The Baker Hotel in Mineral Wells, Texas

The Baker Hotel in Mineral Wells, Texas was built by hotelier T. B. Baker in 1929 for $1,250,000, a huge amount of money at the time. Known as the "Grand Old Lady," the hotel was a success as soon as it opened and was a top spa destination during the 1930s. When the nearby Fort Wolters closed down after World War II in 1946 however, the fortunes of both the Baker Hotel and the city declined. For the years it was around though, the Baker Hotel put Mineral Wells on the map.

The Baker opened on November 22nd, 1929, three weeks after the stock market crash of 1929. After it was completed, the hotel was 14-story's tall and had a bowling alley, two ballrooms, an in-house beauty shop and 450 guest rooms. There were three different staircases: one for the well-to-do guests, one for their servants, and another staircase for those who had reasons for not wanting to be seen. It was widely considered to be one of the finest hotels in America.

The main purpose of the 452 room hotel was to provide stressed-out upper-class people the opportunity to take advantage of the natural mineral waters found in the town's wells for the medicinal value. The water seemed to cure stomach and intestinal problems and even some forms of mental illness. Besides the miracle water, massages and therapeutic baths were a big hit in the hotel's two complete spas. Guests also enjoyed swimming in one of the two swimming pools, going to the gym and attending dances and big band concerts in the hotel's huge ballrooms. Famous big bands of the era from the Dorsey Brothers to Lawrence Welk regularly played for the gala's the hotel held.

Other non-advertised activities were provided in hidden gambling parlors and discreet drinking areas during Prohibition. Dining rooms offered fine meals cooked in the hotel's kitchen and there were shops and personal services available so one never had to leave the hotel grounds for the necessities of life.
In its glory days, from the 1930s until the early 1950s, such famous people as Judy Garland, Dorothy Lamour, Clark Gable, Marlene Dietrich, Will Rogers, Helen Keller, Sammy Kaye and General Pershing came here to relax and enjoy all the Baker Hotel offered. Even Bonnie and Clyde, under assumed names, took time off from robbing banks and spent some of their ill-gotten gains while staying at the Baker Hotel.

After the war ended in 1945 and Mineral Wells was no longer the growing, bustling town it was before, the owners of the Baker Hotel did everything they could to stay in business. The hotel hosted the Texas Republican Party conventions of both 1952 and 1955 and the Texas Democratic Party convention of 1954, the costs to keep it open and operating was more than the income so the decision was made to close in 1963. Two years later, local investors leased the building and reopened the hotel, but once again the costs exceeded income and it closed for the second time in 1973.

The owner, Mr. Baker, lived in a fancy suite on the 10th floor with his family. It is known that he also maintained a suite for his red-headed mistress on the 7th floor. He lived in his hotel until his death in 1972. For the last 20 years of his life, he endured the decline of his fortune and watched the decline of his once luxurious hotel.
Just because the Baker Hotel has been closed to the living since 1973 doesn't mean it has been devoid of activity. The hotel remains a grand old structure containing thousands of stories of the people that stayed there - some during their last days as they sought cures for terrible illnesses. The reports of ghosts and hauntings began in the Baker long before it closed and it is regarded today as one of the most haunted buildings in America. For stories about the spirits living in the hotel, click here.

Over the years, a number of developers and visionaries have come forward with plans to bring life back to the "Grand Old Lady," but all have failed for one reason or another. In 2013, the city of Mineral Wells partnered with a collection of developers with the intention to renovate The Baker back to its former glory. The plan included the revival of the hotel's famous natural spring spas, construction of world-class business and convention facilities, over 11,000 sq. ft. of retail and shopping space and 157 guest rooms. This latest project however has not moved beyond the planning stage as restoration costs were found to be much higher than first estimated and governmental red tape has brought everything to a virtual standstill. The group is currently attempting to attract foreign investors for the additional funding, but it appears this plan may well end in failure as well.

For now, what once was the pride of West Texas sits slowly falling apart. True icon of a bygone era, gone now are the movie stars, the military officers in impressive uniforms, the big bands, the conventions and the glittery grand balls. Or are they? Perhaps in another dimension, the good times continue and maybe, just maybe, there's a helping hand from beyond that keeps the Baker Hotel un-renovated and locked in a different time.
 

Popeye in Alma, Arkansas

Remember Popeye the Sailor Man? Alma, Arkansas does and it erected a statue of everyone's favorite sailor to prove it. It's an incredibly cheesy statue, but pretty cool nonetheless. If you're a big Popeye fan, you can also check out the spinach can water tower that proclaims Alma the spinach capital of the world. The spinach can is found off U.S. 71 North and also proudly sports Popeye the Sailor man.

The first Popeye statue was built in 1987 out of paper mache and fiberglass. Tourists in cars and buses would stop by to see it, laugh and leave. Residents of Alma were a bit embarrassed by it all so they decided to either get rid of the statue or make it into something to be proud of. After much discussion and debate, paper mache Popeye was retired in 2007 and replaced with the bronze statue and fountain now in Alma's town square. The original statue is in a store called Kustom Kaps right up the street.

Mural of old Alma in the Popeye Square
Why all the Popeye love in Alma? Alma is the home of Allen's Canning Company, which cans spinach. They are also home to the annual Spinach Festival held the 3rd weekend each April.

To see Popeye for yourself, take exit 12 on I-40 and go south on US 71. Go through the traffic light, bear left, then turn right onto Fayetteville Ave./Hwy 162 into downtown. The Park is near the end of town, on the right.

Fiesty Old Woman And Her Dog

Jonesboro Memorial Park Cemetery
You often hear the saying that you only have one chance to make a first impression. Well, Thelma Holford of Jonesboro, Arkansas turned the tables and decided to make a unique last impression. For her grave marker in the Jonesboro Memorial Park cemetery, she erected a one-of-a-kind monument featuring her and her faithful dog "Bunnie."

In Jonesboro, Thelma was widely known as the town's eccentric. She was an astute businesswoman who managed a very successful awning business. She was also a great lover of dogs, taking in numerous strays and treating them like the children she never had. In her will, she left funds for a pet cemetery. The executors named it in her honor.

Thelma had been briefly married once, but was divorced in her mid-20's and never remarried. That may account for the message on the sign her monument holds which says, "Don't be afraid to stand alone." Along with her name and dates, the monument also lists her daily prayer - "God help me keep my long nose out of other people's business and give me 26 hours each day to mind my own."

Not long before she passed away, she commissioned her self-designed monument to be crafted in Italy. She wasn't happy with the completed marker though and had it shipped back to be redone. The reason? "It makes my dog look like a horse." She passed away in 1989 at age 82 of natural causes shortly after accepting the 2nd working of her monument.