LR Cultural Touchstone: Mary Fletcher Worthen

JJLR-MaryWorthen-MayMary Fletcher Worthen has cultivated history and music with the same grace and skill as she has cultivated gardens.

Born outside of Scott, she attended Vassar and Little Rock Junior College. After marrying banker Booker Worthen, she has devoted her life to improving Little Rock. Together with Stella Boyle and George Smith, she and Booker helped found the precursor to the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra.  Through its many iterations, she has been a steadfast supporter and is now a life member of the ASO Board.  She has also been a supporter of many other music organizations in Little Rock including the Chamber Music Society of Little Rock, of which she was a founder.

Another hallmark of her involvement is Mount Holly Cemetery Association.  For over 50 years she has served on the board of this body.  Without notes, she can recite the history of practically every resident buried there.  The tours she would lead with the late Peg Newton Smith were hot commodities when auctioned at fundraisers.  These two loving and lifelong friends would sometimes remember things differently. They playfully prodded and needled each other as they wended and winded their way through the headstones and history regaling rapt audiences with yarns of yore, quips and quotes, plus an anecdote or two.  In the decade since Peg passed, Mary has continued to entertain and engage visitors to the cemetery, especially at the annual Mount Holly Rest in Perpetuity (RIP) picnic.

She has also served on the Old State House Museum Board and the Pulaski County Historical Society Board.  As a historian, she literally wrote the book on Trinity Episcopal Cathedral.  She combined her interest in herb gardening and history with the creation of the Medicinal Garden at Historic Arkansas Museum, which is now named in her honor.

Born in 1917, Mary Worthen continues to learn new facts, share her love of history and music, and works to cultivate the next generations of cultural enthusiasts.


Learn about some historic late night killings in the safety of daylight at Old State House

OSH logoAs part of the ongoing Brown Bag Lectures, today the Old State House Museum features “On the Hunt For the Texarkana Moonlight Phantom”

In 1946 a number of murders and assaults were committed late at night in and around Texarkana. The unknown killer was nicknamed by the press the “Moonlight Phantom.” Thirty years later, Arkansas filmmaker Charles B. Pierce loosely based his film The Town That Dreaded Sundown on these incidents. For a special Halloween edition of Brown Bag Lunch Lectures, Brian Irby of the Arkansas History Commission will talk about this spooky, unsettling case that has remained unsolved for almost 70 years.

It will take place starting at noon today at the Old State House Museum.


LR Cultural Touchstone: Joa Stafford-Humphrey

JoaJoa Stafford-Humphrey loved music and poetry.  But her most lasting cultural contribution is the creation of the MacArthur Museum of Arkansas Military History.

She had admired General MacArthur for many years.  In the 1980s, while serving on the Board of the Museum of Science and History, her interest heightened.  The museum (now known as the Museum of Discovery) was at the time located in the Arsenal Building in MacArthur Park. It was in this building that the General had been born.

Later, when the museum was planning to relocate to the River Market district, Joa asked City leaders about the future plans for the building. When there were not any definite plans, she informed them that the building should house a museum about MacArthur and also the state’s military history.  She succeeded in lobbying the Future-Little Rock planning process to include this as plans for the soon-to-be vacant building.

In 1994, the MacArthur Military History Museum commission was established, and Joa was appointed as a founding member.  She led the commission for several years.  Over the years, she lobbied for funds and artifacts as well as recruited other volunteers.  Eventually, the City hired a full-time museum director Stephan McAteer.  The project received a setback in January 1999 when a tornado damaged the building.  However, on May 19, 2001, Joa’s dream became a reality as the new museum opened its doors.

While the museum was important to her, it was not her only interest.  She was active in the Geyer Springs neighborhood and Southwest Little Rock activities. Joa was also known for her New Year’s Day open houses which would attract political leaders as well as her neighbors.

Joa died in July 2013.


Big Boo!-seum Bash Tonight

BooseumLogo_EventIt’s the 19th Annual Big Boo!-seum Bash, where kids can enjoy a safe and fun Halloween Thursday, Oct. 30 from 6 – 8:30 p.m.  Come out and trick-or-treat, play games and have fun at participating area museums!

There will be free candy and Halloween activities for all ages. Visit every participating location to enter in the drawing for a flat-screen TV or a $100 gift card!

* Arkansas Arts Center – 501 East 9th Street

* Historic Arkansas Museum – 200 East 3rd Street

* Little Rock Visitor Center at Curran Hall – 615 East Capitol Avenue
— Arkansas State Capitol will participate on site

* MacArthur Museum of Arkansas Military History – 503 East 9th Street
— Arkansas National Guard Museum will participate on-site

* Mosaic Templars Cultural Center – 9th Street and Broadway
— Little Rock Central High School National Historic Site will participate on-site

* Museum of Discovery – 500 President Clinton Avenue

* Old State House Museum – 300 West Markham Street

* CALS Ron Robinson Theater – 100 River Market Avenue

* Witt Stephens Jr. Central Arkansas Nature Center – 602 President Clinton Avenue
— Arkansas Inland Maritime Museum will participate on-site

LR Cultural Touchstone: Stella Boyle Smith

stellaStella Boyle Smith, who died at the age of 100 in 1994, was well known for her love of music and philanthropy. The Stella Boyle Smith Trust, a trust with a longtime history of supporting the arts and music at the University of Arkansas, has made a $200,000 gift to fund student scholarships.

Stella Boyle Smith was a Little Rock philanthropist and founder of the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra. She lived to be 100, but ensured that her legacy would continue.  In her lifetime, she donated more than $2.5 million to organizations in the music and medical fields.  Since her death, the Stella Boyle Smith Trust has donated more than $5 million.

She was born in Farmington, Mo., into a large, musically inclined family, which moved to Arkansas when she was two. She began singing at the age of three and graduated from high school at 14. In 1922, she moved to Little Rock with her first husband, Dandridge Perry Compton, who died in 1935. Her second husband, George Smith, held various business interests and extensive farms in Woodruff and Arkansas counties, which allowed them to engage in philanthropy. Mr. Smith died in 1946.

In 1923, Smith’s love for music inspired her to start The Musical Group in her living room of her residence at 102 Ridgeway Drive in Little Rock, where she lived until she died. Through several iterations, the group eventually became the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra in 1966. Her initial objective was to establish the symphony as an educational tool for children, and, in 1968, she helped establish the Youth Orchestra. In 1972, the symphony board of directors named her an honorary life member. Smith established a trust fund for the symphony’s permanent endowment in 1985. A loyal friend of music and the symphony, she attended nearly every performance and most rehearsals.

Smith was also a pianist. In 1988, she gave UALR a grand piano as well as an endowed trust of $500,000. UALR renamed its concert hall the Stella Boyle Smith Concert Hall as a tribute to her. That year the university also gave her an honorary doctor of humane letters degree. Interest from the trust provides scholarships each year for music students studying string instruments, piano or voice.

Smith enabled many students around the state to attend college through the more than 200 scholarships that she financed.

Other organizations that have benefited from her generosity include Arkansas Arts Center and Historic Arkansas Museum as well as the University of Arkansas.

Science of The Paranormal tonight at Museum of Discovery’s Science After Dark

arkmod sci 1014Tonight at the Museum of Discovery from 6pm to 8pm, it is the monthly Science After Dark feature for adults.  This month explores the Science of The Paranormal.

Among the features are:

  • Arkansas Paranormal Investigations will demonstrate the equipment and techniques they use in their field.
  • Hack-o-lanterns – tinkering with pumpkins
  • Arkansas Ghost Catchers’ Rhonda Burton will explain how she captures the paranormal.
  • Author, mentalist and side show performer Paul Prater will demonstrate and discuss the anatomy of side show performance including “The Human Blockhead.” He’s going to tell exactly how he drives nails into his face.

Don’t forget to wear your Halloween costumes! Remember, this is an adults only event. Admission is $5. Damgoode Pies will sell pizza by the slice, Stone’s Throw Brewing will sell beer and Juanita’s Cantina will sell cocktails.

Museum of Discovery’s mission is to ignite a passion for science, technology and math in a dynamic, interactive environment.

 Museum Information

Hours of Operation: Tuesday – Saturday: 9 am – 5 pm; Sunday: 1-5 pm; Closed Monday (open summer Mondays  and on major holidays)

Admission: $10 adults; $8 ages 1-12; free under 1; members free

Phone Number: 501.396.7050

LR Cultural Touchstone: Peg Newton Smith

peg_3While the Culture Vulture remains a huge fan of Peg Newton Smith, it is better for this entry to be taken from a tribute written by her longtime friend Bill Worthen.

Peg Newton Smith was a pioneer in the field of history and historic preservation.  A founder of both the Arkansas Museums Association and the Quapaw Quarter Association, Little Rock’s historic preservation organization, she served as a significant resource for many local history researchers and historians.

Born February 10, 1915, Peg Smith came from a family deeply engaged in Arkansas history. Two Arkansas counties – Newton and Hempstead – are named after ancestors.  She married George Rose Smith, himself from a prominent Arkansas family, in 1938. Peg Smith became his most vigorous supporter as George Rose Smith was elected and  reelected to the State Supreme Court, ultimately offering 38 years of service as Associate Justice.

She  enjoyed a sixty-two year career as a volunteer at the Historic Arkansas Museum, where she served as Commission Chair from 1978 to 1983. On the museum’s first day, she was dressed in period garb as a volunteer.  She was named Chair Emerita of the Commission in 2002. Her commitment to history has also included decades of service on the Mount Holly Cemetery Association Board of Directors, where she was famous with Mary Worthen for tours of the cemetery, often hot items at charity auctions.

Because of her instrumental work for the Arkansas Museums Association and the Quapaw Quarter Association, both organizations named significant annual awards after her. She was appointed to the inaugural Review Committee of the State Historic Preservation Program and with architect Edwin Cromwell was the first Arkansan named to the Board of Advisors of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. She was appointed to the Arkansas Bicentennial Commission, was elected president of the Junior League of Little Rock, was a founding member of the Board of the Historic Preservation
Alliance of Arkansas, and was active in the Pulaski County Historical Society.  She also was an early supporter of the MacArthur Museum of Arkansas Military History.

She was honored by many groups, being named 1967 Greater Little Rock Woman of the Year by the Arkansas Democrat, Shield of the Trojan Award winner from the UALR Alumni Association in 1979, Fellow of the Museum of Science and History in 1981, and Candlelight Gala Honoree of the Historic Arkansas Museum in 1994. She became the first recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Arkansas Museums Association in 2003.

Peg Newton Smith died on July 20, 2003.

Because of her love of Arkansas history and Arkansas art, the Historic Arkansas Museum commissioned the pARTy for Peg sculpture which dances near the north entrance to the museum.  pARTy for Peg is not a portrait of our dear friend—it is a sculpture inspired by her spirit. It had been her brainchild for the museum to have a separate gallery devoted to contemporary Arkansas artists. She also founded the Museum Store, filled with Arkansas crafts.