Eureka Springs Independent Newspaper Column for February 5, 2014

People are not always as they appear. Tom Hughes tells of driving the Crescent Hotel tour bus and happening upon Lena Wilson and her two-wheeled cart. Tourists would want to have their photograph taken with a “real hillbilly” so Tom would stop. Lena Wilson would accommodate them by posing for pictures. After returning to the bus, the tourists’ attitudes would be entirely different because they were so impressed by her intelligence and knowledge. They didn’t realize that she was college educated and a former schoolteacher.

For several decades, Lena Wilson drove her horse or mule drawn cart through the streets of Eureka Springs collecting garbage and junk in a black overcoat year-‘round or in a fur coat during the winter. I am told that sometimes both Lena and her horse would wear straw hats. She always had dogs that went through town with her, though they usually rode in the cart.

She had a penchant for quoting Shakespeare and others, but she also (according to multiple, first-hand accounts) would eat directly from garbage cans on the streets of Eureka Springs. Several tell how their mothers started  preparing food for Lena and leaving it wrapped on the lids of garbage cans.

Many were scared of her as children, some thinking her a witch, while others knew her as a kind and gentle lady. Kay Plouch Kelley remembers waving to her as a child and Miss Lena would either wave back or tip her head in greeting. She once gave Kay’s sister and cousin each an antique china doll.

While employed by Fay Higgins at the Lion’s Station, my Uncle Don Sisco fixed the flats on Lena Wilson’s rubber-tired cart. He did report the cart had a terrible smell. Others say that, especially in the heat of the summer, you could smell Lena and her cart before you saw them.

Lena Wilson died before I was born, but I grew up hearing stories about her and her eccentricities. If you have information about her, let me know at steve@steveweems.com or P.O. Box 43 in Eureka Springs. There is more of her story to be written.

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