Twice each year my wife Anne and I drive down to southern Indiana. Usually it’s for the sake of visiting relatives, helping family keep in touch, doing something nice for others, that sort of thing. Usually it consists of one three-hour drive down slow highways behind lackadaisical drivers, four to six hours of sitting and chatting and letting the older folks enjoy each other’s company while we might or might not nod off, then another three-hour drive home. We’re adult enough to accept not every weekend can be a convention or even a trip to the movie theater.
Dateline: October 24, 2015. My aunt suggested we break routine and get together for a bit of Indiana tourism. We headed out to the twin towns of French Lick and West Baden. When I was a kid we drove through them frequently but rarely stopped in either of them except for gas. Fast-forward four decades later, and now each town has a special attraction to boast as their own. For West Baden, it’s the enormous West Baden Springs Hotel, a structure with a history dating back to 1855 filled with frequently changing ownerships, periods of disuse, extensive restoration funded by multiple donors, and a new life today as a premier getaway in the southern Indiana area.
Once upon a time in the early ’80s my aunt took us inside for a quick look around. As I recall, beneath its large dome was a massive rotunda exquisitely detailed by proud artisans in styles hearkening to ages of yore. Back then we didn’t carry cameras around. We have no record of that visit. I thought it was a wonderful idea to return and see what’s been done with the place.
One little problem: upon our arrival we learned the entire facility had been rented out for the day for a fancy wedding. No uninvited visitors were allowed inside.
So this Saturday afternoon exploratory jaunt turned into a brisk autumn walk around the grounds, viewing the exterior features and digging the fascinating colors that nature shows off in southern Indiana every year ’round this time. Not quite the full West Baden Springs experience, but it would have to do.