Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Eureka Springs, AR

We still are surprised and amazed at the diversity of the US and, what there is to explore, see and do. On the last day of June we crossed from Missouri into Arkansas driving further into the Ozark Mountains to the town of Eureka Springs…a veritable hidden gem of a town built into the side of the mountains. Reminiscent of an alpine town, the entire town is on the National Register of historic places. Holding to the alpine theme there are lots of Hotels and B&B's with Swiss/German names. At the top of the mountain the Crescent Hotel overlooks the town; this hotel has lots of history – including an Irish connection – Irish Stonecutters and Stonemasons were brought over to build the hotel in 1886 at a time when “society” was much taken by “taking the water” as a cure for ailments. There are reputedly 63 curative springs in the area with 17 in the little town alone which has a population 3,000 of whom mostly engage in tourism as their means of living. At night there are ghost tours, the most popular being at the Crescent hotel - during its history the hotel was run as a hospital by a Dr. Baker a charlatan with no medical training, yet advertised that he had a cure for many ailments including cancer - he offered to pay $500 to the first five cancer patients. They came and died, he never reported that news. Local legend is that their bodies (and others) are buried in the cellar walls. We met two teenagers who had taken the ghost tour and said that they saw many ghosts their father was more skeptical. Dr. Baker who was reported to have taken over $4 million from gullible patients was eventually charged, convicted of fraud and spent 4 years in Federal prison.

One of the big surprises for us was “Opera in the Ozarks” which has been running for 62years - a training program for aspiring opera singers chosen annually from many different colleges and schools of music - these young singers hope to be the stars of the future. Three different operas are presented; while there we went to "La Boehme" needless to say it was great, there’s a full orchestra and experienced Directors from many opera houses around the US. On our last night we saw "A Little Night Music" by Stephen Sondheim - excellent and funny. The training program runs for only a month each year, so we were lucky once again in our timing.
Having missed out on seeing the Passion Play in Oberammergau, Germany and Spearfish, South Dakota one of the reasons we went to Eureka Springs was to see the Passion Play there - it is the number one draw for the area! It is a two hour enactment of Christ's final days; the stage is in an open-air amphitheater on the side of a mountain, complete with Pontius Pilate’s Palace, the Temple, streets of Jerusalem, Via Dolorosa, Garden of Gethsemane, Mary Magdalena’s house, the upper-room where the Last Supper was held and Golgotha hill where the crucifixion took place. In all, there are 250 people in the show with camels, donkey’s, horses (for the roman soldiers) and a huge flock of goats which ran in one gate of Jerusalem and out another. It was very well done, a good show.

The highlight however has to be our trip to Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art founded in 2005 by Alice Walton daughter of Sam Walton the founder of Wal-Mart.   Opened in November 2011 the buildings are in themselves architectural masterpieces set in beautiful landscaped gardens and pools - photos (in another blog to come will give you a much better appreciation of the museum. Some of our favorites were; the sketchbooks of Edward Curtis (1868-1952) who set out in 1907 to capture “a vanishing race” and over the next 20 years created more than 2,200 images of members of some 80 American Indian Tribes and “A girl reading” by Mary Cassatt (1844-1926). The Museum presents Colonial, 19th Century, Modern and Contemporary Art with an excellent (and free) self-guided audio tour. The restaurant is most spectacular in its design and its food mouthwatering…a real treat! We had a real gourmet, yet casual lunch from an outstanding lunch menu. A formal dinner menu is also available; unfortunately on the day we were there dinner was not being served due to a reception being held.
Another very nice surprise located just west of Eureka Springs was Thorncrown Chapel a 48ft tall structure made entirely of wooded beams and glass (425 windows in total) set in the middle of a forest, sitting in the pews one has the feeling of being at one with nature it was a really peaceful place; once again a photo will give you a better idea of the chapel.

Because of the intense heat the 4th July was essentially cancelled in Eureka Springs, an orchestra was advertised to be playing at the town square, but never even turned up. A ban had been imposed on open fires, barbeques and fireworks, in fact anyone lighting a firework could be arrested; but this did not stop the sale of fireworks as we saw lots of roadside stalls selling them on the edge of town so we were quite happy with the decision not to have fireworks. We look at smokers (this is not California folks) throwing their butts on the ground and feel like having them arrested for littering and for posing a potential fire hazard; we are in the lucky position of being able to quickly move out of harm’s way!

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