Greetings loyal reader(s) and welcome to the latest edition of the Branson Beat, your home for all the news on the Branson entertainment scene. As always, feel free to drop me a line at email@example.com or friend me on Facebook at facebook.com/joshua.clark.961556.
Now, let’s get to it.
The end of an Era in Ozark Mountain Country
I usually try to keep a certain level of positivity when it comes to the content of my Branson Beat, but after last week’s announcement the entire property known as the Shepherd of the Hills Historic Homestead and Outdoor Drama wouldn’t reopen this year (That includes everything from the Outdoor Drama to Inspiration Tower, the Summer Car Cruise to the Trail of Lights, and everything between), I can’t help but be bummed out.
Granted, something similar happened in 2013 when ownership announced the “Outdoor Drama” wouldn’t return the following season, but this situation is quite different. When that decision was made, plans were in place to keep all other aspects of the Homestead up and running. This time, the entire property is being foreclosed on.
I’m bummed out for Sharena Naugher — daughter of the late Gary Snadon, who owned the property from 1985 until his death in 2013 — and their family.
I’m bummed out for the millions and millions of locals and tourists alike who grew up with the annual tradition of having fun every year, no matter the season, at the Homestead.
I’m bummed for an entire generation of youngsters who will never get the thrill of experiencing the square dance during the show.
Or Inspiration Tower.
Or the Trail of Lights at Christmas.
Or the Shepherd’s Super Summer Car Cruise.
Or a dozen other cool things that took place there every year.
While I’m all equally bummed out for those folks, I’m especially bummed for the generations of families who worked at “the farm,” as they called it. Over the past 57 years, dozens of families have started and ended at Shepherd of the Hills, which became a family tradition for so many.
When the show was slated to close in 2013, I visited with several of those employees, including Clinton Caperton. He told me his father not only worked there for 41 years, but also met his mother there while she was on vacation from Alabama. They met on a tour where his father was the guide, and married a few years later.
Caperton, who was also a member of the U.S. Army as a combat engineer and served two tours of duty in Iraq, followed in his father’s footsteps and began working in the “Outdoor Drama” after serving his country. While playing the role of Young Matt, Caperton fell in love with the girl playing Sammy Lane. The couple ended up getting married on set.
“We’re all family, not co-workers,” Caperton told me in 2013. “But my story is just one of many where families began.”
For many folks, sharing the stage with a family member became old hat. Cast member and longtime Branson staple Terry Sanders and his family were part of the “Shepherd of the Hills Outdoor Drama” for almost 20 years. At one point, Sanders, his wife, and their two sons were all in the play at the same time.
Those are just two of the hundreds of stories that add to the awe and wonder that has surrounded the property since before Harold Bell Wright penned the “Shepherd of the Hills” novel in 1907. That novel meant so much to so many that as early as the next year, folks began visiting Ozark Mountain Country to see where Old Matt and Aunt Mollie lived, and most historians agree the birth of tourism in Ozark Mountain Country can be directly traced to this work.
That was long before Branson became a destination for millions of tourists.
While I fully expect the property to be sold, hopefully to an owner or ownership group that will pay the proper respect to the history, heritage and legacy of that 160 acres, I know whatever happens, it will never be the same again.
I did get one last chance to visit the property before it closed Wednesday, and while my trek to the top of the 230-foot Inspiration Tower one last time is something I won’t soon forget, it was the time I spent alone taking pictures of the statues atop Inspiration Point that hit me hardest.
As I snapped photo after photo of those weathered and worn statues, I began to realize the only thing more silent than those monuments to Old Matt, Aunt Mollie, Pete and the rest of the crew, was the Homestead itself. An area that held so much life for so many was now silent, and may be forever.
The fact of the matter is Branson is changing, and has been for more than a decade. While I’m all about making way for new shows, attractions and events to welcome a younger generation, I believe it should never, ever come at the expense of disregarding the history of this area that so many people love. I sure hope whoever buys this property remembers that.
At this point, the 57-year history of the Shepherd of the Hills Historic Homestead and Outdoor Drama is done. The book has been completed and closed, and now it is up to another author to follow in the footsteps of John and Anna Ross, Elizabeth McDaniel, Dr. Bruce Trimble and his wife, Mary, their son Mark, Gary Snadon and Sharena Naugher to pen a sequel.
I sure hope it can live up to the legacy those folks laid down.