Eureka Springs Independent Newspaper Column for February 26, 2014

Duane O’Connor ran a wrecker service in Eureka Springs for 25 years, pulling vehicles out of holes and from over bluffs, helping people stuck in the mud, snow and ice in the middle of the night. He even helped a bus out of St. Elizabeth’s Catholic Church. His first wrecker was a red, one-ton, 4-wheel drive 1946 Dodge Power Wagon he bought in 1955. Later, he purchased larger, more modern wrecker trucks, most of them red as well.

One winter, Duane and Tommy Walker drove out west of town to get a car that had slid off US 62. They left the wrecker parked on the ice-covered asphalt and were going down to hook onto the car when they heard a noise. They turned just in time to see the big parked wrecker sliding off the road towards them.

In the 1950s there was a circus coming through on US 62 from the west, and state police had Duane O’Connor and his wrecker on standby at the top of the mountain at Inspiration Point in case any of the old rattle-trap circus trucks couldn’t make it up the hill. When the truck carrying the elephants made it to the top, Duane was sent home and from then on, the elephants pulled the trucks that had trouble.

When Bill Clinton was first elected governor, he visited Eureka and his state trooper driver locked the car keys in the state Cadillac on Spring Street across from Basin Park. The trooper came to Duane and asked for help, stating they’d have to hurry as they only had 30 minutes before the governor had to be somewhere. Duane was able to break into the car and retrieve the keys.

Duane has an album full of pictures of bent, buckled and smashed cars, photographs taken by Michael Mountjoy and Wayne Brashear over the years, at just a few of the many wrecks he worked. And all these years later, the accidents that Duane O’Connor remembers most distinctly are those in which people were seriously injured or killed.

I invite your stories at or P.O. Box 43 in Eureka Springs.

Eureka Springs Independent Newspaper Column for February 19, 2014

Except for her childhood in Kansas, Lena Wilson lived her life just off Pivot Rock Road near Eureka Springs. The trash and junk she collected around town was carried back to what she called “the farm.” She did have livestock over the years, including the pigs to which she fed the garbage. 

When Lena Wilson and her horse, cart and dogs (she particularly liked Dalmatians) commuted daily through Dairy Hollow from Pivot Rock Road, Doris (Groblebe) O’Connor remembers that Lena would usually be walking beside the horse, one hand holding the reins and the other hand grasping a book or magazine that she was reading. 

I’d heard that Lena Wilson was a talented artist. There is evidence that she won prizes for her watercolor landscapes, including a first place at the Colorado State Fair in Pueblo. 

So, the question remains, why would Lena Wilson, an intelligent, educated and talented woman resort to collecting trash as a means of survival? This very question was posed to Lena in a 1949 Associated Press news story. Her response was that collecting garbage was not only more profitable than teaching, but healthier, too. In the article, she said that it took her six hours to make her daily rounds through Eureka Springs and though she was then 66 years old and only 120 pounds, she was stronger than when she quit teaching school. 

But to many this does not adequately explain why she left the teaching profession and lived much of her life as a recluse. The persistent story among those who knew her was that it was a broken heart that prompted her to pursue the life she did. Some of the details have been lost over the years, but it seems that Lena Wilson was in love with an area businessman, but after her family lost its wealth, the relationship ended and she was never the same. 

Lena Wilson was buried next to her father in the Eureka Springs Cemetery in 1963, though to this day the grave is without a tombstone. The last sentence in her short obituary was the following: “She has no known survivors.”

Eureka Springs Independent Newspaper Column for February 12, 2014

The hillbilly comic strip Li’l Abner made Connecticut-native Al Capp wealthy. I read that at one time the strip was carried in nearly a thousand newspapers worldwide with a daily circulation of 60 million, which spawned a Broadway musical, two movies and a great deal of merchandising.

During its 43-year run, the comic strip also reinforced the hillbilly stereotype to a global audience. Writing in The Ozarks Mountaineer , the late Phyllis Rossiter- Modeland blamed Al Capp for “negatively influencing and ignorantly prejudicing millions of others about hillbillies through his comic strip.”

Perhaps based on my childhood visit to the now defunct Dogpatch amusement park south of Harrison, I wrongly assumed that Li’l Abner had some connection to the Arkansas Ozarks. Instead, the comic strip town of Dogpatch was actually set in Kentucky.

While researching the column on Lena Wilson, I stopped in at the Eureka Springs Historical Museum to see what was in their files. A hand-written note said that Charles Kappen told the story of Al Capp sitting on a bench in Basin Park one day when Lena Wilson traveled down the street. Al Capp asked a young boy who she was and was told, “Oh, that’s Lena the Hyena.” Soon after, “Lena the Hyena” was an off-screen character in the Li’l Abner comic strip. Later, Al Capp staged an art contest for the best design of the character, which  was judged by the likes of Frank Sinatra, Boris Karloff and Salvador Dalí. It caused a sensation.

Though Lena Wilson may have had the appearance of what tourists expected a hillbilly to be (overalls or eccentric combinations of clothes), she was actually an only child born in Kansas to a prosperous family. She and her parents moved to Eureka Springs in the 1890s, purchasing and renovating a nice large house on Pivot Rock Road. Before attending college and becoming a school teacher, Lena graduated from Eureka Springs High School in 1900.

As Mary Margaret Torok said, “I never thought of Lena as a hillbilly in any way. She had class, a bit of style and a bit of grace.”

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 or P.O. Box 43 in Eureka Springs. There is more of her story to be written.

Eureka Springs Independent Newspaper Column for January 29, 2014

Fifty years ago in Eureka Springs (according to the January 2, 1964 edition of the Eureka Springs Times-Echo newspaper), Bye Bye Birdie with Janet Leigh and Dick Van Dyke was playing at the New Basin Theater. The KTHS Radio Program Schedule (“1480 on your dial”) lists that the Dwight Nichols Show started weekdays at 3 p.m. The radio station signed off daily at 5:15 p.m.

In cultural news, rehearsals were announced to begin at the New Orleans Hotel for the Carroll County Players production of The Village, a three-act comedy written by local Michael Mountjoy. The column Library Notes gives a short review of William Golding’s classic Lord of the Flies. Although originally published in 1954, a film version of it had recently been released. K.S. Chyrchel [Remenar] had us read this book during the 1983-1984 school year at Eureka Springs High School and I distinctly remember that Piggy had asthma.

Fifty years ago, Mr. and Mrs. Ross Bowser, of Marysville, Calif., traveled to Eureka Springs to visit Mr. and Mrs. Grover Roark. Alas, the Roarks were not at home as they were in Arizona visiting their daughter.

Mr. and Mrs. Bob Sherman returned home from Omaha.

A front-page article announced that Democratic Congressman Jim Trimble of Berryville would run for reelection, thus ending speculation he would retire because of his health. Had he retired, it was thought that Democratic Governor Orval Faubus would run for the seat. Instead, Trimble was elected to his eleventh and final term in Congress. Also that year, Orval Faubus easily won his final term as Governor. (Interestingly, he garnered 81 percent of the Arkansas black vote.)

The Eureka Locker Plant at 7 Main Street had pork steak for 37 cents per pound. Walker’s Supermarket had ground beef priced at three pounds for a dollar and bananas were ten cents per pound at Clark’s Market.

A short item tells of the Shrader family of Mundell moving to Pea Ridge. This is significant because they were among the very last residents to be relocated so Beaver Lake could begin filling with water.

Meanwhile, over in the old part of the city hospital on the 15th at 1:20 a.m., Dr. Redmond was assisting Erik Weems make his first appearance on this earth. Mother Mary Weems was also present.