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A Very Famous Name and Face to Add to Our Wall of Fame?

Exterior of French Lick Springs during the Sheraton era

It just might be time for a major addition to our Wall of Distinguished Guests. It’d be one of the most famous names among the 200+ celebrities on the wall — one that we never even heard about until now.

While we were spotlighting The Nomads golf group earlier this summer, two of their members recalled an incredible brush with fame from the first time they visited French Lick Springs Hotel about 60 years ago. To set the stage, it’s about 1961 or ’62, back when the Sheraton Company owned and operated French Lick Springs Hotel. The Mason family is visiting from the Cleveland suburb of Shaker Heights: Paul and David (about age 7 and 10), their older brother Ted and their parents.
“We’re going down to the lobby and a gentleman enters the elevator,” David recalls. “And my mother looks at him and says, Gee you look so familiar to me. Don’t I know you?

The man is polite and says he doesn’t think they know each other. The boys’ mother is insistent, though.

“My mother again looked at him again and said, I’m sure I know you. And by this time, my brothers and I got a look at the guy and we knew exactly who he was,” Paul remembers. A bit embarrassed by their mother, the boys are doing the old “Mom, shhh, stop…mom, be quiet.”

“When the elevator got to the lobby floor and the doors opened up, he walked out and that was when we said, Mom that was Willie Mays.”

French Lick Resort,, Wall of Distinguished Guests


Our Wall of Distinguished Guests is an inexact science, of sorts, when it comes to the celebrities who’ve visited French Lick and West Baden. 

We have photographic proof of some famous folks who’ve been here: Bing Crosby, Lana Turner, Franklin D. Roosevelt, for instance. Others have been historically documented, like Will Rogers and Ronald Reagan. Then, there are those like John Barrymore, who were rumored to have visited (and very likely did), though no hard evidence exists from these pre-social media days. Greta Garbo goes into this category as well, since her personal life was often shrouded in secrecy and French Lick may have been somewhere she visited to have some personal space and be left alone.

willie mays

Maybe the same could be said for Willie Mays? 

In the early 1960s, the 24-time All-Star would have been midway through his Hall of Fame baseball career. French Lick could have been a getaway spot to recharge and relax during the offseason and away from the public eye. It’s also notable that during this era when people of color weren’t permitted at all hotels, French Lick was a place where guests like Willie Mays and the Mason family could feel welcomed. Given that French Lick and West Baden both had very active Black/African American communities in the early days, they were ahead of the times in being inclusive to all backgrounds.


lobby and front desk of French Lick Springs hotel 1960'2
The lobby and front desk of the Sheraton-owned French Lick Springs Hotel, circa 1960s.


And if there’s any doubt that the man in the elevator was who they thought it was, well, the boys knew a World Series champ and living baseball legend when they saw one.

“There’s no question it was Willie Mays,” Paul says. The boys never spoke to him during this brief encounter, but were nonetheless wowed by his presence. “He was very well dressed – he had very nice slacks, I don’t remember if he had a suit or just a nice shirt on, but he was very well dressed, and comported himself beautifully. And he was very modest.”

Sounds like a perfect fit for that “Distinguished Guests” club, doesn’t it? And it begs the question: what other celebrities might have discreetly visited French Lick without their portrait making it to the Wall of Fame? With nearly 180 years of history here, chances are good these hotel grounds have hosted some famous folks we never even knew about.

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