End of an Era: RIP Chandler

After seven short years with us, our Bullmastiff named Chandler passed away May 16, 2014. He was polite, strong and dignified, but worn down by the years and poor health. When he first came to us years ago he was just skin and bones, weighing only 95 pounds. Late in life he was more like 125. Quiet except for the occasional “big dog bark” warning to coyotes and strangers late at night, he kept a watchful eye upon us and the other dogs.

Chandler Standing Tall compressed


Chandler by Barbara Mourglia Sideview


Chandler Backview and Lewie by Barbara Mourglia

Chandler by Barbara Topview

Ozark Hollow Eureka Springs Chandler Weems


Steve Weems and ChandlerIMG_7352

Eureka Springs Independent Newspaper Column for May 21, 2014 by Steve Weems

Jim and Mary Lee Penson were on their way to Branson in October 1973 when, on the spur of the moment, they decided to stop in Eureka Springs to see the Great Passion Play. They were investigating locations where they could develop a campground and RV park, so the next morning they talked to Gerald Fowler, a Realtor in town. As it turned out, he had just listed a campground for sale located in the curve of US 62 at the top of Rockhouse Road called the Hitch-N-Post. The Pensons bought it.

Jim and Mary Lee Penson were natives of Shawnee, Oklahoma, but had spent the previous 11 years in the Oakland, California area. Jim said it was ten years too many.

Mary Lee worked for the Heart of the Ozarks Realty and Bromstad Abstract at 26 Spring Street. She sat at the desk by the big plate glass window and it would vibrate so much that she half expected it to fall in on her. Colonel King and Fonta Mackie were the partners who owned the business and they would fight like cats and dogs so much that people who didn’t know them always thought that they must be married.

Between 8 and 8:30 every morning, Mary Lee would park her car where the Flat Iron Building is now. She would walk up Spring Street and the aroma from Claude Bingaman’s bakery smelled so scrumptious she’d find herself going in against her will to buy a half-dozen donuts for the office. Claude Bingaman would say, “No calories in these donuts. They won’t make you fat.”

At lunchtime, Fonta Mackie didn’t like going in the High Hat to pick up food, so she’d send Mary Lee for hamburgers for lunch. Inevitably, a man on a barstool sipping beer would say, “Mrs. Mackie has you doing her dirty work again.”

The Hitch-N-Post was sold several years ago (actually they had to sell it twice), and Jim has passed away, but Mary Lee volunteers at a local assisted living facility where none of the residents are local people, and she can tell stories about how Eureka Springs used to be.

Eureka Springs Independent Newspaper Column for May 14, 2014 by Steve Weems

In response to last week’s column about the black panther sightings in the area, a reader related a fishing expedition earlier this spring on Table Rock Lake. While fishing near Holiday Island, he noticed a large black cat on shore and photographed it. The pictures are fuzzy because of distance and a rocking boat, but they do seem to show a black panther in an area of timber and large rocks.

“When the cat spotted me he was gone in a flash,” the fisherman said. After getting close to shore and comparing the size of the rocks in the photographs, he said the black cat must have been at least four feet long. “Definitely not your typical house cat,” he said. “I really feel blessed to have witnessed this beautiful animal, something I’ll always remember.”

Now onto another matter. I’ve long been fascinated by the old story of William Wrigley of Wrigley Gum fame and fortune coming to Eureka Springs and he loved the town so much that he tried to buy it. Most of what we know about the matter seems to come from four paragraphs in Otto Ernest Rayburn’s The Eureka Springs Story.

Mr. Rayburn’s account says that William Wrigley visited Eureka Springs in 1902 and 1903 and offered to purchase all the land “within a radius of three miles of the city and make it into a public park if the city authorities would agree to keep it policed and free from junk and garbage.” After being turned down, Wrigley “went to Catalina Island, off the California coast, where he spent millions in development.” That is true, but it occurred almost twenty years later when Wrigley was a much wealthier individual.

The earliest reference to the Wrigley episode that I found was a scathing 1936 editorial written by Roberta Fulbright in the Fayetteville Daily Democrat in which she ridicules Eureka Springs for not selling out. Roberta Fulbright is better known as the sister of Arkansas Senator J. William Fulbright and grandmother of political pundit Tucker Carlson. She also married the head of the Swanson frozen-foods empire.

Eureka Springs Independent Newspaper Column for May 7, 2014

Sometime back, my neighbor, a man with decades of hunting experience, saw what he would have called a mountain lion, except it was completely black. And he is not the only one down our county road to have seen a large black cat.

There are recurring sightings of black panthers in the Ozarks, though scientists generally discount these reports. The speculation is that the sightings are made in poor light by inexperienced observers seeing fleeting images of bobcats or black dogs or even river otters.

A few years ago, Jon Mourglia was coming down Planer Hill into downtown Eureka Springs when he saw a black panther up on the right. He stopped and watched the animal for a couple of minutes and then ran into a business to alert others. A lady came out, but only in time to see the animal’s tail as it jumped over a log and retreated. Jon said it was broad daylight and the animal watched him for as long as he watched it. The black panther was sleek and its tail was nearly as long as the rest of its body.

In South America, mountain lions are known to occasionally be black (called melanism), but this has never been proven to have occurred in North America. Another explanation is that a caged black leopard or black jaguar has been released into the wild.

What is interesting about this is that some early explorers and pioneers reported that there were black panthers in the area. In fact, when the wildlife of the Ozarks was listed by various observers, catamounts and panthers were often listed separately. Mountain lions can be called either catamounts or panthers by different people, but for them to be listed separately, the references must be to different animals.

Others have speculated about the historic range of jaguars and a smaller wild cat called the jaguarundi. Both are thought to have ranged north into Texas and Louisiana at one time, and possibly into Oklahoma and Arkansas.

For the record, the only Jaguar I’ve seen in town was driven by Larry Evans.

Eureka Springs Independent Newspaper Column for April 30, 2014

When I was a kid I had a big interest in the jungles of the Congo region of Africa. On the front page of the March 25, 1965 Eureka Springs Times-Echo is this notice: “Dr. Robert Etherington will be showing slides taken in the Congo at the Oak Hill Grange Meeting. April 3 at 8 p.m. Everyone is invited.”

I would like to have heard Dr. Etherington talk about his trip to the Congo, but, alas, he hadn’t delivered me yet. Robert A. Etherington was a doctor in Eureka Springs for many years. He was born in the state of Washington in 1922 and came here in the early 1960s to practice medicine.

I suppose Dr. Etherington took care of me as a baby (seems I recall a story about him dropping me), but I didn’t see him again until I was 15 and he was the doctor on duty in the Emergency Room at the Eureka Spring Hospital. I was gainfully employed early that evening as a busboy at Buckingham’s Restaurant in the old Ramada Inn. The busboy’s station had stuff piled up on the floor and I stumbled while taking down a pot of hot coffee from the burner. Coffee splashed down my neck and clean white shirt.

I worked awhile longer, but customers kept looking at me oddly, so I asked my employer if I should go home and change clothes. My employer became rather alarmed at the sight of me and the headwaiter rushed me to the hospital. Dr. Etherington said I had second-degree burns and proceeded to wrap my neck and head like that of a mummy. Had I known about his trip to the Congo, it would have been an opportunity to ask about it.

My contact with Dr. Etherington was limited to just a few significant occasions, but the interesting thing is that if you ask ten people about Dr. Etherington, you will hear 10 different surprising stories. When he left town, I always heard it was for Australia (and maybe it was), but records show he was soon living in Enid, Okla. He died in 1999.


Eureka Springs Independent Newspaper Column for April 23, 2014

Tourists. You can’t live with them. You can’t live without them.

My wife, Diane, recalls a disgruntled tourist years ago complaining about having driven all the way out to Dinosaur World/Land of Kong and the dinosaurs weren’t even alive. Another time a lady was impressed that Diane could read and write, considering that Arkansas didn’t have schools.

Used to be, one of the recurring questions asked was where were all the “real” hillbillies? Do the tourists still ask that? I’ve heard stories of years ago how disappointed they’d be that the locals wore shoes and didn’t smoke corn cob pipes.

I remember when my brother was a teenager and would visit from Washington, D.C., he’d borrow Uncle Arlie’s old Willys Jeep to drive around. He’d dress in overalls without shirt or shoes and go down Spring Street for the tourists to see a hillbilly.

Fred Muller tells of being asked if the Christ of the Ozarks statue was manmade or a natural occurring formation. As jokes, kids used to tell gullible visitors that the Christ of the Ozarks statue had a revolving restaurant housed in Jesus’s head, or that you could take an elevator up to the top of the statue and look out Jesus’s eyes. Others told tourists that the statue would sometimes turn and wave.

I’ve heard of frantic tourists rushing into the emergency room at the Eureka Springs Hospital because their child had a tick and threatening lawsuits over it.

I remember being told by a tourist that they were tired of driving on the curvy, hilly roads and would I tell them how to get on the interstate. When I explained the distance to the nearest interstate, he argued that all towns had interstates and would I just tell him where it was.

I like this one. Jessica Ross tells of a tourist calling the front desk of the Matterhorn Towers one night to say, “The frogs are quaint and all, but could you please turn off the recording?”

Tell me your story at steve@steveweems.com or P.O. Box 43 in Eureka Springs.

Eureka Springs Independent Newspaper Column for April 16, 2014

For several years there was a Glenn Swedlun painting of Keels Creek for sale by an art dealer in West Virginia. I’d seen it on the Internet and it would pop up on eBay periodically. Several branches of my family have long had connections to the Keels Creek area, and my father particularly remembered idyllic childhood summers and weekends at the Wolfinbarger farm. It isn’t often I have the energy to covet something, but I coveted that painting.

After a short career as a professional baseball player, Glenn Swedlun turned to art for his livelihood. He had been taught painting by his father, landscape artist Fred Swedlun. They eventually had shop space on Spring Street in which to show their work.

I’ve been told the story that Glenn and Fred would ride buses out of Chicago looking for landscapes to paint. After a stop in Eureka Springs they decided that they’d found a lifetime’s worth of source material in the Ozarks.

In the 1960s, Wayne Mote wrote in the Oklahoman Magazine that Glenn Swedlun was completing a mind-boggling 125 canvases a year. It was hard work.

I’ve also been told that a favorite process of Glenn’s was to go out and tromp around in the hills until he found something that he wanted to paint. Then he would spend several hours looking the scene over, watching the light change, memorizing. He would return to his studio and paint the scene.

In 1974, the Eureka Springs Times-Echo quoted Glenn Swedlun as saying, “If a man lives to be 500 years old, he would learn something new about art every day. When you stop being a student who continually probes into the unknown, you stop growing as an artist. The older you get, the more you realize you’re still just scratching the surface.”

When my wife was a little girl, Glenn Swedlun bought his gas at O’Connor’s Texaco and he would always give her a quarter. Later, when she won an elementary school art contest, he heard about it and gave her copies of his notes on various aspects of painting and drawing. By all accounts, Glenn Swedlun was a good guy.

Eureka Springs Independent Newspaper Column for April 9, 2014

If the past were a state of matter, it would be solid. We may debate history based on evidence and wishful thinking, but it has already occurred and has a reliability that the liquid present doesn’t have.

Take for instance the happenings of 1968 as reported in the Eureka Springs Times-Echo edition of April the 25th. Digby Walker resigned from the Planning Commission and Mayor Freeman appointed Arvle Bandy to fill the position. That sounds pretty solid to me. I can go on to speculate about why Digby Walker resigned. (He was getting up in years), which leads to thoughts of buying blue jeans at Walker Brothers. (I wish it had never closed).

Continuing to read the newspaper spread before me, new signs were to be placed at the city dump warning that illegal dumping would incur fines of $5.00 to $10.00. Where was the city dump then? Perhaps where the city maintenance and recycling center are located now?

Ordinance No. 722 once again reared its ugly head as neighbors turned in neighbors for the keeping of livestock in the city limits. Letters were mailed out and the chief of police was made aware of the situation.

Howard and Francis Iles purchased the Eureka Court from the Kidd family and would be moving here from Marysville, Kansas. The Iles had been visiting Eureka Springs since 1957. The Kidd family owned the Rosalie House on Spring Street. (Didn’t the Iles have a giant St. Bernard dog?)

The movie theater at 95 Spring Street would soon reopen under the management of John Maberry, brother of the late Cecil Maberry. It had been completely renovated and the name changed to the Gaslight Theatre. Mr. Maberry announced there would be a free show with free popcorn and free Pepsi on May 2nd.

A front page story listed Randy Littrell, Tommy Helms and Ellen Bingaman [Summers], among others, as having made good grades at school.

And so I end a short tour of history and a few of the thoughts it triggers. Don’t ask me to rely on my memory of the events of April 25, 1968. I was five days old.