Christ of the Ozarks
Eureka Springs, Arkansas
The Christ of the Ozarks statue was dedicated in 1966, the first attraction built for the Great Passion Play religious theme park. It stands atop Magnetic Mountain, facing west, "blessing" the town of Eureka Springs below, a gesture of thanks from Gerald L.K. Smith, the man who had searched the country looking for a town that would allow its construction.
Christ of the Ozarks is the third-tallest Jesus in the world (surpassed only by a couple of mega-Messiahs in South America). Already perched at an altitude of 1,500 feet, it stands 67 feet tall. According to rumor, or legend, it originally had feet, but they had to be removed to lower the statue to its current height -- otherwise Jesus by law would have had a red warning beacon bolted to his head.
To build this big Jesus, Smith hired Emmet Sullivan, who claimed to have been part of the team that sculpted Mt. Rushmore -- although his precise role is obscure. Sullivan's biggest previous solo work was the menagerie of prehistoric lizards in Dinosaur Park in Rapid City, South Dakota. He was an odd choice for a colossal Christ, and his work drew mixed reviews. Smith proclaimed that the Christ of the Ozarks was more beautiful than Michelangelo's Jesus. Critics have called it a milk carton with a tennis ball stuck on top, or Willie Nelson in a dress.
We asked some visiting tourist ladies what they thought of Christ of the Ozarks. They told us that its eyes were "dead" and "lacked passion" (though we've been hearing that gripe from Christian touristdom since Mel Gibson's 2004 film upped the passion ante). Vernon Payne, our guide, admitted, "I don't really like the statue. The features are harsh and hard. But it's a memorial to our Savior, and for that it's fine."
What Christ of the Ozarks lacks in warmth, he makes up for in bulk. Sullivan built him with more than 2 million pounds of mortar and steel. The blessed head alone weighs 7.5 tons. According to "The Story of the Building of the Great Statue," available in the Great Passion Play gift shop, as many as three cars can be hung on either of its outstretched wrists without damage. Christ of the Ozarks is not built for cuddling, but for of an end-of-the-world smackdown with Satan.
Vernon Payne told us that returning visitors are sometimes confused about the statue. They believe that it used to revolve, or that it once had an elevator to the top or a restaurant inside its base (none of these are true). Visitors have also reported that the Messiah's eyes move -- but this is explained as the movement of the sun, not a miracle.
The Great Passion Play theme park keeps Jesus open and available 24/7 as a free attraction. On the way to see him, visitors can visit a slab of the Berlin Wall and a hand-made replica of the Liberty Bell along the road. And they can pay their respects to Smith and his wife, who are buried within the shadow cast by their mighty Messiah.