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Arkansas' Towns of Funny Names : There's Evening Shade, Greasy Corner, Stump City, Hope

Charles Hillinger's America

October 13, 1985|CHARLES HILLINGER | Times Staff Writer

EVENING SHADE, Ark. — Where did this town get its name?, Martin Graddy Sr., 92, was asked as he walked down Main Street carrying half an orange watermelon.

"See those pine trees over yonder on that hill?" Graddy said, pausing to poke a plug of Cannon Ball tobacco into his mouth. "You get a nice late afternoon and early evening shade from those trees."

Graddy has lived in Evening Shade, population 397, all his life. He was a teacher at Evening Shade High School, later the town's postmaster for 20 years. Evening Shade was named in 1817 by its founder, Willie Thompson, a cousin of President James K. Polk.

Graddy was on his way to the Evening Shade Senior Citizens Center "bringing the old folks a treat." All the "old folks" at the center were years younger than Graddy.

Arkansas has a potpourri of rural towns with quaint names. At Greasy Corner, population 70, Ernestine McCollum, 57, was found sunning herself seated on a folding chair at her huge soybean farm.

Behind her were acres of soybeans. "Greasy Corner has rich soil. Any seed you drop in the ground will grow--peas, squash, onions, rutabagas, soybeans, you name it," said McCollum, a lifelong resident of the town.

Her late father-in-law, Bunn McCollum Sr., founder of the town, called it Greasy Corner "because he was a great kidder. He called it Greasy Corner just to be doing something different.

"We have more fun out of that name. You can't imagine the reaction we get whenever a stranger asks us where we live," she said. "Friendliest people in Arkansas live in Greasy Corner. Anybody has a problem, we all pitch in and help. People are as honest as the day is long. We never lock our doors."

Greasy Corner is down the road from Stump City and Blackfish, the nearest towns.

Menus the Same

It's easy to figure out what to eat at nearly every cafe in rural Arkansas because the menus are practically all the same--catfish, fried chicken, black-eyed peas, potatoes and country gravy.

At Hope, Bill Otis, 45, foreman of a brickyard, was asked how his hometown happened to be named. "I guess someone was hoping for something," he laughed. "Now if you want to meet a special woman, look up Granny at the Hope Star," Otis said.

Granny is Eura Irwin, 81, who, for years has delivered the daily Hope Star to downtown business establishments. Granny, who is 4 feet 11 inches and weighs 110 pounds, walks the streets of downtown Hope every afternoon delivering 94 papers from a burlap bag draped over her shoulder.

She whistles continually while delivering her papers, religious songs like "Amazing Grace." "I whistle all the time, probably whistle in my sleep," Granny laughed. She makes her rounds through rain, sleet, snow and ice. When the sidewalks and streets are icy she ties sandpaper to the bottom of her boots so she doesn't slip.

"Umpire! Umpire! Umpire! is a favorite cry at baseball and basketball games at one Arkansas high school. Why do they keep shouting "umpire?"

Because Umpire High School is in Umpire, Ark., population 300. There are five Umpire churches in town, an Umpire Cemetery, Umpire General Store, Umpire Post Office. For many years there was a local newspaper, the Umpire Gazette. No umpires, however, live in Umpire, Ark.

Marilyn Keith, 38, an administrator at Umpire High School, explained the town was named after Billy Faulkner, from nearby Mena, who umpired an exciting baseball game there at the turn of the century. "Residents were searching for a name for the town at the time," Keith explained. "Flora Jones, a local teacher, hopped up on a stump after the ballgame and suggested naming the town after Billy Faulkner because he did such a good job umpiring. 'Let's call it Umpire,' Flora shouted. The crowd whooped and hollered and the name stuck."

In Smackover, 78-year-old Mayor Jewel Henry Kinder said it's the profusion of Sumac bushes in the town that gave the place its peculiar name. "Frenchmen were here first. They called it Sumac Couvrir (covered with sumac), which in time became Smackover." Marked Tree got its name from a tree Indians marked as a directional sign.

Robert Nix, 51, postmaster of Stamps, Ark., said, "We are the only town in the whole world named Stamps, the only post office in the U.S. that stamps Stamps on stamps."

Arkadelphia, population 13,000, was named in 1838 after the City of Brotherly Love, Philadelphia, and the Arc of Brotherhood. The spelling was later changed to Ark for Arkansas.

The Gurdon Light

People from all over the state journey to Gurdon, population 2,700, a few miles south of Arkadelphia, to see the mysterious Gurdon Light that appears on dark nights, according to the townspeople.

"I have lived here in Gurdon my entire life and seen the light many times," Mayor Pete Rudolph, 55, said. People reportedly see the light by walking along the railroad tracks four miles north of town. What causes the light?

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