Whatever Happened To The Lake Conway Monster?

Lake Conway, skunk apeCould a reservoir in Arkansas be the favorite watering hole of a southern Bigfoot? Maybe it once was, but it doesn’t seem to be anymore.

When I was a kid in the 1970s, I loved tramping through the woods, and so of course I loved hearing about monsters lurking in the woods. I vaguely remember a rash of sightings of a big, hairy monster in the woods of Arkansas. It had several names, the most popular being the Fouke Monster, which was sighted by numerous individuals and was the subject of some atrocious films that freaked out 10-year-old me.

There were also sightings at Lake Conway just north of Little Rock. It’s 6,700 acres in size, making it the largest man-made game and fish commission lake in the country, and a popular fishing spot. Most of the sightings come from fishermen in remote parts of the lake.

According to one anonymous testimony (the sort of thing that constitutes evidence for cryptozoologists hunting these critters) it was about 7 feet tall and completely covered with dark hair. It stood at the edge of the lake watching a fishing boat for several minutes and showed no fear or comprehension when a gun was pointed at it.

Sightings of the Conway Lake monster date back to the 1940s, according to this article in the Saline Courier, which cites no sources. They continued until the 1970s before trailing off to nothing.

Several witnesses noted that it had a terrible odor. This led some cryptozoologists to suggest it’s a skunk ape, a mysterious beast shown here in a photo courtesy David Barkasy and Loren Coleman. This shot was allegedly taken in Florida. Skunk apes are found throughout the South although, of course, none have ever been caught. Sadly, no photos of the Lake Conway monster have ever been reported.

So what was the Lake Conway monster? Skunk ape? Bigfoot? A hairy refugee from a nudist chili festival? Did it go extinct like some people said Nessie has? Perhaps it moved away as Little Rock has expanded and more and more fishermen use Lake Conway. It seems a shame, though. The folks around Lake Champlain have kept their monster alive and kicking. So come on, Arkansans, go find the Lake Conway monster, or at least take a blurry nighttime photo of an orangutan!

Oklahoma’s largest Civil War battlefield may become National Park

Civil War, Honey Springs
The Honey Springs Battlefield Park in Oklahoma may become a new addition to the National Park Service, the Tulsa World reports.

The U.S. Department of the Interior said in a report that there’s “potential action” for “support designation of Honey Springs as a National Battlefield Park.” Now Oklahoma history buffs are scratching their heads over just what that means. The Tulsa World couldn’t get an answer. Hopefully that government-speak translates into real action. The Battle of Honey Springs was the largest Civil War battle in Oklahoma, which was the Indian Territory back then. The battle was notable in that white soldiers were a minority on both sides.

On July 17, 1863, a Confederate army was gathering at Honey Springs in order to attack the Union position at Fort Gibson. About four or five thousand rebels had assembled, mostly Cherokee, Choctaw and Chickasaw. More reinforcements were coming, so the Union troops at Fort Gibson, which only numbered 2,800, decided to attack before it was too late. The Union side was mostly black and Indian troops, some from the same tribes as the rebels.

After a night march, the Union army attacked the Confederate position in a pouring rain. The rain ruined much of the rebel gunpowder, and this helped decide the battle. Nonetheless there was enough powder left for the rebels to put up a hard resistance. After a few hours they were forced to retreat, having to burn part of their wagon train to keep it out of Union hands.

The Confederates lost 150 men killed, 400 wounded, and 77 taken prisoner. The Union lost only 17 killed and 60 wounded. The rebels lost control of the Indian Territory north of the Arkansas River. This helped open up Arkansas for invasion and led to a Union army capturing Little Rock that September.

Prominent in the fight on the Union side was the First Kansas Colored Volunteers, a black unit of mostly escaped slaves that was the first American black regiment to see combat when they defeated a larger force of rebel guerrillas at the Battle of Island Mound in Missouri on October 29, 1862. The victory made headlines across the country and helped dispel a widespread belief that black soldiers wouldn’t fight.

The First Kansas Colored Volunteers fought in several engagements in Missouri, Kansas, and Arkansas yet they aren’t very well known. The justly famous 54th Massachusetts has inspired books, a monument, a movie, even a rap video, but the First Kansas remains largely forgotten. I’ve been sending a book proposal on the regiment around to publishers for a few years now, and despite being an established Civil War author I keep getting told there’s an “insufficient market” for the subject. Apparently the American public can only deal with one group of black heroes at a time.

Here’s hoping the Honey Springs battlefield will become a National Park and the First Kansas will get some of the recognition they deserve. Thanks to Jane Johansson over at the The Trans-Mississippian blog for bringing this to my attention. Jane blogs about all aspects of the Civil War west of the Mississippi and is worth reading.

Photo courtesy farmalldanzil via flickr.

Pico Iyer: The surprising charms of Little Rock, AR

Who’d have thought that Little Rock, Arkansas, would prove so diverting?

Paris, Rio, Kyoto: We know pretty well what we’re going to encounter (or at least to savor) as soon as we set foot in any of those cities; part of their gift, polished over centuries, is for knowing how to play themselves to perfection and how to give every visitor just what she wants and expects. Such places are the equivalent of the traveling world’s celebrities, used to projecting themselves compellingly even off-screen. But there’s a different kind of charm in those lesser-known towns that will never be regarded as stars, but that can take on almost any role you ask of them: the character actors among sites, you could say. They offer you unexpectedness.

Take — of all places — Little Rock, Arkansas (yes, take it, please, as a New York comedian might say). If I knew anything about the capital of the “Natural State” before I went there recently, it was that it was small, forgettable, and, as one distinguished travel-writer had written to me, “intriguingly forlorn and melancholy.” Bill Clinton started his political life there, I knew, but that seemed the exception that proved the rule; like many people, I had driven through it on the huge freeway I-40, going across the U.S., and like most people I had taken pains not to stay there.

In short, Little Rock was perfectly positioned to disarm and entertain me as well-worn Paris, Rio, and Kyoto perhaps never could. The first two people I met after I left my hotel turned out to be serious students of Buddhism, one of whom knew and had studied under the one Zen master I happen to know in Kyoto. A brawny guy from Memphis stopped me on the street, outside the Arkansas Literary Festival, and asked me which of Graham Greene’s novels I thought his best. Most wonderfully of all, the town I saw turned out to be an unlikely center of irony, and even self-mockery; at the stately Old State House, the proud and distinguished building from 1842 where Clinton had held his victory celebrations, one whole room was devoted to the history of “Bubbas and hillbillies.”

* * * * *

One beauty of a city of surprise is that at first it offers you little at all, or only what you might have feared. I disembarked in Little Rock on a sultry afternoon in early spring, to find that its baggage carousels delivered luggage at a Samoan pace. The person who was meant to meet me was nowhere in sight. I went over to a public phone booth, to see that it had been stripped of its instrument. The same was true of almost every other public phone booth. Finally I did find a phone, but it gave me no dial tone. I found another, and it was equally mute. People were sitting in their molded plastic chairs as if on their stoops along the Mississippi, watching the world not go by.

“Things move slow round here,” said the sweet woman who did at last arrive to take me into town. “Town” seemed at first blush a euphemism: downtown was over almost before we got there. A convention center, a couple of tall buildings and then a wasteland of empty lots and deserted streets, lean black boys in hoodies drifting across the vacancy, past boarded-up stores that suggested that all life was long gone. I remembered coming into Louisville on just such an afternoon two years before; there was the same, aromatic sense of having come upon some broken capital long after the nation’s leaders had absconded with all the cash.

Then, however, I stepped into the Capital Hotel — a gleaming white historical building with an elevator so large that it had once transported Ulysses S. Grant’s horse, it was said (and once the whole state legislature) — and a smooth man in a suit with perfectly waved brown hair approached me. He made me think, somehow, of a saxophonist doubling as a used-car dealer. “I’m Billy,” he said, “and if there’s anything you want…” The next thing I knew, he was showing me around my room as charmingly as if it were his bachelor pad. A walk-in closet. Some Arkansas toffee, free of charge. The menu to the haute restaurant, Ashley’s, downstairs.

I walked out into the night, three hours later, to find the River Market district down the street abuzz. The sound of blues was pouring out of several raucous bars on a single block. Bouncers as wide as they were tall sat on stools on the sidewalk, giving prospective customers the once-over. Good old boys were revving up their Harleys in a nearby parking lot, while teams of young ladies with cheerleader-perfect hair were fingering shrimp in Flying Fish and other of the restaurants with their windows open to the night. The entertainment district stretched across all of five blocks, but it packed into that small area enough tattoos and blasts of metal and versions of Eric Clapton’s “Cocaine” to keep a stadium entertained for a good long while.

* * * * *

Another beauty of a place like Little Rock is that all the sights mentioned in the tourist brochures are within a few blocks of your hotel, and may give you what you never thought to ask for. Next to the great glass structure that is the Clinton Presidential Library is a Clinton School of Public Service and, not far from that, a huge place called the Heifer International Center, dedicated to social justice from Rwanda to Peru. A quaint house near the huge Public Library was selling used books and coffee and knick-knacks. A sleek Ikea-worthy café serving up specialty foods was run by an urbane gent from Delhi (“There can’t be many Indians in Little Rock,” I tried. “Oh,” came the answer, “there are so many of us here!”). In a hippie coffeehouse I sampled, the fliers were advertising “Extreme Midget Wrestling,” coming to town very soon.

Perhaps what I least expected to find in Arkansas was a sense of openness and even mischief. I picked up the local paper to read a piece by someone who presented himself as a “born and raised Southern Baptist,” yet delighted in an appearance by Christopher Hitchens, here to argue that God is not great. A stranger who identified himself to me as “born and raised on the front row of the Southern Baptist Church” asked me if I thought, from my travels, that faith was collapsing around the world. When I said no, he looked decidedly disappointed. A young woman in advertising told me she was reading aloud the latest novel by J.M. Coetzee to her husband. He, in turn, was writing a book on Tolkien.

Some places — Britain, Canada, and Australia are obvious examples — win one over, whatever their deficiencies, by their refusal to take themselves too seriously. Others (dare I mention Atlanta, Houston, or Los Angeles?) seem to be lacking all sense of perspective regarding themselves and their limitations. But I never expected to find Little Rock proudly, and impenitently, in the former category. “The corruption of law and justice has often proved a challenge to Arkansas society,” said a sign in the Old State House exhibition, apparently with delight. The state it was celebrating, it went on, with almost audible glee, has historically been “a magnet for the unlawful.” In a nearby room were a pair of Florsheim shoes worn by the current governor and a cardboard cutout of Bill Clinton, in shades and leather jacket, playing his sax on national television. Downstairs, his running shoes from 1982 were in another display case.

Arkansas politics in the 20th century, I read in yet another room in the building, was “a circus hitched to a tornado” (and I remembered that Mike Huckabee, the guitar-playing Christian who had briefly won the nation’s attention as a presidential candidate three years ago and once issued a pardon to Keith Richards, was also from here). Sure enough, not far away, I found Huckabee’s Guitar Pick and his Duck Call in a case.

On a bright, warm Saturday afternoon, two boys with art-college glasses, who looked as if they should have been at an open-mic event in a grunge café, stood at the center of the entertainment district, wearing placards that said, “There is only one Church in the Bible” and decrying every other Christian denomination. Some frat boys scribbled out a sign — “This guy is a moron” — and placed it next to one of the boy-evangelists, and posed for a cell-phone photo. On the other side of the street, two older men sipping Free Trade espresso and munching on no-fat muffins chuckled with delight. Getting into the spirit of theological debate, one cool-looking character in a two-tone shirt and shades stepped forward to engage the placard-wearers in conversation.

“You not talkin’ ’bout the Kingdom! You believe in Jesus?”

“Yes I do, sir.”

“Then why you think those who believe in Jesus are goin’ to Hell?”

“If you read Romans 8, sir…”

“You sayin’ we believe in Jesus, but we goin’ to Hell?”

The challenger’s three friends laughed approvingly. The Buddhists I met took me to a pan-Asian restaurant in a mini-mall serving Thai curries and sushi under beautifully framed pictures of faces from Mongolia and Laos and Tibet. Nearby, a bridge was lit up like the one across the Bosporus in Istanbul.

“It really wasn’t what I expected at all,” said one of my hosts, a stylish woman in her early sixties with frosted-blonde hair (who was working hard to try to eliminate capital punishment in the state). “There are a lot of people from other places who have found that this is a good place to live.” I recalled the friendly young woman, who volunteered her free time to teach adults to read, pointing out to me the condos in one tall building at the center of town, and saying that they were the priciest places in town (the $250,000 price tag she cited for them would have made them cheaper than the cheapest places in my hometown in California).

On arriving in Little Rock, I had wondered how someone as charming, quick, smooth, and intelligent as the 42nd president of the United States could have emerged from here as if from the forehead of Athena. By the time I left, I was thinking that much of the city along the sluggish Arkansas River was no less supple and surprising. Imagine — though this may not be for everyone — Bill Clinton expanded to the size of a metropolis. You can’t find that in Paris, Rio, or Kyoto. Or even in Washington, D.C.


Pico Iyer is the author of numerous books, including Video Night in Kathmandu, The Lady and the Monk, and The Global Soul. His most recent book is The Open Road: The Global Journey of the Fourteenth Dalai Lama.

[Photos: Flickr | cliff1066; cliff1066; eschipul; Afroswede; StuSeeger]

16 great farmers’ markets

Farmers’ markets are not only a great way to sample a community’s natural bounty, they’re also a unique setting to experience its culture. While each farmers’ market is different, a really good farmers’ market brings a sense of community to the cities and municipalities where they operate. Wondering where you can experience some of the freshest produce, tastiest snacks and friendliest people across the country? Check out our picks for 16 of our favorites below.

Saint Louis – Soulard Farmer’s Market

The Soulard Farmers Market began in St. Louis in 1779, making it the oldest continuously operating farmers market west of the Mississippi. In addition to the fresh fruit, produce, baked goods and flowers, the market includes a craft and flea market in the two wings of an old train terminal. A bit “Old World” in atmosphere, shoppers can buy live chickens, barter with vendors and enjoy a festive, energetic atmosphere all year round.

Indianapolis – Indianapolis City Market
The Indianapolis City Market was built in 1886 and today includes an arts market on Saturday, a farmers’ market on Wednesdays, cooking classes and ethnic theme events that may focus on the foods of Asia one week or the spices of the Middle East the next. The common thread through it all is that homegrown goodness of corn, tomatoes and other produce from the soil of Indiana.

Madison, Wisconsin
The Madison Wisconsin Farmers Market fills the grounds of the state capitol building and draws a huge crowd to the pedestrian-only mall and shops nearby. Fresh produce is only part of the fun. One Saturday, Wisconsin’s famous dairy cows may be on display; at other times there might be an iron man competition underway. Since it’s the state capitol, don’t be surprised if you’re asked to sign a petition or happen to see an up-and-coming politician working the crowd.

Kansas City – City Market
Kansas City’s City Market
overflows with activity weekend mornings all year when as many as 10,000 people have been known to shop for produce and bedding plants one more, artwork on another and bargains from the community garage sale another weekend morning. Valet service is available for big purchases. Some of the city’s most prosperous farm-to-table restaurants have found a naturally successful home here.

Des Moines, Iowa
All products sold at the Des Moines Farmers Market must be grown within the state of Iowa and that means 160 or more booths carrying the freshest produce grown in some of the world’s best farmland. There are also hand-made items, such as dried flower arrangements, seed murals and wheat weaving. A miniature train for children is a standard fixture and most Saturday mornings, you’ll find musicians, clowns or dance troupes performing.

Woodstock, Illinois

Voted the best farmers market in the state of Illinois in 2008, the Woodstock Farmers Market could easily be called a “producers market” because everything must be grown, raised or made by the seller. Located on the town square of this historic community, shoppers are accompanied by folk music performed live from a nearby gazebo on Tuesday and Saturday mornings.

Holland, Michigan

The Holland Michigan Farmers Market literally overflows with blueberries, cherries, strawberries and other fresh fruit from the fields of western Michigan. The market also carries farm fresh cheese, eggs, herbs and spices. In the craft area, handmade furniture is an unexpected treat. But just wandering the aisles, munching on freshly baked Danish and feeling the breeze from Lake Michigan is a treat in itself.

Columbus, Ohio – North Market
Columbus Ohio’s North Market comes with its own kitchen and James Beard-award winning chef to prepare meals right on the spot from items bought at the market. In addition to fresh dairy products, including ice cream, and prepared foods from international vendors, the North Market sells just the right utensils and cookware to bring any meal together.

Lincoln, Nebraska – Historic Haymarket
The Historic Haymarket in Lincoln, Nebraska was originally a place where livestock and produce were sold in the state capitol, but now it is the site of the trendiest restaurants and retail outlets in the city. Every Saturday morning from May to October, the activity jumps another notch when more than 200 of the Midwest’s best farmers bring their produce. It’s also the best place in the city for Kolaches and coffee.

Little Rock, Arkansas – River Market

As polished as any supermarket, the Little Rock Arkansas River Market, located in the historic Quapaw Quarter, is a year-round destination for ethnic cuisine, entertainment and in the summer months, some of Arkansas’ famous tomatoes and watermelons. Something is always happening at the adjacent park overlooking the Arkansas River, and just a few blocks from the William Jefferson Clinton Presidential Library.

— The above was written by Diana Lambdin Meyer, Seed contributor



Washington D.C. – Eastern Market

Casualty of a fire that ripped through the stalls in April of 2007, the historical Eastern Market has made a comeback and continues to serve meats, poultry, breads and gourmet goodies throughout the week in the South Hall, where many employees of nearby Capitol Hill migrate for lunch. On the weekends, stalls extend to the surrounding outdoor areas and offer antiques, crafts, photography, handmade jewelry and other collectibles. On our last visit, we purchased some vintage fruit labels and stocked up on distinctive greeting cards for less than a dollar apiece.

Santa Monica, California – Virginia Avenue Park
There are several markets that sprout up over the course of the week in this beach city. The best is the Saturday one in Virginia Avenue Park where weekly appearances are made by local restaurateurs featuring the best of their menus.

New York, NY – Union Square Greenmarket
One of the best markets in New York City is the Union Square Farmer’s Market, which extends the length of the west side of the square. Stalls are filled with local fruits, vegetables, dairy, meats, poultry, fish, spices… just about anything you can imagine. At the tail end, you’ll find tables with artists selling their wares. We picked up some local goat cheese and wine, plus a hilarious comic-book version of the Grimm brother tales, handed to us directly by the author.

Chicago, IL – French Market
Inspired by European markets, the French Market was recently developed as an effort to promote community in the city. It’s located adjacent to the Ogilvie Transportation Center. The vendors sell delicious pastries and prepared foods as well as produce, meats, cheese and seafood. Grab some mussels and delicious Sicilian sandwiches before hopping on a train to the Chicago suburbs. Make sure to stop by Chicago’s world-renowned Green City Market while you’re in town.

— The above was written by M. Fuchsloch, Seed contributor

Portland, OR – Portland State University
Portland has long relished in its status as one of the country’s most eco-conscious, sophisticated food cities, and the town’s wealth of farmer’s markets certainly doesn’t disappoint. Each Saturday the shoppers of Portland flock to the grounds of Portland State University, home to Portland’s biggest and most famous of the city’s six recognized downtown markets.

San Francisco, CA – Ferry Building and Plaza
No list of farmers markets could be complete without mentioning this titan of the food world. Ground zero for the birth of slow food and much of the current revolution in local, organic eating sweeping the nation, San Francisco and the Bay Area is king and its historic Ferry Building and nearby Plaza Farmer’s Market is the capital building. Stop by for delicious favorites like locally produced cheeses, more mushrooms than you’ve ever seen and some tasty gelato.

Halloween boos at zoos

Here’s another mega round-up of Halloweeny things to do–some of them mentioned in other posts. But when I saw our beloved Leif Pettersen’s name as the writer for Minneapolis: Zoo Boo at the Como Zoo & Conservatory, I wanted to give this list a shout out. [Check out Leif’s very witty, I can’t say it enough, WITTY Gadling series, My Bloody Romania]

Leif’s zoo mention can be multiplied to take in about any major zoo in the U.S. and reminded me to put our zoo membership to good use. I’ll head to the Columbus Zoo’s Boo at the Zoo, probably this weekend. This photo by Fly on Flickr is from Boo at the Zoo at the Atlanta Zoo in Atlanta, Georgia.

Here are 10 other zoos with boos–some start this weekend. There are lots more since boo rhymes with zoo. What could be more perfect than that?

  1. Boo at the Zoo, Toronto Zoo, Toronto, Canada
  2. Boo at the Zoo Denver Zoo, Denver Colorado
  3. Night of the Living Zoo and Boo at the Zoo. Hogle Zoo, Salt Lake City, Utah
  4. Haunt at the Zoo, Oklahoma City Zoo, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
  5. Boo at the Zoo and Dia de los Muertes, San Franciso Zoo, San Francisco, California
  6. Boo at the Zoo, Philadelphia Zoo, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
  7. Boo at the Zoo, Ft. Worth Zoo, Fort Worth, Texas
  8. Boo at the Zoo, Cleveland Metro Parks Zoo, Cleveland, Ohio
  9. Boo at the Zoo, Lincoln Children’s Zoo, Lincoln, Nebraska
  10. Boo at the Zoo, Little Rock Zoo, Little Rock, Arkansas

Zoos have found pushing holidays are real money makers. The events hook me in–otherwise going to the Columbus Zoo on a regular day is just a matter of looking at the world’s largest snake in captivity –again –and deciding if, for variety, we should make our way around the zoo from left to right this time instead of the other way around.