Angi, the kids and I took a day trip up to our favorite in-state destination Friday: Eureka Springs.
It’s a charming little village stair-stepped up the sides of Ozark mountains in the northwest corner of Arkansas. About fifty natural springs dot the town. Flowers bloom in gardens all over. Streets are curved and steep. There’s not a stoplight in the whole town. There is a Passion Play there that attracts the God-and-America crowd by the thousands each summer. There are more preserved Victorian houses and buildings there than any other place in the mid-South, second only to New Orleans. Motorcycle riders, UFO enthusiasts, hot rod restorers, writers, artists, gourmet cooks, classic car collectors, gay/lesbian groups and all sorts of other “fringies” call the town home at least once a year to hold their rallies and conferences there. Every one of them is as welcome as can be.
I used to write advertising copy for the place. Can you tell?
Angi and I became engaged on the dinner train there years ago. We rode the tour train with the kids for about the dozenth time on this trip. But it’s not the same place it used to be. Both of the active steam engines have had to be retired, leaving only the diesel. Everything needs a coat of paint. And it’s just not the same place without the late patriarch of the owning family in the cab of the train or tinkering in the train yard.
The economy has been tough on tourism the past few years, which has been tough on Eureka Springs. Favorite places have disappeared over the years: the Little Trains of the Ozarks attraction, The Victorian Sampler restaurant, the Cedarberry Cottage bed-and-breakfast, several unique art galleries, and on this last trip The Eureka Springs Model Railroad Company. Their Web site’s still around, but they aren’t.
But I did get to do something I’ve wanted to do, and never have before – in the twenty-some years I’ve been going up to visit Eureka Springs: I visited the Historic Museum.
Oooooh! Exciting stuff, Keith! I won’t regale you with too many lurid details, any more than I would force Angi or my children to endure my fascination with old stuff. They went to the Fun Spot to race go-karts.
Let it suffice to say that I can easily spend a couple of hours in the museum examining what most people wouldn’t spend 15 minutes and/or five dollars to see. I learned things I’ve always been curious about. The whole town burned to the ground in the late 1800s. Twice. That’s why nearly all of the downtown buildings were rebuilt in brick or stone, and have such longevity. There used to be horse-drawn and then electric trolleys in Eureka. There was daily train service, and at one time it was a resort city second in size only to Little Rock in the territory. Carry Nation lived and died there, spreading the gospel of temperance her last three years with her trademark axe. A couple of guys hand-built a double-decker covered bridge over a canyon between two Indian trails in the summer of 1959 that was designed to house 75 writer and artist booths. It was the start of what made Eureka Springs a writer/artist paradise in years thereafter, and a hippie/biker haven a decade later.
Things change. Others change hands. Still others don’t survive change, and perish. “Men come and go, but the earth abides forever.” In addition to this Bible verse, Eureka reminds me of a verse from an old hymn: “Change and decay in all around I see/O Thou who changest not, abide with me.”
I’ve begun to realize that a good part of the reason I go back to Eureka is to see what has changed … to remember the way things were; to celebrate the things that survive. Like its name implies, the town is a perpetual sense of self-discovery.
Hope springs eternal. So does Eureka.