News from Eureka Springs, Arkansas

Monday, November 16, 2015

The Night Virginia Stole The Baby Jesus

     If you saw  the Daily Show with Jon Stewart, aired July 29, you know Eureka Springs, Arkansas, is a cantankerous town that ignores what the rest of the world thinks, goes its own way, and considers most laws merely suggestive guidelines. The dispute reported on the Daily Show was about a non-discrimination ordinance we passed defying a state law that sanctioned, even encouraged, the persecution of gays. No way was that going to happen here. We welcome everyone, as long as you behave, don’t intend harm, and don’t try to tell us how to live…which brings me to the subject of this blog.

It is that time of year when a lot of us celebrate the holiday season known as Christmas with a nativity scene in Basin Park. Predictably, anti-religious groups protest, claiming we're promoting religion. We could set aside space for groups to celebrate traditional events, holidays that happen around the same time…like the Jewish Hanukkah. We could do that, but these zealots don’t want compromise…they want no evidence of Christmas anywhere. They even object to Holiday Lights and money being spent for any decoration, even  decidedly unreligious Christmas trees.
Eureka Springs survives on tourism. Christmas decorations and events translate into out-of-town visitors and retail sales, so we ignore these haters, as we do anyone who tries to tell us what to think, but understand our display is unique. It means a lot more to us than the celebration of a birth. It is the commemoration of an event dear to all our hearts; an event that is part of our history, a tale repeated endlessly, making us laugh and remember. We're celebrating “The Night Virginia Stole The Baby Jesus.” 
Before you hear the story, you have to know that Virginia Voiers is a very gracious and elegant lady, proper in all ways, and highly regarded by the community. Just about every committee in town seeks her gentle presence, and she's served on a lot of them, always arriving dressed to perfection. We are in awe of Virginia.
For many years, during the Christmas Season, it was the custom of a local sorority to create a nativity display in the band shell at Basin Park, in the center of town. It was also the custom of the juvenile element in town to steal the Baby Jesus and have it turn up somewhere else. One night, some thirty years ago, as her husband, Bill, remembers, Virginia, her grown daughter, and her son were having dinner downtown, during the holidays. They passed the display while walking home, and Virginia’s daughter noticed the baby was still in the manger. 
Her daughter said, “C’mon, Mom, let’s steal the baby.” Well, Virginia enjoys a good joke, so she did. Unfortunately, the local carriage driver, passing by, witnessed the deed and called the police, who came and arrested Virginia, and took her to the station where the local sorority head, apparently not amused, preferred charges. 
What? Virginia? The town was agog. Sides were chosen. Tempers flared. For weeks, it was the main subject over evening libations at The High Hat Lounge.
Stan Adams, the local Methodist minister, stayed by her side the whole time in court as she was convicted of thievery, malicious mischief, and damage to private property. The sorority (which, you understand, must remain nameless) claimed the baby was damaged. Virginia was given probation and told to apologize. She wrote a check.  Didn’t apologize. Not our Virginia!
But that isn’t the end of the story! About a year later, as Bill tells it, Judge McBeth remembered the missing apology and cited her for contempt of court. Police came to the door, took our Virginia away in handcuffs. If there had been cell phones, it would have gone viral, and she spent about half a day in jail, the Methodist minister by her side, until her lawyer came.
So, if, some Christmas, you are visiting and, hanging out by the nativity in Basin Park, and you  hear someone say, “You remember the time Virginia stole the Baby Jesus?” you will now become one of us, because you know the story.  Remember to smile.