Welcome to Springfield, Missouri, birthplace of Route 66, home to Bass Pro Shop, and site of the Ozark’s first (and only) cobra hunt. As with many cities across the South, Springfield’s well-known claims to fame are just a hint of the unique flavor that flourishes there. Come along and discover the quirky delights—from Hillbilly awards to snake-charming trucks—that lie just off the beaten path of the Main Street of America.
- Drive on Thru Though Red’s original eatery was entitled “Red’s Hamburgers,” he miscalculated measurements when ordering a new, t-shaped sign. When the sign arrived, it wouldn’t fit beneath the telephone wire strung above it, so Red—ever the innovator—simply removed the last two letters.
Move over, Golden Arches. Almost thirty years before Ronald McDonald cranked open his first drive-thru window, there was another redhead on top of the game. In 1947, Springfield’s Sheldon “Red” Chaney and his wife Miss Julia were serving sacks of sooper, senior, and junior hamburgers to flocks of hungry travelers just off Route 66. Ever the innovator (check out the story of his sign above), Red cut a window in the side of his famous “Hamburg” restaurant, allowing his hurried customers to order, eat, and get back on the road without ever getting out of their car. The drive-thru window was born.
- Charmed, I’m Sure Though Springfield’s cobra population remained a mystery for years, a young man named Carl Burnett claimed responsible. Angry at the untimely death of his pet fish, the boy had taken out his frustration on a local pet store owner, releasing the shop’s snakes onto Route 66.
The Ozarks are no stranger to wild animals; bears, bobcats, and Big-Eared Bats are all creatures that once lurked around its campfires. But there’s one critter that was almost Springfield’s undoing: a cobra. Or rather, lots of them. In the summer of 1953, cobras started mysteriously cropping up across the city in such great numbers that the “Big Ozark Cobra Hunt” caught national attention. Residents took on the new threat with traditional Southern gusto, employing hoes, cars, jacks, guns, rocks, and even teargas to dispatch the animals, but finally resorted to hiring an outsider—a snake charmer from Florida—to finish the job. In a stroke of improbable genius, the man rode through the city broadcasting flute music from his truck, successfully luring the last two cobras ever seen in Springfield out of hiding.
- A New Honorary Degree Among those honored with the Ozark Hillbilly Medallion are President Harry Truman, J.C. Penny, and Johnny Olson
Out in less civilized portions of the country, calling someone a “hillbilly” might be considered fightin’ words, but here in the Ozarks, the label is a designation of the highest honor. So high do they hold the standard of hillybillyism in Springfield, in fact, that the city has historically granted the honorary title to visiting dignitaries—poor souls unfortunate enough to have lived their entire lives without having earned the moniker themselves. In the past, the official Ozark Hillbilly Medallion has been awarded in prestigious, annual ceremonies to generals, entrepreneurs, and even presidents.
- I Fought the Law . . . Squirrels roam free of worry in Springfield
Bear-toters, book-hoarders, and fortune-tellers beware; you’re time in the Queen City may be severely limited. In addition to the ordinary laws you’ll find across the state of Missouri—strict rules against “worrying squirrels,” for instance, or driving with uncaged bears (even the “Show Me” state must have limits)—Springfield carries its own set of peculiar mandates. No fortunetelling of any kind is legally tolerated (and yes—in case you were wondering—this includes prophecy, necromancy, mindreading, and the use of charms), nor are folks who fail to return library books. Frightening or disturbing sports officials? Officially out. Cursing? Not allowed. Cursing in a skating rink? Specifically forbidden.
- The Spirit of a Name The history of Springfield’s name is more interesting than most
There might be thirty-four towns that bear the name of Springfield scattered across the United States, but it’s doubtful that many of them found their name in such an unconventional manner as the one in Missouri. As is to be expected, there is some speculation that the town got its name from its proximity to eponymous features of the landscape (it was near a spring, in a field), but where’s the fun in that? Our favorite rendition of the naming ceremony features a man named James Wilson who, so heartsick for his native Springfield, Massachusetts, offered free whiskey to anyone who cast their vote to honor his new home with the old one’s name.