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March 4th, 2014

Majestic Hotel

Last week, a fire gutted the Majestic Hotel in Hot Springs, Arkansas. I have fond memories of that hotel.

Hot Springs is a resort town in the Ouachita Mountains, a small set of mountains in the western part of the state that are the most lovely in Arkansas. The mineral hot springs brought visitors from the time that the native Americans gathered there until the present day.

In an earlier time, the "healing baths" brought visitors from across the country to seek a cure for what ailed them. Today, the town preserves its resort charm. The town used to serve as Spring training grounds for the Boston Red Sox baseball team, as a wintrring rest place for gangsters like Al Capone, and as a rehabilitation place for soldiers injured in World War Two. Even today, it's filled with places to get a good Belgian waffle, a tour of someplace tacky, and a fine walk up a mountain.

The Majestic was built in 1902. The hotel served as one of several fine hotels near Bathhouse Row. Once it was a bit of a grande dame hotel. But my memories of it date far later than that. I stayed there during the late 1970s and early 1980s. When I was roughly college age, I used to play in chess tournaments at the Najestic Hotel. My friend Mike from Gurdon and I would stay there when we played in the Arkansas Open. These five round chess tournaments would stretch over two days. The players were courteous and the games were fun.I found it very relaxing to sit in a room full of folks hunkered over chess sets, with few sounds other than,once in a while, the gentle click of a chess clock or the gentle tap of piece taking piece.

The Majestic Hotel of that time served me well--quiet, affordable, only a bit in need of an update. It neither looked grand nor tacky, but just like an older hotel.

I had read that the hotel was being restored some time ago. But last week, the hotel burned. The fire was as grand as a grand hotel can muster. It took days to put out.

It's funny all the places you call home in life. Some of them are actual houses and homes, some of them are dorm rooms and cabins. Often,for me, home is a little-noted walking path. I was sad to hear that my funny little chess-playing home at the Majestic had vanished, like a match flame at last burnt out. There's that moment when the expiring match suddenly flames up. Then it is gone.