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MUSEUM MUSINGS: The flu bug hits Boone County

Written by David Holsted, published in the Harrison Daily Times on February 4, 2021

The editor of the Boone County Headlight had some advice for his readers in the Jan. 15, 1953, edition of the paper.

“If the ‘flu’ bug hasn’t gotten you – better watch out. One man wanted to know how you knew when you had it. Brother, you’ll know without questioning anyone!”

During the winter of 1952-53, a severe influenza pandemic swept the world. Mexico City reported that 40% of its 3.5 million residents were down with the flu. The Blytheville (Ark.) Courier News said that more than half the nation felt the grip of the flu epidemic.

The king of Belgium came down with the flu. Rather than broadcasting it over the radio, Pope Pius XII had to have his annual address read for him, because he was recovering from the flu. Comedian Jack Benny had to cancel a television appearance, because he was in the hospital with the flu. Suffering from influenza, actors Debbie Reynolds and Keenan Wynn bowed out of a USO show in Korea.

Boone County was not immune to the epidemic.

On Jan. 13, 1953, papers reported that Circuit Judge Woody Murray, because of illness to jurors, had postponed trials scheduled for the January term at the Boone County Courthouse.

On Jan. 17, it was reported that 38 schools across Arkansas were closed because of flu outbreaks. Those included Valley Springs, Bergman and Harrison. According to newspaper accounts, attendance at Harrison schools was from 35% to 50% of normal.

The Headlight also reported that many clubs, organizational meetings and parties had been postponed due to the sickness.

The Headlight quoted a local physician who said that it was the prevention of complications, such as pneumonia, which the medical profession was attempting to do in the case of influenza patients. In most instances, antibiotics were being given to prevent pneumonia and other complications.

Another dreaded disease shared the Headlight’s front page on Jan. 15, 1953.

The Boone County March of Dimes, with only three weeks left in its fund-raising drive in the fight against polio, had raised only $400 of its $6,000 goal.

County chairman Bob Black appealed to Boone County citizens to help fight polio.

“We have just come through the worst recorded polio epidemic of all times and we must now shift into high in the drive in Boone County. The people of Boone County must realize the seriousness of the plight we face.”

According to medical sources, a major outbreak of polio occurred in 1952 in the United States, resulting in over 57,600 cases and 3,145 deaths.

Events in Harrison to raise money for the March of Dimes included a radio auction over KHOZ of talent, services and merchandise and a porchlight canvass by Harrison Jaycettes. The City of Harrison also agreed to give to the March of Dimes all dimes placed in parking meters during the last week of January. The Rainbow Girls placed containers in most stores for the collection of dimes.

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MUSEUM MUSINGS: When it came to traveling the Ozarks, the Dodds were in favor of it

Written by David Holsted, published in the Harrison Daily Times on January 21, 2021

They tried to warn her. Roads in the Ozarks were terrible. Evelyn Dodds refused to listen. She was going to do it.

Federal highway legislation in 1916 and 1921 provided funding for improving post roads and highways throughout the country. Arkansas didn’t start to take advantage of it until about 1923 when, among other projects, a federally-subsidized state program led to the construction of Highway 7. Up until that time, it was the largest public works project seen in the Buffalo River valley.

Even after Highway 7 opened, the poor reputation of Ozarks roads discouraged most outsiders from using them.

Dodds, a “spirited” 19-year-old from Pine Bluff, was not one of them.

In August 1926, Dodds, her older sister, Lessie, and their mother, Henrietta, left their home in Pine Bluff embarking on a two-week vacation in the Ozarks. Their destination was Monte Ne, a resort near Rogers. Dodds, who was the only driver among the three, was determined to travel on the newly constructed Highway 7.

Dodds recalled her trip in a delightful essay titled “Vacationing in the ‘Land of a Million Smiles.'”

Dodds drove a Ford Coupe that she had borrowed from her brother, Homer. There was only enough room for three people on the car’s single seat, so the rest of the family had to stay home.

On day two of the trip, the Dodds left their hotel in Dover at about seven in the morning, headed for Jasper, “over the backbone of the Ozarks,” as Evelyn put it.

“There were several who tried to discourage us but we were not to be stopped,” Dodds later wrote. “Up the mountains down and up again. The roads were good, except for the rocks. The ‘hair pin curves’ were a sight to look forward to and when I saw the first one I was almost too excited to go around it. The scenery was such that I would not attempt to describe. I regret that I am not an artist that I might attempt to paint some of the scenes.”

The brakes on the Ford Coupe burned up on the steep descent into Jasper. They found a garage where the brakes were repaired. The owner of the garage drove them to Murrays Hotel where they stayed until the car was fixed. The Dodds had intended to tour Diamond Cave, but owing to expense and time they instead started out for Eureka Springs.

Somewhere between Jasper and Harrison, one of the car’s tires blow out.

“This was an experience for Lessie and I since we had never tried to change a tire,” Dodds said. “We had both tires off and were trying to put one on when two men and a lady stopped and helped. We were delayed about 40 minutes.”

Continuing on their way, the group stopped in Green Forest, where they had the tire vulcanized. Dodds recalled the garage men being very friendly.

They reached Eureka Springs about seven that evening and stayed at the Thach Hotel. They had dinner in their traveling clothes, Dodds reported.

Dodds, her sister and her mother reached Monte Ne, where they stayed for eight days.

Commenting on the trip, Dodds said, “The roads were good, except for the rocks. We had a lovely trip.”

Evelyn Dodds Besom died in August 2002, at the age of 95. She was buried in Hot Springs.