Time to dip into my boxes of old Eureka Springs Times-Echo newspapers and see what the past has to tell us. The news of September 25, 1969 was dominated by preparations for the upcoming Ozark Folk Festival. I’ve always heard that the scale of yesteryear’s Ozark Folk Festivals was much larger than that of those held currently, and the newspaper articles confirm this. For instance, the 140-member Razorback Marching Band was slated to lead the festival parade. Another example is that Louise Berry announced that TV Channel 27 out of Springfield, Missouri was going to broadcast a 30 minute program previewing the 1969 festival. Local Eureka Springs musicians and entertainers were to appear on the show.
This front page article caught my eye. The estate of the late Miss Beulah Edge, formerly of Eureka Springs, was left to the United Nations. The estate consisted of $125,000 in cash and 50 oil wells situated on 4,000 acres of land in Roberts County, Texas. The short item states that Miss Edge had a PhD and that her parents were natives of Eureka Springs.
The classifieds are always interesting in the snapshot of the past that they provide. In 1969, one could purchase Avon products from Judy McClelland or buy a 1954 Ford (with radio) for $250.
Prolific writer Virginia Tyler penned three separate columns for the Times-Echo back then. The first reported that 19 had attended the meeting of the Ukulele Club at the New Orleans Hotel. The second column told how seven car loads of folks hiked the old railway line for the meeting of the Alpine Hiking Club. She mentioned that “devil-may-care individuals such as Janie Reeder and Bob Kappen” had walked across the tall trestle. She was disappointed that the old train tunnel was blocked by fencing that they couldn’t scale. Virginia Tyler’s third column was the long running Around Town and it told about George and Ruth Pinkley’s business, the Wardrobe Cleaning Company. She reported that several Birchfields worked there and that “These Ozark hills are full of Birchfields – they are all related, and are the salt of the earth.”
I’ve been reading the old Times-Echo columns of Virginia Tyler again. They are certainly an interesting glimpse into the Eureka Springs of yesteryear. It seems that everyone in town of a certain longevity knew and remembers Virginia Tyler. People remember her wit and kindness, but they especially recall her love and knowledge of all things Eureka Springs. I’ve also heard some unexpected gossip hinted at about her. I asked a guy I know, “Are the stories about Virginia Tyler true?”
“All of them,” he answered.
That didn’t clarify matters much, but I decided it really wasn’t my business anyway. A deceased lady known for her kindness, writing, and love of Eureka Springs and the Ozarks; I can’t help but feel that I should be on her team.
The tone of her writing was usually both eager and earnest, sometimes even breathless, like she couldn’t wait to get it written down. I made up the following as an example of the type of story she’d tell. She was walking to the New Orleans Hotel to meet the Ukulele Club in the lobby when she met a tourist in an old Ford with bald tires from a little town in Minnesota. She told the tourist about the old lady that rode a Jersey cow because she had a little dog named Nipper that had been brought to town by old Mr. Miller. When old Mr. Miller died he bequeathed Nipper to the old lady because she always laughed when little Nipper chased his tail whenever someone recited Latin. And, of course, the funny part of the story was that old Mr. Miller had retired from the same small town as the tourist in the Ford with bald tires. And Virginia Tyler regretted that she’d only had a few minutes to talk to the tourist because it was her turn to put out the snacks. Some of her stories are amazing.
I hope that the silly rumors that circulate won’t discourage people from seeking out Miss Tyler’s columns. I also hope that when the columns are read and enjoyed that the readers can’t help but feel the same fondness that I have for Virginia Tyler.
Through much of its history, Eureka Springs had a small but vibrant community of African-Americans centered on Cliff Street below W.O. Perkins Lumber. My understanding is that the number of black Eurekans dwindled through the decades until only Richard Banks remained. After the strong response to last week’s column, I have several additional stories about this legendary local man.
Seeing Rich around town was an everyday occurrence and everyone knew him. Tori Bush remembers walking home from school, seeing him sitting at the bottom of Benton Street whittling. Like others, Butch Berry remembers numerous rides in Rich’s Model A Ford up Benton Street to school.
Several mentioned that Rich enjoyed his beer but would not go into the Hi Hat. When Butch Berry’s father was home on leave from the Air Force, he’d take beer out to Richard. Likewise, Marc Speer remembers his father taking beer to Rich sitting on the steps outside the Hi Hat. He said that at the time you could buy beer to go, and Rich would ask men he trusted to buy him five cans of beer instead of a full six pack, since five cans is what he could drink. As Marc Speer said, “The man knew his limits.”
Working off my father’s recollection of men wagering at the feed store on how much weight Richard Banks could lift, including feed sacks with his teeth, I asked about his physical strength. Turns out he was even stronger than I imagined, especially for a man of medium stature. When Rich would have been about 24 years old, McKinley Weems watched him unloading a truck at the wholesale grocery. He lifted 100 pound sacks of sugar and put one on each shoulder and then with each hand carried another 100 pound sack, moving 400 pounds of sugar at a time. He could also unload a 50 gallon wood barrel of vinegar by himself.
Gayla Wolfinbarger tells how Richard Banks often had dinner with the Mullins family at Pivot Rock, and while in the hospital at the end of his life they visited him daily.
Even though he was living out west by this time, when Tommy Hughes read in Virginia Tyler’s column in the Times-Echo that Richard Banks was hospitalized he mailed him a get-well card. It was returned advising that the addressee had died.