Opening of War Memorial Stadium on Sept. 18, 1948

On September 18, 1948, the Arkansas Razorbacks took on Abilene Christian and won the game by a score of 40 to 6.  It was the first game of the season, and the Razorbacks went into the game ranked #13. They maintained that ranking for four weeks before falling out of national standings.  The team ended up with a season record of five wins and five losses. Playing four of their games at War Memorial that season, they were two and two in Little Rock. They were one and two in Fayetteville and amassed a 2-1 record on the road.

Dedication ceremony in 1948. Photo courtesy of the War Memorial Stadium Commission.

Prior to the game, the stadium was dedicated to the veterans of World War I and World War II in a ceremony led by former Razorback standout and Medal of Honor recipient Maurice “Footsie” Britt.

Though Britt would later be known for entering politics and becoming Arkansas’ first Republican Lieutenant Governor, in his college days he was known statewide as an outstanding Razorback football and baseball athlete.  During World War II, his bravery and courage allowed him to become first person in American history to earn all the army’s top awards, including the Medal of Honor, while fighting in a single war.

Also participating in the opening ceremony were a mass of high school marching bands from across the state. Reports indicate up to forty bands were on the field to play the National Anthem as part of the event.

The construction of the stadium had been the brainchild of Razorback coach John Barnhill and Arkansas Secretary of State C. G. “Crip” Hall.  The duo shepherded it through the 1947 Arkansas General Assembly.   As a student at the University, Hall had been a team manager for the Razorbacks and had remained a longtime, active supporter.

In August of 1947, Little Rock was chosen as the location over Hot Springs and North Little Rock. West Memphis had abandoned its bid when it was unable to secure the necessary financial pledges.  Construction started in 1947 and continued up until opening day.  On the day of the game, newspaper photos showed heavy equipment grading the parking lot prior to paving.

The park in which the stadium sat would be renamed War Memorial Park in June 1949 and dedicated by President Harry S. Truman in a nationally-broadcast ceremony from War Memorial Stadium.

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70 Years Ago Today – War Memorial Park dedicated by President Truman with foreign affairs address

Though President Truman was in Little Rock for a military reunion, he did conduct some official business while here.  In his Presidential role, he spoke at the dedication of War Memorial Park on June 11, 1949.

(It is sometimes erroneously reported that he dedicated the stadium.  That took place in September 1948, at a Razorback game with former Razorback player and future Lt. Governor Maurice “Footsie” Britt delivering the keynote.)

President Truman’s address took place inside War Memorial Stadium at 2:30 p.m..   It was not a brief dedicatory speech, but instead was a lengthy treatise on foreign affairs.  The address was carried live on nationwide radio (though some radio networks opted to broadcast it later).  The text of his address can be found here.

The stadium was by no means full.  A major reason for that was that many thousand individuals had turned out to witness a parade downtown in which President Truman marched along side Governor Sid McMath.  The parade was in conjunction with the military reunion.  Given the June heat in Arkansas (in which parade spectators had been standing for several hours) and the difficulty of getting from the parade route to the stadium, most (if not all) parade spectators opted for skipping the presidential address.

Before the parade, President Truman (who was still riding high from his upset victory in the 1948 election) was asked by a local reporter if he would run in 1952. He refused to answer stating that the national media would think he had planted the question with a local member of the press.

Prior to the name War Memorial Park, the land had been known as Fair Park.  It was a former location of the State Fair.  In the 1930s, it had briefly been known as Overman Park in honor of then-Mayor R. E. Overman.  The City Council had named it for him as a tribute to his work on a variety of projects. When he displeased them, they reversed their decision and renamed it to Fair Park.

70 Years Ago Today – Truman in LR

Outside of his capacity as President of the United States, Harry S. Truman visited Little Rock on June 10, 1949, for the annual reunion of the 35th Division, his World War I unit.  He was joined on this trip by members of Arkansas’ congressional delegation and his sister.

Upon arriving in Little Rock, President Truman gave brief remarks at a welcome reception inside Robinson Auditorium.  He also spoke at a reception at the Hotel Marion and following a ball given at Robinson Auditorium.

In all of his June 10th remarks, President Truman spoke of the hospitality he always enjoyed in Little Rock. He discussed visits he had made over the years, including a stay at the Hotel Marion while in Arkansas campaigning for Senator Hattie Caraway.

At the ball, he commented on how, as a Baptist, he had not learned how to dance.  He then joked that however he had picked up other habits which were perhaps not in keeping with his Baptist faith.

At one event, President Truman asked all in attendance to shake hands with their neighbors as a way to shake his hand by proxy.  He explained that on inauguration day, he had shaken over 25,000 hands. Given the fact that he signed 600 documents a day, regardless whether he was in Washington or not, he felt he could not keep up with shaking hands all day.

As he concluded the day, he previewed that he would be giving a national address the next day while in Little Rock.  In his usual, self-deprecating way, Truman remarked “…if you want to hear the President of the United States you had better come out to the stadium tomorrow, and I will tell you something that will be good for your souls.”

The texts of all of his remarks while in Little Rock can be found here.

On Armed Forces Day, visit the MacArthur Museum of Arkansas Military History

Today is Armed Forces Day.

The third Saturday of May is designated each year as a day to celebrate the men and women who serve in the various branches of the United States armed forces.

On Saturday, May 19, 2001 (which was Armed Services Day that year), the City of Little Rock opened the MacArthur Museum of Arkansas Military History.  Tomorrow, the museum celebrates its 18th birthday.

Though the museum is only 18 years old, the building in which it is located, is 171 years old.  Last year, the building was closed for several months as it received a much needed refurbishment.

Today, the Museum’s exhibits include

  • Vietnam, America’s Conflict
  • Fiction and Fantasy
  • From Turbulence to Tranquility: The Little Rock Arsenal
  • Capital In Crisis: Little Rock and the Civil War
  • Alger Cadet Gun
  • Camden Expedition
  • David Owen Dodd Story
  • First Call: American Posters of World War I
  • The Sun Never Sets on the Mighty Jeep: The Jeep During World War II
  • Through the Camera’s Eye: The Allison Collection of World War II Photographs
  • Conflict and Crisis: The MacArthur-Truman Controversy
  • Duty, Honor and Country: General Douglas MacArthur
  • By the President in the Name of Congress: Arkansas’s Medal of Honor Recipients

Visitors to MacArthur Park today can also interact with the various outdoor memorials and monuments which pay tribute to various phases of Arkansas’ military history.

Little Rock Look Back: Mayor Sam M. Wassell

Wassell

On April 28, 1883, future Little Rock Mayor Sam M. Wassell was born.  His grandfather John W. Wassell had been appointed Mayor of Little Rock in 1868.  He is the only Little Rock Mayor to be a grandson of another Little Rock Mayor.

Sam Wassell served on the Little Rock City Council from 1928 through 1934 and again from 1940 through 1946.  He is one of the few 20th Century Little Rock Mayors who previously served on the City Council.

Wassell was an attorney; he practiced law privately and also served as an Assistant US Attorney.  In 1930, he ran unsuccessfully for the Democratic nomination for the US Congress representing the 5th Congressional District, which at the time included Little Rock.

Wassell ran for Mayor in 1947 and was unopposed in the general election.  (Though the Democratic primary was heated as he took on the incumbent Dan Sprick.)   He was unopposed in his bid for re-election in 1949.  During his second term, President Harry S. Truman visited Little Rock.  In 1951, he sought a third term as Mayor.  No Little Rock Mayor had been successful in achieving a third consecutive term since 1923.  Though he received the Democratic nomination, the Republican party nominated Pratt Remmel who defeated Wassell by a 2 to 1 margin.

With a new USS Little Rock recently put into naval service, it is interesting to note that Wassell’s wife, Ruth Wassell christened the previous USS Little Rock in 1944.

Mayor Wassell died on December 23, 1954 and is buried at Roselawn Cemetery in Little Rock.

Women Making History – Hattie Caraway

CARAWAY, Hattie WyattHattie Wyatt Caraway served for 14 years in the U.S. Senate. She was the first woman to be elected to a seat in the United States Senate.

Born in Tennessee in 1878, she entered Dickson Normal College at age 14. For several years, she and her fiancé Thaddeus Caraway taught school.  The couple married in 1902.

A fiery orator, Thaddeus, became politically active in Arkansas. He served as a prosecuting attorney before serving four terms in Congress. In 1920, he ran for, and was elected to the US Senate. In 1931, Thaddeus Caraway died. Arkansas Governor Harvey Parnell appointed Hattie Caraway to fill out the remainder of her husband’s term.

She had been a trusted adviser to her husband and worked hart behind the scenes in his campaigns. While she later downplayed her political involvement (apparently to appear as a “poor, little widow”), she had been active in her campaigns and during his service in Washington.

After the appointment, Governor Parnell also endorsed her for the special election to fill out the remainder of the term (which expired in fourteen months).  By winning that over two independent candidates, Hattie Caraway made history as the first woman to be elected to the U S Senate.

Few, if any, in the Democratic establishment expected Hattie to run in the 1932 election for a full Senate term. Most of the state’s political heavyhitters had an eye on the seat.  To their surprise, on the last day to file for the Democratic primary, she threw her hat in the ring against six men.  Without the backing of the Arkansas Democratic political structure, she called upon her friend from neighboring Louisiana, Senator Huey P. Long.  Not only was he glad to help an ally, his chief rival in the Senate was Arkansas’ other senator, Joe T. Robinson.  Long positioned her as a champion for the downtrodden. This seemed to work, she received 44.7percent of the vote and carried 61 of 75 counties.

Caraway set a number of firsts for women in the Senate. In 1933, she was named chair of the Enrolled Bills Committee; the first woman ever to chair a Senate committee, she remained there until she left Congress in 1945. Caraway became the first woman to preside over the Senate, the first senior woman Senator (when Joe Robinson died in 1937), and the first woman to run a Senate hearing.

Most observers, including some of her supporters, believed Caraway would retire in 1939. But she upset expectations again by declaring her candidacy for the 1938 election. In the Democratic primary, Caraway faced two–term Representative John L. McClellan, a 42–year–old lawyer who declared, “Arkansas Needs Another Man in the Senate.” Senator Caraway ran on her record of supporting New Deal legislation to alleviate the economic hardships for the state’s largely agrarian economy.  She eked out a victory of 8,000 votes out of the 260,000 cast.

In her quest for a third term, Caraway finished fourth of the four candidates.  J. William Fulbright won the seat.  President Roosevelt and President Truman appointed her to positions in their governments. She continued her public service in those capacities until her death in 1950.