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'Dairy Queen Detective' solves photo mystery from California to Hot Springs

Updated: Jul 2, 2021

Word of the day: Zeal

1. Eagerness and ardent interest in pursuit of something.

Merriam-Webster. (n.d.). Zeal. In dictionary. Retrieved July 2, 2021, from

"The" Photo

When Clare B. Richardson would take his son to their local Dairy Queen after Cub Scouts in Southern California in the early 2000's, a black and white photo showcasing a slice of DQ nostalgia would captivate him each time. The more he admired the photo, the more he longed to know more of its history. Where was the photo taken? When was the photo taken? Why was this photo taken? The company itself did not know the photo's origin, so this set the "Dairy Queen Detective" on a passion project that eventually led him to Hot Springs.

For two years, Richardson would go to his local DQ to examine the photo. The license plates on the vintage automobiles were his first clues. From this, he narrowed down the photo was taken in Arkansas, and concluded it was taken in 1953. This is when he took a trip to Arkansas.

Other clues he had was that the DQ was located next to a fire station and there were hills in the background. He started in Fort Smith. After realizing there was no current or previous location of a DQ next to a fire station there, he continued his search in Northwest Arkansas. This is where he ran into a woman who said her minister is from Hot Springs, and said the photo looked like it was taken in Hot Springs.

After years of searching, Hot Springs is where he finally found a DQ at 708 West Grand Ave. right next to an old fire station*. The original DQ structure pictured had been torn down, but behind it a new one had been built, and is the DQ that stands there today. He contacted the company and told them he had found the location of the photo. But he wanted to find out more, like the date it was taken, and why it was taken. He began searching local newspaper archives from 1953. A license plate expert out of Colorado who caught wind of the project later corrected his research to 1951. The two became friends, and met in Hot Springs on the property. The accurate newspaper search then began, and this led Richardson to finding the date of the photo was taken July 11, 1951.

Almost more interestingly, his research in the newspaper archives led him to learning why the photo was taken.

"I found some pictures ... and it says 'Coming soon, Curly the Clown,'" he said. "And Curly was the Dairy Queen's mascot back in those days, because of the little curl on the top with the ice cream. So anyway, the (July) 7th and 8th and 9th and 10th (newspaper issues) all have that same 'Curly's coming. Look for more details' in each issue. So I looked at each issue, and finally when I got to the 11th, there was a full page ad.

"The whole idea, what I've come to find out, is there was a company in Hot Springs called NASCO, National Animated Sign Company, and they had the bright idea of making a mechanical sign that waved to people. This particular sign, it waved up and down 43 times a minute, so they had the bright idea if they could introduce it, especially have a big event over it ... their goal (was) to get Dairy Queen to get one of those at every one of their thousand stores they already had. That would be a huge sell for them."

Unfortunately for NASCO, DQ decided to ditch the idea of having a clown for a mascot. Unfortunately for DQ, 10 years later McDonald's took to the idea of having a clown for a mascot, and it became wildly successful.

This research project that Richardson has devoted more than 20 years of his life to is viewed by him as a massive piece of Hot Springs' history, yet it "doesn't get a yawn" from the locals. He's seen the single photo from almost 70 years ago adored by people in Dairy Queen's across the country, and even in Canada. Yet, it's not even showcased in Hot Springs' DQ.

"History is just teeming right there from that spot, and yet no one pays attention," Richardson said. "The best I can get from them is a yawn. ... I hate to see all the famous things they (Hot Springs) have, and something as noteworthy as this is entirely overlooked."

*The building that once held the fire station is now Riley's Art Glass Studio.

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