The Electric Chair

October 22, 2010

Not too long after I moved to Northeast Arkansas I was talking with a local who wanted to know where I worked.  When I told them that I worked at Crowley’s Ridge State Park they immediately asked “Have you seen the electric chair room?”  No one had told me anything about an electric chair on the park grounds, so I asked about it when I went in to the office the next day.  My coworkers laughed and then one of them took me to see “the electric chair room.”  It seems that some time ago a rumor was started that there was a building on park grounds that had once housed an electric chair.  People would be tried and if found guilty they were immediately taken to the electric chair and executed.  To help the rumors along, there is a small building on the grounds that has bars in the windows and a metal base where something was once bolted to the floor.  With a little imagination you could come up with many exciting or scary stories about how it was used once upon a time.

 

Possible source of the "Electric Chair" legend.

Possible source of the "Electric Chair" legend.

Now it is true that early members of the community held court at a spot on Benjamin Crowley’s homestead and the park grounds are located on part of what was his homestead.  Also, I would not be surprised to find out that those found guilty of a crime were dealt with quickly.  However, court was held here in the 1830s, before the era of the electric chair.  The truth is, before the park got electric lines there was a large generator.  The generator was bolted to the floor of a small building and bars were installed on the windows to keep people from getting into the room and getting hurt.

 

Although, our scary story is not true there are many places in Arkansas that do have their own “true” ghost stories, tales of odd creatures, or simply unexplained happenings and October is the perfect time to find them.  Powhatan Courthouse State Park is said to be haunted by the ghost of a man who was lynched before he had a trial.  Now he hangs around the courtroom waiting for his justice, or maybe just his revenge.  The White River has its own river monster, named Whitey, that has been spotted several times around Jacksonport and Gurdon has the famous Gurdon Light, which is supposedly the light of a murdered railway man looking for his killer.

For more information on the spooky side of Arkansas visit Haunted Arkansas or check out the Arkansas State Parks Calendar of Events for a Halloween event near you.

Disclaimer:  Remember, some sites mentioned may be private property or businesses.  Ghost hunting  is not an excuse for trespassing.  Arkansas State Parks close at 10 p.m.  Any groups wishing to tour the park after hours will need to make arrangements with the park staff.

Heather Runyan, Park Interpreter

Heather Runyan, Park Interpreter

Heather Runyan graduated from Henderson State University with a bachelor’s degree in Recreation and Park Administration and after college served two terms as an AmeriCorps member.   She began working for Arkansas State Parks in 2006 as the Park Interpreter at Crowley’s Ridge State Park.   Heather is a member of the National Association for Interpretation and a Certified Interpretive Guide.

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The Milkweed Archipelago

October 8, 2010

“The universe has as many different centers as there are living beings in it.”  Alexander Solzhenitsyn

A tiny island of orange beckons an orange butterfly.  Down she goes as millions of her ancestors have for eons of time.  This brilliant orange flower and this beautiful insect have a relationship common in nature.  Milkweed is required for the reproduction of the Monarch butterfly.  The plant has many defenses for protection from hungry bugs.  One of the most potent is a chemical called cardiac glycoside.  It is poisonous to most animals.  It is life to the Monarch.

The female carefully sticks her cone shaped eggs to the bottom of the milkweed leaves.  In a few days they will hatch, and the tiny caterpillars will find themselves on a salad bar perfect for their taste.  Cardiac glycoside is the flavor they crave.  They like it so much it becomes part of them, stored in their tissues.

When they emerge from the chrysalis, their bright orange wings will fill with fluid.  Not only are they bold and bright in color, they fly slowly.  They are an easy target for insect eating birds.  Monarchs are easy to catch, but hard to digest.  Glycoside from the milkweed causes a nasty stomach upset for the hungry bird, and the bright orange and black pattern of the Monarch makes it easier to remember the nauseating dining experience.  It is no longer on the menu.  Monarchs that fly past this bird in the future can pass in safety.  The bold pattern of the monarch is a warning coloration.  While many species in the animal kingdom try to blend in, the monarch, armed with its own version of chemical warfare, stands out.

At least two other insects have adapted to eating milkweed and making glycoside their own.  The Milkweed Beetle and Milkweed Bug feed only on milkweed.  The orange-red Milkweed Beetles are often seen on the leaves, and the red and black Milkweed Bugs can be found on the seedpods.  They are brilliant, beautiful, and a sickening meal for predators.

 

Milkweed

Milkweed

 

Rich Mountain is an excellent stopover for Monarchs due to the many species of wildflowers that bloom during the end of September and the beginning of October. We can’t predict the exact days of the migration, but it usually happens in the first days of October.

A wave of orange will descend onto the white, yellow and blue flowers along the Lover’s Leap Trail.  The adult Monarchs are not limited to milkweed, but nectar on many different wildflowers.  Only as caterpillars are they tied exclusively to members of the milkweed clan.  Thousands of Monarch butterflies will steadily move over the mountain toward their wintering ground in Mexico.

A few Monarchs trickle through the park all through August and September. These early individuals are just the preview of the flood that will come.

This remarkable phenomenon of the fall season reminds us of the unending cycle of life. Each year Monarchs wing their way across the Ouachitas persistently fluttering toward the southwest.  Grounded, we watch them pass and take comfort in the promise it gives us for the years to come.

Next year the Monarchs will head north from their wintering ground in Mexico searching for the scattered clumps of milkweed. Their islands of survival, the milkweed archipelago, is the center of the Monarch’s universe.

Brad Holleman, Park Interpreter

Brad Holleman, Park Interpreter

Brad Holleman has been the park interpreter at Queen Wilhelmina State Park since 1991. He started his career in 1983 as a seasonal interpreter at Lake Ouachita State Park andLake Fort Smith State Park. In 1984 he received a Bachelor of Science in Wildlife Management from Arkansas Tech University. Brad worked as an interpreter at Lake Catherine State Park from 1984-89 and then at Petit Jean State Park from 1989-91. He is a member of the National Association for Interpretation and is a Certified Heritage Interpreter. He is also active with the Talimena Scenic Drive Association and on the Board of Advisors with the Ouachita Mountains Biological Station.