The Crater of Diamonds

    The death of Austin Millar in November 1951, at age 93, left Howard and his family alone to work out their future at the Ozark Mine.  Still unable to find a buyer at his price, Howard worked out an agreement with Ethel Wilkinson, then back in Indiana:  both would share the costs of a new tourist attraction; he and his wife, Modean, and their daughters would live at the property and manage the operation for a salary taken from income.  According to Millar, Wilkinson’s lawyer suggested they call the venture the “Crater of Diamonds.”[1]

    In April 1952 Howard and Modean opened the office beside the Ozark Mine, and soon offered a gift shop, snack bar, picnic tables, playground equipment, “clean rest rooms,” and other amenities.  Visitors could surface hunt or bring tools for digging and scratching around.  Unlucky diamond hunters could buy a bag of “kimberlite” to take home and pick through.[2]

    At the Crater of Diamonds, Howard Millar found the perfect outlet for his talents as writer and promoter-and finally acquired the fame he had sought since those early years in Arkansas.  Skillfully, he drew the attention of national magazines, newspapers, and popular new television programs, and brought more fame to the Arkansas diamond field than any person ever had.  A barrage of publicity in the ‘50s and ‘60s established tourism as a permanent and overriding purpose of the big pipe near Murfreesboro.  Millar had further problems with Wilkinson, and she enabled one of his co-workers, Roscoe Johnston, to set up a competing “Big Mine” tourist attraction on the former Arkansas Diamond Mine.  Facing tough competition, the Millars’ income grew more precarious.  Still, he remained the center of attention, the story teller, the unchallenged source of information for scores of writers and other inquirers.[3]

    Recreational “miners” found several large diamonds at the Crater, but no other generated the kind of publicity that accompanied the rare beauty found on the surface in March 1956.  Mrs. Arthur Lee Parker was searching along the ridge between the slopes when she picked up a 25.33-carat gem.  Named the “Star of Arkansas,” it cut to a splendid 8.27 carats.[4]   

   

    When General Earth Minerals consolidated the properties in 1968, it continued Millar’s Crater of Diamonds tourist operation while trying to attract investors.  After GEM defaulted on its loan in the summer of 1971, the tourist attraction remained while GF Industries disposed of the property.[5]

 


 



[1] Finders Keepers, 74.

 

[2] Records in the Crater archive agree with Finders Keepers, 74, except for the opening date.  Millar’s comment about having a heart attack (ibid) is the only mention of that topic.  IV, “Printed Materials,” has various brochures describing the facilities; a large fold-out includes good photographs.  Air conditioning was added at some point, but the date is unclear.

 

[3] IV, “Printed Materials,” including “Periodicals,” “Brochures, pamphlets, etc.,” “Newspapers and newspaper clippings,” “Broadsides” (1 item), and so on; VIII, “Photographs.”  These document Millar’s remarkable effort and achievements.  Gary Moore’s “What’s My Secret” and Johnny Carson’s show were two of the television programs he appeared on.  Reminiscent of the MM Mauney era, the Wabash and Pacific Railroad offered an excursion to Detroiters over a Memorial Day weekend:  the trip to Hot Springs and the Crater of Diamonds cost $56.70 per person (Detroit, Michigan Times, April 17, 196[2?], clipping, IV.H; also IV.F.4).

    II.Q, “Misc.” contains some of the financial records stored at the Crater archive, including an adding machine tape showing $35,555.61 for “advertising” paid in 1952-1958.  “Receipts” included a total of $6,713.41 for the off-season period of January 1-May 20, 1958, and $5,652.45 for January 1-May 20, 1959.

    Depending upon heavy promotion to maintain visitor traffic, Millar’s Crater of Diamonds evidently produced a very modest net income, especially by the late 1950s as the novelty of the Crater wore off.  In June 1958 children under twelve years of age were charged admission for the first time (50˘), improving the balance sheet a little (Receipts, II.Q, “Misc.”; II.E, Account Sheets; other records, II, “Business and Financial Papers”).  A note at the bottom of the off-season tabulation commented on the new charge and said that 2,500 children’s tickets were sold, apparently during the remainder of 1958.

    In 1963 Howard and Modean Millar began mortgaging a block of lots they held in Murfreesboro in order to get short-term loans from the Pike County Bank:  Pike, Mortgage Record 43, 311, Mortgage Deed (for $2,500), February 20, 1963; 43, 328 ($1,274.60), May 27, 1963; 43, 487 ($2,500), April 7, 1965; 43, 532 ($3,000), March 1, 1966.  They finally sold the lots (89, 549, Warranty Deed, Howard Millar, trustee, and Modean Millar to William Otis Deal and wife, Lester Deal, August 8, 1966).

 

[4] Neil Maxwell, “Arkansas Diamonds Bring a Bonanza—Of Tourist Dollars,” Wall Street Journal (May 11, 1959), included comment (copy in IV.E.4); among other publications, see the detailed descriptions and photographs in Hugh Leiper, “Diamonds for the Finding,” Lapidary Journal, 11, No. 1 (April 1957), 4-6, 8, 10.  Photographs and other material in the Crater archive provide details (II, IV, VIII; see the index to the archive at the beginning of the microfilm series).  In the end, the “Star of Arkansas” proved unlucky for Mrs. Parker and others involved in its marketing (for a substantial overview see the Dallas Morning News, Sunday, August 27, 1978, p. 1G).

    Some of the largest diamonds were found on the competing “Big Mine” (formally called “Johnston’s Arkansas Diamond Mine”).  A tourist reportedly found a 34.25-carat specimen on March 1, 1964; however, the strange shape and appearance of that unattractive item raise questions about its origin (Roscoe Johnston, operator of the Big Mine, was known for his publicity stunts).  Crater archive, II and IV, contain items from the Big Mine, including a four-page folding brochure with full details about the operation (IV.C.1).

 

[5] As part of the continuity, Sue McCarty, GEM’s office manager, kept that position.

 


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