Little Rock Culture Vulture

Cultural events, places and people in the Little Rock area

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Little Rock Look Back: Clinton Center opens in 2004

wjc library openingIt has been thirteen years since the Clinton Presidential Center opened on a wet, cold Thursday.

The days leading up to it has been glorious.  And while the weather may have literally dampened spirits a bit, it was still an important day for Little Rock and Arkansas.

The events leading up to the opening included a concert by Aretha Franklin with the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra and an appearance by Senator John Glenn at the Museum of Discovery.  Events were hosted by the Arkansas Arts Center, Arkansas Repertory Theatre, Historic Arkansas Museum, and Old State House Museum.  There were scores of receptions and parties as Hollywood, New York, and DC descended on Little Rock.

November 18 dawned rainy and cool.  As the day continued on the precipitation continued while the temperature did not warm up.  Years of planning for a grand opening ceremony came down to this.  But at the appointed time, festivities began.

On the site of an abandoned warehouse district and unofficial dump which had previously been a train station, many leaders of the free world were gathered.  They rubbed shoulders with thousands of Arkansans from probably every county in the state.

It had been seven years and eleven days since Bill Clinton had announced the site of his presidential library.  It had been five years since artifacts and articles started arriving from Washington DC in Little Rock.  There had been lawsuits, threats of lawsuits, the threat of a Counter-Clinton Library, and countless meetings.

After speeches from Presidents Carter, Bush 41 and Bush 43, remarks from President Clinton and then-Senator Clinton (who was made even wetter by water pouring off an ill-placed umbrella), and even a musical performance by Bono and The Edge, Chelsea Clinton turned over the ceremonial key from the Clinton Foundation to the National Archives to officially open the Clinton Presidential Center.

In his capacity leading the Clinton Foundation, Skip Rutherford oversaw the planning for the Clinton Library and the grand opening festivities.  He, along with the foundation’s Executive Director Stephanie Streett, oversaw a phalanx of volunteers and staff to anticipate every detail.  The 1,000 days countdown sign that had been on the construction site (the brainchild of Tyler Denton) finally reached 0.

Isabelle Rodriguez, Shannon Butler, Mariah Hatta, Jordan Johnson, Lucas Hargraves, and Ben Beaumont — among others — had been putting in twelve plus hour days for months on end to get ready for the opening.  City Manager Bruce T. Moore led a team of City officials who had assisted on the planning and execution of the site preparation and making sure Little Rock was ready to welcome the world.  Moore and City Director Dean Kumpuris had been appointed by Little Rock Mayor Jim Dailey to lead Little Rock’s efforts to land the library.  After Clinton’s announcement of the site, Dailey, Kumpuris and Moore continued to work together to ensure the library would be successful.

While the weather on November 18, 2004, may have been a disappointment, the people who were gathered knew they were witnesses to history.  And thirteen years later, is a day people still talk about.


Little Rock Look Back: November 8 Presidential Election Arkansas Newspapers

November 8 has been a Presidential Election Day in Arkansas six times.  The first time such a date happened in the US, Arkansas did not participate because it was 1864.  The times it has happened have been 1892, 1904, 1932, 1960, 1988, and today.

A look back at newspaper headlines from the previous years tells a lot about not only the elections, but also the way news was delivered.  For the 1892 and 1904 elections, only the Arkansas Gazette is available.  Though the Arkansas Democrat existed, it did not yet publish every day.  Tuesdays do not appear to have been dates it was published.  (The Gazette itself would not be at seven days until the early 1900s when it finally started publishing a Monday edition.)

elex-ag-1892The 1892 election day Gazette intersperses news stories with advertisements.  One headline states poetically:  “Ballots: Like flakes of snow they will gently fall throughout the Union today.”  Another headline stated “Confident.  Democrats everywhere feel assured of Grover Cleveland’s election today.”  Indeed, Cleveland returned to the White House in 1892 after four years of Benjamin Harrison.

elex-ag-04By 1904, most front page advertising at the Gazette had been banished from the front page, although an small box ad for Blass Department Store is at the top.  Only three of the seven columns on the front page have above-the-fold headlines devoted to election stories, and two of those are about the State of New York.  This reflects new editor J. N. Heiskell’s desire to have the Gazette be national in scope. While early Gazettes often relied on national news to fill space, by the post Reconstruction era, the focus was largely on local news.   The lone local headline was “Arkansas will go Democratic” which was certainly a foregone conclusion at the time.  While Arkansas did go Democratic, Theodore Roosevelt kept the presidency in the hands of the GOP.  Interestingly another headline was about efforts to get Prohibition adopted in the state.  It would become an election issue for years to come.

elex-ag-32By 1932, both the Gazette and Democrat published Election Day editions.  The Gazette’s stories included predictions that FDR would win and a record number of ballots would be cast.  There were also separate stories which highlighted the final day of campaigning for both FDR and Hoover.  One of Mr. Heiskell’s above-the-fold editorials encouraged voting No on a variety of measures which dealt with public school financing, sales tax reduction, bond issuance, and reorganization of county election commissions and state government.

elex-ad-32The afternoon Democrat featured stories on Hoover and FDR in the last hours of the campaigns. Like the Gazette it anticipated a record turnout and showed that Pulaski County was experiencing heavy turnout.  The headline trumpeted that FDR had a lead as early results were starting to trickle in.  The Democrat also offered succinct analysis of key battleground states.  In the end, FDR did carry 42 of the 48 states in an election that saw a record of 38,582, 531 people casting votes for one of the two top candidates.

elex-ag-60The 1960 election ended up being one of the closest in popular vote in US history, with only 112,827 votes separating JFK from Nixon.  The Gazette headline was “Kennedy, Nixon take fight down to wire; State interest high.”  The front page also featured stories about Kennedy’s and Nixon’s last full day on the campaign trail.  A box on the front page reminded readers that liquor stores and beer sales could not take place during polling hours. Only persons who had paid their 1960 poll tax were eligible to vote–with an exception made for those who turned 21 after the poll tax deadline and through election day.  The last reminder was that the names of the parties, but not the candidates themselves, would appear on the ballot in the presidential race.

elex-ad-60The afternoon Democrat ran a large photo of Jackie and JFK after they had voted and a slightly smaller one of the Nixon family voting.  Two stories discussed the record turnout that appeared to be taking place — one was on a national scale, and the other was focused on Arkansas.  There was also a story on last minute campaigning.  In the end, over 68,000,000 votes were cast which was a record at the time.

elex-ag-88The most recent presidential election to take place on November 8 was in 1988.  It featured Vice President George H. W. Bush against Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis.  The Gazette (covering its final presidential election — though no one knew it at the time) featured a story on Bush and Dukakis in the final day of campaigning.  It also featured a guide to watching the returns and discussed how the networks made their decisions about calling states.  There was also a box highlighting key battleground states which included Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, New York, Illinois and Texas.  Interestingly, two of those were the home states of the candidates.

elex-ad-88By 1988, the Democrat had been a morning paper for several years going head to head with the Gazette.  It carried its own photos of Bush and Dukakis on the final full day of campaigning.  An inside story was highlighted on the cover which featured a Monday rally in Little Rock with Texas Senator Lloyd Bentsen (Dukakis’ running mate).  The 1988 campaign was long, by the standards of the time, but would be considered abbreviated today.  The 1988 election would mark the third consecutive presidential election that the GOP candidate carried Arkansas.

Poetry Month: Peggy Vining and “Arkansas, The Natural State”

pviningPeggy Vining is Arkansas’s Poet Laureate.  She was appointed to this position in 2003 by Gov. Mike Huckabee.

Since 1963, Vining has been a member of Poet’s Roundtable of Arkansas (PRA) which is associated with the National Federation of State Poetry Societies.  She attributes her writing success to the “wonderful poets of PRA that mentored, encouraged and inspired me to keep writing”.  Vining has served as state PRA President for three separate terms.  She has been director of the Ozark Creative Writers Conference, the Arkansas Writers Conference and still serves on the official Board of each.  She has also served as state President of Arkansas Penwomen and Arkansas Songwriters Association and is a member of Fiction Writers of Central Arkansas.  Her bio is listed in Who’s Who of Editors, Writers and Poets and several other such books and anthologies.  She is presently compiling a collection of her published works entitled “Tethered to the Moment”.

Loved and appreciated for her artistic abilities and her work with children, Vining has nurtured over 6000 pre-schoolers during her teaching career.  For twenty one years, she was Instructor and Director of the UALR Children’s Center having earned a Masters Degree in Early Childhood Education.  She has also worked with children’s groups at her church for many years.

Married for over 60 years, Vining cherishes her family; She is a mother, grandmother and great-grandmother. other of five (four daughters and one son)and grandmother of eleven and Greatgrandmother of eight. Vining is also active in many other community organizations.  A twenty-seven year cancer survivor, she was honored with a “Point of Light Award” from President Bush for her volunteer work with CARTI.

Arkansas, The Natural State

I stood today on top of Petit Jean
And felt a kindredship to all I found,
And I, intrigued by such a lovely scene,
Was grateful for the beauties that abound.
The spirit of a mountain miss was host,
Her phantom figure hovered, light as wind,
And I became enchanted by her ghost,
As we stood on the ledge at river’s bend.
I asked her of her legend and its truth;
Of how she stowed away to sail from France,
Of how she cropped her hair; became uncouth,
To give her love and lover one more chance.
            “It is all truth; the future will proclaim
            My spirit guards this mount which bears my name.”
Then, as we talked, my personage subdued,
And I became, as Petit Jean, a ghost,
And with uncanny knowledge I reviewed
Historic deeds of others who could boast,
Of coming to this great green state to live;
To homestead and to plow their plots of land;
To mine the hills; to hunt the woods and give
Their very lives to make it far more grand.
I spoke to men who also came to look
For ways of life upon the river’s road;
They pushed their crafts to every shallow nook
And rounded bends of hardship with each load.
            The Indians told me their tales of woe,
            Of how they battled as both friend and foe.
They told me how De Soto searched for gold
And, trudging through the swamps to look for it,
As upward, through the mountains and the cold,
He traded with the natives, matching wit.
La Salle then came to claim the Arkansas
But left to join another group of men,
De Tonty came to start, as did John Law,
A river post where trading could begin.
These men with whom I talked could really boast
Of being first to settle on this land,
Of fighting long and hard to save the Post
Where then was housed the laws and all command.
            My spirit saw the past and lived it through,
            A vision of the old when it was new.
As history passes, the seasons came in view,
And time and space and beauty knew no date.
I saw each month in its most brilliant hue
And gazed at it as if I tempted fate.
 I looked at Spring and thought it surely best,
For everywhere the land was newly green,
The pristine white of dogwood seemed to test
The worthiness and beauty of each scene.
Then summer came with nesting meadowlarks,
And I beheld the golden days of fun,
As tourists came with camping gear to parks,
And found their pleasures under shade and sun.
            I watched the summer visitors with awe,
            They loved this state of mine . . .this Arkansas.
Perhaps they liked spelunking in a cave,
Or digging for a diamond at the mine,
Or floating trips that made of them a slave
To mountain streams, to setting out trotline.
Perhaps they liked the baths at old Hot Springs,
Or climbing under rushing waterfalls,
Or smelling the sweet air that summer brings,
Or listening to whippoorwills’ faint calls.
I think they surely liked the little creeks,
That tumble down deep-set against tall bluffs.
I think they liked the deer and quail that seeks
New hideouts when invaders find their roughs.
            The eager tourists came to see our state
            Because the opportunities are great.
Then suddenly, as Autumn took her turn,
The Ozark Hills became a brilliant hue.
In blazing reds the forest seemed to burn
Across the valleys, up the mountains too.
In delta lands I saw vast cotton crops,
And harvest fields of rice, bowed down with grain.
The short-leaf pines were green with heavy tops,
And muscadines hung heavy down the lane.
Then winter came attired in snowfall white,
And lovely landscapes suddenly seemed bare.
The prairie sky was filled with ducks in flight,
And sounds of happy hunters filled the air.
            O Arkansas, which season is your best?
            Each one seems far more lovely than the rest.
What makes you great?  I wondered as I looked.
Is it your timber, standing straight and tall?
Is it your rivers wide and roughly crooked?
Is it your lovely Ozarks in the fall?
Is it your heritage that makes you grand,
Your opportunities . . . yet still unknown?
Is it your rich oil fields, or delta land
That makes men proud to choose you for their own?
O Arkansas, I see your very breath,
In hazy clouds that skim your vast terrain.
I know about your struggling with death
And I have felt your birth with labored pain.
            O land of mine, I find you truly great,
No wonder you are called “The Natural State”.

Little Rock Look Back: President Ronald W. Reagan

RWR 40On February 6, 1911, future U.S. President Ronald Wilson Reagan was born. His life took him from small town Illinois, to Hollywood in the last days of the Golden Age of the studio system, to politics, to the California State House, to the White House.

On November 3, 1984, he became the first sitting U.S. President to spend a night in Little Rock. He stayed at the Excelsior Hotel (now Marriott Downtown) before making a campaign speech on November 4.  His only special requests for the room were jelly beans and ginger ale.  His speech was in the Statehouse Convention Center, which had opened less than two years earlier.

In 1980, Reagan had become only the third Republican to win Arkansas’ electoral votes (after Grant in 1868 and 1872 and Nixon in 1972). He was expected to easily win them again in 1984.  The main purpose of his speech on the Saturday before election Day was to drum up support for other GOP candidates in the state.  While he carried the state and the electoral votes, none of his preferred candidates won their races in 1984.

Four years later, on October 27, 1988, he flew in to Little Rock to make remarks at Central Flying Service. The purpose this time was to campaign on behalf of GOP nominee George H. W. Bush. As Reagan had done in 1980 and 1984, Bush carried the state and won the Presidency.

In 1992, after native son Bill Clinton defeated Bush in his bid for re-election, Reagan welcomed Clinton to his office in Los Angeles.  Having served as Governor of California, he was able to relate to Clinton’s impending transition from Governor to President.

In 2004, months before the Clinton Library opened, Reagan succumbed to the ravages of Alzheimer’s Disease.  He had publicly disclosed he had the illness in 1994 during the second year of Clinton’s first term.  Though the Clinton Library was not open yet, the Clinton Foundation set up a memorial book at Curran Hall for people to stop by and sign. The book was then sent to the Reagan Presidential Library.

Little Rock Look Back: The Opening of the William J. Clinton Presidential Center

wjcopenrainArkansas Globecoming was the name given to the series of events in connection with the opening of the Clinton Presidential Center.  The week had been warm and sunny as Al Franken entertained at the Arkansas Repertory Theatre, Aretha Franklin performed with the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra and Senator John Glenn held court at the Museum of Discovery.  By Wednesday, November 17, Little Rock was filled with stars from the political and entertainment fields.  As many dignitaries as were here, there were rumors of even more who were supposedly here.

On Wednesday night, things reached a fever pitch. A reception at the Arkansas Arts Center was literally shoulder to shoulder. A preview tour of the Clinton Presidential Center was only slightly less crowded (because the space was so much bigger). Mary Steenburgen, Ted Danson and the Downtown Little Rock Partnership hosted a late night party at Nu.

As midnight approached, things slowed ever so slightly as people realized they had to be on site for the opening ceremony in a matter of hours.

Overnight a storm system came in. Not only did water fall, but so did the temperatures.

Those that did brave the weather had an unforgettable experience.  From performances by a rain-soaked Bono and The Edge to remarks by Presidents Carter, Bush 41, Bush 43 and Clinton, the event was memorable.  It was a Who’s Who of Washington, New York and Los Angeles.  All in Little Rock.

It took several hours for people to warm up and dry off after the event. But everyone agreed it was a memorable day for numerous reasons.

THE WAR ROOM documentary screens tonight

The_War_Room_FilmPosterTonight at 7pm, the Oscar nominated documentary THE WAR ROOM will be shown at the Ron Robinson Theater. The screening is free.

This 1993 American documentary film follows Bill Clinton’s campaign for President of the United States, during the 1992 presidential election.  At the start of the 1992 Democratic primaries, filmmakers D.A. Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus requested permission from the Campaign to film its progression. The Clinton Campaign agreed, and Pennebaker and Hegedus were allowed to film Communications Director George Stephanopoulos as well as Lead Strategist James Carville; they were given limited access to Bill Clinton.

At the start of filming, the film team was embedded with the Clinton Campaign in New Hampshire for that state’s Democratic primary. During the onset of the campaign, the film crew traveled around the state with the Bill Clinton Campaign.

After the surprise Clinton second place finish in the New Hampshire primary, the crew filmed mostly in Little Rock, Arkansas, home to the Clinton campaign’s national headquarters. As the film focused in on Carville and Stephanopoulos, the film crew saw no need to travel outside of Little Rock as both were present in the city for much if not all of the primary and general election campaigns.

Over a time span of four months filming, Pennebaker and Hegedus only shot about 35 hours of film. Essentially, over four months they were only allowed to film less than 2 days of activity in the Clinton War Room.

Though Stephanopoulos and Carville were the film’s main figures, many other prominent figures in the campaign were featured, including Paul Begala, Dee Dee Myers, Mandy Grunwald, Bob Boorstin, Stan Greenberg, Mickey Kantor, Harold Ickes, and Bush deputy campaign manager Mary Matalin, who later married Carville. Clinton campaign manager David Wilhelm was extended an invitation to participate, but declined. Also featured are Election rivals George H. W. Bush, Ross Perot and DNC rival Jerry Brown.

Spies and Pets Among Features at Clinton Presidential Center

Clinton LibraryToday is not Presidents’ Day. No such holiday exists within Federal or Arkansas governments.  However, a good way to celebrate the observation of George Washington’s Birthday (Federal holiday for today) would be to visit the Presidential Library of one of his successors – Bill Clinton.  Visiting that facility is also a good way to mark the Arkansas holiday of Daisy Gatson Bates Day since she and President Clinton were friends.

The Clinton Presidential Center features numerous permanent and temporary exhibits.  Two of the current temporary exhibits are:

Spies, Traitors, and Saboteurs: Fear and Freedom in America -Created by the International Spy Museum in Washington, DC, Spies, Traitors & Saboteurs: Fear and Freedom in America dramatically illustrates the challenge of securing our nation without compromising the civil liberties upon which it was founded.
Through artifacts, multimedia elements, and interactive exhibits, visitors can uncover stories of espionage, treason, and deception in the United States from 1776 to today.
Visitors can discover little-known accounts of foreign agents, militias, and radicals, and learn how responses to domestic attacks have driven counterintelligence measures that continue to affect our everyday lives.

This exhibit is designed to be viewed by families and schools, although the content is most appropriate for children ages 11 and up.

Presidential Pets. Socks. Buddy. Barney. Bo. The Clinton Center will debut a new temporary display, “Presidential Pets,” on Saturday, Feb. 1, 2014. “Presidential Pets” is a tribute to the presidential pets that helped make the White House a home.
From snakes to chocolate Labs, these famous pets provide an enjoyable look at presidential history. The display will include items from President George W. Bush, President Clinton, President George Bush, President Ford, President Nixon, President Johnson, and more.

Both exhibits run through April 27, 2014.