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Christ of the Ozarks statue is state's reason to stand tall

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Photographs by Special to the Democrat-Gazette/MARCIA SCHNEDLER

Christ of the Ozarks, on the outskirts of Eureka Springs, is the 10th tallest statue in the United States.

EUREKA SPRINGS -- In terms of superlatives, it's fair to say that Arkansas generally falls short of ranking near the top among the 50 U.S. states.

That's a reason for Arkansans to take pride in Christ of the Ozarks, the skyscraper statue on the outskirts of Eureka Springs.

According to worldatlas.com, which keeps thorough track of such matters, Christ of the Ozarks at 66.5 feet is the tallest statue of Jesus anywhere in the United States.

What's more, by the reckoning of worldatlas.com, the Eureka Springs figure stands as the 10th tallest statue of any kind in the United States. That's a category headed -- no surprise -- by the Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor at 151 feet.

Height aside, Christ of the Ozarks has faced its fair share of detractors since being dedicated in 1966. Some of that disdain has stemmed from the background of the man who conceived the project. He was Gerald L.K. Smith, labeled by the Encyclopedia of Arkansas History & Culture as "an anti-Semitic minister and political agitator in the 1930s."

The online encyclopedia reports that "although Smith likened it to the famous works of Michelangelo, many people have severely criticized the statue, saying that it looks like a 'Gumby Christ' or a milk carton with a tennis ball on top. The statue continues to be a major source of conflict in and outside of Eureka Springs."

Standing on a 320 ton foundation of concrete reinforced by steel, Christ of the Ozarks was designed to withstand winds of up to 500 miles per hour. It has been rumored, perhaps facetiously, that the statue was originally intended to have feet. They allegedly were eliminated to keep the height below the level that would have required a red beacon atop the head to warn airplanes.

The face is 15 feet long, while the arms have a spread of 65 feet from fingertip to fingertip. The figure of Christ consists of 24 layers of white mortar supported by a steel frame. The hair and robes were hand-sculpted. Restoration work was done last year.

Smith, who died in 1976, is buried with his wife, Elna, in Christ of the Ozarks' shadow.

In case you wondered, three of the 10 tallest U.S. statues can be found in Texas. No. 5 is Tuong Phat Quan Am, at the Vietnamese Buddhist Center in Sugarland. No. 8 is a sky-high giraffe sculpture at the Dallas Zoo. No. 9, A Tribute to Courage, is a giant figure of Sam Houston in Huntsville.

Among the rest, No. 2 is Pegasus and Dragon, a mythological scene at Gulfstream Park and Casino in Hallandale, Fla. No. 3, in Butte, Mont., is the religiously themed Our Lady of the Rockies. No. 4 is an oil worker, the Golden Driller in Tulsa.

No. 6 is a brachiosaurus dinosaur at the Children's Museum of Indianapolis,. No. 7, in Arlington, Va., is the revered U.S. Marine Corps Memorial that depicts the Iwo Jima flag raising.

And No. 10 stands tall right here in Arkansas.

Christ of the Ozarks is part of a Christian-theme complex that also offers the Holy Land Tour, Bible Museum and Sacred Arts Museum, as well as the Great Passion Play. The seasonal religious pageant opened its 2017 season last weekend and runs through Oct. 28 with a total of 82 performances. For more information, visit greatpassionplay.org or call (479) 253-9200.

Weekend on 05/11/2017

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