I opened up the November 16, 1978 Eureka Springs Times-Echo and saw my wife looking back at me from page 3, though she was only 11 years old. She, along with classmates Clyde Osterhout, Jessica Lux and others, were winners in the school poster contest. Over on page 2 is a large photograph of Paul Anderson with art teacher Barbara Ackley. He won the grand prize in the contest and his artwork would soon grace the cover of the new Ozark Gardens menu.
The lead story of the week is about the ongoing plans to build a city parking lot on Water Street in the wooded valley between Douglas and Steele. City Administrator Karen Grulkey updated the city council about problems with the appraisal process when Mayor-elect Marcile Davis said she wasn’t in favor of the location. After input from City Attorney Ed Buice, alderman Bill Reasor introduced a motion to drop the Water Street project completely. The motion failed when only Truie Walsh and Bill Reasor voted for it. Al Westphal, Richard Kelley and Dave Drennon abstained. I believe Water Street is now a city park.
It was also reported that United States Senator Dale Bumpers would be the keynote speaker at the upcoming Chamber of Commerce banquet. An $8.50 ticket, purchased at the Chamber of Commerce office located in the Municipal Auditorium, bought a meal of cordon bleu.
Also on the front page is a photograph of Ruth Eicher, Jeanette Bullock and June Westphal being sworn in as members of the Historic District Commission. Previously, Charles Freeman and Clio Miller were sworn in by Mayor Charles Robertson. There is also a photograph of Eureka Springs native, Sheriff Jerry Colvin.
I perused the restaurant ads, wondering where people may have had plans to eat out for Thanksgiving the following week. Inn of the Ozarks and Eureka Inn had competing Thanksgiving buffets planned. The Hylander Steak House also had a special menu advertised. Miceli’s and the Spaghetti Mill have ads, though it wasn’t clear if they were open Thanksgiving Day. Tastee-Freez announced they’d be closed so they could stay home with the kids.
Four miles down Rockhouse Road off US Highway 62 in Eureka Springs is an old house leaning precariously under the unrelenting force of gravity. Informed it was once the home of Cora Pinkley Call, I drove to take a look. On my first pass, I didn’t see it because I was looking in the woods on the east side of the road. Turning around, I drove north and saw the small dilapidated building in the pasture on the west side of the road.
Cora Pinkley Call was a prolific and well known regional writer. As a child she was often sickly and spent her time writing or observing nature on the George Washington Pinkley farm on Kings River. She died in Eureka Springs two years before I was born, in 1966.
Because Cora Pinkley Call was McKinley Weems’ aunt, I swung by and picked him up. We traced our way down Rockhouse Road and looked at the house some more. McKinley said he couldn’t remember Aunt Cora ever living there, that it used to be the Roy Gaddy place. He said that he always knew of her living with her husband Miles Call on Mill Hollow Road. Miles Call was a postman in Eureka Springs after having farmed and soldiered earlier in life.
McKinley did tell me this old family story. In the early 1940s, he went fishing on Kings River with his Uncle Miles. They were on the old Pinkley place and passed a little house. Uncle Miles said, “Do you know what that is? That’s the weaning house.” It turns out that George Pinkley and his wife Mary Jane Harp had a second house on their farm for their children to live in when they first married. They had four sons and six daughters and when the next child married, they would get their turn to move into the weaning house.
But the weaning house was not the same as the house four miles down Rockhouse Road. I talked to more people and looked through land records but never figured out for sure when Cora Pinkley Call lived in the house, but had a good time trying.
I received an email from my sister Barb Mourglia the other day. In it was a short message that expressed some things about Eureka Springs and change and the passage of time that resonated strongly with me. You may know Barbara from her volunteer work against domestic violence. This is what she said:
“Eureka Springs has been home to me since I was brought home from the hospital to Rocky Top Road in 1985. It was a gravel road then, and I swore I wouldn’t be able to cope if it were ever paved. They did pave it, though. Chip and sealed it. I survived, but I still reminisce about a time when dust rose like a cloud when a car drove by. Some people don’t understand that. Now, when I visit my childhood home I see cars fly by going at interstate speeds.
“A few weeks ago, I was thinking to myself, ‘I hope the Office Supply (at the bottom of Planer Hill) never closes.’ When my Aunt Terri’s store Happy Things closed last year, I felt like a part of Eureka that lived inside me died. Then, I received news of the Quilt Shop closing and now the Office Supply. These shops have been here at least as long as I have and, in my mind, are concrete fixtures of home. I appreciate the little things like how the Office Supply smells upon entering. It just gives a feeling of comfort and stability, similar to the way you could count on classic rock playing when you entered Happy Things. Maybe some Tom Petty. You’re probably thinking I’m one of those sentimental types, and you’d be right. I keep stuff. I cry about absolutely anything that stirs up the slightest emotion. I suppose everyone has places or things that define the way they see their home. Eureka is a special place, built on little experiences and the people who provided them. I’m thankful for the three women, Terri, Kristy and Sandy, who ran those three shops for so many years. They helped shape the way I see the place that I call home.”
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.
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 email@example.com or at Post Office Box 43 in Eureka Springs, 72632.
For years, there has been accumulating evidence of mountain lions (or cougars or panthers) residing in Arkansas. The Fish and Game Commission officially denied it, apparently because it was a can of worms that they wanted to avoid opening. Then, last November, a hunter in a deer stand shot one, the first killed in the state since 1975. The cat was out of the bag, as they say.
It’s always a pleasure to hear from readers and I recently had a letter from Genevieve Bowman. In it, she told me of a panther scare in Eureka Springs in the 1940s. It all started with people hearing the trademark shrill scream of a panther. Soon there were reports of sightings of the big cat and men organizing to hunt it. Armed with a shotgun, one local man would walk his grandson home from the night shift at the Basin Movie Theater.
Cora Pinkley Call wrote of the panthers seen and heard by the pioneers of this area and the fear they caused. She wrote in Pioneer Tales that she only knew of one actual attack, though. It was by a female cat emaciated by hunger and suckling young. A local man was returning home late one night and the panther leapt from a tree onto his back and nearly killed him.
The local panther scare of the 1940s, however, was not what it first appeared to be. Genevieve knows the true story behind the scare. It starts with John Bowman (her future husband) and Wayne Farwell. She wrote that they “got hold of a wooden contraption that slid in and out like a match box. When worked correctly it emitted a shrill yell. They thought how funny it would be to go over to East Mountain and try it out.” When the prank got out of hand and touched off widespread fear, they swore to keep it a secret. Years later, John told Genevieve and she said that “what they meant as a joke turned out to be not so funny.”
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.