WALNUT RIDGE — It was the biggest thing to ever happen in this small county seat town in northeastern Arkansas. And Carrie Mae Snapp was there.

WALNUT RIDGE — It was the biggest thing to ever happen in this small county seat town in northeastern Arkansas. And Carrie Mae Snapp was there.

She tells her story with the eloquence of one who has repeated it often. There is a gleam in her eye as she speaks of the tears she shed that night. It was 49 years ago when her father picked up the receiver on the black rotary-dial phone in their living room at 3 a.m. Her life was forever changed.

Even at 14, she knew a call that late likely meant someone had died. The whole family was awakened and had gathered around to hear the news.

She listened intently as her dad muttered a few "un huhs." She was surprised when he handed the phone to her.

It was her friend, Gene Matthews. And he was excited.

Voice raised, he told her that earlier that evening, Jack Allison, owner of the local teen hangout, the Polar Freeze, had heard a large plane fly over. That was unusual in the small town in 1964, so Allison sent Gene, Bobby Cole and Richard Thomas to the old World War II training field to investigate.

They found the large plane on the field and they watched from a distance as the Bill Black Band exited the plane. They didn’t know it was the Bill Black Band at the time, but they recognized the next wave behind them. It was the Beatles. Black’s band was fronting the Fab Four on the concert circuit.

It was Sept. 18, 1964, and the world’s most popular entertainers since Elvis Presley were on a landing strip in the Lawrence County seat, ironically not that far from Presley’s hometown of Memphis.

As Carrie Mae listened to Gene, the tears began falling. Just like every other teenage girl in the country, Carrie Mae and her friends were besotted of the Four. As she tells the story she points to a friend seated at the table in her shop, Imagine; Judy Turnbull was there, she says.

Here’s what happened:

Reed Pigman Sr. operated the charter service flying the Four on their concert tour. He also owned a dude ranch at Alton, Mo. John, Paul, George, and Ringo were looking for a brief respite after the concert in Dallas that night. Reed offered them the dude ranch. Walnut Ridge had the only landing field close to the ranch that would accommodate an aircraft of that size. They were to set down in Walnut Ridge, then fly a smaller craft on to Alton.

But there was a problem.

As Carrie tells it, Paul refused to fly in a smaller craft. No puddle jumpers for him. So there was time to kill while waiting on transportation to arrive. Gene and his friends engaged the famous ones in a real shoot ‘em up with cap guns to while away those minutes.

Carried Mae was devastated. She had missed the Beatles.

Her mom was pragmatic. If they landed here, they would have to take off here, she said. And she promised Carrie Mae a Beatles experience.

It was the morning of Sept. 19, and Carrie Mae’s mom, not averse to a brush with fame herself, dressed carefully, applied her make-up and woke Carrie Mae. Soon they were on the way to the restaurant the family owned to find the pilot of the Beatles’ aircraft.

Carrie Mae says it was pretty obvious he was the pilot, being the only man with wings on his shoulder among the few guests there.

Mom picked up a coffee pot and sauntered over to offer a refill. She engaged him in a bit of conversation and finally asked when the Boys were coming back.

He couldn’t tell her.

She asked again after a bit more conversation.

He couldn’t tell her, but eventually the crying Carrie Mae and the persuasive Mom with the coffee pot were told they really shouldn’t go to church the next morning.

Mom put down the coffee pot, collected Carrie Mae and headed for the landing field.

By this time the word had spread all over town. The local teens were pretty much camped out on that landing field. Carrie Mae found a few friends to scream and cry with as they ogled the plane the Beatles flew in.

One of them noticed a side cabin door ajar.

Could they get in the plane? Touch the things the Beatles had touched? Find a souvenir of the visit?

Carrie Mae believes she levitated that afternoon. There’s no other explanation for her sudden ascension to the wing of that aircraft. Friends appeared with her. They jimmied the door and eventually stuffed and pushed one skinny little girl through the crack.

She searched and could only find the four little pillows the airline had provided John, Paul, Ringo, and George — four little pillows upon which their heads had laid.

Carrie Mae had treasure. And she was determined to spend the night at the field. But Mom refused to allow her to be out all night.

Carrie Mae’s eyes were tear-clouded all the way home.

Once there she showed Dad the pillow. Carrie Mae says he gently accused her of theft, but eventually conceded that the little paper throw-away cover was a keeper.

Early the next morning the family returned to the landing field to wait with the rest of the crowd. They were not disappointed. George and Ringo appeared in a small plane and John and Paul arrived in a red Suburban.

Dad Snapp urged Carrie forward and insisted she reach out and touch George Harrison. She did. She reaches toward the photo of George as she relays this bit of her story — a photo her father had taken with a little Kodak Instamatic and now enlarged and mounted — and touches his arm with her index finger. It was the same place she had touched Harrison that day. There’s that smile playing about her mouth again, the memory clear and happy in her eyes.

Carrie Mae has the best of Dad Snapp’s Instamatic photos mounted to show when anyone asks about the day the Beatles came to town. She also has the camera.

September marked the third annual Beatles Fest in Walnut Ridge, a festival that is small and growing. You can get there on the Rock ‘N’ Roll Highway and don’t miss the Beatles on Abbey Road. Next year, she says, they hope to greet Ringo and Paul again. It will be the 50th anniversary of their landing. They’ve begun the process of contacting the two living Beatles, but have gotten no response yet.

Carrie Mae is writing a book about the experience that changed the residents of her small town forever.

As a note to Carrie Mae’s adventure, she recently lost a friend who was there with her, one of the four who kept a little paper pillow cover. It was bequeathed to Carrie Mae for safekeeping.


For Beatles Fest information: beatlesattheridge.com. Arkansas women with a story to share should contact Kathy Satterfield at arkansasherstory@att.net.