Smokey The Bear

On May 4, 1950, a carelessly discarded cigarette started the Los Tablos fire in the Lincoln National Forest near Capitan, New Mexico. Two days later, the nearby Capitan Gap fire started with a camper’s fire pit which was not fully extinguished.  Together, these wildfires destroyed over 17,000 acres of forest and grasslands.
On May 8th, a team of 19 firefighters trying to contain the blaze were trapped in a small rockslide when 70-mile-per-hour winds fanned the out-of-control fire around them. Amazingly, although totally surrounded by fire, the rocks shielded them and everyone made it out alive. They later said they knew “just how a slice of toast” feels.”
On May 9, a fire crew found a badly singed bear cub clinging to the side of a burnt pine tree. They brought the frightened and injured cub back to the firefighter base to see if he could be saved from the terrible burns he had suffered on his feet, legs and buttocks. They named him “Hotfoot.”
The medics did what they could for him until he was transported by Game Warden Ray Bell to the veterinary hospital in Santa Fe. As he was being treated there, the staff began calling him “Smokey Bear.” Later, after it became evident the cub would survive, Game Warden Bell took him back to his home where he continued his remarkable recovery. As Smokey Bear grew, he became something of a ham, begging for snack food from Bell and falling over onto his back and “crying” if a snack was not forthcoming. Bell also reported he was a bit domineering with his other pets, a cat and two dogs, who for some reason didn’t want to argue with a bear.
Display in the Smokey The Bear Historical Park
Visitor Center in Capitan, New Mexico
Six years previously in 1944, the Forest Service, in conjunction with the Advertising Council, began a fire prevention campaign. One of the posters which had been used contained an artist’s rendition of a bear named Smokey The Bear.  The campaign became so popular after Smokey was introduced that the post office had to give him his own zip code due to the amount of mail “he” was receiving.
Once the real-life bear had completed his recovery at Ranger Bell’s home, the Forest Service had him flown to Washington, D.C. There was a little bit of adventure on the flight when Smokey became a bit upset as the plane took off, but he soon calmed down. Along the way, one airport refused to allow the plane to land for refueling when it was learned that a live bear was aboard, but it was actually a pretty uneventful plane trip.
After arriving in D.C., Smokey Bear was moved into his permanent home at the National Zoo and Senator Chaves of New Mexico presented Smokey to the school children of America. Soon, there were large crowds at the zoo who marveled at his story and waited in long lines to see the bear who survived a forest fire.
Smokey's grave
As a result of Smokey’s life, the little town of Capitan, New Mexico and the rest of the world was changed to some degree. A study was conducted of school children in America and numerous foreign countries using familiar slogans to be finished when only the first few words were given. With the words “Only You,” more children were able to complete “Can prevent forest fires” than any other motto.
When Smokey Bear died of natural causes in 1976, his body was returned near to his birth place. He was buried in a beautiful little park in the heart of Capitan, in the shadows of the mountains where it all began.
Plaque on Smokey's grave

Dublin Dr Pepper

The Dublin Bottling Plant
Dr Pepper was invented and began selling in Waco, Texas in 1885 by Charles Alderton, a young pharmacist working at Morrison's Old Corner Drug Store. Sam Houston Prim however, provided the means to make it widely popular when he convinced the drink's owner, Wade Morrison, to sell the first franchise to his Dublin, Texas bottling plant.

In more recent years, all of the bottling plants which held Dr Pepper franchises began using high-fructose corn syrup as the sweetener instead of the original Pure Cane Sugar. All except one - Dublin. The bottler refused to change from using granulated Imperial Pure Cane Sugar, which is not just regular sugar, but sugar in it's purest form. The reason? The taste was different when using the cheaper corn syrup and the owner didn't want to produce something that wasn't as good. Soon, what became known as "Dublin Dr Pepper" was in demand everywhere.

Unfortunately, Dublin Bottling was restricted by contract and could distribute Dublin Dr Pepper only within a 44-mile area. However, it also sold it's products (they produced other flavored drinks in addition to Dr Pepper) at the plant itself and often a line of "outside" customers (people and owners of stores from outside the 44-mile zone) would make the drive to pick up multiple cases of Dublin Dr Pepper for personal use as well as for resale.

This didn't sit well for the other bottlers who were losing sales. They put pressure on the home office in Plano who caved and ordered the Dublin plant to either begin using corn syrup like the other bottlers or cease their bottling of Dr Pepper. Dublin refused to change. Eventually, Dr Pepper-Snaple, the owners who are located in Plano, Texas filed a lawsuit against them. Dublin fought the good fight for 6 months, but the Dr Pepper-Snaple company is huge and they brought many high-powered and expensive lawyers to court. Eventually the cost proved too much and Dublin Dr Pepper was no more.

The good news is that Dublin Bottling now produces 16 different soda flavors and has a nation-wide distribution network. The independent company still produces pure cane sugar sodas just like the company’s founders did over 120 years ago. Flavors include Vintage Cola, Retro Grape, Retro Creme Soda, Ginger Ale, TeXas Red Crème, Cherry Limeade, Vanilla Cream, Orange Cream, XXX Root Beer, Tart-n-Sweet Lemonade, Fru-Fru Berry, Rummy Grapefruit, Cheerwine, Sweet Peach, Bluberry Breeze, and their best seller, Original Black Cherry.

On a personal note, after many years of trying various brands of grape drinks and Ginger Ale, the best by far is Dublin. Unfortunately, I do not live in an area where Dublin drinks are available in stores. That just makes for an excellent reason for a road trip and I never leave Dublin without a case of grape, a case of Ginger Ale and at least 1 case mixed with several of the other flavors. I still sure do miss Dublin Dr Pepper though.

If you find yourself anywhere near Dublin, Texas, a tour of the small plant is fascinating and well worth your time. They still use their old equipment on the line and it is interesting to see the old machines dating from the 1920's to the early 1950's in operation. The fastest the old machines can produce is about 25 bottles per minute whereas the modern mass-production machines used by other facilities produces about 2,000 bottles per minute.

Bottling Orange Crème soda
The plant is located at 221 S Patrick St, Dublin, TX 76446 (phone  888.398-1024) and the W.P. Kloster Museum (amazing collection of all things classic soda with special emphasis on Dr Pepper) is across the street. They are open Tuesday through Sunday, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. If you take a tour of the bottling plant, you can sample all the different drink flavors for free as you go from station to station. There is also an old-time soda fountain where you can  purchase food, Dublin Bottling Works souvenirs and individual bottles of the sodas or buy them by the case ($27 for 24 glass 12-oz. bottles).

Once you get a taste of an ice cold soda made with Pure Cane Sugar rather than the  sweetener all the other's use, you'll never be fully satisfied with the cheap stuff again!

Old wooden soda crates
Inside the W.P. Kloster Museum 

Old Dr Pepper vending machines in the museum
One of the old Dr Pepper signs in the museum


Spooky Alton Bridge

The one-lane, wooden-floored "Old Alton Bridge," as it is known, was constructed in 1884 to connect the Texas towns of Lewisville and Alton in Denton County. It well served the communities and surrounding farms until it was replaced by a new bridge in 2002. My family and I lived just a few miles from the old bridge and before it was replaced, often drove over the creaking, rather scary structure to visit friends on the other side of the creek. Although the bridge shaved three miles off the closest alternate route from our friend's house to ours, I rarely drove over it after dark.

For several miles the little 2-lane black-top road on either side of the bridge goes through an isolated area with no houses and no street lights to break up the dark. Large trees grow in thick profusion on both sides of the roadway. Very pretty in the daytime, very spooky in the dark. The bridge itself takes courage to drive an auto across. The bed is made of wooden boards laid crosswise and you have to carefully steer your car to keep your tires on the thick lengthwise boards. While you cross, the bridge creaks and pops, the boards moan and you see water rushing by in the creek below through spaces in broken slats. It's impossible to not hold your breath and clench your hands on the steering wheel until you reach the far side. Unsettling in the daytime, positively unnerving in the dark.

The bridge the morning after my
spooky encounter.
One cold winter night, for some illogical reason, I dared to drive that spooky route. As if to prove to myself that I'm not afraid of the dark, I stopped my car on the road just before reaching the edge of the bridge. As usual, there were no other cars in sight and it was extremely dark as even the moonlight was blocked out by the overhanging trees. I turned off the headlights and rolled down the window, but even though my car was rather new and the engine was very quiet, its hum was all I could hear so I turned the key off. The silence in that blackness was total with none of the normal sounds you would expect to hear; no birds chirping, no dogs barking in the distance, no traffic noise on some distant road, no nothing. My senses told me something was not right.

Suddenly, there came a noise from the woods and it was very close! It sounded like some animal, maybe a coyote or a feral pig skulking through leaves. It was just a short sound and before I could react, all was quiet again. I looked as closely into the woods as I could, all my senses on high alert, but for a number of seconds there was still no sound. The seconds seemed to be minutes until with no warning, I heard a sound like a twig breaking under a footstep and then a rustling of leaves several times in procession. It sounded for all the world like somebody, a 2-legged somebody, was slowly walking through the leaves in that black jungle. I didn't wait to see if I could find out what it was. It took about 2 seconds for me to start the car, roll up the window, put it in Drive and get the heck on down the road!

I drove onto the bridge and didn't take my foot off the gas even where it is usually prudent to slow to a crawl to be sure your car is situated correctly on the boards for the drive across. Fortunately, I made it over safely, fearing at any moment that something, man or beast, would pop up in front of me at the end of the bridge. That was the last time I ever drove that route after dark. I decided to see what I could find about that bridge and the area around it. I figured it was just too spooky to not have some kind of history associated with it. I figured right.

In the early 1860's as the Civil War raged, a bunch of area cowboys took it upon themselves to punish a slave goat-herder named Jack Kendall for some offense which has been lost to history. They tied one end of a rope around his neck and the other end around a sturdy tree limb  of a large oak tree which was growing next to the creek right where the Alton Bridge would later be built. They drug him to the top of the creek bank and threw him out toward the water. It was a long fall and the rope used was thinner than it should have been so when poor Jack Kendall hit the end of the rope, his head was severed and his body dropped into the creek. Stories of a headless apparition wandering up and down the creek, apparently in search of his missing head, have been told for over 150 years now.

 The story which has taken hold and gained the most notoriety though is of Oscar Washburn, an African-American man who gained a reputation in the 1930's as an honest, dependable business man who raised and sold goats and goat products. He and his wife and children lived in a small cabin in the woods a short distance from the Alton bridge. He was popular with many of the locals for the quality of the goat meat, milk, cheese and hides he sold at a very reasonable price. To help the unfamiliar easily find him, he hung a big sign on the end of the bridge which read, "This way to the Goatman." Unfortunately, this popularity came to the attention of the local Ku Klux Klan who didn't take kindly to a black man taking away business from other local goat raisers.

The exact spot where Oscar Washburn was
hung over the side of the bridge.
One dark night in 1938, with their car's headlights off, the Klansmen drove across the bridge to the Goatman's little cabin and dragged him away from his wailing wife and crying children. They took him back to the middle of the bridge to a noose they had prepared ahead of time and after roughly slipping it over his head, flung the pleading Goatman over. Much to their surprise, they heard a watery splash below the bridge and when they looked over the side, they were shocked to see an empty noose and no sign of their victim.

 The Night Riders split up and quickly ran to both ends of the bridge where they scrambled down the embankments to the water's edge. After frantically searching for half an hour with no sign of their intended prey, they returned to the Washburn residence. After a quick search proved he was not there, the men barricaded the front door and with mother and children huddled together inside, the cabin was set on fire. They hoped the screams of his family would bring the Goatman into the open where they intended to capture him, securely tie him up and throw him alive onto the raging inferno, but their plan didn't work. The screams of the innocent mother and children were silenced as the burning walls crumbled.

Oscar Washburn was never seen again. Some believe that just like poor Jack Kendall, the Goatman's head popped off that night when he was hung and his body was washed away by the quickly flowing waters after it dropped through the noose. Others believe he survived the botched hanging and ran far away from the area, leaving behind his poor family to suffer a horrible death. To this day, what is certain though are the eerie and strange happenings on and around the Alton bridge.

Many say the unforgiving spirit of the Goatman still haunts these woods. Locals warn to not cross the bridge with headlights turned off for if you do, you will surely be met on the other side by none other than the vengeful Goatman himself. There are persistent reports of a ghostly apparition herding a bunch of almost transparent goats being seen in the dark on the road leading from the bridge. The apparition and goats disappear as quickly as they appear. Others have seen a pair of unholy red, glowing eyes staring at them from the tree's or have glimpsed the fleeting image of a large goat-headed-man-beast in the shadows of the forest which is usually accompanied by the revolting smell of rotten flesh. Often there are tales of unexplained noises such as hoof beats of goats running across the bridge, loud splashing in the waters below the bridge or a low non-human growl coming from the trees near the bridge.

There has been a rash of documented cases by the police where people have vanished with no trace around this seemingly cursed bridge. In the 1950's, a local high school boy and his girlfriend were reported missing when they failed to return from a Friday night date. The boy's car was found the next morning parked in the woods beside the bridge with both front doors open. They have still never been found and the case is a total mystery. On November 15, 1967, a Ford Mustang was found by police parked at the end of the bridge. They eventually found out who owned the car, but the person has never been found.

In 2002, a new road and bridge was built to replace the old one. The original Alton bridge is still there, but since then, the odd happenings and reports of strange apparitions and unexplained phenomena seem to have decreased some. Daring teenagers like to hang out there at night in groups, spray-painting graffiti and trying to scare each other. But even the most daring teenagers do not go there at night alone.

 I don't know what I heard the night I stopped on that dark, lonely road. I didn't stick around trying to find out. One thing I do know for sure though, it wasn't just my imagination...something was out there.


Postcard from a See-thru Public Toilet

One of the glass-walled toilets in
Sulphur Springs.
The small Texas town of Sulphur Springs took a big leap in 2012 when they debuted two all–glass bathrooms on their downtown square, the first of their kind in the United States. The pair of glass potties didn’t come cheap. The masterpieces cost the City $54,000, but it’s all in the name of art.

Make that “functional art.” Part of the inspiration for this project came from an Italian art piece, Monica Bonivicini’s ’Don’t Miss A Sec’ from 2004, which was on display outside an art museum in Switzerland. The structure was initially part of the overall exhibit, but when construction workers began using the glass bathroom, the idea of “functional art” evolved.

In all of North America, little Sulphur Springs has the only functional, permanent and code complying glass bathrooms constructed with one-way mirrors. Users of the facility can see out, however, no one can see in. The design, which made the toilets finalists in 2013's "America's Best Bathroom" contest, includes a spacious wheelchair-accessible interior and a gleaming stainless steel toilet and sink.

The 2nd glass-walled toilet.

To put your mind at ease, Sulphur Springs’ square has good security and monitoring with 9 cameras always watching what goes on. They are all recording in HD color and are monitored at the police department 24/7. The Sulphur Springs square is the last place a creep wants to hang out.

The facilities are the cleanest public toilets I've ever seen and they even smelled lemony fresh. People with a shy bladder might want to "go" somewhere else though. Even if you don't have that issue, it's still a strange experience doing your business in a public toilet while looking at people walking around and all of them seem to be intensely interested in what you are doing and staring right at you. Oh, go ahead and use one. It's for sure something you'll tell your friends about later!

Looking out at the town square from inside
the toilet.

The Baker Hotel in Mineral Wells, Texas

The Baker Hotel in Mineral Wells, Texas was built by hotelier T. B. Baker in 1929 for $1,250,000, a huge amount of money at the time. Known as the "Grand Old Lady," the hotel was a success as soon as it opened and was a top spa destination during the 1930s. When the nearby Fort Wolters closed down after World War II in 1946 however, the fortunes of both the Baker Hotel and the city declined. For the years it was around though, the Baker Hotel put Mineral Wells on the map.

The Baker opened on November 22nd, 1929, three weeks after the stock market crash of 1929. After it was completed, the hotel was 14-story's tall and had a bowling alley, two ballrooms, an in-house beauty shop and 450 guest rooms. There were three different staircases: one for the well-to-do guests, one for their servants, and another staircase for those who had reasons for not wanting to be seen. It was widely considered to be one of the finest hotels in America.

The main purpose of the 452 room hotel was to provide stressed-out upper-class people the opportunity to take advantage of the natural mineral waters found in the town's wells for the medicinal value. The water seemed to cure stomach and intestinal problems and even some forms of mental illness. Besides the miracle water, massages and therapeutic baths were a big hit in the hotel's two complete spas. Guests also enjoyed swimming in one of the two swimming pools, going to the gym and attending dances and big band concerts in the hotel's huge ballrooms. Famous big bands of the era from the Dorsey Brothers to Lawrence Welk regularly played for the gala's the hotel held.

Other non-advertised activities were provided in hidden gambling parlors and discreet drinking areas during Prohibition. Dining rooms offered fine meals cooked in the hotel's kitchen and there were shops and personal services available so one never had to leave the hotel grounds for the necessities of life.
In its glory days, from the 1930s until the early 1950s, such famous people as Judy Garland, Dorothy Lamour, Clark Gable, Marlene Dietrich, Will Rogers, Helen Keller, Sammy Kaye and General Pershing came here to relax and enjoy all the Baker Hotel offered. Even Bonnie and Clyde, under assumed names, took time off from robbing banks and spent some of their ill-gotten gains while staying at the Baker Hotel.

After the war ended in 1945 and Mineral Wells was no longer the growing, bustling town it was before, the owners of the Baker Hotel did everything they could to stay in business. The hotel hosted the Texas Republican Party conventions of both 1952 and 1955 and the Texas Democratic Party convention of 1954, the costs to keep it open and operating was more than the income so the decision was made to close in 1963. Two years later, local investors leased the building and reopened the hotel, but once again the costs exceeded income and it closed for the second time in 1973.

The owner, Mr. Baker, lived in a fancy suite on the 10th floor with his family. It is known that he also maintained a suite for his red-headed mistress on the 7th floor. He lived in his hotel until his death in 1972. For the last 20 years of his life, he endured the decline of his fortune and watched the decline of his once luxurious hotel.
Just because the Baker Hotel has been closed to the living since 1973 doesn't mean it has been devoid of activity. The hotel remains a grand old structure containing thousands of stories of the people that stayed there - some during their last days as they sought cures for terrible illnesses. The reports of ghosts and hauntings began in the Baker long before it closed and it is regarded today as one of the most haunted buildings in America. For stories about the spirits living in the hotel, click here.

Over the years, a number of developers and visionaries have come forward with plans to bring life back to the "Grand Old Lady," but all have failed for one reason or another. In 2013, the city of Mineral Wells partnered with a collection of developers with the intention to renovate The Baker back to its former glory. The plan included the revival of the hotel's famous natural spring spas, construction of world-class business and convention facilities, over 11,000 sq. ft. of retail and shopping space and 157 guest rooms. This latest project however has not moved beyond the planning stage as restoration costs were found to be much higher than first estimated and governmental red tape has brought everything to a virtual standstill. The group is currently attempting to attract foreign investors for the additional funding, but it appears this plan may well end in failure as well.

For now, what once was the pride of West Texas sits slowly falling apart. True icon of a bygone era, gone now are the movie stars, the military officers in impressive uniforms, the big bands, the conventions and the glittery grand balls. Or are they? Perhaps in another dimension, the good times continue and maybe, just maybe, there's a helping hand from beyond that keeps the Baker Hotel un-renovated and locked in a different time.

Popeye in Alma, Arkansas

Remember Popeye the Sailor Man? Alma, Arkansas does and it erected a statue of everyone's favorite sailor to prove it. It's an incredibly cheesy statue, but pretty cool nonetheless. If you're a big Popeye fan, you can also check out the spinach can water tower that proclaims Alma the spinach capital of the world. The spinach can is found off U.S. 71 North and also proudly sports Popeye the Sailor man.

The first Popeye statue was built in 1987 out of paper mache and fiberglass. Tourists in cars and buses would stop by to see it, laugh and leave. Residents of Alma were a bit embarrassed by it all so they decided to either get rid of the statue or make it into something to be proud of. After much discussion and debate, paper mache Popeye was retired in 2007 and replaced with the bronze statue and fountain now in Alma's town square. The original statue is in a store called Kustom Kaps right up the street.

Mural of old Alma in the Popeye Square
Why all the Popeye love in Alma? Alma is the home of Allen's Canning Company, which cans spinach. They are also home to the annual Spinach Festival held the 3rd weekend each April.

To see Popeye for yourself, take exit 12 on I-40 and go south on US 71. Go through the traffic light, bear left, then turn right onto Fayetteville Ave./Hwy 162 into downtown. The Park is near the end of town, on the right.

One Feisty Old Woman And Her Dog

Jonesboro Memorial Park Cemetery
You often hear the saying that you only have one chance to make a first impression. Well, Thelma Holford of Jonesboro, Arkansas turned the tables and decided to make a unique last impression. For her grave marker in the Jonesboro Memorial Park cemetery, she erected a one-of-a-kind monument featuring her and her faithful dog "Bunnie."

In Jonesboro, Thelma was widely known as the town's eccentric. She was an astute businesswoman who managed a very successful awning business. She was also a great lover of dogs, taking in numerous strays and treating them like the children she never had. In her will, she left funds for a pet cemetery. The executors named it in her honor.

Thelma had been briefly married once, but was divorced in her mid-20's and never remarried. That may account for the message on the sign her monument holds which says, "Don't be afraid to stand alone." Along with her name and dates, the monument also lists her daily prayer - "God help me keep my long nose out of other people's business and give me 26 hours each day to mind my own."

Not long before she passed away, she commissioned her self-designed monument to be crafted in Italy. She wasn't happy with the completed marker though and had it shipped back to be redone. The reason? "It makes my dog look like a horse." She passed away in 1989 at age 82 of natural causes shortly after accepting the 2nd working of her monument.

The Famous King of Clubs Roadhouse

Before the fire
In the early to late-1950’s, the King of Clubs in Swifton, Arkansas was the center of a rowdy club scene along Highway 67. Future household names like Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Roy Orbison, Carl Perkins, Conway Twitty, and Jerry Lee Lewis were paid $10 to perform at the roadhouse for rowdy audiences of drunk red-neck patrons. The performers often spent more of their set fending off the drunks with chairs, their musical instruments and in several cases, a whip, than they did actually singing songs. The manager kept a tear gas pistol behind the bar and used it on a number of occasions to disperse people when things got out of hand.

In 1955, Elvis performed there with his opening act, Johnny Cash. Cash only performed 3 songs, but he was so good the manager paid him $20 instead of $10. Elvis, who was by then already a rising star, was paid $450 and drew such a large crowd that no more people could get inside the building and more stood around outside in the gravel parking lot. Whenever Jerry Lee Lewis performed, he had a guy stand next to the stage with a fire extinguisher to help control the crowd which he always incited into a frenzy with his possessed, revival-preacher-gone-wild performances. During his closing number, his cover of “Thank Heaven for Little Girls,” he would jump around like a crazed madman pounding the piano keys with his elbows and feet. The bar always had to have new strings put in and the piano tuned after he performed.

After the fire
The little King of Clubs, located basically in the middle of nowhere, in its heyday, was one of the breeding-pens for rockabilly, a rough-and-ready mix of blues and country that provided great influence on later generations of musician’s like the Rolling Stones and the Beatles.
Unfortunately, after more than 50 years of operation, the old building burned down with all of its irreplaceable memorabilia inside. During the night of December 13, 2010, dozens and dozens of one-of-a-kind photos lining the walls were lost forever. Elvis has left the building. So have most of his friends from that era and now, so has the old building.


Wild Swans in Arkansas

Magness Lake
In early January, 1991, in the skies somewhere north of Arkansas, three juvenile swans were caught in a snowstorm and became separated from their flock. Despite their 7-foot wingspans and powerful wing beats, they were blown far off the normal course of their migration path. That evening, nearing exhaustion, they heard the calls of geese who had settled for the night onto the sheltered waters of a small lake outside Heber Springs. The swans came down to rest and recuperate from their ordeal.

The next day, 4 birdwatchers happened to drive by the lake and when one of them called out in surprise at what he saw, the others didn't believe him. Wild swans had not been seen in Arkansas for at least 80 years so their doubts were justified. However, their sharp-eyed friend convinced them to stop and look for themselves. When they walked back and spotted the 3 swans, they were astonished. "Those aren't Trumpeter swans, are they?" As if on cue, one of the birds called out and there was no doubt. The loud, trumpet-like sound which gives them their name cannot be mistaken for anything else. For a few days anyway, the endangered Trumpeter Swan, the largest fowl in North America and the rarest of swans was back in Arkansas.

The owner of the lake and surrounding farmland, Perry Lindner, for a number of years had been feeding corn to the wintering waterfowl who came to Magness Lake. When he came out several days later, he saw the new visitors so he spread extra handfuls of corn along the shore near them. The hungry birds eagerly ate all he put out. They enjoyed their new home and the free corn so much that instead of staying just a few days, they didn't leave until February 24th.

Nobody expected the swans to return after that first visit. Evidently they liked Magness Lake so much though that not only did they return on Christmas Day, they brought several friends. They were then joined in January by a female and her mate who had been banded in Minnesota. This time the group stayed until the last day of February. The next year, the same group returned and this time the banded female and her mate brought 3 cygnets (juvenile swans) with them. Since then, the swans have taken a break on their way south and returned every year bringing mates, family members and friends. More than 150 swans now stop at Magness Lake and surrounding ponds for several winter months to rest and replenish with the deer corn people bring to feed them.

By a quirk of fate, where once there were no swans  in the whole state, there are now many and the people who make the effort can stand within a few feet of North America's largest, most beautiful waterfowl. It's an experience you will probably never forget.