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  • Writer's pictureHeather Tanguay

Aug. 9-13 French Lick, Indiana

Updated: Aug 17, 2019

Friday, Aug. 9 - I arrive at my parents' house in Louisville at 4 am, having gone to French Lick, Indiana the evening before. French Lick is a historic hotel with a newly build casino. I do not know why but many casinos have electric car chargers. (Remember Buffalo Bill's in Primm, NV and The Grand in Oklahoma?) The parking valets at all three casinos tell me that they see Teslas but almost no other electric cars. Maybe the person who is brave enough to risk $$K on a concept car is comfortable with playing with their money in other ways. I am not questioning this logic. I am glad for the free charge.

In December 1960, my parents spent their honeymoon at French Lick. Twenty years ago, the extended Tanguay clan (grandparents, my sister and her family, my family) went to French Lick at Christmas to celebrate my parents' 40th wedding anniversary.

When my parents were newlyweds, French Lick was a happening place, retaining most of its Roaring 20's excitement, through the closing of the many casinos in and around French Lick mid 20th century slowly but surely was taking a toll. By our visit in1999, the place was almost shuttered, full of faded gilt trim and dusty mirrors, threadbare carpets, and long hallways of doors and doors and doors stretching into the gloom as far as the eye could see. We made a video, since lost (perhaps thankfully), a la Shining. My sister and I held hands and chanted, "Come and play with us."

The adjacent property, West Baden Spa, was once dubbed the 8th wonder of the world. In 1902, it boasted the world's largest free standing dome (surpassed in 1915 by Centennial Hall, Wroclaw, Poland). This dome was the largest in US until 1955 (beaten by the Charlotte, North Carolina Coliseum). A cavernous space, the dome was by 1999 in danger of falling down. Still it was breath-taking to stand in the middle, as we did, and imagine it bustling with people.

The French expression, "Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose - the more things change, the more they are the same," applies to French Lick and the West Baden Spa. Rescued by historical societies, philanthropic preservationists, and gaming interests, French Lick and West Baden are once again grand. The new casino building is the usual neon extravaganza but the old hotels have been kept largely intact, refurbished and burnished to a lovely shine.

I have five hours to prowl the revitalized hotel and spa. For a Thursday, a decent number of people seem to be in the hotel. I try to book a room but the cheapest is $244. Bookings dot com and the other cheapo sites do not have any listings. French Lick/West Baden are doing well enough not to need discount travelers like me. Still, a group of 30 year old men, arrived two days early for a Saturday wedding, agree that the long hallways, though well lit, retain some of their Shining spookiness. They start taking videos of themselves, standing side by side, saying, "Come and play with us, Danny."

The Blue Frog is fully charged at 1 am. I start a slow drive down route 150, part of the Indiana Historic Pathway from Vincennes, Indiana to Louisville, Kentucky. The narrow ribbon loops back and forth, going down, down, down. I pass signs for local ski resorts. (Who would have thought?!) A scenic drive in daylight, now it is a game of Don't whack the mole. I win! by not hitting the raccoon, possum, three deer, and dark furry slinky animal (half-grown kitten, mink?) that cross the Blue Frog's path.


Check out "Taking the Waters at French Lick" for information about visiting the spa. I "borrowed" the fireplace picture from them because theirs is so nice and the one I took did not work out.

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