Where did this town get its name?, Martin Graddy Sr., 92, was asked as he walked down Main Street carrying half an orange watermelon.
"See those pine trees over yonder on that hill?" Graddy said, pausing to poke a plug of Cannon Ball tobacco into his mouth. "You get a nice late afternoon and early evening shade from those trees."
Graddy has lived in Evening Shade, population 397, all his life. He was a teacher at Evening Shade High School, later the town's postmaster for 20 years. Evening Shade was named in 1817 by its founder, Willie Thompson, a cousin of President James K. Polk.
Graddy was on his way to the Evening Shade Senior Citizens Center "bringing the old folks a treat." All the "old folks" at the center were years younger than Graddy.
Arkansas has a potpourri of rural towns with quaint names. At Greasy Corner, population 70, Ernestine McCollum, 57, was found sunning herself seated on a folding chair at her huge soybean farm.
Behind her were acres of soybeans. "Greasy Corner has rich soil. Any seed you drop in the ground will grow--peas, squash, onions, rutabagas, soybeans, you name it," said McCollum, a lifelong resident of the town.
Her late father-in-law, Bunn McCollum Sr., founder of the town, called it Greasy Corner "because he was a great kidder. He called it Greasy Corner just to be doing something different.
"We have more fun out of that name. You can't imagine the reaction we get whenever a stranger asks us where we live," she said. "Friendliest people in Arkansas live in Greasy Corner. Anybody has a problem, we all pitch in and help. People are as honest as the day is long. We never lock our doors."
Greasy Corner is down the road from Stump City and Blackfish, the nearest towns.
Menus the Same
It's easy to figure out what to eat at nearly every cafe in rural Arkansas because the menus are practically all the same--catfish, fried chicken, black-eyed peas, potatoes and country gravy.
At Hope, Bill Otis, 45, foreman of a brickyard, was asked how his hometown happened to be named. "I guess someone was hoping for something," he laughed. "Now if you want to meet a special woman, look up Granny at the Hope Star," Otis said.
Granny is Eura Irwin, 81, who, for years has delivered the daily Hope Star to downtown business establishments. Granny, who is 4 feet 11 inches and weighs 110 pounds, walks the streets of downtown Hope every afternoon delivering 94 papers from a burlap bag draped over her shoulder.
She whistles continually while delivering her papers, religious songs like "Amazing Grace." "I whistle all the time, probably whistle in my sleep," Granny laughed. She makes her rounds through rain, sleet, snow and ice. When the sidewalks and streets are icy she ties sandpaper to the bottom of her boots so she doesn't slip.
"Umpire! Umpire! Umpire! is a favorite cry at baseball and basketball games at one Arkansas high school. Why do they keep shouting "umpire?"
Because Umpire High School is in Umpire, Ark., population 300. There are five Umpire churches in town, an Umpire Cemetery, Umpire General Store, Umpire Post Office. For many years there was a local newspaper, the Umpire Gazette. No umpires, however, live in Umpire, Ark.
Marilyn Keith, 38, an administrator at Umpire High School, explained the town was named after Billy Faulkner, from nearby Mena, who umpired an exciting baseball game there at the turn of the century. "Residents were searching for a name for the town at the time," Keith explained. "Flora Jones, a local teacher, hopped up on a stump after the ballgame and suggested naming the town after Billy Faulkner because he did such a good job umpiring. 'Let's call it Umpire,' Flora shouted. The crowd whooped and hollered and the name stuck."
In Smackover, 78-year-old Mayor Jewel Henry Kinder said it's the profusion of Sumac bushes in the town that gave the place its peculiar name. "Frenchmen were here first. They called it Sumac Couvrir (covered with sumac), which in time became Smackover." Marked Tree got its name from a tree Indians marked as a directional sign.
Robert Nix, 51, postmaster of Stamps, Ark., said, "We are the only town in the whole world named Stamps, the only post office in the U.S. that stamps Stamps on stamps."
Arkadelphia, population 13,000, was named in 1838 after the City of Brotherly Love, Philadelphia, and the Arc of Brotherhood. The spelling was later changed to Ark for Arkansas.
The Gurdon Light
People from all over the state journey to Gurdon, population 2,700, a few miles south of Arkadelphia, to see the mysterious Gurdon Light that appears on dark nights, according to the townspeople.
"I have lived here in Gurdon my entire life and seen the light many times," Mayor Pete Rudolph, 55, said. People reportedly see the light by walking along the railroad tracks four miles north of town. What causes the light?
"Many years ago a man was decapitated by a train," Rudolph said. "It is his ghost out there with a lantern looking for his head. The light bounces back and forth along the tracks. When you approach the light it disappears."
But what do you really think causes the light? the mayor was asked. "Has to be the ghost of the decapitated man. People have been trying to figure it out for years. There is no other explanation," he maintained.
Gurdon is also headquarters of the International Concatenated Order of the Hoo Hoo, a 93-year-old fraternal organization of lumbermen with 7,000 members in this country, Australia, New Zealand, Japan and Canada. There is a chapter in Los Angeles.
Billy Tarpley, executive secretary of the organization, said one of the founders was bald, except for a tuft of hair he called a hoo hoo. Hence the name. A black cat with its tail curled to form No. 9 is the group's logo. A Hoo Hoo convention convenes each year on the ninth day of the ninth month, nine minutes after 9 a.m. El Meier, owner of five retail lumberyards, is the current Hoo Hoo snark (president) of the Universe.
Ten of Arkansas' 75 counties have two county seats. Neighboring Mississippi is the only other state that boasts several counties with two county seats, which have two county courthouses.
"It goes back to the 19th Century, to the horse-and-buggy days when two courthouses made it more convenient, easier to get to, closer to home," explained Arkansas County Judge Bobbie Ashcraft, 57.
Ashcraft, like all county officials in counties with two county seats, divides his time between two courthouses, in his case one in De Witt and the other in Stuttgart.
The Times caught up with Judge Ashcraft as he ran across the courthouse lawn in Stuttgart to preside over Juvenile Court hearings. He was late commuting from the courthouse in De Witt, 26 miles to the south of Stuttgart.
The county judge in Arkansas is the county's chief executive and chief judicial officer. Ashcraft is not a lawyer. He is not required to be, although he presides over the county's Juvenile Court and the Bastardy Court, which hears all cases dealing with child support for illegitimate children and tries to determine the identity of the fathers of those children.
Ashcraft is elected to his office and receives $20,000 a year. As county judge he is also superintendent of county roads and buildings. He was football and track coach at De Witt High School for 27 years before being elected judge seven years ago.
Some think having two courthouses is a duplication and waste of taxpayers' money but the tradition in Arkansas is firmly entrenched.
Then there is Texarkana, straddling the Texas and Arkansas line, a city in two states. There is one post office with the state line slicing through the middle of the lobby. People buy stamps in Arkansas; post office boxes are in Texas. There is only one postmaster for the two cities.
Mail carriers have foot routes and parcel post routes in both states. The postmark for letters and packages is Texarkana, Ark.-Tex.
The police departments of Texarkana, Tex., population 35,000, and of Texarkana, Ark., population 25,000, are in the process of moving into new headquarters--a $21-million, four-story police building also straddling the state line.
When you phone the Texarkana Police Department and ask for the chief, the operator asks: "Which chief?" John Butler, 56, has been chief of the Texarkana, Ark., department for 14 years. His office is down the hall from that of Lee Spradlin, 56, the new chief of the Texarkana, Tex., police department.
"With our new building we will stop duplicating many of our services," Butler explained. "We have combined four police communications systems and now have one radio network for the two city police departments and Miller County (Ark.) and Bowie County (Tex.).
"We now have one jail, the fourth floor of the police building. Some of the Texas prisoners will be held in cells in Arkansas and vice versa. Both Legislatures passed bills declaring the Police Building in No Man's Land so we don't have to extradite prisoners. . . . "
Some things are a little different in Arkansas--and Texas.