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Say “Ozarks” to someone from another part of the country, and a likely response will be. “Oh, sure, I’ve heard of it. Branson.”

Whether you love it or hate it, Branson is the face of the Ozarks to much of the rest of the world, and it has been so pretty much ever since The Shepherd of the Hills.

Branson is mourning right now, after the appalling tragedy on Table Rock Lake in which seventeen people died. The investigation into the cause of the sinking is just beginning, but the inevitable procession of recriminations, lawsuits, settlements, and pain stretches clearly before us.

Branson’s mourning is for the drowning victims, of course, but it is also mourning for itself; an accident like this breaks the veneer of Branson. The religiosity, the patriotism, the ensemble entertainment, all combine to assure tourists that Branson is, above all things, safe. Nothing upsetting or untoward will ever happen to you in Branson. And now this has happened. Nervous statements by residents in news stories combine grief toward the victims with apprehension about the incident’s effect on future bookings.

The Branson economic ecosystem has always been fragile, as illustrated by this recent NPR story about the troubles of those who perform the many necessary services required by this tourist town, the hotel housekeepers, lawn maintenance workers, restaurant servers, and such. A town that depends on large numbers of visitors from distant cities, who come in search of a bucolic myth, is always one incident away from a crippling blow. Let’s just hope that Branson finds its feet again before this accident brings a disastrous ripple effect of shutdowns and layoffs onto those least able to weather them.

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