HEADLINE: Remembering 1959 at Lake of the Ozarks
1959 – 1: Max Allen’s Zoological Gardens featured reptiles, alligators, giant turtles, and a pickpocket monkey.
1959 – 2: There were some fat fish in the Lake at Loc-Wood Boat Dock at the west end of the
dam because you could empty your pockets of change buying food to feed them. The fish are
still in the Lake but the Aquarium and Loc-Wood have long since vanished.
1959 – 3: Loc-Wood Dock was a great place to take a ride on the Lake aboard the Larry Don
1959 – 4: Visiting Dogpatch on the Bagnell Dam Strip has become a “rite of passage” for
thousands of people who visit and revisit the Lake every year.
By H. Dwight Weaver
A lot of water has passed through Bagnell Dam since the summer of 1959 and a lot of people
have spent a lot of their weekends and summer vacations at the lake since then, which should
mean that a lot of us have a lot of memories from the good old days at the Lake. But what do you
remember from the summer of 1959?
Monkeys, Snakes and a 5-Legged Cow (Subheads: Please bold and use a sans serif font)
The summer of 1959 was when the wise guys bounced radio signals off the moon, banned "Lady
Chatterley’s Lover" by D. H. Lawrence, and two monkeys were launched into space by the U.S.
Army from Cape Canaveral, Florida. While all that was happening, carloads of vacationers
headed to the Lake stopped briefly at the south edge of Eldon to visit Tom’s Monkey Jungle.
There they could get their picture taken with a monkey but had to be careful because one of their
monkeys was a pick-pocket.
If the monkey failed to snatch their wallet or purse there was Max Allen’s Zoological
Gardens further down the road. His attraction had reptiles, alligators, giant turtles and another
pick-pocket monkey. And if you stepped next door to the Ozark Deer Farm you could visit with
Bambi, feed all kinds of critters, and stare at a 5-legged cow while enduring more monkey
business. All in good fun, but there is no longer any monkey business along the highway.
Tours and more Tours
Once you reached Bagnell Dam you could take a guided tour of the power plant, which no longer
happens except on special occasions. They scheduled free tours on the hour every day and took
you into the very innards of the big dam. It was damp, dark and full of whirring machinery but
great fun. And you even learned something, which most people try not to do on a vacation. The
next stop might be a gift shop and it seemed like every third business along the highway was a
gift shop of some kind. Every one of them overflowed with cedar novelties being produced by
three or four businesses in the Lake area that manufactured these examples of Americana kitsch.
J. B. Deere Cedarcraft actually gave free tours so you could see how it was all done, from
cedar log to cedar box. Gift shops are now fewer and the makers of all things cedar have just
about whittled away.
The Ozark Opry was less than ten years old and packing the house with people who wanted to
hear hillbilly music played by talented guys and gals who did a fine job acting like a bunch of
hicks. The city dudes who filled the auditorium clapped and stomped with glee; even the ones
who professed not to like country music when they got back to the city.
Just as entertaining were the performances put on by the Ozark Water Ski Pageant in
Paradise Cove under 14,000 watts of electricity. What some of those young people could do on
skis — as individuals and as a team — was pretty amazing. They weren’t outsiders either. Most
of young people who did the dare-devil skiing had parents who ran local tourist businesses. They
weren’t exactly circus brats but they were pretty close to it. We loved ‘em. The kids grew up
and the shows are gone.
Food, Food and More Food
I’ll bet some of you ate at Campbell’s Lake House close to the dam where the kids could eat out
of plates shaped like the engine and cars of a train; or at Clayton’s Café where the pies were
homemade and people would line up around lunch time because they couldn’t seat very many
people at one time.
There was also the Chicken Kitchen at the dam and Jo-Jo’s Ranch House Café in Osage
Beach. Some of you may have partaken of the catfish ‘n corn bread served at Lakeview Cafe at
the west end of the Grand Glaize Bridge, or even taken lunch at the Grand Glaize Café or
Sherwood’s Café. The eating places are no longer the same.
The Missouri Aquarium was one-of-a-kind and the largest marine display in the mid- west. They
had all kinds of live fish and you could get up close and personal with them, like the giant catfish
that weighed 61 pounds. There were also a few swimmers that you kept a safe distance from…
like the electric eel and the piranha.
There were also fat fish in the Lake at Loc-Wood Boat Dock at the west end of the dam.
You could empty your pockets of change buying food to feed them (as if they really needed
more to eat). The fish are still in the Lake but the Aquarium and Loc-Wood have vanished.
Rides and More Rides
Speaking of Loc-Wood Dock, it was a great place to take a ride on the Lake and you had your
choice of fast boats, slow boats, a moonlight cruise or a dance cruise. They had the Osage Chief
Excursion boat, which was available for a 30-mile cruise, and the Coronado Speedboat as well as
the Larry Don excursion boat. You could also just take off in a Cessna Seaplane and see the
Lake from way up in the clouds. When you did, you were able to see why the Lake is often
called the “Missouri Dragon” or the “Magic Dragon.” Only from the air can you see the Lake’s
true shape as it snakes around among the Ozark hills.
If it was hot and you just wanted to get down and under you could visit Stark Caverns north of
the dam with its “grand canyon underground,” or Ozark Caverns near Passover with its “Angel’s
Shower,” or Jacob’s Cave near Versailles with its extinct animal bones, or get married in Bridal
Cave near Camdenton. Stark Caverns is no longer open.
Dance the Night Away
Square dancing was big — VERY BIG — in 1959. Les Gotcher, a famous Hollywood dance
instructor, was holding square dance institutes at Kirkwood Lodge that summer and staging
square dances in local school gyms. There were square dances in the Ozark Opry building and at
lakeside at Lake Park near Camdenton. Square dancing still takes place, but not like it did in
The Western Touch
Rodeos were big in 1959. At Western Fun Ranch and the Ozark Homestead there were hayrides,
horseback riding and rodeo entertainment. The J Bar H Rodeo in Camdenton packed their
bleachers and had rodeo professionals competing from across the USA. Their special
entertainment featured Hollywood stars. The rodeos and western themes have all ridden off into
the sunset. And then there was . . .
Visiting this gift shop, crazy hillbilly village and snake farm combined was unlike anything else.
Dogpatch still exists, although the reptiles have slithered away. Visiting Dogpatch on the
Bagnell Dam Strip has become a “rite of passage” for thousands of people who visit and revisit the Lake every year. Thank goodness some things don’t change much!