Each week, the Sip Advisor will alphabetically travel the United States, discovering the best each state has to offer in a variety of subjects. Calling yourself the Natural State gives you a lot to live up to… at least they’re not known as the Au Naturel State. Let’s find out exactly what Arkansas has to offer:
Motto: “The people rule” – Who are these people?
Food: The concept of melted cheese has been around forever, but Cheese Dip was invented in 1935 in North Little Rock by Blackie Donnely, owner of the Mexico Chiquito restaurant. Arkansas is so proud of the creation, they host the annual World Cheese Dip Championship and there’s also a Cheese Dip Trail folks can travel to try the best available in the state.
Drink: Grapette is a grape-flavoured (shocking!) soda, which was developed in Camden, by Benjamin Fooks, in 1939. Today, the product can be found in Walmart stores. Walmart founder Sam Walton (also from Arkansas) reportedly said, upon meeting the drink’s owner in 1986: “I want Grapette in my stores.” This was said during a time where the drink was “retired” in the U.S. Clearly, Walton had fond memories of the beverage.
Site to See: Hot Springs National Park has been called “The American Spa”. It is the oldest park managed by the U.S. National Park System and features 43 thermal springs flowing throughout the grounds. There are also two bathhouses, where visitors can enjoy a soak in the waters said to have healing powers.
Street: Dickson Street in Fayetteville, is located near the University of Arkansas campus. The entertainment district hosts the Bikes, Blues, and BBQ festival annually, one of the biggest motorcycle rallies – celebrating it’s 20th anniversary this year – across the United States.
TV Show: Evening Shade, starred Burt Reynolds as a former NFL player, who returns home to the city of Evening Shade to coach the high school football team. It ran for four season and 98 episodes, with before-they-were-famous roles for actresses Hilary Swank, Leah Remini and Lisa Kudrow. If low-brow entertainment (aka reality TV) is more your thing, 19 Kids and Counting was set in Tontitown, lasting 10 seasons and 229 episodes, plus specials.
Movie: True Grit, originally released in 1969 and remade in 2010, tells the story of a young girl who hires an aged, alcoholic marshal to help track down her father’s killer. A Texas Ranger is also in pursuit of the wanted man, with each character being tested along the way and having to prove their mettle. The tale begins in Fort Smith, before moving to what is now Oklahoma.
Book/Author: John Grisham, author of such legal thrillers as A Time to Kill, The Firm and The Runaway Jury, was born in Jonesboro. 10 of Grisham’s novels have been turned into feature films, with the former lawyer releasing his 40th book in October 2019.
Fictional Character: Unlikely outlaws Thelma and Louise are women from Arkansas, who were looking to have a weekend getaway from their monotonous lives, only to end up fugitives. The pair have become feminist figures, while Geena Davis and Susan Sarandon were each nominated for Oscars, for their portrayal of the characters.
Fictional City: Millsburg, the setting for the movie Sling Blade, is thought to be based on Benton, or at least that’s where the flick was filmed. It’s here that the character of Karl Childers (played by Billy Bob Thornton) must deal with his past and try to redeem himself.
Actor/Actress: Speaking of Billy Bob Thornton, the former Mr. Angelina Jolie was born in Hot Springs. It should be noted, not only did Thornton star in Sling Blade, he also wrote the film, which earned him an Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay.
Song: Arkansas Lovin’ Man by Johnny Cash (more on him below), is a great little tune that’s all about home state pride. Viewer comments on the YouTube video for this track all express similar sentiments.
Band/Musician: The Man in Black, Johnny Cash, was born in Kingsland before growing up in Dyess. Cash reinvented country music and through live performances at prisons, became a man of the people with unmeasurable popularity. Cash also crossed over into other forms of entertainment, hosting his own variety show, along with roles in films and TV series. The 2005 biographical movie Walk the Line, starring Joaquin Phoenix, covers Cash’s life and long career.
People: Former U.S. President, Bill Clinton, was born in Hope, returning to the state after his schooling to become a law professor at the University of Arkansas. Clinton would become Attorney General and later Governor of the state. Of course, Clinton is infamously known for his affair with Monica Lewinsky, which nearly resulted in his impeachment from office.
Animal: Tusk, the University of Arkansas mascot for all Razorbacks teams, is not just one famous animal, but five famous wild boars, creating a monarchy of sorts. Tusk I fathered Tusk II and Tusk III, while Tusk II fathered Tusk IV, who in turn, fathered Tusk V. Each pig weighs approximately 475-500 pounds and has been trained to give spectators kisses.
Invention: As much as I want to put delicious Fried Pickles here, the nod has to go to inventor Freeman Owens, who greatly enhanced the filming of movies, with sound-to-film, slow motion and other camera advancements. From Pine Bluff, Owens also created plastics lenses that are still used for cameras and glasses (both eye and sun), as well as developed the Nielsen Rating System, which is used to calculate how many people are watching a TV show.
Crime: In 1998, the Westside Middle School Massacre shocked the world. The perpetrators, Mitchell Johnson and Andrew Golden, were two of the youngest murderers in U.S. history, being ages 13 and 11, respectively. Four students and a teacher were killed, while 10 others were injured. Johnson and Golden were released on their respective 21st birthdays, with Johnson having further trouble with the law since and Golden being killed in a car accident in July 2019.
Law: It is illegal to mispronounce “Arkansas” while in Arkansas. I assume the punishment would involve some sort of pronunciation training, but that seems a little harsh.
Sports Team: With no professional sports teams in the state, the University of Arkansas Razorbacks of the NCAA is the only game in town. With the nickname covering a number of programs at the school, though, there’s plenty of action to choose from, notably football and basketball.
Athlete: Scottie Pippen, member of all the great Chicago Bulls teams of the 1990’s, was born in Hamburg. The NBA Hall of Fame member is considered one of the greatest small forwards (ironic, given the man is 6-feet, 8-inches tall) to ever play the game, winning six NBA championships and two Olympic gold medals, as a member of the 1992 and 1996 Dream Team squads.
Famous Home: King Mansion, in Fort Smith, is the most expensive home in Arkansas. It also provides quite the sight during the Christmas holidays, as owner Kenny King puts up between 100,000 to 150,000 lights. The Mediterranean-style estate boasts the world’s greatest indoor treehouse, using an imported California redwood, which King had installed for his grandchildren’s enjoyment.
Urban Legend: The Fouke Monster (aka Boggy Creek Monster/Beast of the Boggy Creek/Southern Sasquatch), is a big foot/sasquatch-type creature, which is said to have attacked homes and livestock, smelling like a combo of skunk spray and wet dog. While some believe the monster to be a hoax, that hasn’t stopped five low-budget horror films being made on the subject.
Museum: I am quite fond of Walmart, doing much of my shopping at the chain, so I’m actually intrigued by the idea of a Walmart Museum. Dedicated to the history of Walmart, as well as its founder, the museum in Bentonville is located on the site of Sam Walton’s first ever store. Best of all, the place is free to visitors.
Firsts: In 1932, Hattie Caraway became first woman elected to the U.S. Senate. She had taken over her husband’s seat the previous year, following his death. While many expected her to vacate the position, she surprised everyone by choosing to run for re-election, saying: “The time has passed when a woman should be placed in a position and kept there only while someone else is being groomed for the job.”
Company: Walmart was founded in 1962 in Rogers, and remains headquartered in the state to this day. That first Walmart store grew to 24 across Arkansas within five years and the business continued to expand, now being the largest retail giant (based on annual revenue) in the world. Today, there are more than 11,000 Walmart stores, across 27 countries.
Events: On September 23, 1957, the Little Rock Nine (a group of nine black students) attempted to attend Little Rock Central High School, years after the landmark Brown v. Board of Education legal decision moved to desegregate schools. On presidential order, the Arkansas National Guard was tasked with protecting the students, as they entered the school. Sadly, the abuse continued inside, but it was the start of a long battle for educational equality.
Miscellaneous: Arkansas is home to America’s only diamond mine, located in the aptly named Crater of Diamonds State Park. Here, the country’s only perfect diamond (colourless, internally flawless) was found here in 1990. Also found at the state park was the largest ever U.S. diamond, named the Uncle Sam.
- 0.5 oz Rum
- 0.5 oz Vodka
- 0.5 oz Amaretto
- 0.5 oz Kahlua
Given this beverage includes Amaretto and Kahlua, I went full dessert with it, using Salted Caramel Kahlua, Spiced Rum and Marshmallow Vodka to complete the recipe. The result was a very tasty nightcap beverage. The drink is named for the wild hog that has become the University of Arkansas nickname and mascot.