Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Coming Home: French Lick's Own Eloise


As a little girl, I couldn’t imagine a lifestyle that would be as fabulous as Eloise’s life at the Plaza Hotel. Just look at her. My six-year-old self was convinced that we were meant to be best friends.

 
But, unfortunately, Eloise was just a character in a book and her glamorous life at the Plaza was nothing more than something fun to dream about.

So you can imagine my excitement when I received an email from a man named Dale. He described that his wife, Carol, lived at French Lick Springs Hotel for a few years of her childhood during the late 1950s. He wanted to bring her back so she could revisit the hotel she once called home.


I had the chance to meet a real-life Eloise. The child inside of me couldn’t help but smile gleefully. 
Enter Carol, French Lick’s Eloise.

Carol's father delivers a birthday cake from the kitchen
Originally from Jackson, Michigan, Carol’s father was hired as a chef at French Lick during the time when the hotel was under the operation of Sheraton. Carol and her parents called room 2013 home – it was nestled in the spring wing right next to the elevators. 
Being one of the only children living at the hotel at the time, Carol soon determined that she had to make her own adventures.

“I’d ride the elevators for fun. At that time, there were elevator operators and I’d have them take me up and down the floors,” explained Carol. 
With an exceptionally good memory, Carol recalled the friends she made during her time here.

There was Rocky who worked in the laundry room right next to the kitchen. She’d pay a visit to her dad and then pop over and see Rocky. His family lived in a neighborhood right next to the hotel, and she vividly remembers playing with them on the nearby playground.

Then, there was Bruno – the pastry chef. Carol talked about Bruno fondly – remembering how he bought her very first strand of pearls.

“He had to have bought them from the shop just over there,” she said as she pointed to the space that now houses the Mercantile, just off the lobby.

Living at French Lick did have its slight downfalls though. 
Easter spent at the hotel
Carol recalled taking part in the hotel’s annual Easter egg hunt in the Mezzanine with the visiting children. She could participate in the hunt, but she was forbidden to find the prized golden egg. 

One of the first things she and Dale did upon arrival was walk up to the Mezzanine.

“For old time’s sake, I had to check for Easter eggs in the flower pots,” she said with a smile.

In true Eloise fashion, Carol was an extremely stylish child. Just check out some of her outfits. Her dresses were either hand-sewed by her mother or mailed to her from her aunts across the country.
I couldn’t let Carol leave without knowing what it was like to live the life that my inner-six-year-old always wanted – to call a beautiful hotel home.
“I never knew how unique it was until I was an adult,” Carol explained. “I never thought anything of it as a kid because that’s all I knew.”

For Carol, coming back to French Lick after all this time was a little nerve-wracking. It’s hard to know what to expect after so many years have passed.

But when Dale drove her up to the hotel, she described a peacefulness that washed over her.

“As soon as I saw those front steps, it just felt like I was coming home.”
Dale and Carol pose in front of the spring house
Chelsea Brinegar