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 or at Post Office Box 43 in Eureka Springs, 72632.

ES Independent Column – Panthers

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.”

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.