|St. Louis Post Dispatch review of See the Ozarks|
Husband, wife put their 25-year collection of memorabilia together in new book on our favorite mountainsBy Patricia Corrigan
St. Louis Post Dispatch
October 22, 2003
Say what you will about the four-foot-high rogue waves common at the Lake of the Ozarks, that esteemed body of water always has been a “powerboat paradise,” says Crystal Payton—and she would know.
With her husband, Len, Crystal Payton is the author of “See the Ozarks: The Touristic Image,” a new book that displays the couple’s collection of Ozark memorabilia. Among their treasures is a guidebook published in the 1930s by the Lake of the Ozarks Association that reads: “The Lake is credited with having more pleasure boats than any other inland body of water in the nation, except the great lakes. Every type of boat imaginable ply (sic) its water, a great fleet of private cruisers, houseboats, excursion and sightseeing craft of every description and thousands of fishing boats.”
Of course, paradise without powerboats is also part of the Ozarks. A flier reads: “Spend your Vacation in the Arcadia Valley—The most Beautiful Playground in the Ozarks.” A poster urges: “Play Fish Relax—in Lake Taneycomo and the White River Country!” A postcard boasts: “St. Louis: nearest largest city to the Ozark Region.” In addition to promotional materials, postcards, nostalgic photographs and maps, this appealing book includes color photos of typical Ozarks souvenirs such as painted concrete urns (aka Ozark drip pottery), hand woven baskets, chenille bedspreads, painted plates and color-tinted postcards.
“For years, the Ozarks were known as the ‘playground of the middle west’ and ‘the land of a million smiles.’ Nothing in the area was perceived as high style except Eureka (Springs),” Payton said in a recent telephone interview. “If you traveled to the Ozarks from southern Nebraska or eastern Kansas, it was like coming to Eden.”
The early brochures “often waxed lyrical about the moon on the water, drawing a contrast with the social ills and bad air of the city—and all this in large type,” a theme that Payton says was prevalent in commercial literature in the 1900s and 1920s. “Before World War II, the take on the Ozarks was that it was Arcadian, rustic. In the ‘40s, and ‘50s, with the development of highways, more families were on the go, and tourism in the Ozarks became more focused on entertainment,” said Payton. Then she laughed. “Now, of course, people are more interested in nature. Everything old is new again.”
A 25-year collection
The Paytons, who live in Springfield, Mo., have collected the materials for more than 25 years. “We do this on the side, as a guilty pleasure or a secret passion,” Payton said. “We’ve always been attracted to this material but it’s difficult to find. Some of it, we picked up at flea markets and antique shows, and Len’s uncle actually published one of the brochures about Bagnell Dam. You accumulate this stuff, and it speaks to you. You begin to see patterns, and then the material begins to tell the story.”
Antique dealers by trade, the Paytons also wear other hats. Len (short for “Leland”) is a nature photographer. His book, “The Beautiful and Enduring Ozarks” (Lens & Pen Press, $19.95), is a photographic essay that pays tribute to the beauty and the culture of the Ozarks. Crystal has co-authored both a travel guide and a coffee table book on Branson and two books on Silver Dollar City. Together, they have written several books on popular culture.
“See the Ozarks” offers brief histories and plenty of illustrations on different aspects of the Ozarks, including Eureka Springs, Shepherd of the Hills Country, the Lake of the Ozarks, Bagnell Dam and Big Springs Country. All the “playgrounds of the Middle West” are here, taking sections of Missouri, Arkansas and Oklahoma.
Is the book the whole story? Payton says it’s not. “A lot was left out. This is a sampling of the major commercial resorts and each chapter could be a book in itself,” she said. “We just touch on the major developments of each place, giving an overview of generations of people coming to the Ozarks for pleasure, leisure and renewal.”
Their next book
During a recent week spent on the Current River, the Paytons discussed the focus of their next book. “We were talking about the influence of St. Louis on the eastern side of the Ozarks,” said Payton. “The eastern side is more public in nature, more concerned with conservation and the Arcadian outlook that renews the spirit. There is a difference in development and outlook from the western part, which is more ‘corps of engineers and hillbilly’ in tone.”
One chapter in “See the Ozarks” discusses “Hillfolk and Hillbillies.” Payton’s text reads: “When tourists found backwoods Ozarkers’ anachronistic lifestyle quaint, even reminiscent of our pioneer ancestors, they were deemed ‘hillfolk.’ When locals resisted development, such as dams and highways, or were disinterested in changing a vacationer’s flat tire in the rain, they were ‘hillbillies.’”
Still, the Ozarks have always reflected the culture and the geography of the region, said Payton. “The Ozarks are a much richer and more varied area than usually is presented,” she said. “We hope people who pick up our book will take away a renewed appreciation for the earnest sincerity of the early images of the region, both literary and visual. A lot of that imagery has been done well, and reflects a sophisticated understanding of human nature and human needs.”
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