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  • robertfarago1

The Grateful Dead (Eureka Springs, Arkansas)


You want to know what Eureka Springs is like? No you don't. Trust me. You want to know what it was like.


Once Upon A Time…


Eureka Springs was an unnamed wilderness deep in the Ozark mountains. A game-rich land where the Osage hunted for supper.


Home to a sacred spring? Not according to the Osage, who ceded Northern Arkansas to the white man.


In 1856, one Alvah Jackson begged to differ. After “finding” the springs, he bottled and marketing the H2O as “Dr. Johnson’s Eye Water.” Basing its curative powers on a non-existent Osage story of a healed princess.


In 1879, “Dr.” Jackson invited Judge Levi Best Saunders of nearby Berryville to treat his skin disease with the spring water. Healed!


The Judge set up camp in the area. Twenty more families followed suit. Some for healing, some recognizing an eye-watering business opportunity when they saw one.


The Judge’s son gave the growing community its market-friendly moniker. Local lore says he named Eureka Springs after Ponce de Leon’s alleged exclamation when the explorer supposedly found the theoretical fountain of youth.


Archimedes Schmarchimedes. Eureka Springs gained notoriety as a place of miracle cures.


It attracted the rich and poor, the blind and lame, the sacred and profane. All seeking physical relief and restoration by bathing in and drinking the town's eponymous spring water.


Flash forward through four "Great Fires" - destroying most of the town's early wooden structures - to Eureka Springs’ train-enabled Victorian heyday.


The “Switzerland of America" boasted dozens of hotels and boarding houses, and a thriving community of some 3000 souls.


When visitors weren’t “taking the cure,” they partied like it was 1885, enjoying a farrago of morally defensible diversions: shopping, dining, dancing, theater, opera, bowling and more.


Streetcars! Electric lights! Sewage treatment! Six trains a day and state-of-the-art hotels made the spa town a major mecca for Americans near and far, from all walks of life.


And then Eureka’s Golden Age sputtered to a halt. The sick and stricken traded faith in miracle cures for rapidly advancing medical science.


Private automobiles and motor coaches opened the door to a distinctly downmarket demographic. Rich people hopped on airplanes to California, Florida, Las Vegas and other less provincial, more exotic locales.


The Great Depression of 1929 to 1939 saw Eureka Springs fall out of grace. The grand hotels lost their luster, the largest lying derelict for years. The town unwound, a pale shadow of its former self.


A fact a modern day visitor can’t escape.


Santayana Said It First



Those who fail to remember the past are condemned to see it in Eureka Springs. Constantly.


There it is, on every interior wall: black and white images of the city's progress during its most glamorous and prosperous era. Interspersed with faded newspaper clippings and memorabilia from events that burnished Eureka Springs’ rep for class.


The historical artifacts are most obvious in Eureka's Spring's largest and most famous landmarks, such as the ne-plus-ultra Crescent hotel and the working man's Basin Park hotel. Creaky old lodgings that invite nostalgia buffs and paranormal investigators (group discounts available).


Perusing the pervasive pics of Eureka’s past glories is like listening to an octogenarian describing their high school football career. You should have seen me back in the day! I was the best! World class!


Today? Not so much…


Chazerai



The parade of small shops lining Eureka Spring's downtown care little for historical flexing. They plaster their walls, indeed every square inch of their interior, with the same drek you'll find at any beachfront, mountain, airport or truck stop tourist trap in America.


Jokey T-shirts, cheap jewelry, make your own perfume, pathetic attempts at "art," pillows... Please don't make me list them all! Although what red-blooded redneck doesn't want a stuffed squirrel occupying pride of place on their mantlepiece. Sorry, inside a breakfront cabinet.


Today's tourists can take a break from Eureka Spring's bobkes at a selection of cafes and restaurants – serving some of the worst food I've ever had the displeasure of overpaying for.


How do you make humus that doubles as cement, and why would anyone throw avocado slices and blue cheese pebbles on top?


You don’t want to hear about present-day Eureka Springs for the same reason I've yet to see a single Mercedes, BMW, Porsche or other upmarket car drive through Eureka Springs. This town is trash.


Architectural Gems



Not all of it.


Eureka Springs is also home to some of the most elegant and charming Victorian/chalet styles homes I've seen outside of Rhode Island and Lucerne.


A few of the structures are literally falling to rack and ruin (no doubt thanks to hippy dippy occupancy). But most of the houses have been immaculately restored (no doubt thanks to Bed & Breakfast/Airbnb income).


Eureka Springs' "suburbs" are a blessed break from the cookie cutter communities that have taken over vast swathes of America.


I could even see myself living there – as long as I avoided downtown, cooked my own food and stopped expecting locals to be friendly to strangers.


Pig Trail or Branson?



The last form factor has me yearning for today’s return to the open road.


No matter how fascinating an area's geography, history or architecture, it's the people that make it worthwhile. Let's just say I won't be yelling "Eureka!" if and when I make a new friend… somewhere else.


I'm either going to head down the Pig Trail motorcycle route or up to Branson, MO, to stay in a hotel that's less a hundred years old and see a show. Don't blame me if I do yell "Eureka!" when I see something over-the-top tacky. M'kay?


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6 Comments


Chrisopher Bove
Chrisopher Bove
Jun 07

Hit the Pig Tail! Always a great ride

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DrMikeinPDX
Jun 06

I'm on a (short) motorcycle trip myself. I thought of you yesterday Robert when I chatted with a fellow geezer at a gas station in the Columbia River Gorge. He was on the first day of a trip to Kansas City to replay a similar trip he'd done in the 1970s. Instead of putting his stuff in a backpack like he did back then, he had his brand new RT1250 loaded up with camping gear like a scene from the Beverly Hillbillies. I hope he makes it.


I'm heading home today from a little wine tasting town in Eastern Washington. Will enjoy some curvy roads through the Horse Heaven Hills.

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Dave Holzman
Dave Holzman
Jun 06
Replying to

I had my own x-country adventures from long ago. By train from Seattle to NYC, and back, when I was 2 and a half, for the xmas holiday season. I have one memory--the train stopping in some small town in the middle of the country, where my father got out for some errand, and I mostly remember the view out, and my father finally making it back.

I don't remember driving from Seattle to Menlo Park when I was not quite 4, except for Crater Lake, where we spent the night in a cabin, and my father telling us the next morning that "a bear went by our car" in the night. Oooh! That was exciting. I told everyone whose…

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lynnwgardnerusa
Jun 06

At least they use the tourist dollars to restore the old elegant homes, which are really really expensive to repair and maintain.

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robertfarago1
Jun 06
Replying to

My name is Robert Farago and I approve of that expenditure.

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