Forbes magazine recently listed Hot Springs, Arkansas as one of the best small towns in America for businesses. In a way, this has always been the case, although the definition of “business” has changed. Today the town’s major industry is tourism. During the Twenties and Thirties, the town’s major industries were gambling and prostitution, although tourism was still important. The biggest difference: many of the “tourists” were gangsters! Indeed, by the time the Feds cracked down in the Sixties, Hot Springs had the largest illegal gambling operation in the United States.
The story of Hot Spring’s heyday is told in The Gangster Museum of America, a seven-gallery exhibition center that’s filled with artifacts from slot machines to an old roulette table recovered from a local casino, a large collection of period newspaper articles and photos, and a truly excellent series of videos that are both factual and gossipy. Visitors learn about Al Capone and his fellow mobsters, including Charles “Lucky” Luciano, Frank Costello, Alvin “Creepy” Karpin (who J. Edgar Hoover once named as Number One Public Enemy) and Owney “The Killer” Madden (who Mae West calls “a really sweet guy [although one who could be] oh, so vicious.”
The one-hour tour provides insight into the strange morality of mobsters who declared Hot Springs a war-free zone so that they could cooperate in running businesses that focused on gambling, bootlegging and affordable ladies. www.tgmoa.com