It has been fun researching the colorful characters attracted to the Arkansas Ozarks through the years.
What is it about the hills of north Arkansas that attract the Norman Bakers and the Gerald L.K. Smiths of the world?
William Hope “Coin” Harvey has always been one of my favorite characters from Arkansas’ past. Harvey, the 1932 presidential nominee for something called the Liberty Party, was born in Virginia in 1851 and admitted to the bar at age 19. He practiced law in West Virginia, Ohio and Illinois before heading to Colorado in 1884, where he operated a silver mine that made him a wealthy man.
Gaye Bland picks up the story in the online Encyclopedia of Arkansas History & Culture: “When the price of silver fell, Harvey abandoned mining and in 1888 moved his family to Pueblo, Colo., where he practiced law, sold real estate and helped develop the Mineral Palace, an ornate exposition hall. By 1891, the family moved to Ogden, Utah, where Harvey led the organization of an extravagant carnival that ended in financial failure.
“In the early 1890s, as the nation entered a period of deflation, bank failures, bankruptcies and farm foreclosures, Harvey turned his attention to the free silver issue. Like other Western business leaders, he believed that abandoning the gold standard and returning to the free coinage of silver would restore prosperity. In 1893, Harvey moved his family to Chicago to devote his time to the cause. He began writing and lecturing, arguing that the U.S. treasury should buy all silver offered at a set price and issue silver certificates backed by the deposits.”
Harvey wrote an extremely successful book called “Coin’s Financial School” in 1894. That book gave him his nickname. Harvey campaigned hard in the 1896 presidential race for William Jennings Bryan. That campaign brought him to the Arkansas Ozarks. In 1900, Harvey began purchasing land southeast of Rogers and announced that he would build a major resort. He named the area Monte Ne, which he said were Spanish and Native American words for “mountain” and “water.”
The Hotel Monte Ne opened in 1901. The state’s first indoor swimming pool, a tennis court and two additional hotels were added in the years that followed.
“In 1913, Harvey formed the Ozark Trails Association,” Bland writes. “Although the association’s stated purpose was the promotion of better roads, Harvey’s goal was the promotion of Monte Ne. The OTA marked routes, published route books and erected obelisks that were lettered with the distance and direction to Monte Ne at major junctions. Despite the efforts, the association did little to increase business at the resort. Like many resorts, Monte Ne suffered with the growth of automobile travel and in the 1920s most of the resort was closed or foreclosed.”
Harvey continued to write books and became convinced that the end of civilization was near. He decided to build a 130-foot pyramid before civilization ended. The project was never completed. Its ruins are now under the waters of Beaver Lake and can be seen when water levels are low. Harvey began the Liberty Party in 1931 as an alternative to the two major parties. He was 80 years old when the party’s delegates came to Monte Ne and nominated him for president.
“The party platform was based on Harvey’s writing and called for government ownership of utilities and industry, limits on land holdings and personal wealth and, of course, free silver,” Bland writes. “When the votes were tallied, he was in sixth place.”
Harvey received only about 53,000 votes nationwide. Arkansas produced 1,049 of those votes.
Harvey died at Monte Ne in February 1936. He was buried beside his son in a concrete tomb, which had to be moved up the hill before Beaver Lake was filled.
A sidelight: Though most of Harvey’s former resort is under water, the name Monte Ne lives on in a small community by the lake that’s home to one of my favorite restaurants. At the Monte Ne Inn on Arkansas Highway 94, the family-style menu consists of bean soup, mashed potatoes and gravy, corn, green beans, fried chicken and homemade bread with apple butter. There’s no menu. If you go, this is what you’ll get. And it’s all you can eat.
Decades after the death of “Coin” Harvey, Anita Bryant found her way to Eureka Springs. Bryant, now 70, became an entertainment sensation in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Her song “Paper Roses” reached No. 5 on the Billboard charts.
Bryant was named Miss Oklahoma in 1958 and was the second runner-up in the Miss America pageant. After her singing career took off, she was voted for three consecutive years by the readers of Good Housekeeping magazine as the most admired woman in America. Florida citrus growers hired her in 1968 as their spokesman, a job she would hold for a dozen years. Those of us of a certain age remember the television ads in which she proclaimed, “Breakfast without orange juice is like a day without sunshine.”
In 1973, Bryant even sang at Lyndon Johnson’s funeral. She also appeared in ads for Coca-Cola, Kraft Foods, Holiday Inn and Tupperware. Her success led Florida Gov. Reubin Askew to quip, “People connect orange juice, Florida and Anita Bryant so much that it becomes difficult to decide which to visit, which to listen to and which to squeeze.”
Her career faltered, however, after she became a spokesman for anti-gay rights efforts in the late 1970s. Her citrus contract was not renewed, she divorced her husband Bob Green and then she moved from Florida back to Oklahoma.
In 1990, Bryant married Charlie Hobson Dry, a former test crewman for NASA. She moved to the Arkansas Ozarks in the early 1990s and opened her Eureka Springs theater. In 1997, however, Bryant and Dry filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in Arkansas. There were more than $172,000 in unpaid state and federal taxes at the time. She also performed during the 1990s in Branson, where government liens were filed claiming more than $116,000 in unpaid taxes.
A 2002 story in the St. Petersburg Times described her as someone who spent her later years in “small entertainment capitals across the Bible Belt, gamely attempting a comeback but leaving backruptcy and ill will in her wake.”
By 1998, Bryant and her husband had made their way to Pigeon Forge, Tenn., where they bought the 2,040-seat Music Mansion.
The 2002 St. Petersburg Times story told of “dozens” who “labored, often for weeks or months without pay, to produce Bryant’s jaunty, top-tapping show, ‘Anita With Love.'”
“They were always telling us God’s going to come through,” one former dancer said. “They would attach his name to everything and if we didn’t believe them, we didn’t have faith. It didn’t have anything to do with God. We knew their track record.”
The newspaper reported in 2002, “Among the jilted employees is a woman who appears on Bryant’s website as the president of her fan club. She is owed about $3,000. The Music Mansion — once the gem of the folksy Pigeon Forge theater scene — was auctioned off this month. Only eight years old, its facade is showing wear from poor maintenance. The landscaped islands on its vast, empty parking lot are overrun with dandelions.”
Bryant’s official biography on the website for Anita Bryant Ministries International (the biography appears to have last been updated in 2006) notes: “Anita is now sharing an office in the historic Oklahoma City’s Bricktown with Charlie. The offices house the new Anita Bryant Ministries International Inc. along with Charlie’s Space Camps and other business ventures. Anita is excited about being back home in Oklahoma and believes her latter days will be greater than in the beginning.”
Just like “Coin” Harvey, her road show made its way at one point to the Arkansas Ozarks.