Here's next week's "All Over the Map" from the June 06, 2012 issue of Arkansas Weekly:
The view from Lock and Dam Number 1, on the White River, in Batesville, Arkansas -- June 01, 2012
Hardly a soul alive in Batesville can remember a time when the entire structure of Lock and Dam Number 1 was completely exposed to the elements, when the steady flow of the White River suddenly stopped going over and only seeped through leaks and crevices in the bottom.
However, Dickey Askew, 98 years young, can remember such a time. Askew is a lifelong Batesville resident and part-time historian. Many older generation residents of Batesville remember well D. Askew’s Hardware, Feed and Massage Parlor on lower Main. A colorful character who, to this day, still wears his longtime uniform -- a three piece suit and fedora – every day of the week, Askew has also kept a photo journal for every day of the week. Thousands of notebooks are crammed into Askew’s study in his home on Myers Street. Each volume contains Askew’s handwritten notations about each particular day in Batesville since 1931 along with freshly taken photographs of the town during the particular era for each entry. (Askew has only missed five days -- one day when he was ill from eating bad mountain oysters and four other days when he was incarcerated at the Independence County Jail on charges of improperly soliciting a goat, charges that, as Askew has always been quick to point out, were later dismissed thanks to, in his words, “extensive bribes.”)
I recently picked up Askew to drive him down to see the dam. As we pulled into Riverside Park, Askew’s jaw dropped. Askew was so amazed to see the dam dry as a bone that he momentarily forgot to swallow. A generous amount of saliva pooled in his mouth and slowly eased over his bottom lip and off his chin in a long clear stream. He reached across and tightly gripped my arm and, as he slowly turned my direction, let out a deep groan. It was then I realized that Askew was not being emotional at the sight of the dam, but was instead having some type of health issue, like a stroke or aneurysm.
After a few nights at the medical center, Askew was well enough to reminiscence about the last time the river was so low as well as to discuss his other Batesville memories.
“The last time the dam was exposed was in 1943,” Askew said as he sat in his hospital bed. “The river got so low, you could walk across from one side to another. In fact, it was during this period that the tracks of the White River Monster were first discovered.”
“Wow,” I said. “That’s amazing. I always thought that the White River Monster was just a made up story.”
Askew looked astonished at my comment. His eyes widened as he turned to look at me with his mouth gaping open. He grabbed my arm and let out a long moan. Uh-oh, I thought.
I buzzed for the nurses and then waited for another five days until Askew was well enough to continue.
“No,” Askew said, picking up where we previously ended. “The White River Monster is all true. That summer, we followed those tracks to a little cabin built in the riverbed, just past Greenbriar Flats. Usually, you see, that cabin is underwater, and this is where the White River Monster lives.”
“In an underwater cabin?” I asked.
“Yes sir! So, that summer in 1943, we crept up to the monster’s cabin all quiet like. There was moss all over the outside, and those little mollusks had attached themselves everywhere. We slowly walked up to the door. We could hear some noise coming from the inside. It was a radio. The monster was listening to the radio inside his home. I can even remember the game -- Cardinals versus the Dodgers. We stood there for the longest, listening and trying to decide if the monster was behind that door. Then, somebody hit a home run, and I heard a strange voice inside the cabin go, ‘Yesss! Home run.’ Well, right then, we burst through the door, and there, sittin’ on a wet, moss-covered couch was the White River Monster, big as life! He looked like a damn manfish! Craziest thing I ever did now see! He was sittin’ on the couch with his legs crossed, reading the newspaper and smoking a pipe.”
“What?!?” I was amazed at this story. Could it be true, and if so, why has it never been told until now? I had so many questions, but Askew continued.
“Then, the scariest moment in my life unfolded,” he said. “That damn monster threw down his newspaper and flung his pipe across the room. He jumped up on his sofa and let out the most blood curdling scream. His gills all popped out and his eyes bulged, and it looked like he was gonna rip all of us Batesville men apart, limb by limb. But then, as quick as he erupted in rage, he calmed down and looked to each of us. The room was still. Our hearts were beating fast. Adrenaline was pumping all through me. Then, the monster slowly got off his sofa, walked toward us, and in a deep, gurgling voice said something to us that I will never forget to this day.”
“What did he say?” I grabbed his arm. I couldn’t stand the suspense.
Askew looked deep in my eyes and answered me: “The monster said, ‘Don’t you guys know how to knock?’”