A venture to this state park is on the must-do list for many, the park being the only spot in North America where you can dig for diamonds and other gemstones and keep your finds.
For more than a decade, a red velvet rope at the base of the staircase leading from the foyer of the Governor's Mansion to the second floor has discouraged ascent by the public.
Ginger Beebe is changing that. The new lady of the house is embracing her role as hostess to the people of Arkansas and mistress of a house they can take pride in. She wants the house — her home for the next four years and possibly eight — to be “open for the people of Arkansas.”
She's moving the rope midway up the curving stairs, so visitors can go onto the balcony and get a nice view of the Grand Hall.
Soon after she moved in on Jan. 9, the day Mike Beebe took the oath of office as governor, the first lady wondered why a big piece of furniture stood on the landing, blocking the French doors to the balcony. As quickly as you can say Open Sesame, the furniture was gone and the balcony spruced up with a new paint job. Beebe seemed genuinely amazed at the rapid response. “When you say ‘I like this,' the house staff [her term for the inmate detail at the mansion] just does it.”
On their first Saturday in the mansion, the governor and first lady took their breakfast on the balcony, which once looked out on the back yard. Now, it extends into the bright, two-story glass atrium that connects the Grand Hall to the rear of the mansion. They drank their coffee at a little table placed there, set with a silver candlelabrum Ginger Beebe brought from home and the official mansion china, read newspapers, drank coffee and listened to the rainstorm pound the glass roof. You can barely get more cozy or homey than that, there in the state's official receiving room.
Ginger Beebe is 5 feet tall, slight and ladylike. Her straight white hair is the color that every woman going gray envies. She smiles a lot. She has a head for details, and is famously organized. Her blue eyes take in everything. She is both self-assured — a manner that derails any patronizing her diminutive size might invite — and self-deprecating. She says Mike Beebe loves her because she's “silly,” but she is by no means silly. But she is playful, and a quick wit.
At a recent luncheon of the Women's Foundation board, of which she is a new member, attendees introduced themselves in order around the table. Candace Martin, the first lady's press liaison, introduced herself. A reporter introduced herself, noting she was writing about Beebe. Then the first lady introduced herself. “I'm Ginger Beebe, and I'm never alone.”
She warms up to strangers quickly, without inviting intimacy; she is too circumspect for that. Asked to pose by the fountain in front of the mansion on a day when its water had frozen into icicle, she gaily mused, “I guess I won't put my feet in the water.” She explained that she'd done just that on a hot day last summer on the campaign trail, joining children at a fountain in Van Buren to dip her dogs in the cooling water.
She and the photographer proceeded to the miniature mansion playhouse in the front yard, where she peered through the windows into the little parlor inside, complete with small chairs, fireplace, rug and dog. Her grandchildren (three girls, two boys) will adore it, she said. She tried to open the little French doors. No luck. She tried a window. She wanted that house open, too.