Download Bathhouse Battle! We're In Some Hot Water Now
For many Americans, the oldest national park is not Yellowstone, but Hot Springs National Park, located at the southern margin of the Ouachita Mountains in central Arkansas. Congress established a Federal reserve here in 1832, 40 years before Yellowstone, to protect and preserve the natural hot springs for public use. After the Civil War, Hot Springs City, to the south of the park, boomed into a health resort, with many beautiful bathhouses built along the base of Hot Springs Mountain. Since then, Hot Springs has been host to visitors seeking cures or to bathe away their pain. Today's visitors still focus their attention on Bathhouse Row and still take hot water spa treatments in the old tradition. While considerable archeology has taken place in the vicinity of Bathhouse Row (especially in association with historic stabilization), archeology off the beaten path in the park's 5,500 acres of mountainous woodlands has been sporadic and small scale.
download Bathhouse Battle! We're in Some Hot Water Now
An intensive metal detection inventory was conducted to determine whether Chalybeate Cemetery was an 1864 skirmish site. No battle-related objects were located but a number of artifacts related to the cemetery were found. Wire nails, woven wire, and a gate pull at the base of the ridge confirm a report that the cemetery had been fenced, the wire nails suggesting fence construction sometime post-1890. Eleven cut nails were found at nine places higher on the cemetery's slopes. Cut nails usually date prior to 1890. A cluster of artifacts at Depression #27 included cut nails, the base of a sun-altered violet glass mug, tin cup fragments, a fragment of a glass lamp chimney, and a pink and white annular whiteware sherd. Together, these items suggest a circa 1880-1890 date for this grave.
The first bathhouses were crude structures of canvas and lumber, little more than tents perched over individual springs or reservoirs carved out of the rock. Bathhouses made of wood frame could be found in Hot Springs by the 1850s. These replaced the crude huts and were still operating well into the late 19th century. Wooden troughs carried water from the springs to a tank and the bather could then manipulate the cold and hot water by pulling a rope. Afterward, the bather went to a special vapor room (a room over a thermal spring with cracks around two inches apart in the floor to allow vapor to rise). Following the vapor, the bather received a dousing of cold water before dressing.
The hotel was abandoned after the fire and became a shady abandoned hangout for local teens and troublemakers. The buildings caught fire two more times since then; one in 1988 and again in 1997. The former Hot Wells Hotel and Spa had come to resemble medieval ruins. Only the stone walls of the bathhouse and some surrounding buildings remain standing. The pools were still there, as were the stairways into the lower levels. The ruins of the Hot Wells gained notoriety for its creepy, labyrinth-like structure. Ghost stories began to make their way around town.
You lower yourself slowly into the uncomfortably hot water, steam drifts off its surface creating a dreamlike haze in the humid interior. Dark stone tiles line the baths, contrasting with the blond wood that makes up the walls and walkways of this traditional establishment. Translucent paper screens split the bathhouse interior into discrete bathing areas, a skylight above allows for an uninterrupted view of the heavens. You lean back with a sigh of satisfaction. You can hear murmured conversations from nearby bathers and further off the rushing of water from the fast moving stream behind the bathhouse.
Bathhouses offering similar services for women are rare, but some men's bathhouses occasionally have a "lesbian" or "women only" night. Some, such as Hawks PDX, offer so-called "bisexual" nights, where anyone is welcome regardless of gender.
Many bathhouses are open twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. There is typically a single customer entrance and exit. After paying at the main entrance, the customer is buzzed through the main door. This system allows establishments to screen potential troublemakers; many bathhouses refuse entry to those who are visibly intoxicated, as well as known prostitutes. In some areas, particularly where homosexuality is illegal, considered immoral, or viewed with hostility, this is a necessary safety precaution.
Sexual encounters at bathhouses are frequently, but not always, anonymous. Some feel that the anonymity adds to the erotic excitement: that is what, for these patrons, one goes to the bathhouse for. Bathhouse encounters sometimes lead to relationships, but usually do not. Bathhouses are still used by men who have sex with men and do not identify as gay or bisexual, including those that are closeted or in heterosexual relationships.
In many bathhouses the customer has a choice between renting a room or a locker, often for fixed periods of up to 12 hours. A room typically consists of a locker and a single bed (though doubles are sometimes available) with a thin vinyl mat supported on a simple wooden box or frame, an arrangement that facilitates easy cleaning between patrons. In many bathhouses (particularly those outside the United States), some or all of the rooms are freely available to all patrons.
Bathhouses are not always identifiable as such from the outside. Some bathhouses are clearly marked and well lit, others have no marking other than a street address on the door. Bathhouses sometimes display the rainbow flag, which is commonly flown by businesses to identify themselves as gay-run or gay-friendly. Bathhouses commonly advertise widely in the gay press and sometimes advertise in mainstream newspapers and other media. In 2003 Australia began airing possibly the world's first television advertisements for a gay bathhouse when advertisements on commercial television in Melbourne promoted Wet on Wellington, a sauna in Wellington Street, Collingwood.
Most men, beyond footwear, typically just wear the towel provided. According to bathhouse etiquette, it is perfectly acceptable, even friendly, to put one's hand under someone else's towel to feel his penis, which, if well received, is the first step in sexual intimacy. Some bathhouses permit and others not only permit but encourage total nudity. In some bathhouses nudity is forbidden in the common areas of the establishments. Some men may wear underwear or fetish-wear, but it is unusual for customers to remain fully or even partially dressed in street clothes. Bare feet are frequent, though some men prefer to wear flip flops or sandals, sometimes provided by the establishment, for foot protection. The room or locker key is usually suspended from an elastic band which can be worn around the wrist or ankle.
Some bathhouses require customers to purchase yearly memberships and many offer special entry rates to members, students, military, or other groups. In some countries, bathhouses can restrict entrance to men of certain age ranges (apart from the general requirement of being an adult) or physical types, although in other places this would be considered illegal discrimination. Some bathhouses hold occasional "leather", "underwear", or other theme nights.
From the mid-1980s onward there was lobbying against gay bathhouses blaming them for being a focus of infection encouraging the spread of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), in particular HIV, and this forced their closure in some jurisdictions (see Legal issues, below).
Neither the claim that bathhouses are responsible for the spread of sexually transmitted diseases, nor the claim that they are not, has been conclusively proved, but it is known that STDs are spread via unprotected sex, and as part of their membership agreement, or as a condition of entry, some bathhouses now require customers to affirm in writing that they will only practice safe sex on the premises, and venues frequently provide free condoms, latex gloves, and lubrication (and/or have them available for purchase). In New Zealand and Australia, the New Zealand AIDS Foundation and constituent members of the Australian Federation of AIDS Organizations provide safe sex information for sex on site venue users.
In California the "Consenting Adult Sex Bill", passed in January 1976, made gay bathhouses and the sex that took place within them legal for the first time. During the 1970s, the two most popular gay bathhouses in San Francisco, both located in the SOMA neighborhood, were the Ritch Street Health Club at 330 Ritch St., the interior of which was designed like a Minoan palace, and The Barracks, a BDSM bathhouse at 72 Hallam near Folsom in which each room was designed to accommodate a different BDSM sexual fantasy. In 1978 a group of police officers raided the Liberty Baths in the Polk Gulch neighborhood of San Francisco and arrested three patrons for "lewd conduct in a public place", but the District Attorney's office soon dropped the charges against them. In 1984, however, fear of AIDS caused the San Francisco Health department, with the support of some gay activists such as Randy Shilts, and against the opposition of other gay activists, to ask the courts to close gay bathhouses in the city. The court, under Judge Roy Wonder, instead issued a court order that limited sexual practices and disallowed renting of private rooms in bathhouses, so that sexual activity could be monitored, as a public health measure. Some of the bathhouses tried to live within the strict rules of this court order, but many of them felt they could not easily do business under the new rules and closed. Eventually, the few remaining actual bathhouses succumbed to either economic pressures or the continuing legal pressures of the city and finally closed. Several sex clubs, which were not officially bathhouses, continued to operate indefinitely and operate to this day, though following strict rules under the court order and city regulations. Bathhouses themselves, however, operate just outside the city, thus outside of their laws, such as in Berkeley and San Jose.