Balls To The Walls

Balls To The Walls

Mulhollans hope visitors will roll on in to fledgling museum


Starting way back in 1932, thousands of people made their way to see Rock City — probably having no idea what they’d find there. But some 900 barns approaching Chattanooga, Tenn., were painted with signs encouraging vacationing families in their black four-door Buick sedans — and later, their wood-paneled station wagons — to make their way to Rock City Gardens: “When you see Rock City, you see the best.” “Millions have seen Rock City. Have you?” “See 7 states from beautiful Rock City.” Or the simplest and most classic: “See Rock City.”

A variety of balls and spheres are on display in the living room that also doubles as the Ozark Ball Museum of Kelly and Donna Muhollan, who are the folk music duo Still on the Hill, in Fayetteville. (NWA Democrat-Gazette/David Gottschalk)

There are no signs leading tourists to “have a ball at the Ozark Ball Museum” or “roll in to see millions of balls” — yet. But if Donna and Kelly Mulhollan have their way, there will be. Their collection — which started with three or four weathered wooden croquet balls — is their roadside retirement plan.

“About 30 years ago, Kelly began a small collection of spheres that he liked,” Donna Mulhollan starts the story. “His first and favorite was a counterweight that sat on a cable to an old steam ship. It is iron and very heavy with a channel for the cable and a screw to tighten it down. He didn’t know what it was until he visited the Arabia Steamboat Museum in Kansas City and saw a sphere just like his!”

Although they’re chatting on the front porch this sunny afternoon — safely socially distanced from a reporter — it’s the living room of the Mulhollans’ home in Fayetteville that is also known as the Ozark Ball Museum. It is filled floor to ceiling and wall to wall with treasures Kelly and Donna have collected over the years from thrift stores, yard sales and donors. There are billiard balls; smooth, stone balls; a fuzzy sphere made out of a friend’s cat’s hair — even a heavy iron ball and chain from Alcatraz, a gift from Donna’s sister. Their museum was featured in 2011 in American Profile, a magazine insert included in newspapers nationwide, which served to cement the Mulhollans’ home as one of those Ozark curiosities that they love so much.

Asked to point out the biggest ball in the collection, Donna Mulhollan “tee hees.”

A variety of balls and spheres are on display in the living room that also doubles as the Ozark Ball Museum of Kelly and Donna Muhollan, who are the folk music duo Still on the Hill, in Fayetteville. (NWA Democrat-Gazette/David Gottschalk)

“Our house was built on a gigantic sphere. It’s amazing,” she says. “We tell kids that, and they want to see it and then we say, ‘It’s the Earth!’

“But the biggest sphere is the Wishing Ball in our front yard,” she adds more seriously. “It was a round propane tank that a friend from Texas brought us as a surprise! It had appendages and valves that needed to be sawed off. We painted it like a globe and wrote Wishing Ball on it. Near the curb there is a kiosk with pens and paper, and folks can put a wish for the world in the ball. There is a cork on the far side of the sphere — simply take out the cork, put in the wish and re-cork it.”

For years, they remember, the Mulhollans numbered their balls around 2,000 — until another gift upped the ante tremendously.

“Last year, John Ward — one of our best contributors — gave us an industrial sample of buckyballs and documentation,” Kelly Mulhollan says. “In the tiny vial there are a billion times a billion buckyballs! So now we have BILLIONS of balls.”

Kelly and Donna Muhollan, who are the folk music duo Still on the Hill in their living room in Fayetteville that also doubles as the Ozark Ball Museum. (NWA Democrat-Gazette/David Gottschalk)

Northwest Arkansans recognize the name “Buckyball” from Leo Villareal’s sculpture at Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art up the road. But what the Mulhollans were given are carbon atoms in microscopic formations that look like hollow soccer balls. Most of the potential uses for buckyballs are too complex for this story, but they pose no danger to visitors or neighbors. That was not true of another collectible.

“We bought a blue metal ball just a bit larger than a golf ball at an outdoor flea market in Florida,” Kelly Mulhollan remembers. “We had it for years and showed it to many friends until … until we heard a story on NPR about a worldwide effort to ban the use of cluster bombs. It seems that each cluster bomb is full of hundreds of little blue ‘bomblets’ that fail to detonate. Their odd blue toylike styling is irresistible to children in countries where we have dropped these things, and they continue to result in many tragic mishaps.

“We realized immediately that we had one of these bomblets and called 911 right away,” Kelly Mulhollan goes on. “Within minutes, we had the Springdale bomb squad, the police and the fire department at the house. Very exciting. It turns out that it was, in fact, a loaded cluster bomblet, and they took it away for disposal. It’s a dangerous hobby, ball collecting!”

Right now, the Mulhollans are not really entertaining museum visitors — not even the bomb squad — but they are entertaining those plans mentioned earlier. Kelly only had about a dozen spheres when he met Donna, he says. “She introduced the idea of BULK and the retirement plan.”

“Being folk musicians, there is no retirement plan, and so we figured the Ball Museum could be that for us,” Donna says. “We used to charge 50 cents or bring a ball. We might need to up the entrance fee to whatever amount folks want to donate if it really will be our retirement fun(d). We’ll just have a donation jar available and any amount appreciated.”

The front yard of Kelly and Donna Muhollan, who are the folk music duo Still on the Hill, is decorated with a variety of spheres in Fayetteville. Their living room doubles as the Ozark Ball Museum. (NWA Democrat-Gazette/David Gottschalk)

“For us, like so many people, the coronavirus shut down every gig we had in the foreseeable future,” adds Kelly. “We make our living solely as musicians — both of us — and even after things open up, it will be a long time before we can book shows. S0 — when the dust settles and we have the ‘all clear’ and feel safe enough to let folks in— we will be opening the Ozark Ball Museum for mini house concerts — maybe no more than 10 to 15 people.

“We have a brand new show about birds that we have not gotten to perform yet, due to the coronavirus,” he adds. “We are excited to share it, so we will be taking reservations when we get to that point. Actually, this will be a retirement plan of sorts because we are lovin’ staying closer to home these days!”



Ozark Ball Museum

WHEN — By appointment

WHERE — Fayetteville

COST — By donation

INFO — Email


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Ozark Ball Museum

Virtual Tour

Visit the Ozark Ball Museum with Kelly and Donna Mulhollan via this video on YouTube”

Categories: Cover Story