Walnut Ridge Regional Airport (ARG) in Walnut Ridge, Ark., has an unusual claim to fame. The airport was used by the Beatles in 1964 for a brief — as in 36 hour — stop during their North American tour. Now that visit is being commemorated with a sculpture of the Fab Four at the airport.
Although it’s been more than 40 years since the visit, the community, located northwest of Jonesboro, is just now getting around to bragging about its time in the rock and roll spotlight. The stop in Walnut Ridge was the group’s only Arkansas stop during the tour.
According to Brett Cooper, chairman of the tourism committee for the Lawrence County Chamber of Commerce, a large aluminum sculpture of the Beatles is being constructed for placement at the airport.
“The idea evolved as our tourism committee with the Lawrence County Chamber of Commerce discussed ways to capitalize on the Rock n’ Roll Highway designation recently given to Highway 67,” said Cooper. The highway designation commemorates the rock and roll pioneers who traveled and performed through the area in the late 1950s. The highway runs past the airport.
The airport was built during World War II and was used as a training base. After the war it was converted to civilian use.
The Beatles were the most popular band in the world when their chartered Lockheed Electra dropped them off in the small Arkansas town at the end of a 25-city tour. The Fab Four spent the night at a local ranch. Had word of the visit been leaked to the public, the group likely would have been mobbed. But as it was, very few people knew about the visit, but those who did (mostly teens) were at the airport the next morning to watch their departure.
The Beatles sculpture shows the image of the group in silhouette from the Abbey Road album. The money has been raised for the sculpture and the piece has been commissioned. The sculpture will be placed near the terminal building.
“We also plan to paint an outline of The Beatles’ plane on the ramp and have painted footprints leading from there to the sculpture,” said Cooper.
“The Beatles sculpture is the first phase of a two-part program to celebrate Walnut Ridge’s place in the music world,” said Cooper. “In downtown Walnut Ridge a guitar-shaped plaza is slated to be built that will feature icons of Sun Records legends like Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash and Jerry Lee Lewis. The icons in both phases are life-sized silhouettes carved from thick sheets of aluminum.”
In addition to the Beatles legacy, the airport sports a popular restaurant, “The Parachute Inn,” which features a dining room made from an old jetliner. Also at the airport is the Wings of Honor Museum, which chronicles the history of the airport when it was a training base during World War II, Cooper said. “The museum will also feature a Beatles display and video once our sculpture is done,” he said. “The Beatles visit here is a great story about a small town getting a secret and surprise visit from the biggest rock band in the world. Several current residents were among those who got word and were at the airport when the Beatles departed. They tell some great stories.”
For more information: WalnutRidge-AAF.com