Academic journal article The Arkansas Historical Quarterly

Leo and Verne: The Spa's Heyday

Academic journal article The Arkansas Historical Quarterly

Leo and Verne: The Spa's Heyday

Article excerpt

Leo and Verne: The Spa's Heyday. By Orval E. Allbritton. (hot Springs, AR: Garland County Historical Society, 2003. Pp. 607. Preface, introduction, acknowledgments, foreword by Sid McMath, illustrations. $30.00.)

In Leo and Verne: The Spa 's Heyday, hot Springs historian Orval E. Allbritton chronciles this resort city's history as a gambling town through the lives of the two men who were probably most responsible for the political organization that controlled both the local government and entertainment industry during the early twentieth century. Using an extensive collection of newspaper articles, oral history interviews, court records, and various other documents, Allbritton strings together personal and political vignettes of Leo P. McLaughlin, mayor of hot Springs from 1926 to 1947, and Vernal S. Ledgerwood, the town's police and municipal judge from 1913 to 1947.

In public, these two men seemed a matched set, intertwined by politics, business, and corruption. McLaughlin was usually hailed as the head of the "Administration," as their local political machine was known. Ledgerwood did not challenge that image, although, according to Allbritton, most people knew that Ledgerwood was both the mastermind and the manager of the city and county government operation that protected the illegal hot Springs entertainment industry for almost twenty years. Yet, in spite of growing up in the same city and attending school together, these two political partners were not personal friends and had little to do with each other outside of business. Ledgerwood lived a quiet life with his wife, Bess, while McLaughlin divided his time between his controlling Irish Catholic mother and the women in his life. He was married three times, none happily it seems, and always without his mother's approval. Ledgerwood earned respect as a competent municipal judge, while McLaughlin had a reputation as an opportunist who used his charm and family to gain position, then used that position to maintain his power and flamboyant lifestyle.

Kept in power by corrupt elections and a usually complaisant populace, these men used the illegal gambling and entertainment industry to bring prosperity to the city and themselves for two decades. Their reign ended in 1946 when World War II veterans led by Sid McMath staged a takeover of city and county political offices in what has become known as the G.I. Revolt. In his epilogue, Allbritton states that illegal gambling and political corruption were not banished from hot Springs for long but rose again to flourish from 1952 until 1967, when Gov. …

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