Women Making History: Bernie Babcock

Julia Burnelle “Bernie” Smade Babcock was an author and museum founder.  When her husband died, leaving her with five children, she starting writing for money. She published several temperance novels and later wrote for the Arkansas Democrat.  She also published a magazine, wrote plays which were performed in New York, and authored a poetry anthology.

She later became recognized as an expert on Abraham Lincoln and wrote several books about him, as well as other historical figures.  For her writing skills, she became the first Arkansas woman to be included in Who’s Who in America.

In 1927, after professional curmudgeon H. L. Mencken wrote derisively of Arkansas, she decided to start a museum. The Museum of Natural History and Antiquities was first located in a Main Street storefront.  In 1929, she “gave the City of Little Rock a Christmas present” by giving the museum to the city.  It was relocated to the unfinished third floor of City Hall, with her as its employee. After being closed during part of the Great Depression, she relocated the museum to the Arsenal Building and reopened it as the Museum of Natural History.  She was involved in the efforts to rename City Park in honor of Douglas MacArthur (who had been born there) and welcomed him when he came to Little Rock in 1952.

Following her retirement in 1953, she moved to Petit Jean Mountain where she wrote and painted.

After more name changes and a relocation, her museum is now known as the Museum of Discovery and is an anchor in the River Market district.

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Little Rock Look Back: MacArthur Returns

MacArthur and Mayor Remmel

General MacArthur and Mayor Remmel

On Sunday, March 23, 1952, General Douglas MacArthur made his only post-infancy visit to Little Rock. He had previously been scheduled to visit Mississippi, and Little Rock Mayor Pratt Remmel had persuaded him to add a visit to Little Rock to the agenda. The fact that Little Rock now had a Republican mayor had apparently piqued the General’s interest.

General MacArthur, accompanied by his wife and son as well as several journalists and members of his military retinue, arrived at Little Rock Airport at 10:40 am. He was met by a delegation of civic leaders including Mayor Remmel. Alderman James Griffey made welcoming remarks on behalf of the city. Then the General and Mayor boarded an open car and led a motorcade from the airport to downtown.

The motorcade’s destination was Christ Episcopal Church at Capitol and Scott streets. It was at this church that MacArthur had been baptized as an infant. The delegation was greeted by the Episcopal Bishop R. Bland Mitchell, Rector J. Hodge Alves, and Rector Emeritus W. P. Witsell. (While he had been Rector, Dr. Witsell had garnered national attention by issuing an Easter blessing to Gen. MacArthur as he had been evacuating the Philippines at the height of World War II.) In order to gain admittance to the church that morning, church members and guests had to have tickets.

Following the worship service, the General and his party went to three events in the park named in his honor. The first was a tour of the Museum of Natural History (now the Museum of Discovery and located in the River Market; the current tenant of the building is the MacArthur Museum of Arkansas Military History), which was located in the building in which the General had been born. After the tour, he spoke at a dedication of a small rose garden adjacent to the museum. It was sponsored by the Little Rock City Beautiful Commission and the Garden Clubs of Greater Little Rock.

Though every stop of the General’s visit had featured crowds, the largest was at the third location in MacArthur Park. A crowd of several thousand greeted the General as he spoke from the Foster Bandshell in the park’s southwest corner. Chamber of Commerce president Richard C. Butler (brother-in-law of Mayor Remmel) was the master of ceremonies. Following an invocation by Methodist Bishop Paul Martin, the only other speaker was the General. In his remarks he spoke of his Southern heritage and of his appreciation for the support of the citizens of Little Rock over the years.

Several gifts were bestowed upon the MacArthurs at the ceremony. The City of Little Rock presented Mrs. MacArthur with an engraved silver serving tray.

Following the events in MacArthur Park, the family retired for a brief respite to the Hotel Marion. They then attended a luncheon buffet in their honor at the home of Howard and Elsie Stebbins on Edgehill Road. The General and Mrs. MacArthur circulated through the house greeting guests and then eschewed a special table in favor of balancing their plates on their laps and sitting in wingback chairs. Meanwhile Arthur MacArthur stayed upstairs and discussed stamp collecting and other hobbies with the Stebbins’ two teenage sons.

Following the luncheon, the MacArthur party went back to the airport and by 4:00pm, the plane was in the air.

Though this visit was coming at the end of a whirlwind of activities, by all accounts, the General and Mrs. MacArthur were very gracious and accommodating. The General was being mentioned as a potential GOP candidate for President, but purposefully steered clear of any political comments in his remarks. He and Mrs. MacArthur dutifully posed for photos not only for the media but also for amateur photographers. At lunch, the General even asked a Gazette photographer to take a photo of him with his Little Rock Police motorcycle escorts so that they could have a souvenir of the visit.

MACARTHUR MUSEUM TO EXPAND HOURS OPEN TO PUBLIC

Effective April 1, the MacArthur Museum of Arkansas Military History will expand its hours of operation and remain open until 5 p.m. daily.  The museum was closed for renovations during much of 2018, and reopened to the public last fall.

“The increase in our hours comes exactly one year after the museum closed to undergo a $1.55 million renovation,” says Museum Director Stephan McAteer.  “We are delighted to be open more, allowing local, state, national and international visitors additional opportunities to visit the historic Arsenal Building and exhibits relating our state’s rich military heritage.”

A deciding factor in the decision to expand hours was the hiring of additional staffing.  Reveille Isgrig was hired to assist current staff with school tours, the museum’s reading program, and publicity.  Ms. Isgrig has a B.A. in English Literature from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock and a M.A. in Modern Art History, Theory, and Criticism from Azusa Pacific University. For 10 years she worked at the UALR Survey Research Center and has extensive experience in maintaining data archives.  As a volunteer with the Mac Park Group, she coordinated “MacArthur 125,” commemorating the anniversary of MacArthur Park’s creation, in conjunction with the museum’s reopening.

New hours for the museum, beginning April 1, will be Monday – Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday, 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. The MacArthur Museum of Arkansas Military History is located at 503 E. 9th St. in downtown Little Rock’s MacArthur Park. The museum is operated under the City’s Parks and Recreation Department.

Rock the Oscars 2019: Gregory Peck

In August 1977, Oscar winner Gregory Peck appeared in Little Rock for the premiere of the film MacARTHUR.  He played the general who had been born in Little Rock but who spent most of his life downplaying (or even denying) that fact.

MacArthur was brought to the screen by Universal Pictures.  It was their attempt to capitalize on the success of the movie Patton, including sharing some of the same members of the production team.

Told entirely in flashback, it starred Peck as the fabled World War II general who was born in Little Rock. It focuses primarily on events in 1942 during the war, his dismissal by Truman in 1952, and his famous address to West Point in 1962.

Peck initially did not care for the subject or the script, but eventually stated that he grew to admire the challenges MacArthur faced.  Peck later called it one of his favorites roles, if not one of his favorite movies.

Producer Frank McCarthy, who worked on both Patton and MacArthur once said of Patton and MacArthur: “Both were complex men but General MacArthur was complex on a much broader scale. Patton had no ambition except to be a soldier and to command a field army. He was strictly command.”

Most of the film was shot on the backlot at the movie studio, which impacted the quality of the film.  The production budget simply would not allow for overseas location filming.

The premiere was a fundraiser for the Museum of Science and History (now the Museum of Discovery).  At the time it was located in the Arsenal Building, in which MacArthur had been born.  Since 1999, that has been home to the MacArthur Museum of Arkansas Military History.  Since MacArthur only spent a few hours in Little Rock as an adult, it is possible that Peck spent more time in the building than the General did.

The evening of August 5, 1977, started with an exclusive reception for 100 people with Gregory and Veronique Peck.  The movie itself was shown at the Cinema 150, where its general run would start on Saturday, August 6.  Following the film, a reception and silent auction brought people back to the museum.  Tickets ran $250 a person for all events, $100 a person for the film and post-show reception, and $25 for the movie.  It sold out.

Governor and Mrs. David Pryor escorted the Pecks into the theatre.  Former Governor (and World War II hero) Sid McMath introduced Mr. Peck to the crowd.  He extolled the virtues of Peck and MacArthur.  (It is interesting that he should admire MacArthur so much, since the General and President Truman had a well-publicized tiff, and McMath and Truman had enjoyed a warm relationship.)  Little Rock City Director Jim Dailey presented Peck with a Key to the City.

MacArthur did not lead to an Oscar nomination for Peck (though he did earn a Golden Globe nomination for the role).  But the actor had enjoyed four nominations prior to his win for To Kill a Mockingbird.  He also received the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award from the Academy.  He served as president of the Academy for several years.

Little Rock Look Back: Birth of a General

On January 26, 1880, Douglas MacArthur was born in the Arsenal Building while his father was stationed at the Little Rock Barracks.  Though he left Arkansas a few weeks later when his father was transferred, he returned to his birthplace on March 23, 1952. On that day he was greeted by crowds welcoming one of the USA’s most famous military figures.

Though Gen. MacArthur spent only a few weeks in Little Rock, he was baptized at Christ Episcopal Church.  The location of the baptism remains a mystery today because the church was meeting in temporary locations due to the first structure having been lost to a fire.

When the General returned to Little Rock in 1952, he did pay a brief visit to Christ Church.  He also spoke at the Foster Bandshell in the park which bore his name.

When General MacArthur died, he was granted a state funeral.  He was one of the few non-Presidents to have been given this honor.

Today, the MacArthur Museum of Arkansas Military History is located in the Arsenal building.  It was created to interpret our state’s military heritage from its territorial period to the present.

Located in the historic Tower Building of the Little Rock Arsenal–the birthplace of General Douglas MacArthur–the museum preserves the contributions of Arkansas men and women who served in the armed forces.

Exhibits feature artifacts, photographs, weapons, documents, uniforms and other military items that vividly portray Arkansas’s military history at home and abroad.

LR Culture Vulture turns 7

The Little Rock Culture Vulture debuted on Saturday, October 1, 2011, to kick off Arts & Humanities Month.

The first feature was on the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra, which was kicking off its 2011-2012 season that evening.  The program consisted of Mendelssohn’s Symphony No. 4 in A, Op. 90, Rossini’s, Overture to The Italian Girl in Algiers, Puccini’s Chrysanthemums and Respighi’s Pines of Rome.  In addition to the orchestra musicians, there was an organ on stage for this concert.

Since then, there have been 10,107 persons/places/things “tagged” in the blog.  This is the 3,773rd entry. (The symmetry to the number is purely coincidental–or is it?)  It has been viewed over 288,600 times, and over 400 readers have made comments.  It is apparently also a reference on Wikipedia.

The most popular pieces have been about Little Rock history and about people in Little Rock.

MacArthur Museum of Arkansas Military History reopens after 5 months and $1.5 million in renovations

After several months of renovations to the building, the MacArthur Museum of Arkansas Military History reopens today.

The museum closed in March 2018 for five months of extensive structural work.  The $1.5 million renovation for the 178-year old structure included both interior and exterior upgrades.  The first phase of the project, which began last December, involved renovation to the north and south porches and was partially funded by a Historic Preservation Restoration Grant from the Department of Arkansas Heritage. The interior renovation includes upgrades to the heating and cooling systems, installation of new lighting, and repainting of interior gallery spaces.

Funding for the renovations came from proceeds of a hotel tax which was approved by Little Rock voters in February 2016.

The MacArthur Museum of Arkansas Military History was created to interpret our state’s military heritage from its territorial period to the present. It is a program of the City of Little Rock’s Department of Parks and Recreation.

Located in the historic Tower Building of the Little Rock Arsenal–the birthplace of General Douglas MacArthur–the museum preserves the contributions of Arkansas men and women who served in the armed forces.  Exhibits feature artifacts, photographs, weapons, documents, uniforms and other military items that vividly portray Arkansas’s military history at home and abroad.

In conjunction with the reopening, there will be a belated 125th birthday party for MacArthur Park. (The park actually opened on July 4, 1893.)  Originally known as Arsenal Park, it became known as City Park shortly thereafter. In 1942, it was renamed in honor of Gen. Douglas MacArthur, who was born there. At the time he was commanding US troops in the Pacific Theatre of Operations during World War II.

Activities include:

9:00 a.m. – 2:00 p.m. – Vintage Military Vehicle Show featuring military vehicles from the Arkansas Military Vehicle Preservation Association.

10:00 – 10:30 a.m.  –  Grand Re-opening of the MacArthur Museum of Arkansas Military History

  • Music provided by Five Star Brass Quintet of the 106th Army (Arkansas) Band
  • Remarks and Ribbon Cutting re-opening the military museum following a $1.55 million renovation

10:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m.  –  MacArthur Park History Walk

Explore MacArthur Park using a “passport” to learn more about the park’s history during the territorial/Civil War periods, late 19th century/early 20th century periods, and World War II/Modern periods.  There will be eight “passport sites” in total, with other sites to visit as well. Passports and Park materials may be picked up at the MacPark Group Table.  Stamped passports to all eight sites may be turned in for raffle prizes from the Arkansas Arts Center, Little Rock Parks, Arkansas Paranormal Expo, MacArthur Museum of Arkansas Military History, Mac Park Group, Quapaw Quarter Association, and others.

  • AAC Friend Level Membership.
  • AAC Children’s Theatre Tickets (4).
  • Flat Screen Television- MacPark Group.
  • AAC class/workshop.
  • QQA- ticket to Spring Tour of Homes and ticket to Mother’s Day Brunch.
  • MMAMH- Gift basket and passes to the 8th Annual Paranormal Expo.
  • Parks and Rec- Round of Golf at Rebsamen Gold Course.

11:30 a.m. – 1:00 p.m. Woodmen Life will provide grilled hot dogs and chips to first 400 visitors.  Bottled water courtesy of Premium Refreshment Services.   Bluebell ice cream will be provided free.  Families are encouraged to bring picnic lunches.

12:00 – 2:00 p.m. – Concert by Funkle Sam of the 106th Army (Arkansas) Band on the North Plaza. Katie Sunshine will be hoop dancing with Funkle Sam.

4:00 – 8:00 p.m. – Evening German Biergarten.  Local breweries set up to sell beers. *Will have entry fee of $10 which will buy admission, three beer tokens, and a bratwurst plate.