Little Rock Culture Vulture

Cultural events, places and people in the Little Rock area


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Little Rock Look Back: First edition of ARKANSAS GAZETTE to be published in Little Rock

First LR ArkGaz front

First LR ArkGaz insideAfter months of planning, on December 29, 1821, the first edition of ARKANSAS GAZETTE to be published in Little Rock came off the press.  Due to a shortage of paper supplies, it was only a two page edition, instead of the four pages which publisher William Woodruff had been customarily printing.

Because the capitol of the Arkansas Territory had moved from Arkansas Post to Little Rock earlier in 1821, Woodruff wanted to relocate as well.  Not only did it make sense for a newspaperman to be close to the seat of government for purposes of stories, there was a financial reason for the move, too.  Woodruff wanted to continue to be the contracted official publisher of government records.  If he stayed in Arkansas Post, someone else would certainly have opened up an operation in Little Rock to do the printing.

The first Little Rock edition featured the usual mix of national news (often culled from other newspapers once they arrived at Woodruff’s establishment), local stories, and advertisements.  One of the stories was a letter from General Andrew Jackson to the citizens of the Florida Territory.  There was also a dispatch from Pernambuco, Brazil.

Because it was the first issue from Little Rock, Woodruff took time to write about Little Rock.  He noted it was located on the south side of the Arkansas River on a “beautiful gravelly bluff” with picturesque views of the river and surrounding areas.  He noted the territorial and federal government offices which were located in Little Rock.

Though the Gazette ceased publication in 1991, the 1821 publication of that paper in Little Rock set the stage for more than just that one newspaper.  It marks a continual presence of newspaper and journal publication in Little Rock for 196 years.

 

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Little Rock Look Back: Frederick Kramer

Mayor KramerOn December 29, 1829, future Little Rock Mayor Frederick G. Kramer was born in Halle, Prussia.  In 1848, he immigrated to the United States.  Kramer enlisted in the United States Army and served in the Seventh Infantry until his discharge at Fort Gibson, Indian Territory, in July 1857. After his discharge, Kramer settled in Little Rock, and became a citizen in 1859. He married Adaline Margaret Reichardt, an emigrant from Germany, in 1857. They had six children Louisa, Mattie, Emma, Charles, Fred, and Henry.

From 1869 to 1894, Kramer served on the Little Rock School Board.  He was the first School Board president.  Among his other civic activities were serving as president of the Masonic Mutual Relief Association, a founder of the Mount Holly Cemetery Commission, and a founder of Temple B’nai Israel.  In 1875 he and F. A. Sarasin opened a mercantile business. Kramer later became the president of the Bank of Commerce.

Frederick Kramer was elected Mayor of Little Rock in November 1873.  He served until April 1875, when a new Arkansas Constitution took effect.

From November 1869 through March 1875, the City Council President presided over City Council meetings and signed ordinances, performing many of the duties formerly ascribed to the Mayor.  As such, during his Mayoral tenure from 1873 to 1875, Kramer was the Chief Executive of the City but did not preside over Council Meeting.  When he had served on the City Council, however, Kramer had been elected President of the Council and had presided over Council meetings from October 1871 to May 1872

Kramer was returned to the Mayoralty in April 1881 and served three more terms leaving office in April 1887.  His tenure as an Alderman and as Mayor overlapped with his service on the school board.

A new Little Rock elementary school which opened in 1895 on Sherman Street was named the Fred Kramer Elementary School in his honor.  Though the building’s bell tower was removed in the 1950s, the structure still stands today.  It now houses loft apartments.

Frederick G. Kramer died on September 8, 1896, in Colorado Springs, Colorado.  A few months earlier, he had traveled there with his wife and daughter Emma to recuperate from an illness. He is buried in Oakland Cemetery.


Little Rock Look Back: Robinson Auditorium groundbreaking 80 years ago today

 

122437 GroundbreakOn December 24, 1937, at 11:30 a.m., Little Rock Mayor R. E. Overman, Ewilda Gertrude Miller Robinson (the widow of Senator Joseph Taylor Robinson) and  Alexander Allaire of the PWA turned dirt to participate in the brief groundbreaking ceremony for Little Rock’s municipal auditorium.  That morning, the Arkansas Gazette ran a brief story on the upcoming groundbreaking.  The story mentioned that the building would be named in memory of the late beloved Arkansas politician.  This appears to be the first public pronouncement of the Robinson name for this civic structure.

Among others in attendance at the groundbreaking were Mrs. Charles Miller (sister-in-law of Mrs. Robinson), Mr. and Mrs. Grady Miller (brother and sister-in-law of Mrs. Robinson), the mayor’s wife, the three architects (George Wittenberg, Lawson Delony and Eugene John Stern), and D. H. Daugherty and Will Terry of the City’s Board of Public Affairs.

Construction had to start by January 1, 1938, in order to receive PWA funds.  By breaking ground on December 24, there was over a week to spare.  The site had been selected in late October 1937, and the purchase had not been finalized.  But the PWA did give permission for the City to let a contract for excavation, demolition and filling on the site.

The groundbreaking took place at the corner of Garland and Spring Streets which was on the northeast corner of the block set aside for the auditorium.  Today, Spring Street does not extend north of Markham; the street was closed to make way for the parking structure and what is now the Doubletree Hotel.  Garland Street is basically an alley that runs parallel to Markham north of City Hall, Robinson Auditorium and the Doubletree Hotel.


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Little Rock Look Back: The Central High Chili Incident

Minnijean Brown Trickey & Dent Gitchel at 2006 chili cook-off (Richelle Antipolo/ Flickr)

On December 17, 1957, a chili bowl was dropped in the Central High cafeteria.

It was, of course, not just any chili bowl.  It was dropped by Minnijean Brown as she was being harassed by white students who were trying to make it difficult for her to navigate the cafeteria.

Balancing food on a cafeteria tray and maneuvering around narrow paths around chairs and tables can be difficult in the best of circumstances. But doing it when you are being harassed for the umpteenth time that day makes it even more of a challenge.

Reports differ as to whether she dropped the tray or let it slip. In the pandemonium of the moment, it may be six of one, half-dozen the other.  But what is not disputable is that the chili fell on a junior who was sitting at a table and not taking part in the harassment. That junior was future attorney and UA Little Rock Bowen School of Law professor Dent Gitchel.

While no one had stepped in to stop the pestering, after Minnijean had dropped the chili on Dent, officials swooped in and sent both students to the principal’s office.  Dent was sent home to change clothes.  Minnijean was suspended for six days.  This incident and suspension would be fodder for her foes who pressed for her eventual expulsion in February 1958.  (The student other student involved in that incident – a white female – was only suspended and later returned for the remainder of the school year.)

Minnijean and Dent went their separate ways.  While many knew about the chili episode, the name of the student who was on the receiving end had become forgotten.  It was not until many years later that his name was once again attached to it.  In 2005, he was named in an article in an historical journal.  By that time, he was a retired law school professor.  Later that year, he gave a brief interview to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette about it.

In March 2006, the Central High Museum Inc. board organized a chili cook-off as a fundraiser.  Minnijean and Dent reunited for the first time since December 1957 to serve as co-chairs and judges of the cook-off.  The other judge was Central High principal Nancy Rousseau.  There were nine chilies made by Little Rock area celebrities:  Mark Abernathy of Loca Luna and Bene Vita, “Broadway” Joe Booker of Citadel Communications, Dave Williams of Dave’s Place, Max Brantley of Arkansas Times, Michael Selig of Vermillion Water Grille, Pamela Smith of KATV, Channel 7, Sanford Tollette of the Joseph Pfeifer Kiwanis Camp, Scott McGehee of Boulevard Bread Co. and state Sen. Tracy Steele.

Ten years ago – on the fiftieth anniversary of the incident — NPR did a story and interviewed by Minnijean and Dent.  In various interviews, Minnijean has commented that she told officials that day she knew that Dent was an innocent bystander.  In the few public statements he has made, Dent has commented that while he did not cause problems for the Nine, he also was not one of the very,very few white students who befriended them.  Today, they both focus their comments on the continued need for reconciliation as well as facing up to the issues in order to move forward.

So have a bowl of chili today. And think about how far we have come.  And how very far we still have to go.


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Little Rock Look Back: Launch of the 1944 USS Little Rock

Today (December 16, 2017) in Buffalo, New York, the new USS Little Rock (LCS) will be commissioned.  Only yards away from the new ship will be the original USS Little Rock.  It is now a museum in Buffalo since it retired from the US Naval fleet.

On August 27, 1944, the first USS Little Rock was launched in Philadelphia at the Cramp Shipbuilding Company shipyards.  A 10,000 ton Cleveland Class light cruiser, it first touched water in the Delaware River.

The sponsor of the ship (who broke the champagne bottle on the hull) was Mrs. Ruth May Wassell, the wife of Little Rock alderman Sam Wassell.  The main address was delivered by Congressman Brooks Hays, whose district included Little Rock.  A crowd of 5,000 was gathered to witness the launch.

According to the Associated Press Congressman Hays called light cruisers, “the hottest item of naval combat.”

The congressman further elaborated:

The people of Little Rock are proud to have such a ship as this bear their city’s name.” said Mr. Hays. “Even those of us who know little about the classification of naval vessels know that the cruisers have distinguished themselves in the Pacific war and that this is the outstanding type of combat vessel for that area. The navy men tell us that the cruiser is the ‘work horse of the navy.’ big enough to go into any battle, fast enough to lead any task force.

Carrying, as it has, the heaviest load in the Pacific where the greatest battles have taken place, the cruisers have added luster to naval history. We hope that, in the time remaining before our enemies are put down, the Little Rock will take her place along side the Boise, the San Francisco, the Helena,and the Chicago, preserving the prestige of the cruisers.

We are glad to honor the workmen and the company for which they work.  I am sure we are all impressed with the spirit of teamwork which produced the results we observe today.  In March 1943, the keel was laid and for 18 months materials for the ship have come from everywhere. The taxes to pay for it will be assessed against men and women of great and little resources. Teamwork from beginning to end did the job.

So with the war.  A glorious victory lies ahead, but there is much remaining to be done. Only teamwork can supply the dynamic power yet needed to complete that victory. Every ship launching is a reminder of the power that comes to a people who work together to achieve.”

Other guests at the ceremony included United States Senator John L. McClellan and Congressman and senator-elect J. William Fulbright. Alderman Sam Wassell was also present.  He and his wife hosted a dinner for the Arkansas delegation and other dignitaries the night before the christening while they were in Philadelphia.

At the request of the Secretary of the Navy, Little Rock Mayor Charles Moyer designated Mrs. Wassell for the honor of sponsoring the USS Little Rock. There are not details as to why Mayor Moyer made the designation.  A first cousin of Alderman Wassell, Dr. Corydon Wassell had been an early World War II hero and was a favorite of President Franklin Roosevelt.  Paramount had released a movie about him earlier in 1944. That may have been a reason for the designation.

The Little Rock City Council sent a bouquet of roses to the ceremony, fitting since the city’s nickname at the time was “City of Roses.” After the launch, Mrs. Wassell sent a telegram to Mayor Moyer and the Council

Thanks a million for the beautiful bouquet of red roses. They made the christening of the cruiser Little Rock perfect. I wish it could have been possible for you to have been present.  The cruiser is 600 feet long and will have a crew of 1,200 men.  I was so proud of our city.  Little Rock has something to be proud of.

The USS Little Rock (CL-92) was commissioned at the Philadelphia Navy Yard, on 17 June 1945.  After service during the end of World War II and the post-war era, it was decommissioned on June 24, 1949. After being refit, it was recommissioned on June 3, 1960. It was permanently decommissioned on November 22, 1976.  The following year it was towed to Buffalo where it has been a museum since then.


Little Rock Look Back: STAR WARS opens in Little Rock

As a third grade boy, I remember devouring the novelized version of Star Wars in 1977. I read everything I could about the movie. I owned the two disc London Symphony Orchestra soundtrack on LP.

I was a few months late to Star Wars figures, but Christmas of 1977 and birthday of 1978 did feature them as gifts. (I promptly lost my Sandcrawler weapon at my grandparents’ house on Christmas day.)

In those early days, I was excited by the idea of NINE Star Wars movies. Then, I gave up hope when George Lucas abandoned them after Return of the Jedi. When the prequels were announced during my adulthood, I was excited. Only to be disappointed by the actual movies (though admittedly they did get better by episode 3).

Then in 2015, the day my eighth grade self dreamed of, is here! What happens AFTER Return of the Jedi.  I saw The Force Awakens and flashed back to those early days. (Cynics might say it was because so much of Episode 7 was a retread of Episode 4.)  And today (after sneak peaks last night), The Last Jedi opens.

In honor of Star Wars: The Last Jedi opening day, here is a flash back to the Arkansas Gazette ad in June 1977 when the first film hit Little Rock (a full month after it first opened in New York).

It did not reach Little Rock until June 24, 1977. Given its status as a sleeper hit, it is no surprise that it came into Little Rock largely unnoticed.

In that day, major films opening on a Friday would be heralded the previous Sunday with a substantial advertisement. The first Star Wars ad ran on Thursday, June 23, 1977, the day before it opened. By contrast, Herbie Goes to Monte Carlo, which would play at the same theatre, had a large ad on Sunday, June 19.

While Star Wars would seem like the perfect movie for the great UA Cinema 150, it did not play there. The film playing at the 150 was A Bridge Too Far, which was, at least an action movie. Star Wars did not even open at a UA theatre. It opened at the ABC Cinema 1 & 2 (located at Markham and John Barrow) and at the McCain Mall Cinema. (The ABC Cinema location is now home to discount cellphone and discount clothing businesses; a cinema has returned to McCain Mall but in a different location.)

The day it opened, there was a fairly large ad which incorporated the familiar beefcake Luke, Leia in flowing gowns, and Darth Vader mask. On the Sunday after it opened, there was a slightly smaller ad with the same artwork. McCain Mall also ran a small add for both Star Wars and Herbie. It noted that Star Wars was a film that management “does not recommend for children.”


Little Rock Look Back: On Dec 4, 1939, a dozen LR aldermen held in contempt of court

The Pulaski County Courthouse where the 12 Little Rock aldermen were arraigned.

On Monday, December 4, 1939, a dozen of Little Rock’s aldermen reported to the county jail to serve sentences for contempt of court.  The previous Monday, the twelve council members had voted against an ordinance which had been ordered by the judge in an improvement district matter.  The remaining aldermen (there were 18 total aldermen at the time) had either voted in the affirmative or had been absent.  Because the twelve had refused to change their votes since that meeting, the judge ordered them jailed.

At the hearing, the judge brought each alderman up one by one. This seemed to be in order to further embarrass the aldermen.  The judge also interviewed Mayor J. V. Satterfield and City Clerk H. C. “Sport” Graham to put on the record that they had counseled the aldermen to obey the judge’s order.

Carolyn Conner, the only female alderman, was not jailed but was fined $50. The eleven men were held at the jail, though not in cells.  Newspaper photos showed the men playing cards in a conference room.  In order to get out of jail, the judge gave the aldermen the chance to change their votes.

Mayor J. V. Satterfield pleaded with the judge to let the aldermen leave the jail to attend the meeting at City Hall, which was nearby.  He requested that the city be allowed to maintain “what little dignity remained” by not having the meeting at the jail.  The judge relented, and the aldermen were escorted by deputies to the council chambers.

After the aldermen changed their votes, the judge suspended the remainder of their sentences.  The sentences were not vacated, they were only suspended.  The judge admonished them that should they attempt to reverse their reversal, he would throw them back in jail.