‘So Cold the River’ topic of literary club
Corydon Women’s Literary Club member Ruby Deaton said her topic for a spring meeting was about a book recommended by story lover Denise Ellars.
Ellars recommended the book “So Cold the River” because it takes place in French Lick and West Baden.
“I enjoyed the descriptions of the dome, both in ruins and restoration,” Deaton said. “When we camped at Patoka Lake in the ’80s, we often walked through the property and inside the abandoned dome. I have stayed at the French Lick Hotel and attended educational conferences at those facilities. I have visited the restored dome, but I have not stayed overnight. It is on my bucket list for a future Christmas outing.”
Deaton said she knew the descriptions by author Michael Koryta were true. Mentions of the mineral and sulfur springs, Pluto Water, Lost River, the vintage train and local landmarks enhanced the story, she said.
The story begins when Eric Shaw is hired to compose a video documentary of a family’s millionaire patriarch, Campbell Bradford. All the family knows of his past is that he grew up in the French Lick area and had an antique water bottle that he treasured. Shaw soon notices that the bottle stays cool to the touch and has a horrible odor. He is so curious that he tastes the water and becomes ill and delusional.
Shaw soon discovers that Bradford’s reputation is not an honorable one. He was part of the town’s dark history of bootlegging and other vices that existed below the wealthy clientele and beautiful hotels. Various people try to stop Shaw’s investigation, which leads to unusual characters, mystery, suspense and eerie events.
Koryta lives in Bloomington and St. Petersburg, Fla. He earned a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from Indiana University. Deaton said he has received several awards as a newspaper reporter and has written several award-winning novels and story series. Koryta teaches at the IU School of Journalism and works for a detective agency.
As part of her program, Deaton provided some trivia about French Lick/West Baden:
Many people went to the area by train from Chicago, Indianapolis and Louisville, mostly for the mineral baths and spa therapies.
As large crowds visited, hoteliers offered more entertainment. West Baden and French Lick became the party towns for the wealthy, gangsters and pleasure seekers. An extension was made to the railroad to service West Baden/French Lick. This spur was part of the Monon Railroad.
In early years, the Cincinnati Reds, Chicago Cubs and Pittsburgh Pirates hosted their spring training camps at the West Baden Hotel.
In the early 1900s, the dome in the West Baden Hotel was known as the Eighth Wonder of the World.
The West Baden dome has been a military hospital, seminary and private university (Northwood Institute).
Al Capone stayed often at the dome and used the underground tunnels to discreetly leave the building. The bar has a mark to show his designated seat. Capone supposedly owned a whiskey still on a nearby farm and was known to be in a shoot-out at the dome.
Tomato juice was first created and served at the French Lick Hotel. The chef resorted to blending tomatoes when his order of oranges was not delivered.