Arkansas, it’s not what you think it is reader….well at the very least Eureka Springs, Arkansas is not what you have in mind when you think of Arkansas. In an attempt to scratch yet another state off of my list and to have a long weekend with an old friend I took a chance on Arkansas and I’m glad I did.
Eureka Springs is as quirky a town as the name makes it sound. The city was founded on July 4th, 1879after many years of pilgrimages made by those with various ailments. The “healing”mountain springs were spoken of by several local indigenous tribes over the years. The first white “discoverer” of the springs was allegedly Dr. Alvah Jackson, who used the spring water to “cure” his son of an eye problem. After news of his son’s cured eye got around the Dr. set up a business selling the water, and caring for Civil War soldiers in a cave “hospital” (which we saw on our ghost tour). As our ghost tour guide noted, it isn’t entirely wild to think that hiking a substantial distance and drinking clean fresh water may have been the reality of the cures many patients saw. Exercise and plenty of water? Not abad idea in the late 1800s. As for Dr. Jackson all I can picture is Dr.Terminus from Pete’s Dragon.
While the town was beautiful, nestled in the Ozark mountains, I do wish I had chosen to travel later in the spring when trees were blooming, or in the fall for the color change, nonetheless EurekaSprings is a must-see destination for US travelers. There was surprisingly delicious food. Our first meal at the Local Flavor Café was an unexpectedly excellent way to being our trip. As we wandered downtown looking for somewhere to have dinner I voted down Nyx restaurant and bar because they had misspelled St. Paddy’s day on their outdoor sign, I felt this was a bad omen and so we proceeded further down the block and found Local Flavor Café. The cocktail menu kept to the old timey, pioneer spirit of the town while the food menu was upscale rustic cuisine. Both the pork piccata and walnut pesto pasta tasted as good as the menu made them sound. I hadn’t gone to Eureka Springs expecting to come home raving about how good the food was but between the surprise find at Local Flavor Café, the hipster yet delicious coffee and breakfast at the Eureka Springs Café (don’t miss the asiago rice grits), and the “treat yourself” last meal at Grotto Wood Fired Grill and Wine Cave on our last night in town, I would absolutely go back for more of the food of Eureka Springs.
When night falls in Eureka Springs, the ghost come out, or so I’m told, I saw no evidence of ghost activity even when I got to use the ghost spectrometer (or whatever the ghost hunters call the electrical impulse machines) during our walk through the catacombs, YES catacombs! We opted to take the town ghost tour and just have a drink at “America’s Most Haunted Hotel” as it is trademarked ( The Crescent). Our tour guide(Kaitlyn) was as quirky as the town itself, she brought her pet albino rat,Ghost, on the tour with us, many of the participants played with him but as a frequent NYC subway rider…I don’t fuck with rats. He seemed cute enough from a distance, but I have no desire to make pizza rat a pet. Kaitlyn took us to Dr. Jackson’s cave “hospital” where it is said several civil war soldiers' ghosts still roam, the street outside the former bank where a 1922 attempted robbery left one ghost running across the street for eternity, and bullet holes (yes those you can actually see) still in the outer wall of the building, we saw death dolls, and heard stories of the Crescent Hotel and Norman Baker the- one would have to say- serial killer; all of this before stepping into the “Haunted Eureka Springs” tour HQ where various news clippings, and artifacts were on display, as well as a sectioned off piece of the underground “catacomb.” This long narrow underground passageway was not carved out as a catacomb, but ended up becoming the last resting place of many victims of Norman Baker due to serial killing and fraud. If you’re interested in the story, apparently not long ago on the grounds of the Crescent an employee was composting and found a jar with human parts, eventually the University of Arkansas archeology department was called for a dig and they ended up finding over 300 glass jars with various human body parts, seemingly all connected back to Norman Baker.
From ghosts, to giant Jesus….Christof the Ozarks is just outside of town, in fact from the lord’s high perch you can see directly to the Crescent Hotel in some type of weird good and evil symmetry. The Christ of the Ozarks has to be one of the wildest things I’ve ever seen. I’ve never been to Brazil, so I haven’t seen Christ the Redeemer but the Ozarks just HAS to be weirder. Christ of the Ozarks stands at 66 feet tall and was commissioned by Huey P. Long, a traveling salesman, turned lawyer, turned politician from Louisiana who railed against FDR until his assassination in 1935. Christ of the Ozarks would not be completed until 1966, and it is certainly of the era. This designer was no Michelangelo, though apparently the lack of detail and expression in the sculpture was an artistic choice. If you’re ever in Arkansas this is a must do, stop by, check it out, stand in awe of all its weirdness, it is somehow worth it.
In addition to all the dark history, the weird statues, and delicious food of Eureka Springs the town is filled with quirky little shops and very lovely people. ‘Amused Fine Art & Extraordinary Books’ is home to author/owner Ashley who happily signed the book I purchased for my niece and did not find it at all offensive that I called her store “weird…you know in a cool way,” in fact she was delighted by the sentiment. The folks at New Delhi Café who dropped a small shaking dog in my arms (who apparently belonged to the singer of the band we were listening to)to hang out while I drank my beer. Local Tub owned by Jocelyn who could keep you talking all day about the history of town, and good places to eat, MJ’s Macarons & More, who offered free samples outside so good that we had to go inside and make a purchase. Overall Eureka Springs was a perfect bit of weirdness as a break from reality and I would absolutely go back.