The Vapors: A Southern Family, the New York Mob, and the Rise and Fall of Hot Springs, America’s Forgotten Capital of Vice – David Hill

The Vapors is entertaining, well-written, incredibly well-researched and personal to the author: His sixteen year old grandmother Hazel ended up in Hot Springs in 1935 when her traveling horse trainer father ditched her there to live with 22 year old Hollis Hill– never mind Hollis was still married. Hot Springs was a tourist town with a seamy side including very successful casinos and brothels that were sometimes illegal but tolerated, sometimes illegal and targeted at every level of government, and sometimes legal. Hill captures the social, political and culture clashes that kept all involved in these businesses on high alert. The Vapors was the crown jewel of the local clubs, bringing in famous acts like Tony Bennett, Sophie Tucker, Les Paul and the Smothers Brothers. Eventually, Hot Springs became too big for its own good, attracting the attention of mob families who wanted in and Congress who was on a morality kick. Arkansas banned casino gambling for good. What about Hazel? Interspersed throughout this account is the story of her life, how she raised her children, her ill-fated marriage and its aftermath. Hazel would not win a mother of the year award, but her life, the choices she made and her independence make for a fascinating story that intersects with the business of Hot Springs of the era. I won this book in a Goodreads giveaway in June 2021 and read it right away, then forgot to review it. I only remember details of a book if it was amazing: I was certain I had reviewed it because I’ve thought about it a lot. I hadn’t, but this was easy to recount. Definitely recommend if the subject interests you or if you like historical fiction. This is NOT fiction, but it reads like it. Enjoy!

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