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OZARK MOUNTAIN CENTER; Arkansas

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There's a ghost town called Rush in north-central Arkansas that has no particular claim to fame except that Gramy Chicken took a shine to the place and painted it.

Now Granny did such a good job that some folks bought the picture so it could hang in the Ozark Folk Center here. "A fine example of primitive art," they called it. Indeed to Granny Chicken and her kin, and most all the folks hereabouts, artistic talents seem to come naturally.

They've been pretty good at making things here, including making merry with music and dancing, ever since the first settlers arrived from the Appalachians back in the 1820s. But their heritage stretches back further than that -- to the clover-covered fields of Ireland and the heather-clad mountainsides of Scotland.

You can detect some of this Celtic background in the dancing style and music. Not that these folk are pure Celtic -- they're part English too. But since 1820 they've been isolated from any outside influence -- until 1957 when the first blacktop road snaked its way into the region. With the road came relatively easy access to the outside world, and at the same time the outside world came to this corner of the Ozarks via radio and to a lesser extent, television.

The impact was slow at first, but inevitably it gathered momentum. Soon it became obvious that unless something was done to preserve it, a unique culture expressed in hand crafts, music, and dancing, developed in isolation by a vigorous and hardworking people, would disappear altogether. To prevent that happening, the Ozark Folk Center came into being.

It is handsome complex built of native stone and western red cedar set in 129 acres of woodland. (Some 14 miles away are the famous Blanchard Springs Caverns , a series of magnificient limestone caverns, that anyone visiting the Folk Center would want to take in). The $3.4 million center includes modern tourist accommodations that go (considering the quality) for a remarkably inexpensive $ 26 a night.

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