Gangster Museum of America
The Gangster Museum of America in Hot Springs, Arkansas is the very first place you should go to learn how this resort city has influenced American history in extraordinary ways. Here, you’ll learn fascinating secrets to help you enjoy the remarkable living history you see all around you.
Located in the heart of the historic downtown area, the Gangster Museum will sweep you into a story of crime, mobsters, and gambling in a town where lawless luxury reigned for the first half of the twentieth century.
“Spa City” was known as America’s first resort for its healing waters, and the stunning Art Deco bathhouses still stand right across the street from the Gangster Museum. But gangsters also found money-driven Hot Springs a convenient hideout, far from the lawmen who pursued them in New York and Chicago. The power and riches that flowed through one small Southern town became mind-boggling, and local politics protected the gangsters while they enjoyed nightclubs, music, roulette wheels and beautiful escorts.
As you enjoy artifacts and hundreds of photo exhibits, a tour guide will lead you through an engaging series of eyewitness accounts from those who lived through the “glory days” of Hot Springs. Former agents of the Federal Bureau for Investigation (FBI), U.S. marshals, Arkansas State Police directors, lawyers, and a brothel madam who worked inside the largest illegal gambling operation in the United States give candid testimony on high-definition video.
Your trip back in time begins just inside the front door where the museum has brought back The Hatterie to serve as its gift shop. The Hatterie was one of the country's finest hat stores, dating back to the early 1900's. Today, fine men's and women's dress hats, books, and other gifts are sold in The Hatterie. In its' early years The Hatterie was operated by the city's leading brothel owner and offered other enterprises on it's upper floors.
The tour begins in the Power Brokers Gallery with the chronicles of Leo Patrick McLaughlin and subsequent city leaders who battled for control of Hot Springs and its illegal profits.
Some of those leaders were aided by the knowledge and experience of former New York gangster Owen Vincent Madden. The Madden Gallery explores how Madden designed the way for the gambling of Hot Springs to flourish, despite its illegality in the state. Madden’s ideas were aided by tolerance—and even support—from Arkansas governors including Junius Futrell, Ben Laney, Francis Cherry, and Orval Faubus.
You’ll meet one of Hot Springs’ most famous visitors in the Al Capone Gallery. A first-hand account of Capone’s love for the area is presented in a video interview with Deirdre Marie Capone, the granddaughter of Capone’s brother, Ralph Capone. The gallery will bring you right back to the Prohibition era with its mood-setting artifacts purchased from collectors around the country.
The Prohibition-era not only brought infamy to Madden and Capone but also spawned a period of lawlessness that is represented in the Outlaw Gallery. Bank robbers such as Alvin Karpis and madam Grace Goldstein, share wall space with other notorious visitors to the area such as Bonnie and Clyde, John Dillinger, and Charles Arthur “Pretty Boy” Floyd. The city gained national attention when higher-caliber criminals—such as Meyer Lansky, Frank Costello, and Charles “Lucky” Luciano—began enjoying the amenities of Hot Springs while visiting Madden. Their story is on display in the New York Connection Gallery.
The Casino Gallery features antique casino equipment along with a video presentation that includes madam Maxine Temple Jones, Colonel Lynn Davis (the state police director in charge of closing the Hot Springs casinos), and Governor Winthrop Rockefeller. To complete the experience, visitors can take a video trip under the city, exploring the tunnel below Central Avenue.
Museum founder and Hot Springs history expert Robert Raines opened the museum in 2007 and became a part of the revival of downtown Hot Springs.
“Even the Ohio Club wasn’t open when I was first down there in 2007,” Raines recalled. “Thirty buildings were boarded up and only one bathhouse was open. Now, we have an amazing change as Central Avenue is jam-packed and all the buildings are open. This summer, every weekend has looked like a Razorback football game!”
The museum first opened in a 2500-square-foot space, then after three years of success moved to its current 8500-square-foot space opposite historic Bathhouse Row. Closing in on a million visitors, the museum is hitting its full stride now, according to Raines.
“The aspect of the museum that I’m most proud of is that we have shared this story of Hot Springs and its role in American history with so many people,” Raines said. “There’s no doubt that Hot Springs is headed for a new golden age.”
Hot Springs at the turn of the 20th century was referred to as "The Jewel of the South" in many nationwide publications. One of the forgotten facets of that jewel was the fact that spring training for major league baseball got its' start in the Spa City. This knowledge was not overlooked by many gangland luminaries who came to Hot Springs to enjoy their favorite team having fun on and off the diamond. The Spring Training Gallery in the museum enlightens visitors to the many Hall of Fame ball players who enjoyed boiling it out in the Valley of the Vapors.
The Gangster Museum holds valuable lessons for everyone, young and old, about power, corruption, and the law that are still relevant in America and across the world. The award-winning museum tells an essential American story.
“The history of how the Hot Springs gambling establishment pulled off a massively profitable illegal activity for decades is what the Gangster Museum is all about,” Raines said. “The story is a microcosm that shows how power and money are bedfellows, and it shows how many things in the USA run even to this day.”
Plan your visit to this popular Hot Springs landmark at www.tgmoa.com.