ES Independent Column – F.O. Butt

Home from college last week, my daughter bought tickets and treated me to the 7th Annual Voices from Eureka’s Silent City tour. Every person portrayed was interesting, but the one who caught my fancy was F.O. Butt. I’d heard stories about Mr. Butt and was eager to learn more.

Some kids snickered when they heard Festus Orestes Butt’s full name. I was impressed that he is said to have had one of the finest private libraries in the state of Arkansas. That is, until 1943, when his house burned down. I happen to know someone who was 12 years old and a neighbor to the Butt’s at that time and asked him some questions about the house.

The house that burned was one of the largest around and was situated where the Land O’ Nod motel is now located. F.O. Butt and his wife Essie had seven children and each had their own bedroom. There were also dorm rooms for the grandchildren, one for girls and one for boys. The bottom floor of the house was nearly encircled by porches with the south porch crowded with old push-type lawn mowers. Mr. Butt’s study had a private entrance and inside was his collection of pipes, as he was an avid smoker.

I’d once noticed that in the 1930 Federal Census it was reported that the Butt’s home was valued at $25,000, an astronomical amount at the time. I told the Butt’s neighbor this and he said that perhaps the 25 grand included the property connected to the house. The grounds stretched to the location of the present day Pizza Hut and included the 28 acre parcel that now contains Thomas Drive.

If you’re not familiar with Mr. Butt, perhaps you are wondering how he could afford such property. I certainly do not have room here to do his biography justice, but suffice it to say that he was a very successful attorney. In fact, I learned on the 7th Annual Voices from Eureka’s Silent City tour that he was licensed to practice law in the state of Arkansas for an astounding 75 years.

ES Independent Column – Hilltop Speedway

My wife’s dream when she was six years old was to be a professional race car driver. This ambition was triggered by attending the races at the Hilltop Speedway just outside Eureka Springs. She would accompany her father and she said she always wore her Hee-Haw overalls.

Curtis Hull built the race car track on a high flat top hill east of town a few miles. It opened for business April 5, 1974. The quarter mile long track had a D shaped design with the straight stretch in front of the grandstands that seated 2500. The racing surface was red clay and entertainment was provided between races. An emergency vehicle was always on standby.

Ratha Lawler lives down the road from the old racetrack and was a frequent attendee of the races held there. She provided me with some old articles about the speedway and pages out of the program books. Bobby Scarrow published these Hilltop Racing Review books that sold for fifty cents.

The races were held in the evening and I’m told the roar of the engines could be heard for miles around, even on the grounds of the Great Passion Play. Some of the notable local racers that performed at the speedway were Bill Billings, George Butler, Donnie Franklin, Jerry Moon and Bob Sherman.

My mother lives in the old Curtis Hull house and when I was in high school, I’d ride my Uncle Don’s old gray mare Lulabelle up at the racetrack. The announcer’s stand still stood up high between the wooden grandstands and the concrete safety wall still encircled the track. I’m told that after the Hilltop Speedway ceased operations, concerts were held there, with notables such as Grandpa Jones performing. It was called Rocky Top by then.

My wife, Diane, may have never been paid to race cars like she once wanted, but if you’ve ever ridden with her you know she is still partially living her dream.

If you have information or memories of the Hilltop Speedway, let me know at steve@steveweems.com or at Post Office Box 43 in Eureka Springs, 72632.

ES Independent Column – New Crescent Hotel Book

I worked part time at the Crescent Hotel in the early 1980s, primarily helping with banquets in the Chrystal Dining Room. I recall a narrow dimly-lit corridor in the basement of the hotel that was spooky late at night, but I never saw a ghost. There were employees who truly believed in the idea of a haunted hotel, though. I do remember Morris, the big orange cranky cat who haunted the lobby.

Susan Schaefer has a new book out called The Crescent Hotel…With Ghost Stories. It covers the hotel’s history, and, as the title indicates, provides an overview of the legendary ghosts that are said to inhabit the fine old building on the hill. Many of the ghosts reported over the years are profiled and six even have painted portraits reproduced in the book. My understanding is that the paranormal reputation of the Crescent is a bigger draw now than it ever has been, and that people come from all over the globe for a chance to experience something otherworldly. I’ve always intended to go on one of the ghost tours, but have yet to do so.

Susan Schaefer worked several years at the Crescent Hotel, including time as the Dining Room Manager and the Wedding Coordinator, and her thorough familiarity with the Crescent Hotel is apparent. This is her sixth book on Eureka Springs and her understanding of all facets of Eureka’s history is obvious. She makes ample use of historic newspaper articles and photographs to illustrate the hotel’s history. Everything is covered, from the Crescent’s early grandeur to its years as a women’s college and later as the infamous cancer hospital.

I learned a great deal by reading this book. For instance, I had no idea that the ceiling in the dining room is suspended from above by cables. This design allows the open expanse of the large room to be unbroken by pillars for support. This is just one of many interesting tidbits in the book.

I was horrorified by one story in the book, but it wasn’t the descriptions of the ghosts. When the Crescent was purchased in 1973, it was with the intention of tearing it down and selling the stone to a company in Kansas. Luckily for Eureka Springs, that didn’t happen.

ES Independent Column – Keels Creek

Many of the stories I grew up on featured Keels Creek as a recurring landmark. Obviously, this was because various branches of my family either lived on Keels Creek or not too far from it. I’ve always thought it interesting that Keels Creek was named for an early pioneer’s first name: Keel Williams.

I suppose many people only see Keels Creek from the bridge on Rockhouse Road, and much of the time there is no water to be seen because it runs under the surface gravel. Don’t let the lack of visible water fool you, though, because the Keels Creek watershed covers 19,211 acres of land south of Eureka Springs. That is 30 square miles of springs and creeks and rainfall to drain.

One of my favorite Keels Creek stories involves my wife’s great-great grandfather, Murrell Nelson. He had a big place on Keels Creek on the Madison County line (southeast of the present day Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge). He had bought the land in pieces from Claude Fuller and others in 1916 when he returned home from California where he had worked for the railroads.

Late in life, Murrell had to move fifty head of cattle from his farm to Berryville. The cattle drive followed Keels Creek eight miles, before fording both the Kings River and the Osage. The destination farm was located behind the present day¬† Maverick Supply. One just doesn’t hear of long cattle drives in Carroll County anymore. It would be a logistical nightmare.

A whole book could be written about M.D. Nelson and overcoming adversity. When he was 7 years old his father (who had returned from the Civil War in one piece) was murdered by a horse thief on his Carroll County farm. After that, Murrell bounced around living and working for various people. He married Nancy Johnson in 1890 and farmed south of Eureka Springs after homesteading 160 acres in the Buck Mountain area. He then sold out and went to California to make his fortune.

Murrell Dixon Nelson died in the Eureka Springs Hospital in 1953 and is buried in the Eureka Springs Cemetery.

ES Independent Column – By Golly

Ernest Schilling (1878-1975) is buried in the Gracelawn Cemetery at Van Buren, Arkansas. On his tombstone is the likeness of a billy goat and the name by which he was most known: “By Golly”. He was a sign painter by trade, but also a talented artist. His trademark was the “By Golly” signature on all of his work.

Though he lived out the end of his days in the Van Buren area, he was a resident of Eureka Springs off and on for many years. He would set up at the side of the road with a sign that read “By Golly, The Sage of Pine Log.” I’m told that tourists would stop to have their likeness drawn or to take his photograph. Though an educated man of Swiss-German heritage, By Golly could look like a stereotypical Arkansas hillbilly with his long beard and floppy hat.

McKinley Weems remembers By Golly being in Eureka Springs in the middle 1930s working on the painting of the big Onyx Cave sign on the building downtown. In those days, By Golly worked out of a cart pulled by a jenny.

McKinley worked in the radio shop in the lower level of the building and outside were barrels full of junk. One cold day, bundled up in winter clothes to keep warm, By Golly was high up painting the Onyx Cave sign when he fell and landed on the barrels below. It is said that the only thing that saved him was the many layers of bulky clothes that he was wearing.

I’ve heard the story that he lived in Seligman, Missouri for awhile and a church hired him to paint a sign. He painted the name of the church and other¬† information as instructed and at the bottom he signed it “By Golly.” The church was unhappy with the signature and demanded that it be removed. Without a word, By Golly climbed the ladder and painted over the signature. The next time it rained, however, the paint that he used to cover the signature washed away and his “By Golly” signature reappeared.

ES Independent Column – Bonnie & Clyde

I ran across an interesting newspaper article published in the Joplin Globe on Valentine’s Day, 1934 concerning the infamous outlaws Bonnie & Clyde coming through this part of the Ozarks.

Forty year old bachelor farmer Joe Gunn told this story: “I had been to a grist mill southwest of Reed Spring and was walking back home on a side road when the bandits drove up beside me. There was a man and woman in the front seat and two men in the back seat of the red car. One of the men got out of the back seat and asked me the direction to Berryville. Before I had time to answer he had a gun on me and told me to jump in the back seat.” After he was in the car, Joe Gunn continued: “We saw some officers coming and drove into another side road and found we were hemmed in.”

Clyde Barrow is reported to have said, “We’ve got to let ’em have it, boys,” before picking up a submachine gun and shooting at Sheriff Seth Tuttle’s automobile. He emptied his weapon twice with Bonnie reloading it for him while Joe Gunn said he sat “frightened stiff” in the backseat.

Escaping after the gun battle, the criminals continued on to the edge of Berryville, where they stopped and asked a pedestrian for directions to Eureka Springs. Before the pedestrian could answer, he too was kidnapped. The article says that about eight miles south of Berryville, Clyde Barrow stopped the car, tweaked Bonnie’s nose and said, “There’s no use carryin’ this dead weight, baby.”

The two kidnapped men were freed and they walked back to Berryville without speaking. From Berryville, it took Joe Gunn all night to reach Reed Spring on foot. The story of Joe Gunn’s kidnapping was relayed with the help of a telephone operator because Mr. Gunn had never before used a telephone.

Bonnie Parker, 23, and Clyde Barrow, 25, were to be killed in a shootout with law enforcement three months later in Louisiana.

ES Independent Column – Ned Shank

Sometimes I overindulge in the luxury of preconceived notions and it takes an outside force to nudge the trajectory of my thinking. In this case, it was my short association with Ned Shank in the Eureka Springs Rotary Club.

I was working as an accountant in town and my boss was the incoming president of the club. He said he’d put me up for membership (or however it worked) and as I do occasionally try new things, I hesitantly agreed. I didn’t know the first thing about civic clubs at the time and though I had agreed to join, I was a little skeptical about it all.

The Rotary Club met weekly downstairs at Myrtie Mae’s. I showed up at the appointed early hour bleary-eyed but curious. After an omelet made to order, the meeting got down to business and I was surprised at how closely the proceedings mirrored some church services, with music and singing led by Alan Epley and his horn, introduction of guests and a weekly speaker. It all ran smoothly despite some good-natured grumbling by those in the back seats.

I don’t remember if it was the first meeting I attended, or the second, but when things drew to a close, Ned Shank made a bee-line for me. We shook hands, and he loomed over me (he was quite tall) and he enthusiastically endorsed the work of the Rotary Club, both local and world-wide. That was 15 years ago and I don’t recall the exact words Ned spoke, but I’m thoroughly aware of the impact those words wrought. What struck me as interesting is that he seemed well aware of my skepticism, but used reason to make his case. We had a good conversation and I looked forward to more.

It wasn’t too long after I joined the Eureka Springs Rotary Club that Ned Shank was killed in a tragic bicycle accident just west of Eureka. The Ned Shank Wikipedia article states that he was posthumously made a Paul P. Harris Fellow, which is an award given by the Rotary Club.

ES Independent Column – Lake Lucerne 2

Recently, I wrote about the Lake Lucerne Resort near Eureka Springs. Since that time, I’ve learned more about the old resort and its history, much of it from Randy Freeman. Randy has a unique perspective because both of his grandfathers were associated with Lake Lucerne.

In the 1930s, businessman Ray Freeman was involved with Lake Lucerne with long-time owner Richard R. “Dick” Thompson. Dick Thompson also owned Ozarka Water and lived in the Roundhouse near the train depot on Main Street in Eureka. He is said to have shipped as much as two million gallons of Ozarka Spring Water per year out of Eureka Springs. Thompson had originally come to Eureka in 1908 to teach at the Crescent College. Also involved in politics, he represented Arkansas at the 1916 National Democratic Convention.

Randy’s other grandfather, Charles Taff, lived adjacent to the Lake Lucerne golf course and his house overlooked it. Mr. Taff mowed the golf course in the 1940s and 1950s with a mowing machine pulled by two horses. Mrs. Taff sold eggs and produce to the resort restaurant.

Randy remembers playing on huge rocks located on the links. His mother, Pat, also played on the rocks as a child, as did her sisters. Pat remembers Mr. Thompson playing golf and his frustration with the game.

The nine-hole golf course was located in a valley and partly on the hillside. Between it and Lake Lucerne was Tex Belt’s riding stable. When Randy was little, he would go down and visit with Tex. He said the stable was a cool place for a little boy with all the horses and the leather saddles.

Randy said Tex was a fixture around Eureka Springs for many years. He was known for coming to town in a wagon pulled by a team of horses, up into the late 1960s. The wagon had rubber automobile tires and Tex and his wife would be seen in it all over.

Thanks to Randy for sharing his memories. Send your remembrances to steve@steveweems.com or P.O. Box 43 in Eureka Springs, 72632.

ES Independent Column – Lake Lucerne

My daughter works at a shop in town frequented by tourists. The other day, a couple probably in their 70s came in and the gentleman said, “The last time I was in Eureka Springs I must have been about twelve years old.” He told about coming to visit during summer vacations and about the restaurant at Lake Lucerne. As his wife impatiently tried to usher him out the door, he said, “I’m just trying to tell this young lady about her town’s history.”

I have some old Lake Lucerne postcards and they show that it was quite a resort. One postcard shows the sizeable restaurant, which was a hot spot for both locals and tourists, looming over the lake. There is a high dive, a tall water slide and other recreational activities. Another postcard shows the hilly golf course.

Lake Lucerne was once partly owned by Lance Alworth. He is considered an all time great of both the Razorbacks and of professional football. I’m told that in the era that Lance Alworth played for Frank Broyles in Fayetteville, the Razorbacks would come to Eureka Springs and stay at the Crescent Hotel the night before home games. Perhaps that is when he became familiar with Lake Lucerne. Later, during the 1965 off season when he wasn’t playing professional football in San Diego, Lance Alworth and two Little Rock businessmen purchased the Lake Lucerne Resort. They only owned it for two years, but Lance Alworth managed to establish a boys camp there during that time.

I’ve read articles about the group that purchased the resort from Lance Alworth and company and their plans. According to what I read, they planned to lengthen and pave the airstrip at Lake Lucerne so that it could accommodate daily passenger flights. The 9-hole golf course was to be expanded and a ski slope and chair lift for snow skiing was to be built.

If you have memories of Lake Lucerne, write to me at steve@steveweems.com or P.O. Box 43 in Eureka Springs, 72632.

ES Independent Column – Old Enough

I’m old enough to remember some things about Eureka Springs that have changed over the years. I remember ice cream from Dairy Queen and hamburgers from Tastee Freeze. I remember Eurekans driving to Fayetteville or Rogers just for the novelty of eating at a McDonald’s.

I’m old enough to remember when the Eureka Springs schools weren’t air conditioned and the frustration of trying to keep my school papers from being ruined by the sweat running off my arm and dripping from my face. I can remember turning in papers that were soggy and limp and barely legible from the sweat and the running blue ink.

I’m old enough to remember high-powered deer rifles hanging in the back glass of pickup trucks in the Eureka Springs High School parking lot. I’m not old enough to remember this: a Eureka Springs student was going hunting after school with a friend, so he carried his rifle on the school bus in the morning. The gun was put in the home room teacher’s closet for safe keeping during class. After school, the boy picked up his rifle and rode the bus home with his friend. That sequence of events would certainly not be allowed today.

I lived on Spring Street from birth until the age of six months before moving to California, so I missed out on some Eureka Springs childhood rituals of the time. My wife Diane remembers that bill paying day each month as a special occasion. She’d ride with her mother downtown to pay the utility bills. They’d always walk across Spring Street to Eureka Drug where Diane’s grandmother Norma O’Connor worked. Norma would give Diane a chocolate mint and a monkey made out of a brown pipe cleaner. Sometimes Diane was allowed a treat from the Bingaman bakery. Other times, they’d browse at the Hallmark Shop.

I’m old enough to remember from the early 1980s when there were four country music shows in town, each operating out of their own giant building. Of course, that doesn’t sound too impressive when my grandfather McKinley Weems can recall being at the dedication of the auditorium in 1929.