It's rare that The Observer doesn't shoot straight with you, Dear Reader. But this time, for reasons that will soon become clear, we're going to have to obscure some of the facts.
The other day, while out on assignment for a story, we had occasion to go to a small, very well-kept house in Little Rock. After following the homeowner into his bedroom to look at some photos on a computer, we noticed a tall display cabinet against the wall. Inside the cabinet were dozens of small plastic boxes. Inside each of the boxes was a baseball.
Being the curious sort, we leaned in for a closer look and were stunned at what we saw. Every one of the baseballs was signed. And not by some schulbs, either. A sampling of the names we caught: Babe Ruth, Mickey Mantle, Ted Williams, Jackie Robinson, Satchel Paige. Reggie Jackson, whole championship teams, and dozens of others that we're too baseball-ignorant to have ever heard of. It was, The Observer told a colleague later, like wandering into a house in the suburbs and finding The Ark of the Covenant in a linen closet.
The story the homeowner told us about how he came to acquire such a treasure is almost as incredible as the baseballs themselves. The majority came from a friend of his, a former Major League Baseball umpire who had retired to Texarkana. Though the baseball fan had traded some specimens away for others over the years, mostly the balls in the display case were the product of decades worth of careful collecting by the old ump.
If you want to see this glittering horde of baseball diamond gems, we're sorry, can't help ya. The Observer has taken a vow of silence as to their whereabouts, for obvious reasons. Personally, we think it's enough to know they're out there, and that you can stumble up on the stuff of dreams in the most unassuming of places.
Membership in the listserv for the Arkansas History Discussion Group has many rewards. Lately, The Observer has been enjoying back and forth about Arkansas's great inventors.
Yes, we've had some. Susan Young of the Shiloh Museum of Ozark History in Springdale (currently showing historic clothing) made note of Ed. E. Welch's "Goods Handler," an oak stick with a crosspiece inset with tiny metal teeth designed to help folks reach things on high shelves. Young acknowledged that it may not have cured polio, but it was surely handy AND she's got a couple of them in her museum.
Other inventors: E.J. Ball, Lewis Callison and Harold Dulan created the first variable annuity life insurance company, we learned from Charles Y. Alison of the University of Arkansas, and Barnett Sure, a professor of agricultural chemistry at the U of A, was a co-discoverer of vitamin E. Alison knew a number of U of A professors and alums who invented such things as a way to parboil rice, "nanopaper" that can be heated to 700 degrees Celsius, an AM transmission signal, the fiber optic cable (by Robert D. Maurer, after he left Arkansas) and James N. Moore's thornless blackberries, which Alison said was "by far" the most important to him. Shirley Schuette reminded the group of the fried dill pickle once available in Atkins, but the inventor's name may be lost to history.
Mark Christ reminded all of Paul Klipsch and his Klipschorn speakers, who may be the biggest name inventor of all the suggestions — we all wanted Klipsch speakers at one time. Curtis Morris, also of the Shiloh Museum, had another big name: Gus Malzahn, originally from Springdale, who invented the "hurry up, no huddle" football offense, he said. Talk about a game-changer.
You've heard of things falling out of tall building windows — flower pots, crumbling cornices, people wanting to end it all. But two reporters for the daily paper narrowly escaped with their lives (and tons of notes) when a BlackBerry cellphone dropped with a thud from on high. They were passing by the Courtyard by Marriott, where, presumably, someone was either leaning over a balcony talking on their phone with slippery fingers or the BlackBerry was thrown out a window in a fit of PiQue, to land on Clinton Avenue below.
The phone missed them by about six feet. The reporters disagreed on the injuries they avoided. One supposed they would have had to go to a hospital. The other was skeptical. Reporters are hard-headed. One thing was for sure: they checked the BlackBerry for a pulse, and found none. It did not survive.