Walnut Ridge, Arkansas is a small town with a big story. It all begins September 18, 1964, when the Beatles made a brief stop in town that now has spanned the years. Today, visitors can see the image of the FAB four on a mural and more and their brief visit has spiraled (since 2011) into one of the most popular musical events in the area. During 1965, the Beatles were at the height of their popularity. Although I was only six, I am old enough to recall the impact of the Beatles on our generation. As the story unfolds the Beatles had just finished their first film, A Hard Day’s Night and they had already been on the Ed Sullivan show so their popularity was through the roof. The Beatles were wrapping up their 1964 tour that had a schedule that would have killed most of us – 32 shows in 34 days!
According to the Encyclopedia of Arkansas website, “On September 18, 1964, the group finished a concert at Memorial Coliseum in Dallas, Texas, and immediately boarded a plane owned and operated by Reed Pigman. (Pigman owned American Flyers Airlines out of Dallas; the Beatles chartered one of Pigman’s planes during the 1964 tour.) Pigman owned a ranch in Alton, Missouri, that would serve as a getaway before the group’s final U.S. concert of the year, which would be in New York. Before traveling to Alton, the Beatles made a brief stop in Walnut Ridge. The Walnut Ridge airport provided the ideal spot for the group to change planes before heading to Missouri. The runway was built as a training facility during World War II and could handle large aircraft. Also, the Beatles could avoid the crush of screaming fans by landing at a secluded airport at the edge of a small town.”
After midnight the plane landed at the Walnut Ridge airport and since evening landings were rare the Encyclopedia site says, “…three boys left the local teen hangout and raced to the airport to identify the unexpected visitors. To the boys’ surprise, the Beatles departed the plane and quickly boarded a small aircraft headed for Missouri. Details about the secret landing quickly spread throughout Walnut Ridge. Disbelief turned to excitement as teenagers spent the weekend sharing information and spreading rumors about the Beatles’ probable return to the airport on Sunday, September 20.”
From research I have found it appears that the former Pigman Ranch has been selected to become a Missouri State Park called the Ozark Mountain State Park. I am still trying to learn more about this fascinating part of their journey there and hope to visit this site someday as well. In Walnut Ridge, the story continues that 200 to 300 people were waiting at the Walnut Ridge airport hoping to spy the Beatles return before they flew to New York to perform the last concert on their 1964 tour.
I got a kick out of the fact that the local teens were posing in front of the plane and their parents were taking their pictures and according to the history of the event, Paul McCartney and George Harrison had arrived early and were watching this all from an old truck where they were awaiting the arrival of John Lennon and Ringo Starr. They finally arrived and they walked through the crowd and Harrison and McCartney walked over and they boarded the plane. That was the Beatles encounter!
Like many places where the Beatles set foot, Beatlemania has remained. Visitors can enjoy the Beatles monument, unveiled on September 18, 2011,that looks like the cover of the album Abbey Road, to commemorate the event. The life-size sculpture of the group is located in the city’s downtown area. The artwork depicts the group as they appear on the Abbey Road album cover. The sculpture is called “The British Invasion of the Rock ‘N’ Roll Highway,” in reference to Walnut Ridge’s location along the historic Rock ‘N’ Roll Highway 67.
Keith and I had fun posing in front of the monument on the aptly renamed street, Abbey Road. We arrived on a quiet Sunday morning and were the only goofy tourist posing and walking up and down the street checking out the sites which include a Guitar Walk that covers the Rock and Roll heroes that came from the area, not just the Beatles visit.
The walk is a 115-ft-long by 40-ft-wide guitar, and is based on an Epiphone Casino played by John Lennon,. The walk honors those iconic musicians that played along the nearby Rock ‘N Roll Highway 67. It features nine plaques dedicated to some of the country’s musical legends, including Conway Twitty, Johnny Cash, Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Sonny Burgess and Billy Lee Riley.
There is more to see in the area. We would love to come back and see the pictures at the library, tour the WWII museum and dine at the restaurant made from a plane! But for one Sunday morning, we relived a bit of Beatlemania and enjoyed how one small Arkansas town reviled in its Fab Four memories. For more information, log onto https://www.arkansas.com/attractions/attractions-in.aspx?city=walnut+ridge.