The Archive

head2mahonyboxMahony, pictured above in this contributed photo, and his infamous box. Cardboard boxes were as much a part of his legislative career as the ever-loosened tie and point-on work ethic. The box pictured above, as noted on the side, is the “new box” for the 1981 session.

By JOHN WORTHEN
News-Times Staff

Former state Rep. Bobby Newman of Smackover said he can still see Jodie Mahony, tie loosened around his neck and a determined look in his eyes, rounding the rotunda of the Arkansas state Capitol after a rousing session of the Legislature.

It’s a memory he cherishes.

Newman served more than two decades with Mahony in the Arkansas House of Representatives and called his former colleague, who died Saturday at the Medical Center of South Arkansas in El Dorado after a long bout with cancer, “a wonderful legislator who was among the very best at his job.”

Mahony was 70.

Added Newman: “He was focused and fair about all things, especially education. That was his chief issue. He was interested in everything, though, especially if it made Arkansas a better place. He was one of the smartest people I ever met, and you will never find a better legislator than Jodie Mahony.”

First elected to the House in 1970, Mahony served 24 years before winning a Senate seat in 1994. He served in the House from 1971 through 1993 and was a state senator from 1995 to 2003; he returned to the House through 2006.

During those years in office he filed 1,429 bills, with major interests being in public and higher education, the developmentally disabled, child support enforcement and natural resources conservation.

Dr. David Rankin, president of Southern Arkansas University in Magnolia, said Mahony’s commitment to issues like education gave him recognition “as a statewide leader.”

Mahony was honored in 2005 as a Distinguished Alumnus of SAU.

Rankin said he had been friends with the former legislator for “many years,” and “his service in the Arkansas General Assembly for 36 years is truly impressive. I appreciate his many years of service and dedication to our state. He will be missed.”

In El Dorado Monday, Bettye Thurmon, director of the Interfaith Clinic, expressed her gratitude for Mahony’s long service to Arkansas, especially relating to his work sponsoring the Prescription Drug Redispensation Program.

Passed in 2005, the program allows medicines that go unused at Arkansas’ nursing homes to be redistributed to non-profit health organizations like the Interfaith Clinic.

“Every time we open our pharmacy and dispense medicine to those less fortunate, I think of Jodie,” Thurmon said. “Since the program began, we have distributed $85,000 worth of medications from nursing homes that would have been destroyed without his work and effort.”

Thurmon said she considered Mahony one of her best friends, and added that “he was always willing to go to bat on any cause as long as he felt it was right and worthy. He did that so many times when I was at the Department of Human Services. He never gave up.”

As memories of Mahony’s life were being shared throughout South Arkansas on Monday, U.S. Rep. Mike Ross included a tribute to him in the Congressional Record in Washington, D.C.

Ross served with Mahony in the Arkansas Legislature from 1991-2000.

Among his comments, Ross said Mahony “committed his life to making Arkansas a better place to get an education, to live and to work. Our state is better for Jodie’s service to it and its people … he had the respect of every legislator for his knowledge, fairness and commitment to our great state.

“He was a friend, a role model and someone I trusted for sincere advice and counsel.”

In a statement issued late Monday afternoon, former President Bill Clinton, one of several Arkansas governors to work with Mahony in Little Rock, said Mahony fought hard for what he believed in and spent long hours working and learning in an effort to give Arkansans a better quality of life.

“Arkansas has lost a great public servant and a very great man with the passing of my friend,” Clinton said.

“He dedicated his life to giving our children better education and our citizens better government. Right to the end, he was always working longer, learning more, and fighting harder for what he believed. … Arkansas will miss Jodie Mahony’s service. And those of us who knew him and loved him will miss his wit, his wisdom and his friendship. Hillary and I join his legion of friends in sending our thoughts and prayers to Bettie Anne and his family.”

U.S. Senator Blanche Lincoln said that Mahony was “always a leader,” and “everyone admired hishard work, dedication and common sense”

Added Lincoln: “He didn’t seek out a leadership role and he never considered running for higher office. Instead, he concentrated his efforts on doing the work he loved in the role where he felt he could make the most difference — the state Legislature.

“While Jodie’s work is most often associated with his valuable contributions to public education systems, he also fought to help children through his work on child support enforcement. Jodie was also an avid conservationist working throughout his career to preserve our natural and cultural resources.

“Even after Jodie was diagnosed with cancer, he fought hard and was able to return to the Legislature to work with staff on educational issues. He never quit and he beat all odds. Jodie not only set an example during his life on how to fight for good policy, he also set an example in the years of his failing health on how to continue to make a positive difference and to soldier on with dignity.

“We are the beneficiaries of his commitment and dedication and were blessed to have him among us.”

• • •
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MiltonMilton Bonham prepares a meal inside the El Dorado Salvation Army.

By JOHN WORTHEN
News-Times Staff

The kitchen inside the El Dorado Salvation Army blossoms when Milton Bonham is at the helm of its massive industrial stove.

Pots bubbling and pans sizzling in the background, Bonham, owner of Rent-A-Chef in El Dorado, oversaw the meal preparation for the Salvation Army’s board of directors meeting on a recent afternoon.

This is quite a contrast to a few months ago, when Bonham and his family were on the other side of the counter, among those in need.

As Bonham, 52, empties a pan of chocolate lava cakes — one of his specialties — he peers out into the dining room and can see himself there, homeless with a wife and two children.

That was less than a year ago.

Today, he’s back on his feet, catering events and working as a welder at Clean Harbors in El Dorado. His children are in school, doing well, and his wife is once again enjoying life.

But it’s been a tough row to hoe for the Bonham family — a long, empty road that they pray they’ll never have to face again.

When Bonham lost his high paying job as a welder in Tampa, Fla., his mortgage and other bills went unpaid. Eventually, like thousands of others caught up in the economic debacle earlier this year, he and his family were forced out on the street.

“It took about three months for the money to run completely out,” Bonham said. “We had no idea what we were going to do. It was a very scary time. I began looking for a job, almost frantically, and I saw that Lion Oil in El Dorado, Arkansas, was hiring welders. I told my wife that we had to take a chance, so we loaded up our van and drove all night to get here.”

That van, lots of hope and prayers, and a few hundred dollars brought the Bonhams to South Arkansas on a cold January day.

“It was 17 degrees, and all we had was $17 dollars by the time we got here,” said Kathy Bonham, Milton’s wife. “We slept in our van at the visitor’s center (on U.S. 167) that first night. It was cold and miserable.”

After dropping Milton off the next day for his interview at Lion Oil, Kathy, 43, and her children drove to the El Dorado chapter of the Salvation Army, where they were “welcomed like family.”

The 984-mile trip had worn Kathy’s nerves to a fray, and the chapter provided comfort and support for the family.

Captain Donnie Marvels with the Salvation Army called the Bonhams an “inspiration” to him.

“Milton and his family came to us at a desperate time in their life,” said Marvels. “When I met them, they had a smile on their face, along with a desire to make this new journey work for them. I realized very quickly with this family that they love each other in the good times, the diffi cult times and the time of relocating.”

Though they had found temporary shelter and enough food to last them for several days, things were about to get even worse for this already down-trodden family — Milton didn’t get the job at Lion, for one reason or another, and it seemed like they’d hit a brick wall. Again.

“Where do we go from here?” the couple asked, with Kathy fighting back tears and in a near panic.

“We were out of money, with no home, it was just an awful, awful feeling,” Kathy said.

Added Milton, “The first thing I told Kathy was that we were not going to panic. We prayed, we were calm and the Lord provided for us.”

Driving around one afternoon a few days later, Milton pulled into the parking lot at Applebee’s with his chef credentials in hand. He needed money, and fast.

Milton had learned to cook during his time in the Navy, and he spent his off time in European capitals watching chefs create exquisite dishes. Though officially a welder in the Navy, cooking proved to be a much-loved hobby that would eventually turn into a sideline career.

“I was fascinated by the chefs, and the whole process of cooking,” Milton said. “It’s just something that I felt like I always wanted to do.”

After retiring from the armed forces, Milton cooked in some of the top hotels on the east coast, including the Intercontinental in Savannah, Ga. He also helped create the menu for the 2004 G8 Summit, held on Sea Island, Ga.

Needless to say, Milton was hired on the spot at Applebee’s.

“We were grateful that he had a job, but it was quite an adjustment going from $20 or more an hour to $7,” Kathy said.

Milton cooked at the chain restaurant for three months, then left after accepting a welding job at Clean Harbors. Through local contacts that the couple quickly developed, Milton heard about the position and jumped at the chance for a better paying job.

And today he’s settled his family into a home in El Dorado.

He said his daughters, Scarlett, 14, and Ariel, 12, plan to take advantage of the El Dorado Promise, and his up-start catering business — Rent-A-Chef — is “taking off.”

“I hope to one day open a restaurant here and retire,” said Milton.

“We love this place,” added Kathy, an ear-to-ear smile planted on her face.

“Everyone has been so welcoming, and we could not have done it without the love and support we found here. This is home for us now.”

Back at the Salvation Army kitchen, Milton, pots and pans brimming with delicacies around him, prepared for one of his most important catering jobs since starting his business.

From grilled snapper with garlic and mint sauce to e’touffee or roasted duck, Milton said he can “cook you anything that you would fi nd in a fi ve star restaurant in New York City.”

And he proclaims this with all the gusto of a man who has been to the top, hit rock bottom and is on the rise again. As he peered out into the dining room, where in January he and his family sat with an uncertain future before them, Milton grinned. “I will never forget where we came from to get where we are now,” he said. “It’s been a true test. But we’ve made it.”

• • •

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Published May 21, 2009, El Dorado News-Times

By JOHN WORTHEN
News-Times Staff

FELSENTHAL — The Ouachita River and Lake Jack Lee are normally about a quarter mile from Frankie Breggs’ brown trailer home in Felsenthal.

On Wednesday, water sat just inches from his front door.

Breggs evacuated his 5-month-old son and moved precious belongings out on Tuesday, the gas and electricity have been turned off and he’s stacked items inside that couldn’t be moved.

Now all he can do is sit in a loaned Jon boat with an oar in one hand and hope in the other, watching the water creep closer and closer to his home.

“I’ve just been hoping that it’s not gonna get inside,” said Breggs, 34, a lifetime Felsenthal resident. “We just started watching the water coming up toward the house yesterday and today. I’m hoping it will stop short of coming inside. All I can do is watch and wait.”

He said he plans to stay with friends and family until the water levels return to normal.

Breggs’ friend, Caleb Smith, 22, of Louisiana, flooded his car last week on Dollar Junction Road near this rural community’s center after trying to drive through high water.

Smith’s Lincoln now sits near Bregg’s home with its hood half open, fried.

“I’ve got a guy who’s gonna come tow it back home for me,” Breggs said. “Man, what can you do? This water is everywhere down here.”

Just blocks away, Felsenthal Mayor Lester Lancaster sat in his office with a scanner chirping behind him.

He seemed exhausted.

Since last week, when water began flowing over K Avenue, the city’s main drag, Lancaster and his only two employees have been scrambling to place high water and detour signs around town so that motorists won’t accidentally drive into dangerous areas.

K Avenue is now cut off at its center by at least a couple feet of muddy river water.

Lancaster said that flooding hasn’t been this bad in his town since 1991, when the Ouachita River crested at 86.5 feet. The river is expected to crest here Thursday at 84.1 feet, 14 feet above the pool stage.

Heavy rainfall throughout the early part of May caused the river and area lakes to swell quickly. As much as 10 inches of rain have fallen in parts of Union County this month.

“This is the worst flooding I have seen in the 12 years I’ve been here, and we have a few people with water in their homes right now,” said Lancaster. “There are also lots of people with water at their front door steps.”

Just blocks from city hall on Short Circle No. 2, a large pool of moss-covered water crept close to the front steps of at least half a dozen homes. Behind one home, an older model sport utility vehicle sat submerged to its roof.

Here, many homes were built raised on stilts or cinderblocks, which is what has, so far, saved them from seepage.

“We really hope the water doesn’t rise any higher,” Lancaster said. “It’s gonna get real bad for a lot of people if it does.”

The forecast for the remainder of the week calls for mostly sunny skies, according to the National Weather Service. But Lancaster pointed to a printout of the weekend forecast, which shows a 40 percent chance of rain.

“We can’t handle it right now,” Lancaster said as a worried look shot over his face.

Lancaster praised county officials for offering help to repair community streets and roadways, which have taken a severe beating because of rain and high water. The county has brought in extra gravel to fill holes and shoulders.

But on streets that are still flooded, much work will likely be required when water recedes, Union County officials have said.

“We aren’t going to know the significance of road damage until things dry out,” said Union County Judge Bobby Edmonds. “But we are likely to face some repairs when that time comes.”

High water forced this community of 150 to reschedule its annual Bream Festival, which was to take place Memorial Day weekend. The festival rakes in thousands of dollars each year and gives the local economy a significant boost.

If the weather stays dry, the festival will be held on June 26-27. Lancaster promised “the best fishing we’ve had in a while.”

But first, residents here must face a rising tide that, as of today, is still holding steady. The water is likely to take weeks to recede.

In the meantime, Lancaster will be logging long hours trying to deal with problems created by an angry, swollen river.

He said the community’s sewer system is being overrun, and that flooding problems are being exacerbated by sightseers on four-wheelers and in boats.

“When people drive by on these all-terrain vehicles, they don’t realize it, but they create pools of water that wash toward homes and wash against front doors,” Lancaster said. “We want to tell people that if they don’t have business in Felsenthal right now to stay out. They are only creating more problems for us.”

A mandatory evacuation of Felsenthal hasn’t been called yet because “most people know when it’s time to get out,” Lancaster said. Driving down roads that were passable Wednesday, most neighborhoods resembled ghost towns.

“We’re shut down right now,” Lancaster said. “This town is closed.”

• • •
Remembering a monster

Published Jan. 12, 2006, El Dorado News-Times

By JOHN WORTHEN
News-Times Staff

On Jan. 12, 2005, just before midnight, the skies over Union County unleashed several decades of pent up fury, spreading a path of destruction from Junction City to Lawson — 26 miles as the crow flies. That’s how long the swath of damage was from the powerful F3 tornado.

The storm spared nothing in its path.

Local officials, residents and even the National We ather Service in Shreveport, La., said they hadn’t witnessed such a destructive event in Union County in years. Mark Frazier, warning and coordination meteorologist for the NWS, said the Jan. 12 tornado was at least the strongest one to hit this area in the past decade.

From 1950 through September 2004, 28 tornadoes have directly hit Union County, according to NWS statistics. The only other storms approaching the magnitude of the Jan. 12, 2005, storm occurred in November 1983 and December 1978, both of which were also F3s.

The Jan. 12 storm killed two Union County residents, Johnny Williams, 83, of Tatum Road, and Inez Skaggs, 83, of Rushwood Road, both from the Mount Union-Faircrest area.

But everyone who witnessed the storm’s destruction said that the death toll could have been much higher considering the large damage path.

Union County Judge Bobby Edmonds said that the Jan. 12 storm was the worst he has ever experienced. “It was a terrible tornado, mass destruction,” Edmonds said.

“The area (where the tornado hit) was beautiful … covered with large oaks and now they are all gone, which makes it look different. I think we are very fortunate that more people weren’t hurt or killed.”

Edmonds helped oversee the massive cleanup operation that began shortly after the tornado hit. Calhoun and Ouachita counties donated labor and equipment to help their Union County neighbors recover and people came from as far away as Texarkana to donate their time, as well as food, clothing and other necessities.

“It was really a touching scene to witness as people were so helpful after it was over,” Edmonds said.

“It was, and still is, something that I remember … seeing all these people that had lost everything they had. It’s not a pretty sight at all.”

No time to react
Just minutes before the tornado swept through the Lawson community 10 miles east of El Dorado, it had already spread misery through Junction City and the Iron Mountain Road area.

On Rushwood Road, Tatum Road and Patterson Loop, decades-old trees with trunks larger than pickups were toppled. High winds sheered shingles off roofs, flung dishes across the prairie and blew apart lives with steely precision.

At Junction City, the storm ripped a hulking pine tree out of the ground and sent it hurtling into a mobile home occupied by Russell and Shari Hux. The Hux couple suffered broken bones but made it out alive thanks to rescue workers.

Attempts by the El Dorado News-Times to contact the Hux family were unsuccessful, but family friends said that they have since fully recovered from their injuries.

More than a dozen miles away on Iron Mountain Road, Rex Thurlkill, 66, had just tucked himself into bed when he heard the first rumblings of the approaching storm.

By then it had already flattened the Hux trailer and was about to bear down on Thurlkill and his neighbors. Thurlkill’s trailer rocked back and forth like a tin can in a wind tunnel just before he took cover.

Flash. Eight seconds. Boom!

Flash. Four seconds. Boom!

He counted the pause between thunder claps and lightening flashes so he could clock the storm as it approached his home. The quicker the sound after each flash, the closer the storm.

Flash. Boom! Boom! Boom!

“I knew when I heard that final loud clap that I was in for it,” Thurlkill said. “I braced for it.” Just after that final burst of thunder, Thurlkill hurried out of bed, threw on a jumpsuit and ducked for cover.

“Once I hit the floor, that’s when the big blast hit,” Thurlkill said. “I could feel the shaking, and I heard the tin being ripped from my roof. Then I felt water hit my back and I knew the roof was gone. I didn’t have time to react at all.”

After a storm blew his mobile home off its foundation in December 2004, Thurlkill learned a valuable lesson about living in a trailer in the heart of tornado alley: If it isn’t tethered to the ground with steel cables, it’s as good as flying debris.

“I tied it down to the ground so it wouldn’t budge,” Thurlkill said. “I probably would have taken a ride if I hadn’t been tied down well. It really shook the place good.”

After surveying the damage at his home, Thurlkill made his way to a small store he owns on Iron Mountain Road called Percy’s, which has been in his family since 1961.

When he arrived, he found the destruction to be bad but not complete. All four walls were standing, but the roof had caved in and the place was ankle deep with water and had suffered severe wind damage.

At first, Thurlkill wasn’t sure if he would rebuild, said his son, Todd Thurlkill, who rode out the storm at his home approximately one mile away from the store.

But the morning after the tornado hit, the first words out of his father’s mouth were: “I’m going to rebuild,” Todd said.

Today, Percy’s is thriving once again, and Thurlkill has just poured a concrete storm shelter at his home in case another twister comes his way. He plans to be ready if another storm strikes. “I’m not going to take any chances this time,” he said. “You can’t ever be too careful.”

Peggy’s storm

“It’s comfortable, but it’s just not home.” That’s how Peggy Jones, 71, describes her new red brick house in Lawson. It’s tidy and well organized, smelling of fresh paint and new carpet, but it lacks something very dear to Peggy’s heart: memories — a lifetime of memories to be precise.

And that isn’t something that can be bought with an insurance check and a trip to the local building supply store.

On Jan. 12, the pair of homes that Peggy’s family had owned for generations were destroyed in less than 20 seconds.

Her home was shredded by the tornado, and the one next door, which belonged to her son-in-law, Don Travis Jr., and his wife, Robin, was picked up and slammed back down, all while these terrified family members rode it out inside.

The Travis’ home was the oldest on the property and was built by Jones’ grandfather, Dr. Daniel McCall, in 1901. It served as a local museum of sorts and had been the birth and death place for many local residents throughout the years.

A small shotgun structure beside the home served as McCall’s office and is where he saw his patients. The loss of this landmark was especially hard because of its rich community history.

“It was really like a museum,” Travis said.

“We were planning on turning his office into a museum or something like one. It still had a lot of the equipment that he used in his practice. But now it’s all gone.”

Several days before the tornado’s one year anniversary, Jones, Travis, and his wife gathered at Jones’ dining table to remember the night their lives forever changed — the night an F3 tornado turned their quiet community into a macabre scene of complete devastation.

A few minutes before the tornado hit, Travis had been asleep in bed after a long day at work. His wife and teenage daughters, Kaci and Callie, were up and had their ears glued to a weather scanner that chirped with updates on the approaching storm.

It sounded bad.

The National Weather Service reported that Junction City saw damage from the tornado and that it was tracking northeast toward Lawson, which sits just 10 miles east of El Dorado.

Calm, but realizing the situation was serious, Robin Travis decided to wake up her husband so the family could prepare if disaster struck.

“They (Robin and his children) knew the situation was unstable,” Don Travis said. “But how many times do you hear about warnings and nothing happens? Why was this going to be any different? But I got up and just before it hit they said it was four miles away.”

Four miles.

That isn’t far for a powerful, fast-moving F3 twister that had kept a true northeast track from Louisiana.

The storm followed its projected path and headed straight for the little hillside in Lawson where Peggy’s family was preparing for the worst.

A total loss

Just down the road, Dwayne Worth, chief of the Lawson-Urbana Fire Department, received an emergency call about a tornado that had hit a few minutes earlier in Junction City, some 26 miles away.

The quick-thinking chief gathered his gear, grabbed his wife, and the two headed to the fire station so he could dispatch his crew to Junction City.

But that’s when it happened.

The monster F3 tornado, packing winds exceeding 200 miles per hour, dealt Worth’s small community a severe blow, then another and another. The deafening sound he heard when he opened his front door — the sound of his community being ripped apart —will always be with him.

“It was like 20 jet airplanes hovering over the top of my house,” Worth said. “I stood on my carport and watched it happen, but I had no idea that it had hit the station.”

Worth, 53, and his wife tore through their yard, hopped into his truck and made their way to the fire station. When they got to Abe’s Old Feed House, which sits a few hundred yards from the station and was missing part of its roof, they realized they couldn’t go any further because the road was completely blocked by trees and other debris.

After making his way to the fire station on foot, Worth was astonished at what he found — the 20 years of blood and sweat he and other volunteers had put into this small station had been shredded in a matter of seconds.

“Have you ever seen a grown man cry?” Worth said of his reaction to the scene. “I had no idea what we were going to do, and after all we had done to make this department what it was, to see it like this, was just devastating.”

Instead of blowing away,the structure collapsed on top of the department’s fire engines, which had barely cooled off after working a silo fire in Urbana the night before. One of the ladder trucks, like the building, was a total loss, and everything from boots, hats, coats and radios had disappeared.

‘A 20 second terror ride’

Just as Worth heard the call about a tornado ripping through Junction City, the Travis family scrambled to prepare for the storm.

Thinking they had more time, Don and Robin rushed toward their front porch to gather things they didn’t want damaged by wind and rain. No sooner than they opened the front door, the tornado hit with its full F3 — some say F4, although that’s unofficial — force.

The wind blew them back through their hallway, pinning them to the floor as tiny shards of glass showered the walls and furniture inside.

The tornado had literally picked up the Travis home and moved it several feet off its foundation. During the melee, the Travis’ daughters, unharmed but very scared, crouched in the next room screaming for their parents.

It’s the place the girls had always been taught to go in case of a tornado, but it put them several yards away from their parents, who were trying to gather their wits after being thrown by 200-plus mile per hour winds.

“(During the storm) we could hear the kids crying, but we couldn’t get to them right away,” Robin said.

“We couldn’t stand up because the house was moving,” Don added. “It was such a helpless feeling. We had just gone through a 20 second terror ride and we wanted to see our girls. We finally were able to make our way to them and hug them. That was a great moment.”

As bad as things were at the Travis home, the scene was even worse next door. Before the storm hit, Peggy had rushed over to her son Slade’s house to get her daughter-in-law so the pair could share Peggy’s cellar in case the worst happened.

Since her son was still at work, Peggy felt they’d be safer there.

The pair hurried through the water-logged yard toward Peggy’s house, their feet soaked to the bone, just before the tornado hit.

They managed to make it inside, but not to the cellar. As they walked in the door, the tornado ripped off the roof and tore through several outer walls, splintering Peggy’s house around her. In an instant, not even in the time it takes to microwave a cup of coffee, a lifetime of memories were scattered across the countryside.

And what didn’t blow away was being soaked by the relentless rainfall.

“There wasn’t a place in my house that didn’t have water on it,” Jones said. “I lost so many pictures, that’s the one thing I am very sad about losing.”

Dazed, Jones and her daughter-in-law made their way outside a few minutes later to reunite with the Travis family, who were just as stunned.

They didn’t know what to do, who to call, or where to start cleaning up. After several hours of digging through the rubble, they decided that the best thing to do was try and get some sleep.

They spent the night in Slade’s mobile home, hoping to get at least a couple hours of rest before the cleanup process began.

The next morning, the Jones and Travis families joined dozens of volunteers who swarmed the Lawson area to help put the pieces of this community back together. Many of the volunteers were complete strangers to the family, a testament, Travis said, to the kind nature of area residents.

“That’s one thing we want to do is thank the many volunteers who came out here to this little hill to help us,” said Travis, who admitted he was dazed for several weeks after the tornado hit. “That really meant so much to see people we didn’t even know helping us like that. They brought us food, clothes and offered moral support. It really meant the world to us.”

Today, there is little to remind anyone who doesn’t live in Lawson that a powerful tornado ripped through the community, save for a pile of debris behind Jones’ home. The pile contains things that had been in a storage shed before the winds shredded it.

In the next few weeks, Don said he plans to gather several people together on fourwheelers to try and find items that may have been strewn several miles through the woods near his home, but he isn’t expecting to find much that’s salvageable.

He’s still searching for his college diploma, one item at the top of his list of things to find. “There is a chance that it’s just packed away somewhere,” he said. “We have so much stuff in boxes. But it could be somewhere miles away from here. I might not ever find it.”

Like Jones, Travis, 49, and his family have also rebuilt, but not on the same location. They chose a spot on the far side of the pond several hundreds yards from where their old home once stood. It’s a place that they had had their eyes on for several years before the storm forced them to move.

The Travis’ new home is spacious and quaint. It has a large front porch with plenty of room for their chocolate lab, Wrigley, to sleep on lazy summer days. But the house is still a work in progress, like so many things in this community.

“From the outside, people said that they thought our old house could have been salvaged,” Travis said. “But it was bowed out and the paneling was severely cracked. You could tell that the tornado tried to make it explode, but the storm got mad and left before that happened.”

Back at the Lawson Fire Department, a new building stands today just where the old one fell to fierce winds. This time, more space was added and things are a little better organized, Worth admits. In all, he’s thankful that everyone in his community made it through the storm with their lives.

That’s the most important thing to everyone who lives here.

“I knew we were going to survive this one way or another,” Worth said. “It’s hard to keep us down.”

As she often does on cloudy days since the storm hit, Jones eased her front door open and walked out into the yard to look at the sky. Standing in her yard, the unusually warm January sun bathing the parched earth around her, Jones said it felt much like the day before the tornado hit — warm and dry.

“It’s unnerving,” Jones said, crooking her neck toward the sky. “I’m afraid if it rained today that we might get another big storm.”

Click the below link to download the PDF file of the newspaper detailing day-after coverage of the storm. The file is quite large, so expect longer download times if your connection is slower.

El Dorado News-Times tornado coverage from 2005

Click the above link to download the Jan. 14, 2005 edition of the News-Times in PDF format. The file is rather large and may take time to download unless you have a fast connection.

Hamburger Row

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A charred window inside the house on Hamburger Row. A minor fire occurred there some years ago. Photo by News-Times photographer Larry Singer.

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Following is the article I wrote for the Thursday, March 12, 2009, edition of the El Dorado News-Times entitled “Hidden ‘Hamburger Row’ house exposed.”

By JOHN WORTHEN
News-Times Staff

It isn’t much to look at. The walls are worn and gray, the inside is gutted and the floors are nearly dilapidated.

Still, the two-story house that seemed to appear out of thin air recently on South Washington Avenue has become an architectural celebrity in El Dorado.

The demolition of buildings in the 300 block of South Washington, a necessary step in order to build the city’s new conference center there, revealed the house in late February — it had been sandwiched between two brick buildings and was hidden behind another building’s facade.

The creaky old structure sat cloaked for nearly nine decades.

Before modern buildings were constructed in the early 1920s, the house was part of the famed Hamburger Row, a stretch of South Washington between Locust Street and Hillsboro known for raucous parties, boozing, prostitution and, well, a pretty good hamburger, according to historians.

Wooden shacks sprouted up there after the oil boom, and the area became known as “Hamburger Row” because of make-shift restaurants that supplied food to oil field workers.

A 1921 ordinance by the El Dorado City Council ordered the food shacks torn down just six months after they were erected; they were deemed unsanitary, the city’s sanitation director deemed.

And when the old house is torn down, the last piece of Hamburger Row will officially be gone.

“It’s really a shame that it has to go,” said El Dorado Alderman Vertis Mason, who led a failed effort this week to try and save the house. “This is the last structure from ‘Hamburger Row,’ but it’s just so far gone, and it would cost so much to refurbish it. It just can’t be saved.”

Architects charged with building the conference center told El Dorado Mayor Mike Dumas Wednesday that the house — built sometime in the late 19th or very early 20th century — isn’t sound enough to be restored. It will likely be demolished later this week.

And for El Dorado resident Ester Gammill, 84, demolition day will be a somber one.

“I was in Hot Springs when a friend of mine showed me a picture of the house on the Internet,” Gammill said, referring to a photo of the home published on the News-Times blog Between Editions.

“I was shocked. I couldn’t believe my eyes. My dad owned that house and the building next to it. I worked there, and I just couldn’t believe it when I saw it.”

Gammill’s father, Max Shilling, built the three-story structure next door to the house and operated his furniture business there for decades. He later bought the house, which had been retrofitted into the facade of a brick structure, and used both structures as offices, she said.

A drapery business that spun off from the furniture store also operated there for several years, and Burbank Furniture Co. later set up in the building next to the house.

Gammill said she wasn’t exactly sure when her father sold the house and its surrounding buildings, but contrary to salacious gossip that’s been spreading throughout town about the home, she assured that it’s never been used as a brothel.

“Oh my, no,” Gammill said with a gasp. “When I heard that people had been saying that, I wanted to let them know that my father owned that house and it was used as his office and for storing records. It was never used for prostitution.”

As for the building next door… .

“There were some, how do you want to say it, activities going on there,” Gammill said with a wry laugh. “I worked in the upstairs part of the house and building attached to it, and our stairwell was parallel to the other building’s stairwell.

“People often confused the two, and I saw very confused and inebriated men just about everyday. They’d stumble up the stairs into our office thinking they were in the building next to us. You can imagine the look of surprise on their faces when I told them they were mistaken.”

Over the years, the buildings between Locust and the small alleyway next to the former Shilling’s Furniture store have represented a number of businesses.

Among them: Burbank Furniture, the Hood Hotel, Central Hotel, Andrews Ready to Wear, Leader Store Groceries, Frank M. Wexman Liquor, Pass-Time Billard Parlor, People’s Store, Taylor’s Barber Shop, Bargain Store and Jones Rooms.

Few people in El Dorado can recall more than one or two of the above establishments, but Gammill hopes that a little publicity will educate citizens about the rich history of South Washington.

“It’s important to remember things from the past, and I want to tell people so they will know what was there,” Gammill said. “Progress is wonderful, but remembering our history is just as important.”

Author’s note:
Before Gammill’s father owned the home, and before the brick structures confined it, it was part of the famed Hamburger Row, as mentioned in the above article.

How the home was used during that time is up for debate, which is why I didn’t include information about this time period in my article.

I went on first-hand information provided to me by Gammill.

That said, El Dorado businessman and local historian Richard Mason is sure that during the time of the oil boom, when the original Hamburger Row structures stood on South Washington, the house was used as as a brothel.

oldhouse1

Following is Mason’s account:
In El Dorado, Arkansas an 18 million dollar conference center is under construction. To clear the area for the building, six 1920s era buildings are being taken down. During the demolition, behind the store front of one of the buildings, an intact — circa 1870s house suddenly appeared (Pictured above in a photo taken by News-Times photographer Jim Lemon).

I’ve put a little research into the old house that was uncovered, and for a short answer it’s El Dorado’s last whorehouse.

From my old maps, I have determined the first railroad came into El Dorado around 1876. I have a map that shows the first railroad under construction at that date. In looking at the house and comparing it to the Mason House on North Jackson — which is 1875 circa — the mystery house on South Washington Avenue looks to have been built sometime between 1876 and 1880, right across from the railroad station.

I walked through all parts of the house, except the attic, and, from the layout of the rooms, it looks as if it were built as a boarding house or hotel, probably right after the first railroad came to El Dorado.

When the 1920s oil boom started it was probably the only substantial structure on South Washington Avenue. Within a year rough clapboard buildings where thrown up and South Washington became the lawless Hamburger Row.

There is no doubt in my mind, after listening to and reading the oral and written histories of the area, that this house was then used as a barrelhouse — saloon, gambling, and prostitution.

In the early to mid 1920s most of the clapboard buildings were torn down and brick building were constructed. However, this house must have still been a substantial structure, so the builder of the store front built around it, keeping a concealed entrance through what later became the kitchen at Joe’s Place.

Worth Camp — in an e-mail, said the 1929 city directory listed 324 ½ South Washington as “Jones Rooms”. Worth notes “it may have had a reputation for prostitution”.

I interviewed the desk clerk of the Garrett Hotel who manned the front desk from late the late 1940s to the early 1950s. He confirmed the house—as well as at least five additional buildings—including the Randolph Hotel were used for prostitution as late at the early 1950s.

I hate to see this house disappear, but the mindset around here is that old historic buildings are worthless and need to be torn down.

Say goodbye to the last piece of Hamburger Row.

A lot of my research comes from the manuscript of my novel The Queen of Hamburger Row.

______________________________________________________________________

hamburgerrow1

A postcard depicting the original Hamburger Row.

______________________________________________________________________

hamburgerrheader

Clara Ayres:

“Well, I had a brother over here that was working for Rock Island. He was older than I was and I came over here. The biggest impression was, of course, so many people milling up and down South Washington Street, especially, mostly men, not many women.

“It was more like a carnival. Down on South Washington Street they had what they called Hamburger Row and there were so many people that never even went in restaurants to eat much. They would just waltz up to one of those hamburger stands and get a big, fat hamburger for ten cents.”

Robert Vernon:

“When the people came here, we only had one or two small cafes and the city leased the land. The streets were not paved. We had cinders from the square down to as far as the Rock Island Railroad track. They hauled cinders up there. There was no curbs but there was a sidewalk on either side of the street on South Washington.

“There was about a six foot space between what you would call where the curb should be and where the sidewalk was. That land was rented or leased to individuals to put a little eating joint along there.

“Some of them were maybe six foot wide and some of them were 20 foot long. Of course, couldn’t many people turn around or work inside so most of them had a platform built out, a deck built out.

“You’d carry your food and you’d stand there and eat or you’d get a hamburger or your soup or your chili or whatever it was. They all sold drinks of some kind.”

John Brown

“That was a thing you would have to see to believe. It was impossible to picture as many of them as there were and the size and conditions that they were operating under was amazing because the sidewalk was lined with them that would be no bigger than this office [the library in the education building of South Arkansas Community College] and they were selling hamburgers as fast as they could make them.

“Sloppy Joe’s were their name and some of them didn’t have a name. The whole row, the whole street from what was then the Rock Island Railroad and the courthouse square from about Cedar Street on down, was lined with hamburger joints.”


Mildred Langston

“Oh, Lord, yes, that was the best smelling street [South Washington]. We never had — I never had eat a hamburger in my life, never heard of a hamburger till 1921. I never had eaten any ground beef. We had sausage but we never had eat hamburger ground up.

“Oh, that was the best smelling onions and pickles and mustard. I can still smell it. My mouth waters.

“They were a dime a piece during the boom there. I mean they were just thick between the sidewalks and curb on the street, just little old shacks, little old bitty things but they had that grill and them hamburgers a-frying.

“I think they just used mustard and pickles on them then and onions, you know, didn’t dress them up like we do now. But they sure did smell good and they tasted good, too.”


E. E. Dendy

“It was little old shacks built on the side of the walk from Hillsboro on down. It was just a dirt walk built up there and they had planks laid up there on it and mud was sloshing all over the sides of those buildings.

“Them little old places they built a hamburger joint and just big enough to come in back and have these hot plates and things to cook on and served it out of doors that they would brace up.

“They had a little shelf build here that served out that door. You’d walk up there and buy hamburgers and things like that, something to eat. At night they’d close them down and lock them up. Well, they had police walking and taking care of it in the middle of the night after they closed.

“When I left, stuff stayed up 24 hours a day because the oil field then didn’t shut then and they was hauling stuff.”


The preceding accounts of life on Hamburger Row were taken verbatim, unedited, from files at the Museum of Natural Resources in Smackover.







When I found out last month that I’d be covering the inauguration of Barack Obama, I knew finding the right travel partner was key. Friend and fellow journalist Jennifer Godwin, who works at the Democrat-Gazette, will be traveling with me to the Jan. 20 event. We’ll be leaving Saturday, and I’m going to blog the entire way. I hope to bring you a small window into this historic event. Enjoy. —John Worthen


Click here to visit Jennifer’s blog.



Jan. 22




Art Harris of San Diego, Calif., holds his Inauguration ticket.

By JOHN WORTHEN
News-Times Staff
WASHINGTON, D.C. — They braved the bitter cold.

They trudged forward through shoulder-to-shoulder crowds with stiff eyes and stout hearts.

They stood in line for hours and endured treks that would have challenged the most seasoned sidewalk warriors.

President Barack Obama’s supporters made it clear that they were willing to go through just about anything to catch a glimpse of history Tuesday at the United States Capitol.

And they showed their devotion in mind-boggling numbers.

Tuesday’s Inauguration crowd is being touted as the largest ever to gather in Washington, D.C. Millions lined the two-mile stretch between the Capitol building and the Lincoln Memorial during the ceremony, according to unofficial estimates. From the Capitol steps, the sea of bodies could literally be seen for miles.

Obama supporters huddled together in blankets and parkas, cheering, chanting and clapping to make their voices heard.

Just before the 44th president took his oath, the crowd began yelling rhythmically: “Obama! Obama! Obama!”

“Obama! We love you!” shouted a woman in a dark fur hat that sat snug around her ears.

“We all love you!”

Art Harris, a retired Marine who flew in from San Diego for the event, was among those rooting for the new president. The 74-year-old Texarkana native called Inauguration Day one of the best of his life.

“This is something that I thought would never happen in my lifetime,” said Harris. “This is one of the best events I have ever gone through. I love it, it’s the best. He (Obama) needs our support, and we need him. It’s time for a change.”

On Monday, Harris stood in line with thousands of others to collect his Inauguration ticket at the Rayburn House Building in downtown Washington. Bitter winds and snow flurries didn’t deter anyone from picking up tickets they’d requested from their Congressmen weeks before.

“What a great time this is for our nation, and for the world,” Harris said, clutching the cane he uses to ensure a steady stride. “This is what I’ve been waiting for. This is change. This is history.”

On the National Mall Monday, Toronto, Ontario, resident Dwight Davis drew attention with a large Canadian flag jutting from his backpack. He spoke candidly with people who asked questions about his journey to the Inauguration.

Davis, 60, drove his car to Washington last weekend and was sleeping in it because he had nowhere else to go — and no ticket to the Inauguration, either.

Davis, like Harris, said he felt drawn to the event and compared the excitement surrounding Obama to that of Robert F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King.

“I grew up watching these guys, and they had their dreams,” Davis said. “Obama’s here in our lifetime. He can do good things for this country, and if he can do that, he can do good things for this world. And I had to be here to see this.”

By Inauguration Day, Davis and Harris had joined millions of others to witness the swearing-in ceremony. As early as 3 a.m., crowds flooded D.C. area Metro train stations from the suburbs of Virginia and Maryland.

At the Capitol South station, people were jammed so tightly that no one could move for at least 20 minutes. Looking down the steps into the subway station, thousands could be seen shuffling off of trains and up onto the streets.

In line at a security checkpoint, Tony W. Morris, a photographer from Houston, expressed frustration at what he called a “completely disorganized mess.” At 6 a.m., Morris was ushered through a media security check only to be told that his ticket wasn’t valid.

Later, he returned to the Rayburn House building for yet another security shakedown.

“Man this is terrible,” Morris said. “I’ve been here, waiting for hours, I’ve been through these check points and now I’m doing this again. And for what? I just want to get where I need to be.”

Though frustration mounted for Morris and others throughout the day, the spirit of the ceremony stayed with them.

“I’m here to see history,” Morris said. “I’m here to take pictures of history. I’m not gonna let this get me down.”


Dwight Davis


Jan. 20


Barack Obama is sworn in as the 44th President of the United States.


Sen. Ted Kennedy appears on a jumbo screen at the Inauguration Tuesday. Kennedy suffered a seizure later in the day at an Inaugural luncheon.


Jan. 20


A woman expresses her political views with a pink sign at the Inauguration Tuesday.


An early Inauguration Day view of the Capitol.


This is the presidential podium. I snapped this photo before the ceremony began.


Jan. 20


Not exactly a New York Times shot, but you can somewhat see Barack Obama at the podium. That tele-prompter hindered my view.

What a day. I’m bone tired, probably more tired than I’ve ever been in my life. I woke up at 3 a.m. and braved hours-long lines for the Metro train to get to D.C., only to wait five more hours to find my seat.

Security checks were a nightmare. Apparently the powers that be issued more tickets than could be honored, though mine wasn’t one of them, thankfully. There were also reports of police brandishing batons and threatening people.

I witnessed a bit of police brashness myself. They make it very clear in D.C. who is in charge. Here’s a hint. It isn’t us.

Sirens chirped all over the city today, and motorcades whipped in and out of lanes speeding the opposite way on one-way streets — complete chaos.

The event itself was great. I had a birds-eye view of the ceremonies on the steps of the Capitol, though a tele-prompter prevented me from getting the money shot of Obama that I wanted.

I can say that I have never experienced anything like this event in my life, and I know I never will again.


Jan. 20

President Bush departs the Capitol Tuesday in Marine One for his final flight to the White House.

The crowd booed the now-former president as he departed the ceremoines. Sort of a sad way to say goodbye. Chants rang out, “Sha-na-na-na, Sha-na-na-na, Hey Hey Hey, Goodbye.”

I took this picture with at least a twinge of sympathy in my heart for Mr. Bush.


Jan. 20

I couldn’t resist taking this picture of Dustin Hoffman and Samuel L. Jackson, who embraced one another just before the Inauguration ceremonies began Tuesday. I came within hand shaking distance of Hoffman before being turned away by Capitol Police.

Also, M.C. Hammer stood two rows behind me. I wanted so badly to ask him to sing “Hammer Time.” But somehow I thought that might be inappropriate.


Jan. 20


Photographers lucky enough to be perched high above the ceremony vie for the perfect shot.

Jan. 19

A group of Obama well wishers stands on the lawn near the U.S. Capitol on Tuesday. Signs, banners and buttons emblazoned with “Obama” are commonplace here leading up to Inauguration Day.


Jan. 19


Finding my way around the Metro this morning was easier than expected. The trains whisk riders down the center of the interstate system at 65 miles per hour, then disappear into deep gorges beneath the city.

I emerged from the tunnels right by the U.S. Capitol this morning, and will do the same in just a few hours from now. As I type this it’s 9 p.m. Eastern Time, and Jennifer and I are planning to be at the Metro station by 4 a.m.

All is well in D.C. We’ll see how bad the crowds are tomorrow, though.


Jan. 19


Thousands of chairs are neatly aligned in front of the U.S. Capitol building on Monday.

Jan. 19





Jan. 19




Lunch at the Newseum. If you’re ever there, order the Lobster sandwich, above.

I’m sitting at the Newseum headquarters near the U.S. Capitol in D.C. right now. Internet connections have been tough to find. I have pictures and will upload them soon. Crowds are not as intense today as they will be tomorrow, but there are thousands of people milling about on the National Mall.

We picked up our tickets and credentials today at the Senate building at U.S. Rep. Mike Ross’ office. I met several people with Arkansas ties and will offer more on that later. People from across the world are here.

Jan. 18

It’s 11 a.m. Eastern time and we just made it to the D.C. area. Now it’s time to figure out logistics, as in how we’re going to get into D.C. tomorrow and on Tuesday. It’ll either be a bus or a train. But judging from the debacle today after the concert at the Lincoln Memorial, taking the train may not be an option.

National Public Radio reported waits of more than 4 hours on some train platforms.

Time is tight, and sleep is even tighter right now. Sometimes working on adrenaline is the best thing to do.

Along the route, we saw moderate snow at times through eastern and central Virginia. The temperature right now is hovering just above 20 degrees, but with mostly clear skies.

Next stop, Capitol Hill.

Jan. 17

Yesterday I talked with two El Dorado High School students who are traveling to the inauguration with the Upward Bound program. Around 13 students are going with a group from South Arkansas Community College.

Dominique Smith and I’Eishia Shephard speak openly and candidly about their trip and president-elect Barack Obama.




Jan. 16

I didn’t realize the importance of earmuffs until planning my trip to D.C. I’ve never really owned a pair, but I thought I’d better buy some to keep my ear lobes from icing. I’m not taking the kind reminiscent of a set of 1970s-era headphones, you know the ones with the radio antenna built in?

I have a sleek set that fit behind the head, so they’re hardly noticeable. I didn’t wanna look like a complete goober on a national stage.

Tonight I’m planning to pack little snacks in baggies — they’ll be squirreled away inside my winter coat. There won’t be any food options when I’m standing in the frigid morning air, and everything you take must be transparent, making big bags of trail mix a no-no.

The bathroom situation is also looking very iffy. Thousands of portable toilets have been set up, but I’ve been told that they likely will only be available well outside of the security perimeter. I guess the things could be rigged up as a bombs, who knows.


Jan. 15

This is the first of many video blog entries I will be making en route to the inauguration.




Jan. 15

Security officials are saying that though there are no credible threats against the president or his inaugural ceremonies, security will be at its “highest ever” level in and around Washington D.C. They are, however, warning about stampedes because of the thick crowds that are likely to stand along the National Mall.

The inauguration has been labeled a “global event” by organizers, and I fully expect that this will be the first real pilgrimage to D.C. since the infamous March on Washington, organized in the 1960s by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

I’m leaving early Sunday morning. Click here for more security details.


Jan. 14

Los Angeles artist Shepard Fairey has created this striking poster to honor president-elect Barack Obama’s inauguration. Click here for details on how to order it. Cost is $20.

Jan. 12
Jennifer and I got together this weekend to hash out more plans for the trip. The Democrat-Gazette will be rolling out a spiffy blog for her, and they’re also sending a photographer and several other people.

I think we’re ready. I have my equipment in check and am hoping that Internet service will be reliable. Now if the weather will cooperate we may be set.

I’ve never been to D.C., so stops at area attractions will be a must. Visiting local institutions like Ben’s Chili Bowl — shown below — is without question a top priority. I’ve heard many love stories about their chili dogs.


Jennifer and I have decided not to go to any inauguration balls since we’ll likely be writing well into the evening. Besides, packing a suit of formal wear would only add to the confusion. I am a little worried about dealing with the cold and a cumbersome coat and headgear.

This is the event of a lifetime, so I’ll manage.

On Sunday, security officials had an official “run through” of inaugural events. Below is a video. A U.S. Marine acted as the Obama stand-in, and other personnel portrayed Obama’s daughters and wife.



Jan. 11


The early morning sky brightens on the West Front of the Capitol during a rehearsal for the Inauguration Ceremony in Washington, Sunday, Jan. 11, 2009.



Military personnel on the West Front of the Capitol during a rehearsal for the Inauguration Ceremony in Washington, Sunday, Jan. 11, 2009.

Jan. 9, 2008
I just received an e-mail from the U.S. Senate Press Gallery, which issues credentials to the inauguration, and I have been granted an all-access pass to sit on the official press platform right by the swearing in stand. I called to see just how close I would be and was told “it’s very close.”

I am planning photographs and stories for both Between Editions and the News-Times, be sure.

Jennifer and I also have an official place to stay now, so at least I won’t be sleeping in a car or a bar.

Now to find very warm clothes… .


Jan. 8, 2009

Security officials in Washington are telling those attending the inauguration to expect crushing crowds, little chance for restroom breaks, bone-chilling temperatures, waits of three or more hours to get into the gates and complete and total gridlock.

And I couldn’t be more excited to be part of this event.

I’ve set up this special blog so that everyone can see and experience it with me. I will (hopefully) be posting videos and definitely pictures and a lot of text to this blog during the inauguration. I’m ready to roll.

3 Responses to The Archive

  1. ilene harral says:

    Looking for the “blog” mentioned in today’s paper to see more photos of the TEA party yesterday…cannot find it in this….

  2. photo says:

    They are below the “TAX DAY” post on the main blog page.

  3. Woah this blog is definitely magnificent i really like understanding your articles. Maintain the excellent get the job done! You understand, lots of people are searching all around with this info, you could support these people tremendously.

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