On September 18, 1964, a small plane landed at the modest Walnut Ridge airport and the poorly kept secret of the young Brit rock 'n' roll band's stopover en route to a secluded getaway in Missouri was out of the bag. The Beatles were met by every teen among the townsfolk, all ecstatic to catch even a glimpse of the Fab Four and thrilled about their little town being The Beatles' first and only stopping point in the state of Arkansas.
To borrow loosely from the words of the great B. B. King, the thrill ain't gone. The landscape of Walnut Ridge was changed forever on that fateful day and the town remains in love with The Beatles.
Walnut Ridge still holds claim to being the only spot in Arkansas where The Beatles ever set foot. Among the commemorations to their unique honor is Abbey Road, a side street just off Main Street and the location of Beatles Park, which includes a 200 square foot sculpture of the Abbey Road album cover, including life-size silhouettes of John, Paul, George and Ringo. The hand-etched street scene behind the foursome contains at least thirty different song titles and lyrics hidden within the artwork.
Next to the Amtrak station, Cavenaugh Park features the Guitar Walk, a 115 foot by 40 foot walkway in the shape of an Epiphone electric guitar. Information stations along the walkway include photos and recordings of interviews with musicians like Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins, Sonny Burgess, and more. Many of the early "rockabilly" artists performed in venues along Rock 'n' Roll Highway 67, one of the main arteries through Walnut Ridge.
There's also a colorful Yellow Submarine wall mural along Abbey Road and several businesses around town feature Beatle-related memorabilia. Each year The Beatles at the Ridge Music Festival is held the third weekend in September and features a parade, live bands - including plenty of Beatles music - dancers, a talent contest, arts, crafts, food, games, a duck-calling contest, a pet costume contest, and much more. And since 2014 will mark the 50th anniversary of The Beatles' visit to Walnut Ridge, folks around town are planning to make next year's celebration a real extravaganza. Even though the festival gains popularity every year, it's maintained as a free event and is expected to admission-free again next year.
ART & MEMENTOS. Imagine, a shop located at the corner of Main Street and Abbey Road, highlights the works of over 30 artists in sculptures, paintings and pottery, plus handcrafted jewelry, organic garden seeds, and Beatles mementos. True to their small-town hospitality, Imagine also keeps fresh coffee and homemade cupcakes on hand for their patrons.
WINGS OF HONOR MUSEUM. Directly across the street from the Walnut Ridge Airport is the Wings of Honor Museum, a tribute to the U.S. veterans and to the WWII Walnut Ridge Army Flying School. Displays include videos, posters, uniforms, vehicles, weapons, and more. Address: 70 S. Beacon Road. Admission is free, but donations are greatly appreciated.
FAB FOOD. For an irrefutably unique dining experience, check out the Parachute Inn Restaurant at the Walnut Ridge Airport where diners enjoy their meals inside the fuselage of a Boeing 737. Menu items include catfish, seafood, and hand-cut steaks. Breakfast, lunch and dinner are served Tuesday through Saturday.
Betty's Buffet and Grill features a 34-foot all-you-can-eat buffet with dinner offerings including cooked-to-order char-grilled sirloin steaks. There's plenty of seating and good parking, as well as room for RVs and tour buses. Betty's is open seven days a week for lunch from 11am to 2pm and dinner starting at 5pm.
NEARBY PARKS. Within a very short drive of Walnut Ridge are Lake Charles State Park and Powhatan Historic State Park, both located in Powhatan. Lake Charles encompasses 645 acres in the Ozark foothills. The lake is a popular fishing with plentiful bream, catfish, bass and crappie. Sixty campsites accommodate everything from tents to RVs; other amenities: picnic tables, a boat launch, swimming beach, playground, hiking trails, nature center, gift shop, and kayak and boat tours and rentals.
Powhatan Historic State Park consists of an 1888 Victorian courthouse overlooking the Black River and four other late 19th to early 20th century buildings. Admission to this and all Arkansas State Parks is free. However, a variety of fees may be charged in the parks for designated facilities, activities, some interpretive programs and special events.
MORE INFO. You'll find Walnut Ridge an hour or so northeast of Little Rock and an even shorter drive northwest from Memphis. And you'll assurely find Beatlemania there alive and well. For more information on Walnut Ridge and the surrounding area, visit www.CityOfWalnutRidge.com; www.LawCoChamber.org; or www.OzarkGateway.com.