Rodeo, New Mexico
February 28, 2005
The Great Passion Play of Eureka Springs was founded in 1968 by right-wing ex-politician and radio preacher Gerald L.K. Smith and wife Elna. Smith, born in 1898 rural Wisconsin, decided to become a preacher at age 12. He became known for his eloquent oratory and "rabble-rousing" skills and worked for Louisiana Governor Huey Long until Long was assassinated in 1935. Smith was virulently anti-Communist and anti-Semitic, admiring Adolph Hitler, disbelieving the Holocaust, and against U.S. involvement in World War II. As presidential candidate for the white-supremacist Christian Nationalist Party in 1948, he advocated deporting blacks and Jews. In his waning years, he moved to Eureka Springs and funded the Great Passion Play and Christ of the Ozarks statue, downplaying his extremist past. Unbeknownst to many locals, he continued to produce articles for his anti-Semitic hate sheet, The Cross and the Flag, published in California. He died in 1976 and lies buried on Magnetic Mountain.
The Great Passion Play: As daylight faded, we found our seats near the middle of the huge 4,100-seat outdoor amphitheatre, which was less than one quarter full. Soon the performance began with Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem and proceeded day by day to the Crucifixion and Resurrection. Throughout the play, the Jewish leaders are portrayed as shallow, greedy, and vengeful. The Jewish populace love for Jesus changes to hate without explanation. The Roman occupiers unsuccessfully attempt to dissuade the Jews, who will not be satisfied with anything less than Jesus’ death by crucifixion. Sadly, the blatant anti-Semitism and oversimplification of this Greatest Story vastly diminishes it.
Though I wasn’t aware yet of the extent of Gerald Smith’s bigotry and racism during our visit, it now overwhelmingly colors my feelings and impressions of this place. Having said that, we were impressed with the collection at the Sacred Arts Center and viewed an interesting video about historical bibles at the Bible Museum. The Berlin Wall segment, apparently authentic, has these words painted on it: Und geht es auch durchs dunkel Tal, ich habe keine Angst! – Psalm 23. Just beyond, Christ of the Ozarks looms angular, gaunt, and blazingly white in the sunshine, a severe figure, not particularly loving.
From journal Ozark Surprise: Eureka Springs, Arkansas