Arkansas’s first environmental education state park interprets the importance of the natural world and our place within it.
More folklore of romantic Arkansas, back by popular request. Not what's taught in the schools.
Back in the Gilded Age, the last two stops on the famous Diamond Jo Railroad before it reached Hot Springs were adjoining shabby communities named Ass and Hole-in-the-Ground because passing-through travelers couldn't tell them apart. They were also known for a time as Hell Fire and Damnation before they petered out, finally disappearing under an arm of Lake Catherine.
Back in the Civil War, the residents of Carthage (Dallas County) burnished their community's already illustrious name by shepherding a herd of war elephants over the Ozarks to stage a surprise attack on a nest of jayhawkers at Hannibal, Mo.
The town of Pocahontas (Randolph County) wasn't named for the Indian princess but for the little-known S.S. Pocahontas, the sister ship of the Mayflower, which, because of the notorious cramped conditions aboard the Mayflower, with coffin-sized staterooms and simply no place to put a steamer trunk, was used to bring along the Pilgrims' luggage. And party favors.
There's no evidence to support the claim by one of the youth gangs in Perryville (Perry County) that their 'hood there was named for William “The Refrigerator” Perry, the first football player known to have been nicknamed after a large household appliance. Perryville existed long before the Fridge came along, of course, but these gang youths aren't deep thinkers so such foolishness gains currency. A rival gang there contends the bailiwick handle is in tribute to one of the killers in Truman Capote's “In Cold Blood.” Also bosh. Traditionalists nominate Adm. Oliver Hazard Perry, but my research tabs Perry Mason, who in “The Case of the Rustic Redhead” successfully defended an accused murderess who hailed from nearby Toad Suck, which was both a place and a popular local pastime.
Calling the Desha County metropolis Dumas was a way of honoring not the author pere nor the author fils but the columnist Ernie. Or if not it should have been.
Hope wasn't named for Bob back in radio days as is often claimed. It was originally Whispering Hope, taken from the hymn, a nice name, but none of the famous people from there whisper and they could hardly call it Blowhard Hope so they just dropped the qualifier. FEMA Trailer Hope is under consideration. Also, Giant Watermelons, AR.
Grapevine had one and they tried to get Johnny Weissmuller in to swing on it and yell at the town's christening but he wouldn't do it. He wanted to charge them $2,000 but they couldn't scrape up but $3.75. Laugh at that now, but $3.75 would've bought 20 gallons of gasoline in those days. With the real Tarzan no-showing, a local fatty named Wilson – to this day nearly everybody in Grapevine is named Wilson – put on a breechclout and did some swinging around, but none of the papers covered it, and all things considered, residents preferred it that way.
The city of Bryant (Saline County) was named for an old sorehead, a surly scrap-iron dealer whose lean-to was where the Cracker Barrel now stands. Other early settlers in the area claimed that Scrap-Iron Bryant was a cousin or bastard spawn of William Jennings Bryan, the three-time Democratic presidential nominee who once visited Arkansas and ate peas off a knife. Scrap-Iron himself made no such exalted claim, though, and the different spelling of the last name makes it a dubious proposition. Also, Scrap-Iron Bryant was said to have no opinion one way or the other on evolutionary theory, and that's hard to imagine in even a degenerate descendant of the Great Commoner. Scrap-Iron Bryant seems also to have been unrelated to Winston Bryant, Kelly Bryant, Bear Bryant, Anita Bryant, Kobe Bryant, or Bryant Gumbel, and apparently didn't know the meaning of the term “white flight.”
The town of Scott (Lonoke County) was named for Sir Walter Scott, the Scottish novelist who penned “Rob Roy,” a doorstop tome ( nearly all of Scott's novels were sold by the pound) for which another Arkansas community, Rob Roy (Jefferson County) was named. Both Scott and Rob Roy could've been named for the Antarctic explorer Rob Scott, but they weren't. Of course they could also have been named Sir Ernest and Shackleton, or Admiral and Byrd. Artifacts from one of the Toltec Mounds at Scott reveal that Steve, rather than Scott or Rob or Roy, was the most popular man's name among the Native Americans who lived along the river there a thousand years ago. Corky came in second.
The city of Malvern (Hot Spring County) is named for the best friend of a comedian named Ernest P. Worrell, a.k.a. Jim Varney, now deceased. Malvern means “Bad Vern” in Latin, or French maybe, but this character Vern (no last name far as I know) wasn't so much a bad person as he was just an idiot. He was mostly just an inferred character, too, usually referenced by Worrell or Varney telling a stupid joke then saying in Heehaw dialect, “Know whut I mean, Vern?” The whole bit reminds me of George W. Bush, or vice versa, for some reason. Pretty funny till it's not.
Bob Lancaster, one of the Arkansas Times longest and most valued contributors, retired from writing his column last week. We’ll miss his his contributions mightily. Look out, in the weeks to come, for a look back at some of his greatest hits. In the meantime, here's a good place to start.
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