15 Things You Might Not Know About Arkansas
1. Arkansas prides itself for being the world capital of a variety of things, including quartz (this honor is attributed specifically to the Mount Ida area), spinach (Alma), folk music (Mountain View), and archery bow production (Pine Bluff).
2. As of July 2014, Camden, Arkansas is home to the oldest living American and second-oldest living person in the world. Born in 1898, 116-year-old Gertrude Weaver has lived her entire life in Arkansas. She is the eleventh oldest person in recorded history.
3. Crater of Diamonds State Park in Pike County, Arkansas, is the only diamond mine that remains active in the U.S., and one of only two ever to operate in the country (the other having been Colorado’s Kelsey Lake Diamond Mine, which shut down in 2002). Today, Crater of Diamonds functions primarily as a tourist attraction where visitors can dig for their own jewels.
4. In fact, the three largest diamonds ever found in America—which are among the largest ever found on Earth—came from Arkansas. The Strawn-Wagner, unearthed in 1990 by Shirley Strawn and now on permanent display at the Crater of Diamonds visitor center, is considered the first perfect diamond ever discovered.
5. Magnolia, Arkansas, once boasted the world’s largest charcoal barbecue grill, measuring in at approximately 70 feet in length (and resembling a gigantic missile) … until a heated warfare between its creator, George Black, and an anonymous Texan prompted the latter to best Black with a 90-foot-long grill.
6. The first woman elected to the U.S. Senate was Hattie Ophelia Caraway, née Wyatt, a Democrat from Arkansas.
7. Arkansas is home to two particularly bizarre phenomena. The first is known as the Dover Lights, an unexplained illumination that occurs in an uninhabited valley of the Ozark Mountains, allegedly visible from a neighboring overlook. Local legend attributes the lights to the restless spirits of Spanish soldiers who died looking for treasure.
8. The second is a more terrestrial being. Known as the Fouke Monster, the Southern Sasquatch, or the Beast of the Boggy Creek, the unidentified cryptid in question was brought to national attention in 1971. Rumored to be seven feet tall, three feet wide, 300 pounds, and covered in hair, the troublesome cousin of Bigfoot has been said to destroy Arkansan livestock and farmland.
9. In the early 1900s, the state’s Hot Springs National Park boasted “the largest ostrich farm in America.” Birds from the farm, which could be purchased through a catalog, had their plumes harvested for feather pillows, hats, fans, and the like. Visitors to the park could watch ostrich races and ride ostrich-pulled wagons.
10. Arkansas continues to celebrate another avian-themed competition. Every November since 1936, the city of Stuttgart has hosted its World Championship Duck Calling Contest, the largest-ever organized recognition of aptitude in the field of fowl mimicry.
11. Little Rock hosts an annual World Cheese Dip Championship. It’s only logical that such a contest take place in Arkansas—cheese dip was invented there in 1935, making its world debut in a Hot Springs-based restaurant called Little Mexico. Experts distinguish the concoction from any preceeding cheese spread or topping by its lack of meat or vegetable accoutrements—we're talking about pure gooey goodness, made of melty cheese (or Velveeta), a couple dashes of spices, and hot peppers (often Ro-Tel canned tomatoes and chillies) for kick. The full story of this discovery is documented in this short film by Arkansan filmmaker Nick Rogers.
12. Looking to kill some time during an afternoon in Berryville? Resident Dale Ertel opens his property to visitors looking to learn about his favorite subject: snakes. In a trailer on his land, Ertel houses more than 70 snakes—of the large, venomous, and horrifying variety—and charges between $4 and $7 to anyone looking to put his or her fears to rest.
13. Little River County Courthouse isn’t a tourist attraction because of its devotion to justice. Rather, every year around the holidays, the Ashdown building adorns itself as a leviathan of Christmas lights, and has become a common fixture in local revelry.
14. According to Arkansas movie buffs, only one film shot and set in the state has ever earned an Academy Award: Billy Bob Thornton’s Sling Blade, which won the Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar.
15. It is technically illegal to mispronounce “Arkansas” while in Arkansas. In 1947, in an effort to preserve the heritage upon which it was founded, the state officially instituted legal code 1-4-105, which decrees, “The only true pronunciation of the name of the state … is that received by the French from the native Indians and committed to writing in the French word representing the sound. It should be pronounced in three (3) syllables, with the final ‘s’ silent, the ‘a’ in each syllable with the Italian sound, and the accent on the first and last syllables. The pronunciation with the accent on the second syllable with the sound of ‘a’ in ‘man’ and the sounding of the terminal ‘s’ is an innovation to be discouraged.”