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Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Marble Falls, AR

Marble Falls is an unincorporated community in Newton County, Arkansas, United States. It lies along Arkansas's National Scenic 7 Byway between Harrison and Jasper. The Marble Falls Post Office is specifically located in the parking lot of the now defunct theme park called Dogpatch USA.

Marble Falls is part of the Harrison Micropolitan Statistical Area.


A Choctaw Indian named Ah-Che-To-Mah was the first settler known to have acquired title to land in the vicinity of Marble Falls. The waterfall once supplied power for a flour mill, cotton gin, and a saw mill. Peter Bellah built the original water-powered grist mill there about 1840, and this mill was later rebuilt and remodeled by several different owners. The community was originally named Marble City, after the marble that was quarried nearby. A block of marble quarried there is part of the Washington Monument. Marble City became known as a health resort in the 1880's, through the advertisements of businessmen such as Dr. Silas Shruggs Stacey. The first post office was established September 24, 1883, and the first postmaster, Mander Wilcockson, officially re-named the community Wilcockson. Absalom C. Phillips added the cotton gin about 1890. After 1900, the town began to fade away, and the mills and gin were destroyed sometime in the early 1900's. Albert Raney, Sr., who became postmaster in 1934, had the official name changed to Marble Falls. The area was known by that name until 1966 when the Raney property was purchased by the developers of Dogpatch USA. The developers had the area's postal designation changed to Dogpatch, and it would appear that way on highway maps. The theme park closed in 1993, and in 1997 the citizens of the area voted unanimously to change the postal designation back to Marble Falls, the name it has today.

Albert Raney, Sr. is the patriarch of the Raney family. He and his family lived and presumably still live along Arkansas' National Scenic 7 Byway between Harrison and Jasper, and have had a major impact on the history of that area.

In the early twentieth century Raney purchased a piece of land in an area previously known as "Wilcockson". They diverted water from a near by creek, called Mill Creek, to create a waterfall and a pond. They renamed the area Marble Falls, the name it has today. They then turned the pond into a trout farm.

In 1949 Raney purchased "Wild Horse Cavern", a cave that had been a tourist attraction since 1928, but had been closed and virtually abandoned for ten years. He revitalized it by cleaning out debris left by vandals, and adding safety features such as stairs, hand rails, and an electric lighting system. In 1950 he reopened the cave as Mystic Caverns, and began giving tours.

Stalactites Cave Coral

Albert Raney, Sr. turned the cave property over to his son, Albert Raney, Jr. in 1959. Albert Jr. and friends and family would continue giving guided tours of the cave until it was sold to the developers of Dogpatch USA in 1966 along with the family trout farm. However, the Raney's would continue to manage the trout farm and Mystic Caverns for Dogpatch.

Rimstone Dams

In 1981 Mystic Caverns was sold to an unknown party, but was still managed by Bruce Raney, son of Albert Jr. In 1993 Dogpatch USA was closed, and the trout farm died with it. Mystic Caverns however, is still in operation however but, is now owned by Steve Rush and is in no way affiliated with the Raney family.

Onyx Forest

Mystic Caverns and Crystal Dome are show caves located between the cities of Jasper and Harrison, in the state of Arkansas, U.S.A., on the National Scenic 7 Byway near the defunct amusement park Dogpatch USA. Sometimes called "the twin caves" because they are within 400 feet of each other, the two caves maintain a year-round temperature of 58 °F, contain more formations per foot than any other caves in Arkansas, and are open for public tours year-round except during the January flooding season.

Non-Leaning Tower

Mystic Caverns, which has operated commercially since the late 1920s, is older than any other commercially operated cave in Arkansas, with the exception of Onyx Cave in Eureka Springs, and perhaps nearby Diamond Cave in Jasper, which has been toured since 1925. Crystal Dome was discovered in the mid-1960s during landscaping operations at Dogpatch USA. Great care was taken to preserve this pristine cave, and as a result 90% of it is still being formed. Tours began in the Crystal Dome in 1981.


Settlement 1830s

More Helectites

The area was settled in the 1830s and named "Wilcockson". At that time the entrance to the as-yet-unnamed Mystic Caverns was a sinkhole which led to a 10-foot drop into the cave itself. It is likely that settlers became aware of the cave and visited it prior to the 1850s . However, the first known visitor to the cave carved his name and the date on one of the formations: Adam Kolbe Wilcockson,April 16, 1919


Formation Coverage

The cave was first given the name "Mansion Cave", date unknown, for its huge open chambers, and around 1928 the first commercial tours were offered to the public. Owned by Jim and Bob Gurley, who constructed a wooden ladder down into the sinkhole and leveled the floor for trails, the tours were guided by the use of kerosene lanterns for illumination. They renamed the cave "Wild Horse Cavern" and stationed a hand carved horse next to the ticket booth.

White Cave Coral


In 1930 the cave was purchased by a man named Singer who continued to operate it commercially, and issued each visitor a pair of coveralls and a kerosene lantern. Most of the soot damage to the cave was caused during this period. From 1937 to 1938 the cave was owned by Jerry Cannon and managed by Mose Arnold, who replaced the ladder with concrete steps and hung a rope next to the steps to aid visitors as they descended into the cave.

The Pipe Organ


In 1938 commercial visitation to the cave was halted by an unidentified Arkansas state official; the dangerous condition of the steps and the probability of rock slides near the entrance to the cave were the likely reasons. From 1938 until 1949 the cave was unsupervised and frequently visited by the local residents. During this period the cave was damaged to a great extent by vandals who carried away pieces of the formations and sold them to commercial rock dealer.

Drops Of Water


In 1949 the cave was bought by Albert Raney Sr., who owned a nearby trout farm. The local highway was being paved for the first time, and Raney, who saw great potential for the cave as a tourist attraction, removed all the accumulated debris that had gathered over the years, created a safer spiral path down the sinkhole entrance to the cave and added steps where the path became too steep. He also added hand rails, leveled the trails and covered them with lime which hardened to provide better footing, installed the first electric lighting system inside the cave, and built a new ticket booth (which was eventually destroyed in a fire in 1984). The cave was renamed "Mystic Caverns" and reopened for public tours in 1950. In 1959 Albert Raney Sr. handed the responsibility of the enterprise to his son Albert Raney Jr. He would continue to manage the cave's operations with the help of his family and friends until 1984.

Crystal Bell Pool


In 1966, the cave was purchased, along with the Raney's trout pond, by the developers of Dogpatch USA, a theme park based on Al Capp's Lil Abner comic strip, and was intended to be incorporated into the park's attractions. Development of the area began around and within the cave. Jim Schermerhorn, an experienced caver, and original shareholder of Dogpatch, supervised the work.

Crystal Bell Flooded

Originally, the cave had some potentially dangerous problems. The first visitors had to hike up and down Mill Creek canyon to reach the entrance. Later, a rickity swinging bridge had been constructed over the canyon eliminating the exhausting hike, but creating a new danger. Also, the sinkhole entrance was still quite dangerous. Schermerhorn would have a safer road across the canyon built and a new man-made entrance to the cave constructed. Other improvements included a new parking lot, landscaping around the cave, and a new ticket office and gift shop. The trails within the cave were slightly altered and replaced with stone. Also, pipe welded hand rails, and a new indirect lighting system was added.

Colorful Column

During construction of the new parking lot, while Jim Schermerhorn was operating a bulldozer, a new sinkhole opened up leading to an enormous previously unknown cavern. The cave was named "Old Man Moses Cave" after a Lil' Abner cartoon character. Being an experienced caver, Schermerhorn realized the importance of preserving the pristine cave never before seen or touched by human hands. He camped out at the entrance of the cave until it could be blocked off from visitors.


In 1968, Mystic Caverns reopened under the name "Dogpatch Caverns". "Old Man Moses Cave" was supposed to open eventually as well as a part of Dogpatch, but like many planned projects of the park, it would never happen. In 1981, Dogpatch sold the caves and they continued to be managed by Bruce Raney, son of Albert Raney Jr. During this time, the Old Man Moses Cave project was completed. It has since been renamed Crystal Dome and opened to the public. Omni Projects bought the two caves in 1984 and hired Burt Allen to manage the property. In 1988, Steve Rush purchased the property and it was managed by Jennifer Updegraff, Steven Rush and Marcia Johnson. Mystic Caverns, Inc bought the property in 1997 and owns it currently.

Bell Drapes

Present day

Today Mystic Caverns and Crystal Dome are managed by Steve Rush, and guided tours, which include both caves, are conducted every 35 to 45 minutes and last about an hour and twenty minutes.

Dogpatch USA

Dogpatch USA operated from 1968 to 1993 as an amusement park based on characters and locations in Al Capp’s popular “Li’l Abner” comic strip. The town of Marble Falls (Newton County) between Jasper (Newton County) and Harrison (Boone County) changed its name officially to Dogpatch to help promote the park. The name was changed back in 1997.

Al Capp, (right) the cartoonist who created the popular (Dogpatch comic strip. ; circa 1955.
Courtesy of the Shiloh Museum of Ozark History/Virginia Fiori Bariola Collection (S-2003-2-158)

Harrison real estate broker Oscar J. Snow conceived the park when Albert Raney Sr. listed his Ozark trout farm for sale in 1966. Snow and nine other investors formed Recreation Enterprises, Inc. (REI) and approached Bostonian Al Capp with the idea. Capp, who had rejected such offers in the past, agreed to be a partner in the enterprise. The partners acquired 1,000 acres, and the Harrison Chamber of Commerce approved plans for an 825-acre park.

“Li’l Abner” creator Al Capp, during a three-day trip to Arkansas to attend the groundbreaking of Dogpatch USA on October 3, 1967.
Courtesy of the Shiloh Museum of Ozark History/Northwest Arkansas Times (10-3-67)

Capp spoke at the groundbreaking on October 3, 1967. The cost of the original construction was $1,332,000. The park originally featured the trout farm, buggy and horseback rides, an apiary, Ozark arts and crafts, gift shops, entertainment by Dogpatch characters, and the park’s trademark railroad, the West Po’k Chop Speshul. Management added amusement rides in subsequent years.

The Dogpatch USA grounds in 2007, showing the improvements, including new tin roofs on the buildings, marking a turnaround from the decades of deterioration and neglect.
Photo by Russell T. Johnson

Many of the buildings in the park were authentic nineteenth-century log structures purchased by board member James H. Schermerhorn. The logs in each building were numbered, catalogued, disassembled, and reassembled at the park. In 1968, the first year of operation, general manager Schemerhorn reported that Dogpatch had 300,000 visitors. Admission was $1.50 for adults, half price for children. Al Capp’s son, Colin C. Capp, worked at the park that year and met and married Vicki Cox, the actress portraying Moonbeam McSwine.

In 1968, Jess Odom bought controlling interest in REI from Snow and several other board members. Capp had some misgivings about the change in leadership, since he had made his original agreement with Snow, but he was eventually persuaded to sign a long-term licensing agreement with Odom. Odom upgraded the park with several new rides, campsites and other visitor accommodations and hired former governor Orval Faubus as general manager.

Dogpatch USA advertisement from a 1973 Arkansas tour guide.
Courtesy of the Cabot High School Museum

By 1972, Odom had bought out most of the remaining REI partners and built a winter sports complex called Marble Falls on the hill overlooking Dogpatch in hopes of operating the park year round. A series of unusually warm winters, delays in delivery of snowmaking equipment, rising interest rates, the Arab Oil Embargo, the end of the “Li’l Abner” comic strip due to Al Capp’s retirement in 1977 combined to drive expenses up and revenues down.

In order to keep the ski resort open, Odom used Dogpatch assets to secure loans at unfavorable interest rates. Although Dogpatch made a profit in all but two years of operation, it could not overcome the burden of the Marble Falls debt. The City of Harrison rejected Odom’s proposals to refinance the debt with a bond issue, and plans to turn Dogpatch into a religious theme park called “God’s Patch” never advanced. Interests in Clarksville (Johnson County) and Ozark (Franklin County) also briefly considered bond issues to refinance the park and move it to one of those cities, but those cities rejected the proposals when Dogpatch had its worst summer during the drought of 1980. Dogpatch declared bankruptcy in November of 1980.

Wayne Thompson, head of Ozark Entertainment, Inc. (OEI) purchased Dogpatch but not the Marble Falls improvements. OEI operated the theme park from 1981 to 1987 and then sold it to Melvin Bell’s company Telcor, which owned and operated two other theme parks, including Magic Springs in Hot Springs (Garland County).

Lynn Spradley managed the park under OEI from 1988 to 1991. During that period, Dogpatch came under increased pressure from larger and better funded competition. Nearby Branson, Missouri, offered more country music. A Missouri frontier themed park called Silver Dollar City offered more extravagant amusement park rides. The Ozark Folk Center State Park in Mountain View (Stone County) also offered an authentic mountain culture educational experience but was subsidized by the state. Shirley Cooper managed Dogpatch from 1992 to its final season in 1993.

In 1994, Dogpatch was sold to partners doing business as Westek Corp. and Leisure Tek, Ltd. Although the owners began a program to reconstruct and preserve the property in 2006, they have not made public any plans for the park.

The Road To Hokam

The rise and fall of Dogpatch USA

By Roger Brown

IN May of 1968 cartoonist Al Capp motored into the Ozarks of north Arkansas smoking custom-rolled cigarettes, wearing dark glasses and a tailored English suit, and glibly dissembling for a pack of reporters.

Capp's trip was national news. Dogpatch USA, the first theme park based on his wildly successful comic strip "Li'l Abner," was finally open for the tourist trade. The Lt. Governor was there. Miss Arkansas was there. In nearby Harrison, the merchants celebrated with "special bargain sales," dressing up employees in "appropriate Dogpatch-style outfits." With the snip of a ribbon and a slug of Kickapoo Joy Juice, Capp declared Dogpatch finally "real," and began welcoming the first of an expected torrent of tourists.

The boom was even bigger than anticipated. "Tourists here in Droves," the Harrison (Ark.) Daily Times declared. The promise of Dogpatch was fulfilled. Local motel owners held a "council of war" to find a way to accommodate the tourists pouring into north Arkansas' piece of the Ozarks at the rate of 5,000 a day to see blacksmiths, beekeepers, shinglemakers, and the surreal hillbillies of Capp's world famous comic strip come to life. What most of the visitors didn't fully realize, however, was that they were participating in a moment rich with a sort of postmodern poetics which today are commonplace. The Arkansas syndicate that built Dogpatch USA was peddling colonial stereotypes as family entertainment, and at the core of the park's attraction was a complex melody conjured by the dueling banjos of simulation and authenticity.

Dogpatch USA is the site of museum-quality cultural politics drawn so boldly and audaciously that it is almost a pity to see the park now, 25 years later, humbled, nearly forgotten, skating the edge near bankruptcy, shadowed by an idling bulldozer.

NEARLY everything is going wrong," said Shirley Cooper, the gray-haired, motherly general manager of Dogpatch U.S.A. Mrs. Cooper is from the nearby Ozark town of Deer. She used to sell her quilts at Dogpatch. Then employees started to leave. Mrs. Cooper was asked to help with an inventory control system. Then she was made director of accounting. Then director of personnel. Now, after a financial crisis and a final crippling exodus by long-time staff a couple years ago, she runs the park.

Her management style is a kindly chaos. It's like Aunt Bea is in charge. A young woman who works for her tells me, "For someone who doesn't have any kids, she gets more Mother's Day cards than anybody I know." For the past few days she and her exhausted skeleton crew of half a dozen--five young women, one man--have been working overtime to ready the 1993 summer season. This is Friday. They open on Saturday. And they're shorthanded.

There's nobody to staff the Hillbilly Burger stand. The park's personnel director is outside in the parking lot pressure washing garbage cans. The talent coordinator is wielding a weed-eater around the beaver-gnawed fallen tree by Dogpatch Creek. The state inspector hasn't been there yet to certify the safety of the thrill rides in Honest Abe's Kidventure Land.

At least Rottin' Ralphie's Rick-O-Shay Rifle Range is coin-operated.

I am sitting in Mrs. Cooper's office. A sultry and voluptuous Moonbeam McSwine gazes down from a painting behind Mrs. Cooper's desk. Small statues of Li'l Abner and Daisy Mae stand amid stacks of papers on her file cabinet. A wall clock advertises the fantasy brew of Kickapoo Joy Juice. This is Dogpatch Central--from here via pickup truck and walkie talkie Mrs. Cooper coaches the crew. Someone still has to pick up fish food for the trout, and someone still has to make fudge and someone might as well go tell them in the kitchen that they're not going to be cooking fish tomorrow because they just aren't going to be able to get that together in time.

Dogpatch USA is a classic American roadside attraction. It's a basket of cornpone and hillbilly hokum in a beautiful Ozark mountain setting that attracts a couple hundred thousand visitors each summer. Nearby are limestone caverns and a spring that flows clear and steadily into a creek that has powered a gristmill for more than 150 years. At the heart of the park is a trout farm where visitors can catch and cook rainbow trout, "the gamest of all inland fish." The decor is bumpkin kitsch. The faux-illiterate signs read like a Po Folk's menu: "Onbelievablee delishus Fish Vittles Kooked fo' Sail."

Dogpatch was finally opening two weeks late. The delay has sparked pessimistic scuttlebutt. Up and down Arkansas' Scenic Highway 7, along which Dogpatch is located, from I-40 north to the "Hillbilly Las Vegas" of Branson, Missouri, and across the Ozarks from Booger Hollow Trading Post to the seven-story tall statue of Christ at Eureka Springs, the rumors have been rampant in the tourism industry that finally, after all these years, Dogpatch USA is roadkill.

But Mrs. Cooper is proving them wrong.

"I don't know why, but every year there's rumors that the park's not going to open. We won't have the rides, and we won't be cooking fish, but we'll be open," Mrs. Cooper says as she and a woman with a ring of keys on her hip pause on their way carrying a heavy metal desk down a hallway. "They say it's gone bankrupt, or Dolly Parton bought it, or Johnny Cash bought it. But none of it's true. And this year, everyone was sure this was it because we are behind schedule. But we're still here.

Just barely. Even though this summer is Dogpatch's 25th anniversary, they have nothing planned. Where most businesses or institutions would be boasting of tradition and heritage and trumpeting their longevity, Dogpatch is lucky to still be getting electricity.

DOGPATCH opened in 1968, but its history, in the generous sense, begins about a hundred years earlier. The daisy chain of alluded identities begins in the work of post-Civil War local color writers, weaves through the tumultuous and calamitous periods of industrialization and colonization of the Appalachians, the displacement of mountain populations to the cities, and on up until the word "hillbilly" first showed up in print in 1900, toting its croker sack full of iconography: squirrel rifles, corn cob pipes, floppy felt hats, feuds, a degraded language, and depraved life.

Moonbeam McSwine

Out of this crashing surf Li'l Abner was born. Capp's only experience in the South before creating his comic was limited to a hitchhiking trip to Memphis when he was 15. His hillbillies came from the public cultural archive. His wife Catherine Capp later pinpointed the moment in New York City in the early '30s when Li'l Abner was conceived.

"A group of four or five singers/musicians/comedians were playing fiddles and Jews harps and doing a little soft shoe up on stage. They stood in a very wooden way with expressionless deadpan faces, and talked in monotones, with Southern accents. We thought they were just hilarious. We walked back to the apartment that evening, becoming more and more excited with the idea of a hillbilly comic strip. Something like it must have always been in the back of Al's mind, ever since he thumbed his way through the Southern hills as a teenager, but that vaudeville act seemed to crystallize it for him."

Capp's full name was Alfred Gerald Coplin. He was born in 1909 in New Haven, Connecticut, the first of four children. Both of his parents were natives of Latvia. His father was an amateur cartoonist who worked as an industrial oil salesman. When Capp was nine, he lost a leg when he was run over by a streetcar. It was the prevailing opinion among his friends later that Capp's outrageous scorn and satire poured out in the panels of "Li'l Abner" was to a large degree a compensatory response to his disability.

By the time Capp was 11, he was selling cartoons to neighborhood kids for pennies. After a family move to Brooklyn he added genitalia to his drawings and jacked up his price to two-bits a pop. He went to art school in Philadelphia Boston, met and married his wife Catherine, and moved to New York. Capp's first break was drafting a cartoon for the Associated Press in 1932. After that he illustrated for the Boston Post. In 1933, Hal Fisher hired Capp to work on Fisher's popular strip "Joe Palooka." While Fisher was on vacation, Capp introduced a hillbilly character named Big Leviticus, from Mineville, Kentucky, whose parents were runts and lived with a pig. In 1934, Capp left Fisher and took his hillbilly family with him. In August of that year, Li'l Abner Yokum, a six foot three, black-haired proto-Jethro, rose from a pond in the fourth panel of Al Capp's new cartoon and declared in bumpkin dialect his fidelity to nature's unclocked timetable, "Accordin' to the sun, it hain't supper time -- but the way mah stummick feel it must be!"

"Li'l Abner" was the first comic strip to star mountaineers as main characters, but his hillbilly compote was not unique. Capp's version of hillbillies were consolidated forms of a widespread tradition of mountaineer caricatures: there's the voluptuous rag-clad tater sack sexkitten, the grizzled corn-cob smoking visionary matriarch crone, the lay-about, ineffectual anti-patriarch, and the big strong, dumb ox, sixth-grade educated, inadvertent walking phallus -- part Alvin York, Abe Lincoln and Tarzan, a little Sambo in whiteface and Paul Bunyan with a drawl.

For Capp, the hillbillies of Dogpatch were the perfect dramatis personae for his brand of satirical comedy. And for Capp, "All Comedy is based on man's delight in man's inhumanity to man. I know that is so, because I have made forty million people laugh more or less every day for sixteen years, and this has been the basis of all the comedy I have created. I think it is the basis of all comedy."

"Li'l Abner" first appeared in 1934, and afterward it consistently challenged and trounced such eternal classics as Dick Tracy, Blondie and Little Orphan Annie, as America's number one strip. In the mid-1940s, his syndicate, United Features, reckoned that he had 27 million readers. The population was only about 140 million. Capp's power was enormous. When Capp ridiculed billboards in one strip, he got angry letters from the Outdoor Advertising Association who feared a rampage of anti-billboard violence. Capp had an unpleasant train ride and a half-dozen workers were fired. Li'l Abner was "an American institution."

Capp was compared to Mark Twain, Dostoevski and Rabelais. He drew like Vargas and wrote like Mark Alan Stamaty on corn likker. John Steinbeck said Al Capp deserved the Nobel Prize for Literature. Capp was master of every technique postmodernists celebrate: juxtaposition, parody, satire, irony, intertextual referencing, bricolage, chaos, the surreal, the carnivalesque, the tragicomic slapstick of differences. In "Li'l Abner," systems of logic and morality clashed -- the raw-boned mystical innocents of Dogpatch, virtuous and lean from a unvarying diet of pork and turnips, engaged with the expedient illogics of capitalist cities -- and from the resulting dreamscape of discourses came the satirical comedy. Like all satire, the real and the fictive combined to produce grotesque offspring: the better to fit the panels.

Capp's rabelaisian affinities led him to create an inverted foke fertility ritual -- Sadie Hawkins Day -- where the girls chased the boys. Sadie Hawkins Day dances were held across the country in the 40s, some events lasting weeks, ending with costume contests where they dress Dogpatch style, scanty over the shoulder bare midriff stuff. They held Daisy Mae beauty contests. Capp accepted the invitation to a Sadie Hawkins Day dance in 1946 where, while gazing on an armory filled with 12000 college students dressed in Dogpatch rags, he was overheard saying, "What have I wrought!"

An avowed devotee to Bahktin's "lower bodily strata," Capp was a one-man carnival society. Puns, allusions and borderline coprophilia showed up consistently in the strip. "Li'l Abner was full of jugs and boners and melons and labial knotholes, enough so to earn him a condemning eight pages in the report from a New York State Joint Legislative committee investigating the comics, and an expose in Confidential magazine: "Al Capp Exposed: The Secret Sex Life of Li'l Abner."

The episodic walk-ons in "Li'l Abner" had names like Earthquake McGoon, Dave Dogmeat, Clamwinkle McSlop, Hamfat Gooch, Barney Barnsmell, Boar Skarloff, Imogene Coma, Henry Cabbage Cod, Daphine Degradingham, Sir Cecil Cesspool, Peabody Fleabody, Dumpington Van Lump, whose favorite book is "How to Make Lampshades Out of Your Friends," and J. Colossal McGenius, the business consultant who charged $10,000 a word and was aided by his able secretary Miss Pennypacker. They drank soft drinks like Burpsi-Booma and Eleven Urp.

Li'l Abner's marriage to Daisy Mae Scraggs was a Life magazine cover story in the 1950s. By the 1960s, "Li'l Abner" was appearing in more than a thousand newspapers. Capp's strip had already inspired a stage play, a motion picture and "The Beverly Hillbillies."

So, when Capp agreed to license his characters to a group of Arkansas businessmen, flashbulbs popped and typewriters clacked. The Associated Press put the news on the wire that big bucks, a big name and big plans were creating a massive Ozark amusement park "of the Disneyland order."

"Deliberately building a slum for hillbillies might seem an odd way to fight poverty," Time magazine reported. "Except in this case the squalid hollow will be called 'Dogpatch,' and the developers stand to make a pile."

THE closest thing to a history of Dogpatch USA is a gigantic scrapbook the size of an Exit sign along the interstate which Mrs. Cooper hauls out from behind some cabinets. It is embossed with small gold letters "DOGPATCH USA." The massive codex swells with newspaper articles, brochures and telegrams -- the public history of the park -- meticulously collected, clipped and pasted into the book by the founders of Dogpatch from the first public announcement of their intentions in 1967.

"'Dogpatch USA' Slated for Marble Falls Area," the headline read in the Harrison Daily Times on January 3, 1967. "Dogpatch, U.S.A. Comes to Real Life; Al Capp 'Excited.'" "Dogpatch Leads Way for Big Boost To Prosperity of Harrison Region." The clippings were faded and yellowed relics of a long-dead enthusiasm. Outside, the Dogpatch of 1993 was a ragged remnant of its original state: long gone were the surrey rides, the live bear acts, the celebrity visits. But inside the scrapbook was another world, one where Newton County was the poorest county in Arkansas, the second poorest in the nation, and Li'l Abner Yokum was coming to the rescue.

O.J. Snow, a Harrison real estate appraiser and salesman, announced on January 3, 1967 that he had persuaded Al Capp to license his characters for a park to be built on 825 acres he had just acquired which included the town of Marble Falls -- which was little more than a store and a post office -- a cavern, a trout farm, the fountainhead of a creek and one of the oldest grist mills in the state. "Real Dogpatch Planned South of Harrison; Al Capp Joins Venture," the Arkansas Gazette ran on page one. The group, calling themselves Recreation Enterprises, explained they were going to blast open the cave, wire it for light and sound, dig more trout ponds, give surrey rides, have a stage coach, burro pack train, paddle boats, restaurant, motel and a restored grist mill that would grind Mammy Yokum corn meal which you could then use to bread the trout you just caught. The park, Snow and associates announced, was going to be a 'tourist magnet.'

Snow was a 46-year-old Arkansas businessman who had flown B-17 bombers as a pilot with the 91st Bomb Group of the Eighth Air Force during World War II. During the war, he had been shot down, held prisoner in a German stalag, and was liberated by Patton's Third Army. After he announced the project, Snow explained the origin of the idea to a St. Louis Dispatch reporter. He said he had been thinking about building a tourist attraction in the Ozarks when a man came into his real estate office and listed the Marble Falls acreage for sale.

"Attractive as was the property, it still wasn't the final answer," Mr. Snow said. "I felt there had to be some sort of theme. After taking on option, I went out to the grounds to look around.

"As I sat there, the idea of using Li'l Abner-Dogpatch theme almost suggested itself. As soon as practical, I called Mr. Capp at his office in Boston. He was receptive enough over the phone to agree to an appointment.

"We went to Massachusetts to see him; he indicated preliminary approval, which now has been confirmed. He is delighted. Certainly, we are....If [Dogpatch] catches on as we hope we may continue building indefinitely, as is the case at Disneyland in California. There will be no carnival atmosphere at Dogpatch. We are serious in attempting to create something of value to all of Arkansas."

DOGPATCH is located in Newton County in the north Arkansas Ozarks. The area was first settled in the 1830s and named Wilcockson after a prominent family. In 1836, Peter Bellah, who had built a grist mill, two Wilcockson boys and some others quarried out of the mountainside a huge piece of marble. The marble was hauled by oxen out of the Ozarks, carried 60 miles to the Arkansas River, and then shipped to Washington D.C. as Arkansas' contribution to the Washington Monument. After that, they called the place Marble City.

The little town boomed after the Civil War. Houses went up along the banks of Mill Creek. Marble City soon had a church, a school house, livery stable, hotel, blacksmith shop, newspaper, a mine and ore mill, a post office, mason hall, sawmill, general store, a doctor, a grist mill and a cotton gin. But it didn't have a railroad. The nearest the railroad ran to Harrison, just north of Marble City in Boone County.

Ernest Raney runs the Capital Pawn in Harrison. His grandfather, Albert Raney, was the man who sold the property to Mr. Snow and his friends. Mr. Raney had bought the property in 1934. He sold it to Mr. Snow in the fall of 1966. Ernest Raney lived on the property from the time he was born until he was 18. He moved back when he was 22 or 23 and he lived there until 1990, at which time he was running Dogpatch's trout farm. Mr. Raney and a number of other employees all quit the park, frustrated with the ownership's rocky finances.

"Around the early 30s, Marble City started going bankrupt," Ernest Raney told me. "You had Harrison on one side and Jasper on the other. And the railroad came into Harrison, and Harrison started developing, so three towns that close together couldn't really make it. The roads coming into being, and then electricity, it caused Marble City to go bankrupt."

Around that time, Dean MacNeal, an engineer from Chicago, came into the area and bought up close to 600 acres from bankrupt owners. Mr. MacNeal became partners with Albert Raney, and when Mr. MacNeal died, Mr. Raney bought his share from his heirs. The Raney's living came from a general store and the post office and some real estate on the side.

Tourism made its appearance when Albert Raney cleared some land by a picturesque waterfall and started charging admission. In the late 1940s, he ran some lights into a cave and added that to his list of attractions. In the early 1950s, some state agriculture people carried out some trout breeding experiments at Marble City's Mill Creek, and Mr. Raney got an idea. In 1954, he built a trout farm and called his outfit Marble Falls.

"He run that until 1966, when they sold it to Dogpatch," Ernest Raney says. "That's about the picture."

But that's not the whole picture. The Raney's had originally planned to expand the existing Mystic Cave and trout farm, but their plans called for re-routing a few county roads that ran through the 800-plus acres. The Raney's couldn't get permission from the county or the state, so their plans were thwarted. They gave up and sold. "We couldn't expand the business without getting into politics and we didn't want to do that...We got petitions up and got enough signatures, but in Newton County you don't do anything unless you vote right. That may be true anywhere else, but especially in Newton County back in the sixties. The right way to vote was for the right party, and that depended on who was in there. Actually I think the Democrats were in there at the time. And we weren't either party."

ONCE Snow bought the property from the Raney's, he contacted Capp. He got lucky. After decades of withholding merchandising rights, Capp was in the mood to sell. Two years earlier, in 1965, after being asked for years by beverage makers to let them use the name Kickapoo Joy Juice, Capp finally cut a deal with the National NuGrape Co. of Atlanta, which had itself just the year before been bought by an Indiana entrepreneur. For the previous couple years Pepsi had been having success with another tangy yellow soda, Mountain Dew. After selling Kickapoo Joy Juice, Capp then gave in to Snow's proposal after years of resisting offers by other theme parks.

Although Dogpatch was originally located in Kentucky, Capp was willing to dissemble for the sake of tourism. The Arkansas Gazette declared after the park's announcement: "Ozarks of Arkansas Fit Al Capp's Dogpatch Image." The writer said, "Capp has never told the exact location of Dogpatch, the comic strip hillbilly community that is just a notch below a garbage heap and which could be in any backwoods mountain region. But he told newsmen during the weekend that he had once traveled through the Ozarks and this was 'just about the section that I imagined.'"

Not everybody was as delighted as Mr. Snow and his partners with Al Capp's imagined section. The day after Snow made his announcement, two officials with Arkansas' Publicity and Parks Commission protested that Dogpatch USA would undermine the image of the state. They said the state would gain more from a project more like the Ozark Folk Center which had then just recently received a million dollar federal grant. The two officials said they thought a display of "indigenous folkways and crafts" might better serve to increase long-term tourist interest and create a more favorable image to attract investment.

Capp's comment's about the Ozarks being "just a notch below a garbage heap" brought an angry response from a reader from Little Rock. "Perhaps this will draw many tourists to the state; but it will create a poor image of the state and especially the pioneer -- the so called Arkansas hillbilly. This same hillbilly is our ancestor who built a state out of a wilderness. Mr. Snow's project will make Arkansas the laughing stock of the nation. Is this the kind of publicity we want?

"It has taken almost 100 years for the state to 'live down' the image created by 'Three Years in Arkansas' and 'A Slow Train Through Arkansas;' then came Bob Burns with Grandpa Snazzy to bring back the bewhiskered, barefoot, tobacco-chewing, ignorant hillbilly. To further clinch the idea, came the Little Rock Central High School episode of 1957. Now, we have a group of business men who wish to keep this image before the public. Why?

"Where did the Arkansas hillbilly originate? In the mind of a 'back east' writer who knew even less about the natives of Arkansas than this writer knows about the inhabitants of Mars....These ignorant hillbillies left us the heritage of integrity, independence and pride. Do we want to trade it for a mess of pottage?"

The answer, obviously, was yes.

Soon after that letter appeared, an editorial declared: "The Li'l Abner comic by Al Capp has been popular over the years, and I think Arkansas would advance its image as a state which can spoof its own foibles by adding a Dogpatch USA." Another editorial declared: "Dogpatch is going to draw people like honey draws bears and these people will have money to spend. Let's get them to spend it here!" Still another editorial voice in The Fort Smith Southwest American sided with Dogpatch. "...we think the fears probably are groundless...[W]e don't think there's much -- if any -- danger that the state's image will suffer as a result of that sole undertaking."

Al Capp did what he could to smooth over any offense. During one visit to the area when Dogpatch was being built he said, "I'm so glad I never saw all you attractive people before I drew you. All I knew about the Ozarks was what I'd seen in movies made by people who'd never seen anything but Hollywood....The Ozarks, where the girls are so pretty and the men can speak so well! Dogpatch USA seems to combine the old rustic flavor with the best kind of plumbing and windows that let the sun in."

In "The Informer and Newton County Times," published in the county seat of Jasper, a writer expressed the sense of disbelief and awe felt by many in the area as they saw what was going on. Two months before the grand opening in May of 1968, the paper declared: "It's almost beyond comprehension what Snow and his group are doing." Saying Dogpatch was the best thing to happen to that part of Arkansas, the writer continued, "It will be a shame if this county doesn't prepare itself for the untold millions of people who will be coming to visit Dogpatch. Many a fortune can and will be made over a span of a few years by serving the visitor to Dogpatch. It is going to be the 'fun place' of the South for sure. To coin a hippie phrase Dogpatch is going to be a 'happening.'"

Indeed. And what was happening was an effort by monied interests in Harrison and Little Rock to take advantage of the poverty and beauty of the region in a gesture of bold cultural politics, taking a set of nationally known hillbilly stereotypes, building a real fantasy hillbilly comic strip village, then charging admission.

THE boomers of Dogpatch saw their project as harmless tourism, doing nothing but good. But tourism is not so harmless. Tourism isn't just entertainment, a way to spend idle hours and extra cash. Tourism is a practice of identity formation. The tourist "attractions" are part of a dynamic of cultural iconography. Tourism offers a means by which people can assess their world and define their own sense of identity. It is social orientation in a Hawaiian shirt and sandals. And for all its potential to educate and relax, it also can elicit behaviors that smear real comprehension, obscuring sight like sweat on your sunglasses lens.

The first postmodern gesture ("avant la lettre") was a malicious irony: The first railroad to run in Newton County, Arkansas, was the one laid in 1968 at Dogpatch. The county was the poorest in the state but the track didn't link it to the trade along some trunk line of the Illinois Central or the Southern Pacific. Instead, the railroad ran in a circle around the circumference of Dogpatch USA, a fabulistic hillbilly funland. The irony wasn't lost on the people in the area. The editor of a local paper wrote: "Thanks to Dogpatch, Newton County now has a railroad -- no train yet, just a railroad. All over the country railroads are diminishing and here in Newton County one is being built for the first time. Can you top that?"

Tourist attractions, ultimately, are icons of place, and touristic messages and meanings are communicated through the sense of and experience of place. Tourists attach different beliefs and attitudes to different kinds of places. Tourism and touristic modes of knowing have become more important as increasingly in the cyberspace of contemporary capitalist culture the aesthetic realm intensifies and mediates the material realm. Tourists are the "unsung armies of semiotics," off in search of "Frenchness," or the typical Italian, or examples of whatever preconceptions they have regarding different ethnicities. The essence of tourism is a search for authenticity, and they find it to their satisfaction by seeking caricature and purchasing experience.

The distinction between the authentic and the inauthentic is essential to tourism, and this fact was quickly recognized by the people in area around Dogpatch. The local debate was filled with discussion of the issues of simulation and authenticity. It was a vernacular folk-deconstruction carried out in the pages of the local small town newspapers.

Just before Dogpatch opened, the Harrison (Ark.) Daily Times reported on construction progress and puzzled over the theme park's weird identity, using a convoluted logic and lay-lit-crit vocabulary that would pass muster in a contemporary classroom: "The layout of the town is a new idea and is completely original. Al Capp has never before drawn the entire town. The stage setting for the musical comedy and motion picture 'Li'l Abner,' were frankly artificial and fragmentary. Hence, Dogpatch USA at Marble Falls, will be a new creation itself, the first Dogpatch to ever exist. Physically, then, the park will originate, not reproduce, Dogpatch."

The masterful blurring of the lines between the authentic, the replica and the lampoon is, to me, Dogpatch's claim to a place on the national register. When Dogpatch opened, it featured craftsfolk from the Ozarks displaying and selling their skills and products. It presented them in a stereotyped context of moonshine and overalls. Not only was Dogpatch the "authentic" version of the cartoon place, but was also presented at the same time as a version of a real, historic place. The issues were so confusing that in another article, a Dogpatch official said, "the objective of Dogpatch was 'to restore the culture of the days of the past, maintain the culture of today and provide recreation for all age groups without destroying any of the natural beauty of the valley.'" The equating of Dogpatch with genuine mountain culture was also evident in a statement by Capp: "You don't meet a nicer batch of people than here in the real Dogpatch." The "real" Dogpatch? In the same breath, Capp added, "Until today I had thought of Dogpatch as sort of a pleasant re-run of an old Bob Burns movie. But now -- isn't it the most fantastic thing you've ever seen?"

But what were you seeing? The trade magazine Amusement Business in 1967 had already picked up on the weirdness. "The Marble Falls setting and some of the old buildings at the site already looked remarkably like the comic strip scene."

Which came first? The Marble Falls setting or the version in the newspaper? And which version makes the other valid? Does "Li'l Abner" make Marble Falls the "real" Dogpatch? or does Marble Falls, because it looks like "the comic strip scene" make Li'l Abner a legitimate version?

SHACKS and cabins were carefully constructed. Fiberglass goats grazed on shingled roofs. College kids were hired, dressed up, and throughout the summer Li'l Abner, Daisy Mae, Mammy and Pappy Yokum, and a half dozen other Capp creations came to life, as the actors performed scripted skits, puffing corncob pipes. The park was Arkansas' bid for national attention. It was such a source of pride that former Arkansas governor and arch-segregationist Orval Faubus was appointed its first general manager. They saw Dogpatch going head-to-head with Disneyland. the "high Disneyland kind."

In the 1969, Dogpatch was visited by celebrities from Petticoat Junction and run by a former Arkansas governor. By the late 1970s, Dogpatch was the site of the regional arm-wrestling championship and was renting itself out for weddings. By 1980, it was bankrupt. Today, 16 years after Capp stopped drawing his strip, Dogpatch's better days are far in the past. Dogpatch Cave, where Lonesome Polecat and Hairless Joe used to brew Kickapoo Joy Juice, has been sold off and has reclaimed its original name of Mystic Cave. Gone are the live bear acts, the mule-drawn swing, the antique car museum. In a roped off section of the park, one of the original newsmaking goats lies rainstained amid the rubble of a collapsed roof, a broken horn nearby, like a poacher was interrupted in mid-mutilation.

"But, cuss it, ah is still alive". Li'l Abner, Daisy Mae, Mammy, Salomey, and Pappy survive another narrow scrape in this strip excerpt from March 29, 1947

But there are indications that the fortunes of Dogpatch are beginning to look up. Forty-five minutes to the north is the throbbing pump of the region's tourist boom, the glittering neon capital of neo-country: Branson, Missouri.

"No doubt about it, Branson has been a blessing," said Melvin Bell, who has owned Dogpatch for six years. Mr. Bell bought the park from a group of investors who bought it after the park had been seized in bankruptcy by a Memphis bank in 1980.

"We're on the route to Branson, so we have all the tour busses coming up Scenic 7. Dogpatch is becoming the place to stop."

Mr. Bell said that the fact that the "Li'l Abner" cartoon no longer runs has had a negative effect on Dogpatch, but its legacy should be good for a few more years.

"Most of the people who go to Branson grew up with Li'l Abner," Mr. Bell said. "So from that standpoint and for the next 10 or 15 years, I would imagine, you've got people who are familiar with it and once they see it, they want to stop.

"From now on, we're going to be more aggressive."

ON the first day of Dogpatch's 1993 season, two young girls, about 11 or 12, were holding small Zebco fishing rods. These trout ponds were there before Dogpatch, and they will be here if Dogpatch is scraped from these Ozark hills, because they are the heart of this attraction, itself a celebration of feigned authenticity, a simulation of fishing. The reels are locked up , and the line is tied in a knot on the end of the rods, and the fishing line is crimped and windblown. The girls are the first of the season to angle for some of the 40,000 fish waiting to be caught in Dogpatch Pond. A nearby display on the Life Cycle of Dogpatch's Ol' Mr. Trout shows the stages of growth from eggs, to fingerlings, to adult: "Life Cycle Ends When Ol' Trout gits caught!"

The girls neither cast nor reel. Instead they dangle unweighted brass hooks into the shallow water. More than a hundred trout thrash in the shallows, splashing all the way almost to the edge of the stamped sandy shore and the bench where the girls' family sits. The fish speed open-mouthed toward the bare hooks, only to veer away a split second before biting. A Dogpatch employee comes up with some canned corn. One girl baits her hook, drops it in and two seconds later a three pound rainbow trout is bending her pole. She backs up a couple steps and drags the fish onto the sand. The employee, sweating in a tight red shirt, picks up the fish. He tries to pull the hook loose. But it won't come.

"I do Li'l Abner!!", a self-portrait by Al Capp, excerpted from the
April 16-17, 1951 Li'l Abner strips. Note reference to Milton Caniff.

The guy grips the line and pulls with increasing force. He is no longer trying to finesse the barb. He wants it out. He'll bring guts with it if he has to, which he might, because the fish has swallowed the hook. He reaches a finger into the fish's mouth, but he still can't reach the hook. He's squeezing so hard now that his unsunned arms are shaking. Watery blood is running out of the fish's gills, down his arms, like he's squeezing a sponge. Finally there's a rough sputter of ripping cartilage, a pop of bone, and the shiny hook pops out, loops, and catches his finger. He pinches out the hook, returns the pole to the girl, then at the side of the pond runs the trout onto a stringer. He stakes it in the sand, pushing the stake with his foot. The trout floats belly up. The guy stands up, plucks his gripping shirt from where it has hiked up. The second girl is still trying, sweeping the rod tip through the water, back and forth, her corn gone, lost in quick hits where she failed to set the hook. Her rod tip in the water zips through the pack of fish, more hundreds now, an impossible to count thrashing mass of dark green backs and pale bellies and swift lengths. It's like she's trying to slash them with a switch, punishing, impatient, trying at least to snag one with the naked hook. Come on, bite it, she says. Bite it. The guy in the shirt says he doesn't have anymore canned corn for bait. They're out. That's something they still got to put on their list and they'll have more he's sure by tomorrow or Monday. The fish floating at the end of the stringer spasms and flashes and then is still, and still belly up, leaking blood into the water, and the girl's brass hook shines brightly as it jigs through the dark fish, and she's whipping the rod back and forth going faster because her mother is saying hurry up, we're going, and she knows they mean it because now they're helping her grandmother up from the bench and so if she wants to get one she's got to get it now, and she's saying Come on, bite it. Just bite."