Little Rock Culture Vulture

Cultural events, places and people in the Little Rock area


Little Rock Look Back: Verdict rendered in 1906 City Hall-Jail-Auditorium case

The 1906 plans for City Hall with the Municipal Auditorium on the left portion.

Last week: Little Rock Mayor Warren E. Lenon had been advocating for a new City Hall a municipal auditorium since shortly after taking office in April 1903. After plans were approved in July 1906, a group of citizens, led by Arkansas Gazette publisher J. N. Heiskell, filed suit to stop the City.

The closing arguments in the trial against plans for a new City Hall and auditorium complex had been heard on Monday, July 30.  The case was heard by Chancery Judge J. C. Hart.  Serving as an advisor to Chancellor Hart throughout the trial (though with no official legal standing) was Pulaski County Circuit Court Judge Robert J. Lea.  To accommodate the expected large attendance, the trial had been moved into his courtroom which was larger than Chancellor Hart’s.

On Friday, August 3, Pulaski County Chancery Judge J. C. Hart issued an injunction to keep the City from signing a contract for the construction of a city hall, jail and auditorium.  Chancellor Hart concurred with the plaintiffs that Arkansas’ constitution and laws dictated all taxation must be for public purposes.  He found there was nothing in Arkansas case law which defined an auditorium to be used for conventions as a public purpose.

As had been the case throughout the trial, the tone of the coverage of the decision differed greatly in the city’s two daily papers.  The subheading in the Democrat noted that the plaintiffs would be liable for any losses to the municipal government’s coffers due to a delay in commencing the construction if Little Rock eventually prevailed.  That fact is not mentioned by the Gazette.  Both papers did make note that Judge Lea agreed with the Chancellor’s decision.

For now, it looked as if the City of Little Rock would be stuck in the 1867 City Hall on Markham between Main and Louisiana.  Mr. Heiskell and his compatriots waited to see if the City would appeal the decision.

While August would be a quiet month publicly, work would go on behind the scenes.  More on that, in the future.


Pulitzer Day – a good time to “Prize” Mount Holly Cemetery

The Pulitzer Prizes are to be announced today.  This year marks the 100th anniversary of the prizes, though not all of the current categories have been around since 1917.

Mount Holly Cemetery not only touts that it is the site of a whole host of elected officials, it is also the only place in Arkansas where two Pulitzer Prize recipients are buried. The cemetery is open every day, but a special visit to these two prize winner gravesites can be made on Sunday, April 30, during the Mount Holly Cemetery Association’s annual “Rest in Perpetuity” fundraiser picnic.

In 1939, John Gould Fletcher became the first Southern poet to win the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry.  He was born into a prominent Little Rock family in 1886.  Fletcher was awarded the prize for his collection Selected Poems which was published by Farrar in 1938.  Two years earlier, he had been commissioned by the Arkansas Gazette to compose an epic poem about the history of Arkansas in conjunction with the state’s centennial.

Fletcher is buried next to his wife, author Charlie May Simon and his parents (his father was former Little Rock Mayor John Gould Fletcher).  Other relatives are buried nearby in the cemetery.

The other Pulitzer Prize winner buried in Mount Holly is J. N. Heiskell, the longtime editor of the Arkansas Gazette.  It was Heiskell, in fact, who asked Fletcher to compose the poem about Arkansas.  Heiskell served as editor of the Gazette from 1902 through 1972.  He died at the age of 100 in 1972.

Under his leadership, the Gazette earned two Pulitzer Prizes for its coverage of the 1957 desegregation of Little Rock Central High.  One was for Harry Ashmore’s editorial writing and the other was for Public Service.

Heiskell remained in charge of the Gazette until his death in 1972.  He is buried alongside his wife with other relatives nearby.  Also not too far from Mr. Heiskell are two of his nemeses, proving that death and cemeteries can be the great equalizer. In the early days of his Gazette stewardship, he often locked horns with Senator (and former Governor) Jeff Davis. Later in Mr. Heiskell’s career, he vehemently disagreed with Dr. Dale Alford, who had been elected to Congress on a segregationist platform.


Little Rock Look Back: Senator William Marmaduke Kavanaugh

CLR KavanaughOn March 3, 1866, William Marmaduke Kavanaugh was born in Alabama. He later moved with his family to Kentucky before coming to Little Rock as a newspaper reporter.

Kavanaugh served as editor and manager of the Arkansas Gazette before entering politics.  From 1896 until 1900, he served as Pulaski County Sheriff, which at the time also included the duties of tax collector.  From 1900 until 1904, he was County Judge of Pulaski County.  In that capacity he helped wrangle several cities, railroads and trolley lines to create a compromise which lead to the completion of the Third Street Viaduct which connected Little Rock with Pulaski Heights. It is still in use today.

After leaving his post as County Judge, he had a varied career in banking and business interests.

When Senator Jeff Davis died in early January 1913, he left the last few weeks of his term incomplete as well as the new term he was set to start in March 1913.  There was much interest in who would fill the remainder of Davis’ current term, because that person might be the frontrunner to also fill out the new term.  (This was at the time that the U.S. Senators were still selected by state legislatures.) Defeated Governor George Donaghey appointed J. N. Heiskell to fill out the term. But once the Arkansas General Assembly convened in mid-January, they overrode Donaghey’s appointment and replaced Heiskell with Kavanaugh.

Kavanaugh served in the Senate from January 29, 1913 until March 3, 1913.  He was succeeded by Joseph T. Robinson who had only recently taken office as Governor.  Speculation was that Kavanaugh would not want the full six year term, so that he was acceptable choice to all of the politicians jockeying for the full appointment.  From 1912 until 1915, he was an Arkansas member of the Democratic National Committee.

Another interest of Kavanaugh’s was baseball.  He served as president of the Southern Association minor league starting in 1903.  The baseball field in Little Rock situated at West End Park was named Kavanaugh Field in his honor.  It stood until the 1930s when it was replaced by what is now known as Quigley Stadium.  (In 1927, Little Rock High School had opened on the land which had been West End Park.)

Kavanaugh died on February 2, 1915 at the age of 48.  He is buried in Oakland Cemetery.

Prospect Road was renamed Kavanaugh Boulevard in his memory.


1 Comment

Little Rock Look Back: The Public Library Opens

carnegieOn February 2, 1910, the Little Rock Public Library officially opened its doors.  There had been an open house the night before, but this was the first day of acquiring a library card and checking out books.

Various private libraries had existed sporadically in Little Rock throughout the 19th Century.  In November 1900, a Little Rock School District committee made the first inquiry into the the creation of a Carnegie Library in Little Rock.  Over the next several years, numerous entreaties were made, but funding for the City’s portion was an obstacle.  On December 17, 1906, the Little Rock City Council passed an ordinance to move forward with building, furnishing and equipping a library.  Finally, in February 1908, the City approved acceptance of $88,100 from Andrew Carnegie.  The building would be designed by Edward Tilton, who designed Carnegie libraries, working with local architect Charles Thompson.

Mary Maud Pugsley was hired as the first librarian for Little Rock in May 1909. She began her duties on September 15, 1909, in order to get ready for the opening of the library at the southwest corner of 7th and Louisiana Streets.

On February 2, 1910, formal circulation of books began.  J. N. Heiskell was issued library card number 1.  He was secretary of the Library’s Board of Trustees and had long been an advocate for a public library in Little Rock.  He had often used his bully pulpit as editor of the Arkansas Gazette to advocate for a public library since arriving in Little Rock in 1902.  (Years later — he lived until 1972 — he received a replica of the library card made out of gold.)

That first day of operation, 500 people had applied for library cards. The application process required one to be a Little Rock property owner or to have a property owner sign the application.

Within the first year of operation, 2.5% of Little Rock’s population of 45,951 had applied for a library card.

For more on the history of the transformation of the Little Rock Public Library into the Central Arkansas Library System, read Shirley Schuette and Nathania Sawyer’s From Carnegie to Cyberspace — 100 Years at the Central Arkansas Library System, published by Butler Center Books.


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.


RobinsoNovember: Mayor R. E. Overman

Overman AuditR. E. Overman assumed the office of Little Rock mayor in April 1935. Around that time, a new wave of New Deal programs were filtering down from Washington DC to cities.  It can be said of Mayor Overman that he did not meet a New Deal program he did not like.  From rebuilding the sewer system, to creating a public water utility, to constructing of structures for the Museum of Fine Arts, Little Rock Zoo, and Boyle Park, Mayor Overman signed the City up for program after program.

While the programs were all worthwhile, and in some cases absolute necessities, Mayor Overman did not seem to consider how these massive projects running concurrently would impact the City finances.  In November 1935, he submitted a proposal to the Public Works Administration for the construction of a new municipal auditorium to be located at the northeast corner of the intersection of Scott Street and Capitol Avenue. It would have taken up three/quarters of that block and wrapped around the Women’s City Club building (now the Junior League of Little Rock headquarters).  Because of other projects in the works, he did not pursue any further action on the auditorium project at the time.

In November 1936, Mayor Overman asked the City Council to place three bond issues on a special election ballot for January 1937, one of which was a municipal auditorium. Though a location had previously been identified in 1935, at this point in time supporters made a concerted effort to disclose that no location had been selected.  After the election was called, there was a concerted effort by supporters of the three separate bond issues to collaborate.  Voters overwhelmingly approved all three issues, and Little Rock’s journey to a municipal auditorium at last was underway. Perhaps.

Over the summer, architects and lawyers were selected. In the autumn, a consultant was hired to help with the selection for the site.  The month of October was consumed with City Council battles over the auditorium site.  Mayor Overman favored a location at Markham and Spring Streets (now site of the Cromwell Building and the Bankruptcy Courthouse). Because the Federal Government owned half the site and did not want to sell it, that location was deemed not feasible – though that did not stop Mayor Overman and others from repeatedly citing it as their first choice.  The only person who favored the location at Markham and Broadway did not have a vote: Planning Commission Chair J. N. Heiskell. Though he had no vote, he had the twin bully pulpits of Planning Commission and the Arkansas Gazette. As other sites fell by the wayside, he kept advocating for it.  Finally, the City Council approved of Heiskell’s choice, and the auditorium had a site.

The groundbreaking had to take place by January 1, 1938, or the money would be rescinded. After finalizing a location, planning could get underway.  With a week to spare, the ground was broken on December 24, 1937.  Mrs. Joseph T. Robinson, widow of the recently deceased US Senator from Arkansas, joined Mayor Overman in the groundbreaking. This ceremony was the first mention of the building being named in memory of the fallen senator, who had died in the summer of 1937.

Construction progressed throughout 1938 and into 1939.  Because of the precarious state of the City’s finances, Mayor Overman lost the support of the business community.  In November 1938, he lost his bid for the Democratic nomination for Mayor and was denied a third two-year term.  He left office in April 1939.


Remembering the Fallen on Memorial Day at Mount Holly Cemetery

MountHolly Memorial DayToday is Memorial Day – a time to pay tribute to the men and women in uniform who died in service to their country.

As a way to give this recognition, today would be a good day to visit a cemetery. One of Little Rock’s most storied cemeteries is Mount Holly Cemetery. There are numerous persons buried there who died while in service to their country.

One of them is 2Lt Carrick W. Heiskell, son of Arkansas Gazette editor J. N. Heiskell.  2Lt Heiskell died while flying for the Air Transport Command in the Himalayas during World War II.  He was posthumously the recipient of the Distinguished Unit Emblem, Purple Heart, and the Air Medal.

Founded in 1843, Mount Holly has been called “The Westminster Abbey of Arkansas.” Thousands of visitors come each year. Those interested in history come to see the resting places of the territorial citizens of the state, including governors, senators, generals, black artisans, and even a Cherokee princess. For others the cemetery is an open air museum of artistic eras: Classical, Victorian, Art Deco, Modern––expressed in gravestone styles from simple to elaborate. Some come to read the epitaphs that range from heartbreaking to humorous to mysterious.

Though a City of Little Rock facility, the cemetery is maintained by the Mount Holly Cemetery Association, a non-profit organization with a volunteer Board of Directors. The cemetery is located at 1200 South Broadway in Little Rock. Gates are open from 8 a.m. until 5 p.m. in the summer and from 8 a.m. until 4 p.m. in the winter.

Interred within the rock walls of Mount Holly are 11 state governors, 15 state Supreme Court justices, four Confederate generals, seven United States senators and 22 Little Rock mayors, two Pulitzer Prize recipients, as well as doctors, attorneys, prominent families and military heroes.