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The observer, Jan. 17



The Times is guilty of repeating a falsehood: that our town is called “Little Rock” because Benard de la Harpe exclaimed “Voila! Regardez la petite roche la! C'est presque la rue ‘LaHarpe!' ” when he came up the Arkansas River in 1722.

It's a legend and it's wrong, says former Museum of Science and History curator Jim Eison. He pointed this out in letters to the Times and the city, which has perpetuated the blighted history in its recent project to re-landscape the area around the Little Rock, at the base of the Junction Bridge, so people can see it more easily.

The Little Rock really is a little rock, compared to the Big Rock upriver. LaHarpe didn't call Big Rock la gros roche either. He called it la roche Francaise, or at least that's what John L. Ferguson, former director of the state Historical Commission, was quoted as saying in a 1982 newspaper article, which Eison copied and sent to the Times.

But, being speakers of French, LaHarpe and others who stopped at the rock — the first outcrop a traveler by water will see as he moves up the Arkansas out of the alluvial plains — no doubt would have called it “la petite roche.” They didn't write that down anywhere, but since the name stuck, The Observer gently suggests that it's a distinction without a difference.

But facts are facts. LaHarpe did not name the place Little Rock. He didn't remark on the street name, either. And while we're at it, the Museum of Science and History is now named the Museum of Discovery.

“East is east and west is west and the wrong one I have chose,” Bob Hope sang in an old movie. To him, the West was wrong, but in Arkansas, it's the other way around.

While the western part of the state thrives, the East shrivels. Population declines, plants close, prosperity hides. Even competitive high school football teams are disappearing from the East. And so are decent highway rest stops, The Observer can testify. We drive I-40 to Memphis fairly often, and every time we stop at a rest stop — the one at Forrest City, say — we're appalled by its condition, and wonder what out-of-staters think of us. The restrooms are dirty. The water fountains and vending machines don't work. Drying one's hands is sometimes impossible, because of a defective blower or a shortage of paper towels.

When The Observer made a trip to Northwest Arkansas recently, and stopped at the rest stop near Russellville, we were startled by the contrast. Clean, everything in working order — The Observer almost wanted to hang around just to enjoy it.

Eastern Arkansas has problems. We hope they're not insoluble. The rest stops would seem to be one area where improvement could be made fairly easily.

The letter carrier delivered the mail at The Observer's home on Monday, the day before New Year's, and the daily paper's listing of government office closings said of the Post Office: “Offices will be closed Tuesday [New Year's Day] and collection boxes will not be checked.” We deduced therefore that the post offices would be open on Monday, and we drove to the Hillcrest branch to buy stamps. But the branch was not open, The Observer discovered after parking the car and climbing the steps to the door. Though displeased, The Observer was not nearly as unhappy as the lady who'd lugged a heavy package up the steps.

Those postal workers! They get disgruntled sometimes, or so we read in the papers, but they can dish out disgruntlement too.

The thing with cell phones is that you can be reached anywhere. This can be embarrassing for people on either end. Last week, The Observer called the number provided on a press release to get a little more information. The gentleman answered and it wasn't until a few minutes into the conversation that he revealed he was lying in a hospital bed, in New York, recuperating from surgery the day before. There's nothing like asking someone who's just been sliced open to run go get you a report.

He was very accommodating, however, checking his phone's contact list and forwarding us on. We wished him a speedy recovery.

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