would sit in the cabinet for 10–20 minutes with the lid closed tightly around the neck, and vapor from the hot water would rise through the floor at temperatures around 110–130 degrees.

Toward the end of the 1880s Russian and Turkish baths were offered, and in the 1890s German needle baths, and the Scotch treatment of concentrated streams of hot or cold water on the back were added.

The first bathhouses were canvas and wood tents, which were then replaced by haphazard wooden buildings. The buildings didn’t stand up well to the steam of the springs and began to collapse from rot. Those that didn’t burn to the ground.

But business was good, and the wood structures were replaced in the early 1900s with marble, brass, and stained-glass sanctuaries, lining a strip which was dubbed Bathhouse Row. They were outfitted with beauty shops, gymnasiums, music rooms, and state-of-the-art therapy equipment. The gymnasium on the third floor of the Fordyce Bathhouse was the first gymnasium in the State of Arkansas.

The Hot Springs Reservation came to be called “the National Spa,” and in 1921, Stephen Mather, director of the 5-year-old Nation Park Service, convinced Congress to confer the National Park designation on the area. Officially, it would be our 18th National Park.

The aspects of services were still left to bathhouse operators, but once the National Park Service took over management of the area, the Park’s superintendent established several rules. In the 30s, a tub bath could take no more than 20 minutes and a shower no more than 90 seconds. During the next decade, shower time was reduced to a minute, and maximum temperatures were specified. After a bath of about 98 degrees, the patient might spend 2–5 minutes in a vapor cabinet, get 15 minutes of hot or cold wet packs, followed by a needle shower, light massage and alcohol rub.

Hot Springs was a popular destination for the rich and famous during the first half of the 20th century. It became the off-season capital for Major League baseball teams like The Chicago Cubs, Pittsburgh Pirates, Brooklyn Nationals, Chicago White Stockings and Boston Red Sox. Al Capone and his top captains would seize the entire fourth floor of the popular Arlington Hotel when visiting. In a sort of homage to the Native people, Hot Springs was neutral territory for gangsters from Chicago and New York. Theodore Roosevelt visited in 1910, and Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt came in 1936. Harry Truman had a favorite club where he played his favorite game, small stakes poker, at the illegal casinos that thrived in the area.

Marjorie Lawrence, star of the Metropolitan Opera moved to Hot Springs in 1941 after she was crippled by polio, and taught voice to local children in her spare time.

Boxer Billy Conn trained for his 1946 rematch with Joe Louis in the Fordyce Bathhouse Gym. He ended up losing what is often remembered as “the fight of the century.”

By the 1950s, changes in medical technology resulted in a rapid decline in water therapies. People also began to take to the open roads in their own vehicles rather than traveling by train to a specific destination.

The gambling establishments and brothels were out of hand. In 1961, the U.S. Department of Justice concluded that Hot Springs had the largest illegal gambling operation in the country. In the town of Hot Springs, they were popular places and not really seen as illicit. Tony Bennett first crooned his signature “I Left My Heart in San Franciso” in the early 1960s at the Vapors Club, around the same time that a young Bill Clinton was graduating from Hot Springs High School.

Arkansas Governor Winthrop Rockefeller closed the casinos in 1967, some of which continued to operate as nightspots with major entertainers without the gambling for a few more years. Business declined for the bathhouses, and, one by one, they began to close.

In the 1980s, the citizens of Hot Springs, along with the National Park Service, began a restoration effort to revitalize the historic bathhouses. Today, visitors can tour the restored historic Fordyce Bathhouse Museum, which doubles as the visitor center for the Park. It looks just as it did in the 1920s.

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Hot Springs National Park is not your typical outdoor National Park destination, but it does host a variety of nature and wildlife to behold. There are several scenic drives through the mountains, and several trails, but this being the only of the “big 60” National Parks in a city, the experience at Hot Springs today is more about history than anything else. You can walk up and down bathhouse row, and tour the Fordyce Bathhouse of course, and then there’s a gift shop in the Lamar Bathhouse. The architecture of these buildings and the wild medical water treatment contraptions are worth the visit alone. You can also stroll the grand promenade, which is a paved walkway above bathhouse row, and drink from fountains that produce the natural hot spring water. You can even fill jugs if you want.

You can, however, still get spa treatments in Hot Springs National Park. The Buckstaff bath is one of the historic bathhouses still in operation. Here you can get the historic treatment. You purchase a bath ticket and lock your valuables in a security box, and are then guided to the dressing room where an attendant provides a bath sheet for you to wear. You get a private bathtub which your attendant has cleaned and filled with fresh 98-100-degree spring water. You soak in the large tubs for 20 minutes

Following the soak, you’ll get into a full-steam cabinet for two minutes, or a head-out cabinet for five minutes. Sitz (or sitting) tubs filled with 108-degree water are next, followed by applications of hot packs for specific aches or pains. Finally, you’ll take a tingling two-minute cool-down shower. A full-body Swedish massage lasting twenty minutes or more is optional and costs extra, and you can decline any portion of the experience.

More modern spa treatments are available at the Quapaw bath, which offers services like a Peach Hibiscus Foot Scrub, Hot Stone alignment, clay body masks, and 50-minute Deep Tissue massages. Here, you can also find the most affordable way to spend time in the hot spring water – for $20, those 14 and older can soak in thermal pools.

The National Park Service makes no healing claims to the water, though it is high in certain minerals. But the benefits of a hot spa treatment for aches and pains, and steam treatments for sinuses and the lungs are undeniable.

The town of Hot Springs is also full of a lot of the touristy stuff that tends to surround places like this. Zip lines, go-carts, laser tag and the like. The home of the Clintons, located at 1011 Park Avenue, is not open for tours, but you can view it from the streets of downtown.

The National Park Service operates a campground on site, which has recently added full hookups for RVs. It’s first-come-first-served only, but there is also a wide array of private campgrounds in the surrounding area, many on beautiful waterways.

This episode of America’s National Parks was written by me, Jason Epperson, and narrated by Abigail Trabue. If you enjoyed the show, we’d love a 5-star review wherever you listen to podcasts. Don’t forget to subscribe, and follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Just search “National Park Podcast.” You can also join our new America’s National Parks Facebook group. We’ll link to all of our social media, as well as National Park Service resources, music credits, and more in the show notes at National Park Podcast dot com.

If you are interested in RV travel, give us a listen over at the RV Miles Podcast. You can also follow Abigail and I as we travel the country in our converted school bus with our three boys at Our Wandering Family dot com.

Today’s show was sponsored by L.L.Bean, follow the hashtag #beanoutsider, and visit LLBean.com to find great gear for exploring the National Parks.


Music

Provided through the generosity of the artists under a creative commons license.

 

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