Discovering Eureka

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Signs of something more

Brickwork outside Mud Street Cafe

It started at Mud Street Cafe with a question to Gail, the hostess: What was this building originally?

The clue I had missed the first three times I had eaten breakfast there: the design in the brickwork outside the entry, not-so-subliminal advertising for the services that were on offer at one time in the building, a former brothel. And there's not just one sign, there's four -- so customers coming from all directions couldn't miss them.

I realized I was walking around Eureka not seeing what was in front of my eyes.

That included the large neon sign on the Palace Hotel, which I had walked under several times a day on my way to and from downtown. And not noticed that the shape is more than suggestive of the hotel's previous incarnation as a "full-service" bath house.

Other signs from Eureka Springs' past: "Blocksom and Sons Undertakers and Embalmers," the ominous hand pointing downwards, perhaps, to the place some of the clients were bound.

According to Ralph Wilson, who leads historic walking tours of downtown, the Chocolate Factory building on Spring Street also was a funeral parlor. The building had businesses on five different levels, including a speakeasy on the top floor, the funeral parlor on Basin Springs Avenue (now steps) and a place you could buy a headstone on Main Street.

"I call it one-stop shopping," he said.

Modern signs only slightly salubrious include a collection of tin signs for sale. Then there's the "Husband Day Care Center" sign at the Rowdy Beaver Den on Spring Street, inducing shoppers to "Leave you husband with us. We'll look after him for you. You only have to pay for his drinks."

Neon sign at the Palace Hotel on Spring Street

Down on North Main, go into Cottage Caboodle and look up. Otherwise you'll miss the creative way owner Linda McFarlin and spouse Rob McFarlin have recycled old screen doors. The top floor of their building, which they bought four years ago, used to be a brothel, with a tavern on the main floor. And at one time the building housed the largest circus and carnival poster printing in the country, Linda was told. In the basement is an empty swimming pool purportedly used by workers who came to build the railroad.

They undoubtedly availed themselves of the other recreational opportunities.

For more hidden history, take a walking tour of downtown. Ralph Wilson and James Stanhouse lead tours daily from the Basin Springs Park kiosk. The 75-minute Downtown and Underground Tour starts at 4 p.m. The 45-minute "Hellraisers, Hoodlums and Heated History Tour" is at 10 a.m.

Other signs from Eureka's past

For more information, contact the Eureka Springs Downtown Network, and click on walking tours.