Offbeat Branson
May/Jun 2004

Above: Gardens and the shop at Long Creek Herb Farm. Long Creek Herb Farm photo

Below: Tom Beck has gathered many of the toys from our collective childhood and put them on display in Branson. Kathryn Buckstaff photo

Before You Go
For more information on Bonniebrook, contact Bonniebrook Historical Society, 1-800-539-7437, or www.kewpie-museum.com.

World's Largest Toy Museum, (417) 332-1499, www.worlds-largesttoymuseum.com.

Peter Engler Designs, (417) 335-6862, www.peterenglerdesigns.com.

Long Creek Herb Farm, (417) 779-5450, www.longcreekherbs.com.

Stop by your nearest AAA service office for maps, reservations, TripTiks and TourBook guides. View a list of offices.

Order free information through the Reader Service Card online. Click on Reader Resources.

Discover Colorful characters along the byways of this entertainment mecca nestled in the ozarks.
By Kathryn Buckstaff

troll quietly onto the grounds of Bonniebrook in the early morning mist to hear only the trickling stream. The solitude is why Rose O’Neill returned often to her home north of Branson from her worldwide journeys as the most famed woman illustrator of the early 1900s.

Next, head into the bustle of Branson to meet a grown-up boy who's collected all the toys most of us lost years ago. Then stop nearby to watch an elderly wood-carver whose quota is 600 Santa heads a week.

Finish the tour south of town in the beauty of Long Creek Herb Farm, where one of the nation's most renowned herbalists may offer Lemon Balm Cake with Rose Petal Topping after a private tour of his gardens.

Many of the 7 million visitors who come to Branson each year don't venture far from the main strip of theaters. The attractions are top-notch. But a little exploring off the beaten track uncovers amazing people, the real magic in these wooded hills.

Rediscover Rose at home

Rose O’Neill’s family moved to the Ozarks in 1893 when Rose was 19 and already studying art in New York City. Rose often visited the 14-room house called Bonniebrook on the hillside to rest from the demands of magazine publishers clamoring for her illustrations before she was 20. She traveled extensively in Europe, studying under famed sculptor Rodin and writer Kahil Gibran.

Twice divorced by the time she was 34, she moved permanently to Bonniebrook in 1937 and lived there until she died in Springfield in 1944 after a series of strokes.

It was while living in the three-story home with porches on each floor that she dreamed during an afternoon nap of Kewpies, the elf-like babies that brought her greatest fame and fortune.

O’Neill, one of seven children of artistic parents, is buried at Bonniebrook in a small family cemetery accessible by a creek-side path. There are other trails to wander, including one leading to a waterfall.

Bonniebrook is located approximately nine miles north of Branson off U.S. Highway 65 on Rose O’Neill Road.

He has our lost toys

Tom Beck and his wife, Wendy, have done us a favor. He’s collected all the toys we’ve lost over the years and put them on display at the World's Largest Toy Museum.

Beck often sees women wiping tears from their eyes when they find their favorite doll, and men who linger quietly before pedal fire trucks and cases of farm toys.

Even Beck has emotional moments. One happened when he found at an auction a Ross bicycle like he'd had as a child.

“I used to say I’d give $1,000 to have that bike again,” Beck said. “I got this one for $150.”

The lucky Beck also has in a display case the collection of odd treasures he, like most kids, kept in a box in his bedside drawer.

Beck’s collection ranges from a Tom Mix rocking horse to Stars Wars. And he's happy to help visitors look up the value of some of the toys growing dusty in their basements.

About four years ago, the Becks moved to Branson to unpack the toys they've collected for years. The admission price of $8.95, $6.95 for children and free for youngsters under 6, is good all day. If you get sentimental at dinner and want to take a second look at your old toys, you’re welcome to return.

The museum is at 3609 state Highway 76 west.

Engler carves Santas

Longtime wood-carver Peter Engler can be found at his Peter Engler Designs shop in the Grand Village next to the Grand Palace Theater. The store features the work of more than 60 area woodcarvers, but Engler is the star of this show.

He came to Branson 42 years ago and opened the first craft shop at Silver Dollar City. At one time, Engler operated three shops, including the Engler Block, a craft mall that featured working artisans. He now owns the single shop beaming with the warmth of wood.

But Engler is hung up on Santa Claus. His shop is brimming with cheery Santa faces adorning an array of products or just ready to hang on the tree. He’s most often found at one of the café tables in the courtyard, nose close to a piece of wood that within a few minutes under his deft hand becomes the familiar icon of Christmas.

His Santa faces are sold worldwide through catalogs, and despite his 70 years, Engler still carves many Santas and more than 1,000 ornaments each year.

Peter Engler Designs is located in the Grand Village, 2800 state Highway 76 west.

Mixing herbal potions

When herbalist Jim Long isn’t off on a lecture circuit, he offers tours of the quiet mountainside where he and farm partner, Josh Young, raise more than 400 varieties of herbs. Using dried herbs, they create products ranging from herbal treats for pets to Dream Pillows, said to produce creative, stress-reducing or sensual dreams, depending on the mix of herbs.

In every nook, there is something that charms. Visitors to the garden not only hear about historic medicinal uses for herbs, they also breathe the aroma of rosemary and taste the tang of lemon verbena right off the stem. A tour often ends beneath Jim’s bentwood gazebo where he may serve lucky visitors treats such as Spring Violets Sorbet, a recipe from his newest book, “Fabulous Herb and Flower Sorbets.” Or Lemon Balm Blueberry Cake with Rose Petal Topping featured in his book “Tea and Cakes Under the Trellis.”

Tours are offered by appointment at least a week in advance from May through October. There is a $25 fee for the tour of Long Creek Herb Farm, but guests may redeem the payment for purchases in the Herb Shop.

Long Creek Herb Farm is 12 miles south of Branson near Blue Eye, Mo. It’s best to call ahead for directions.

Kathryn Buckstaff is a new contributor from Hollister, Mo.

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