Hauntings at French Lick Springs Hotel

Over the years, a handful of paranormal activities have been reported by staffs and visitors of the historic hotel, including disembodied voices reverberating throughout the hallways and mysterious phone calls in the middle of the night by vacant rooms.

However, it is the hotel’s resident ghost that have gotten the most attention, and it is none other than the spirit of Thomas Taggart. Many have reported a faint smell of tobacco along the hallways on the sixth floor, as if Taggart was smoking his favourite cigar. A more ridiculous sighting says that the ghostly figure of a horse and rider can be seen trotting down the long hall to the hotel’s ballroom.

There have also been reports of a dark figure loitering at the service elevator, which is only used by staffs of the hotel. This have led many employees to believe that the Thomas Taggart continues to linger in the hotel, and is keeping a close watch on the crew to ensure that his high standards are uphold. Others suggest that it could be Charlie Skaggs, an employee of hotel who was found dead at the bottom of the elevator shaft.

Other than Taggart’s ghost, the spirits of a African-American bellboy (bell-hop) can also be seen loitering around the hotel lobby. In one story, a couple approached the front desk to request for the service of a bellboy which they had seen earlier, only to be shocked to see old photos of the bellboy hanging on the walls.

History of French Lick Springs Hotel

Named after the presence of a salt lick, a natural deposit where animals would savour to replenish essential nutrients, and the settlement of the French immigrants in the region, French Licks previously known as Salt Spring) was once a thriving salt mining town.

However, the salt mines proved to be an unprofitable venture for many, leading to its eventual abandonment. In 1932, Thomas Bowles and his brother Dr William A. Bowles purchased 1,500 acres of land which included a mineral springs site from the state government.

The brothers went on to build French Lick Springs Hotel, the first hotel in the French Lick region, in 1845. However, within a year of operation, Bowels was drafted to the military to participate in the Mexican-American War (1846-1848). For a period of five years, the hotel was leased to local salesman John A. Lane.

French Lick Springs Hotel 1850
French Licks Springs Hotel during the 1850s | Image credits: frenchlickresort.blogspot.com

After returning French Lick Springs Hotel to Bowles in the early 1850s, Lane went on to purchase half of Bowles’s land and built the town’s second mineral springs hotel. Originally named Mile Lick Inn, the hotel was renamed to West Baden Springs Hotel in the 1860s to pay recognition to the famous mineral springs in Wiesbaden in Germany. The hotel was burnt down

Two decades later, French Lick Hotel was sold to Hiram E. Wells and James M. Andrews. The property underwent extensive renovation and was rebranded as a mineral springs health resort to attract visitors who sought for the mineral springs “miracle waters”.

In 1901, the property changed hands once again when it was sold to an investment group which included Thomas Taggart, former mayor of Indianapolis; William McDoel, president of the Monon Railroad, and Livingston T. Dickson, a limestone quarry owners. Taggart would go on to buy over shares of his investment partners, becoming the sole owner of French Lick Springs Hotel.

pluto water poster
Poster for Pluto Water | Image credits: frenchlickresort.blogspot.com

Under Taggart’s leadership, the hotel underwent an extensive upgrade to modernize the property. Some of the improvements made included the introduction of electricity and a fresh water system. The former mayor was also able to utilize his influence to convince Monon Railroad to divert a track directly to the hotel, providing the much needed convenience for guests traveling from outside of Indianapolis. Last but not least, a bottling plant was built to produce Pluto Water; Pluto is a name given to French Lick hotel’s largest mineral spring.

French Lick spring monon railroad station
Monon railroad station at French Licks Springs Hotel | Image credits: frenchlickresort.blogspot.com

During the glorious days, French Lick Springs Hotel would receive 150 to 200 guests a day. This included many notable politicians and luminaries such as Franklin D. Roosevelt, Harry S Truman, Louis Armstrong, Bob Hope and Duke Ellington. In particular, during the 23th National Governors’ Convention held in the hotel in June 1931, Franklin D. Roosevelt announced his intention to run for presidency.

The resort was also known for owning the French Lick Plutos, an independent Negro league baseball club. Although it had only operated for three years from 1912 to 1914, the team has garnered a huge crowd of fans in the French Lick community. Apart from playing against their main rival, the West Baden Sprudels from West Baden Springs Hotel, other Negro league clubs such as the Indianapolis ABCs would also visit the French Lick for practice games. Other notable teams such as the Chicago Cubs and the Chicago White Sox were also known to have held spring training in French Lick during Wold War II.

French Lick Pluto team
Photo of French Lick Plutos | Image credits: Indiana Historical Society

However, the luxurious resort went into a sharp decline after the Wall Street stock market crash in 1929. To survive the Great Depression and WWII, French Licks Springs Hotel began to promote itself as a recreational resort. In particular, the hotel touted itself as a golfer’s destination with its two eighteen-hole golf course. Still, the operation of the massive luxury resort proved to be challenging for many. Over the 20th century, the hotel went through several other owners before being left abandoned in the 1990s. In spite of its disuse, French Lick Springs Hotel became one of several hotels listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2003.

French Lick Springs Hotel facade
French Licks Springs Hotel | Image credits: French Licks Springs Hotel

In April 2005, the Cook Group Inc., purchased the iconic property in hopes of restoring the hotel to its former glory. This comes after the successful acquisition of a gambling license that allowed casino gambling in French Lick. On November 3, 2006, French Lick Resort Complex—which includes French Lick Springs Hotel, West Baden Springs Hotel, and French Lick Casino—opened its doors to the public.

Difference Between French Lick Springs Hotel and West Baden Springs Hotel

Both hotels are century-old properties with their history dating back to the 1850s. However, West Baden Springs features a newer building that was completed in 1902; the original property was razed to the ground in a massive fire in 1901.

West Baden hotel 1902
West Baden Springs Hotel in 1902 | Image credits: frenchlickresort.blogspot.com

French Lick Spring Hotel features 443 luxurious guest rooms across its elongated property which featured the main building and its connected wing. On the other hand, the 243-bedder West Baden West Spring is easily recognized by the 135-foot high free-standing dome which for over five decades, was the world’s largest free-span dome. In fact, the dome was nicknamed “Eight Wonder of the World” by locals of the French Lick community.

The two historic hotels differ vastly in the overall atmosphere and activities offered. French Lick Springs Hotel provides family-friendly activities such as golf, spa, bowling, swimming and shopping, making it a perfect weekend accommodation spot for family and friends. In contrast, West Baden Springs Hotel offers an elegantly-European backdrop, making it an ideal romantic getaway for couples.

Guests of French Lick Springs Hotel and West Baden Springs Hotel can travel to either side via a century-old trolley service which was reopened in 2014.

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