Little Rock Look Back: Museum of Discovery is gifted to City in 1929

At the City Council meeting on December 19, 1929, Bernie Babcock presented the City of Little Rock with a Christmas present — the Museum of Natural History.

After the meeting was convened, Mrs. Babcock was given permission to make remarks to the City.  According to Council minutes from that meeting, she stated “she was at this time making a Christmas gift to the City of Little Rock in presenting to it the museum located on the third floor of the City Hall, setting forth, at length, the struggles in making the collections of which the museum is composed, and stressing the value of the museum to the city.”

Upon a motion, the museum was accepted by the City.  She then presented letters which formally made the offer to the City and suggested persons for a governing board.

Mrs. Babcock had been trying to get the City to accept the museum for a while.  She had been unsuccessful in getting Mayor Pat L. Robinson to agree to it after he took office in April 1929.  Ever-determined, she circumvented the mayor and went directly to the City Council. By December 1929, they had grown estranged from Mayor Robinson.

Since December 19, 1929, the museum has been affiliated with the City of Little Rock.  During that time, it has had several names and three locations.

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Little Rock Look Back: LRSD Choirs sing Christmas Carols on Robinson Auditorium steps

In front of Robinson Center, one of the sculptures is called “Let the Music Play.” 79 years ago today, the music played on the front steps of the building as construction continued on the inside.

On the afternoon of December 18, 1939, 500 school children from elementary schools were joined by the A Capella Choir of Little Rock High School as they sang Christmas carols on the front steps of the auditorium on a weekday afternoon. The singers were accompanied by the Little Rock High School Brass Sextet. The invocation for the event, which was sponsored by the Little Rock Council of Parents and Teachers, was delivered by the Right Reverend Richard Bland Mitchell, the Episcopal Bishop of Arkansas.

A Christmas tree in front of City Hall was lit up as part of the ceremony as well. Media coverage noted that the audience witnessing the program stood on the front steps of the Pulaski County Courthouse, the side lawn of City Hall and in front of the steps of Robinson Auditorium. It was also noted that most windows in the nearby government buildings were filled with people watching the festivities.

Little Rock Look Back: The THREE Mayoral Elections of 1951

On September 24, 1951, Pratt C. Remmel was nominated for Little Rock Mayor by the Pulaski County Republican Committee.  This was the first time there had been a GOP mayoral nominee in Little Rock since the 1880s.  It also set up a competitive General Election mayoral race for the first time in decades.

Incumbent Sam Wassell, a Democrat, was seeking a third two-year term. First elected in 1947 (after being unsuccessful in his quest for the position in 1945), Wassell had survived a primary and runoff in the summer of 1951. So confident was Mayor Wassell that Little Rock would remain a Democratic city, he barely campaigned for the office in the General Election.

While Mayor Wassell was ignoring the “run unopposed or run scared” maxim, he was not incorrect that Little Rock remained a stronghold for the Democratic Party.  Indeed there were no Republicans seeking office in Little Rock other than for mayor in 1951. Few, if any, Republicans had run for the City Council since Remmel had unsuccessfully made a race in the late 1930s.

In response to inquiries as to his lack of campaigning, Mayor Wassell averred that the voters had shown their support for him on July 31 and August 14. He continued that he did not see a reason to think the result would be different in November.  The 68 year-old Wassell stated that if he could defeat a young opponent who had over a decade of experience as an alderman, he could certainly defeat a young opponent who had no governmental experience.

In the July 1951 Democratic mayoral primary, Wassell had been challenged by Alderman Franklin Loy and grocer J. H. Hickinbotham.  Two years earlier, Wassell, seeking a second term, had dispatched Loy rather handily by a vote of 7,235 to 3,307.  He fully expected that 1951 should produce the same results as 1949.

But Wassell was trying to buck recent history.  Since 1925, no Little Rock mayor had won a nomination for a third term. One (J. V. Satterfield) had chosen not to seek a second term, while two (Pat L. Robinson and Dan T. Sprick) were defeated in their quest for two more years. Of those who served two two-year terms, a brace (Horace Knowlton as well as Charles Moyer in 1945) had not sought a third term.  Moyer HAD sought a third two-year term during his first stint as mayor (1925-1929) but was defeated. Likewise R. E. Overman also lost his bid for a third term.

By trying to win a third term, Wassell was seeking to return to the era of the first quarter of the 20th Century where several of his predecessors had been elected at least three times.  In his 1951 campaign, he was promising to stay the course of the previous four years. He answered his opponents’ ideas with a plan to continue providing services without having to raise taxes.  So confident was he of besting Loy and Hickinbotham that he predicted a 3 to 1 margin of victory.  A large horseshoe-shaped victory cake sat in a room at his campaign headquarters inside the Hotel Marion on election night.

The cake would remain uneaten.

When the results came in, Wassell had managed to get 5,720 votes to Loy’s 4,870. But with Hickinbotham surprising everyone (including probably himself) with 1,235 votes, no one had a majority.  The race was headed for a runoff two weeks later to be held in conjunction with the other city and county Democratic elections on August 14.

The day after the July 31 election, the Arkansas Gazette showed an dazed Wassell with top campaign aids in a posed picture looking at the results.  Further down the page, a jubilant Alderman Loy was surrounded by his wife and supporters.  The differing mood reflected in the photos was echoed in the two men’s statements that evening.  Wassell castigated his supporters for being overly-confident and not getting people to the polls. He further apologized to the Little Rock electorate for having to be “inconvenienced” with another election.  Loy, on the other hand, was excited and gratified. He thanked the citizens for their support.

The day of the runoff, a 250 pound black bear got loose at the Little Rock Zoo after the zoo had closed and took 45 minutes to be captured and returned to its pit.  Perhaps Wassell wondered if that bear was a metaphor for the Little Rock Democratic electorate.  Much like the bear returned to its pit, Little Rock’s Democrats returned to Wassell — or at least enough did.  Wassell captured 7,575 votes, while Loy received 6,544.  The moods that night echoed those two weeks earlier.  Wassell, his wife, and some supporters were combative towards the press (they were especially critical of the “negative” photo for which he had posed) while Loy was relaxed and magnanimous in defeat.

The closeness with which Mayor Wassell had escaped with the Democratic nomination was noticed.  A group of businessmen started seeking someone to run as an independent.  Likewise the Pulaski County GOP was open to fielding a candidate.  At a county meeting held at Pratt Remmel’s office, the offer of the nomination was tendered to their host.

After he was nominated in September, Remmel (who was County Chair and State Treasurer for the GOP) visited with the business leaders who were trying to find someone to run. He had made his acceptance of the nomination contingent on being sure there would be a coalition of independents and possibly even Democrats backing him in addition to the Republicans.

Once he was in the race, Remmel was tireless.  He blanketed newspapers with ads touting his plans and criticizing the lackadaisical attitude of his opponent. He made speeches and knocked on doors. He worked so hard that once during the campaign his doctor ordered him to 48 hour bedrest.

Mayor Wasssell, for his part, was confident voters would stick with party loyalty.  But as the November 6 election day grew nearer some City and County leaders grew increasingly wary.  Still, the Mayor rebuffed their concerns.  Someone had even gone so far as to set up a campaign office for him in the Hotel Marion. But before it could officially open, it was shut down.  (While the Mayor had criticized his supporters for being overly-confident in the July election, he apparently was not concerned about too much confidence this time around.)

Remmel had an aggressive campaign message promising better streets, more parking availability, a new traffic signalization plan, and the desire for expressways. His slogan was “a third bridge, not a third term” in reference to the proposed expressway bridge across the Arkansas River. (This would eventually be built and is now the much-debated I-30 bridge.)

The Saturday before the election, the Hogs beat Texas A&M in Fayetteville at Homecoming while a cold snap held the South in its grip.  In addition to featuring both of those stories heavily, that weekend’s papers also carried the first ads advocating for Wassell. They were Wassell ads, in a manner.  Ads from the County Democratic Committee, County Democratic Women, and Democratic officeholders in the county urged voters to stick to party loyalty.  That would be the closest to a Wassell campaign ad in the autumn of 1951.

The night before the election, Wassell made his only radio appearance of the campaign while Remmel made yet another of his several appearances. Earlier that day in driving rain, there had been a Remmel rally and caravan through downtown, including passing by City Hall.

That evening, as the results came in, the fears of Democratic leaders were well-founded.  Remmel carried 23 precincts. Wassell won two precincts and the absentee ballots. His victories in those three boxes were only by a total of 46 votes.  Remmel won both Wassell’s home precinct (377 to 163) and his own (1,371 to 444).

In the end, the total was 7,794 for Remmel and 3,668 for Wassell.

And Little Rock was poised to have its first Republican mayor since W. G. Whipple had left office in April 1891, sixty years earlier.

Little Rock Look Back: 1938 Mayoral Primary

Two term incumbent R. E. Overman was challenged by businessman J. V. Satterfield for the 1938 Democratic mayoral primary in Little Rock.

It has been said that Overman never met a New Deal program he did not like, regardless of financial circumstances.  Partially in response to concerns about the City’s finances, a group of business leaders approached Satterfield about running for mayor. (Interestingly, at the time Satterfield lived just a few doors down from Overman.)

J. V. Satterfield was not a creature of politics. He had been a successful in the financial services industry. But he had not been active in the City’s political life.  In addition to concerns about the City’s finances, Overman was viewed as vulnerable due to the fact he had alienated most of the City Council.  (In fact, after renaming Fair Park in his honor, in a fit of pique the Council reversed course a few months later and returned the name to Fair Park. It is now War Memorial Park.)

In the campaign Overman proudly proclaimed his administration had given the City a public water utility, an airport, art museum, auditorium, golf courses, and street paving program.  Satterfield countered that many of those projects were actually federal projects and some had started before the Overman administration.  In a swipe at Overman, the Satterfield campaign noted that the incumbent forgot to take credit for the State Capitol in Baton Rouge and Soldier’s Field in Chicago.

Overman countered that Satterfield had no proposals and was a tool of the utilities.  He called the Bond Broker candidate. In return, Satterfield noted that Little Rock’s 1938 debt was $15.8 million, up from $2.04 million in 1935. He followed that with “and still bills go unpaid.”

In a rarity, the local Democratic primary took place on the actual General Election Day.  This boosted voter turnout.  Satterfield swept every precinct and every ward with a total of 6,432 votes while Overman garnered 2,978.

In April 1939, Satterfield easily won the City’s general election – he was unopposed.  At age 36 he became Little Rock’s 48th mayor.

Little Rock Look Back: Twelve Jailed Aldermen

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 other aldermen 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.

Mrs. C. C. 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 plead 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.

Little Rock Look Back: Mayoral Race of 1930

KNOWLTON

In the early 20th century, Little Rock mayors were traditionally granted a second two-year term, if they wanted them. So, 30 year old Mayor Pat Robinson may have been surprised when City Clerk Horace A. Knowlton Jr., announced his challenge for the Democratic primary in 1930.

Robinson had been the rising star of the Democratic Party in Little Rock. At the age of 25, he was nominated for the position of City Attorney and elected at 26 to the position. Two years later, he was re-elected. Then, a few months into his second term, he ran for the position of mayor. In the primary, he defeated the incumbent, an alderman and a school board member.  Taking office a few days after turning 29, Robinson was one of Little Rock’s youngest mayors ever.

However, shortly after taking office, Robinson butted heads with the majority of the City Council over a special election. And his term was marked with continual political strife.

In 1929 and 1930, Little Rock was recovering from the 1927 flood and the 1929 stock market crash. Yet Robinson appeared to be trying to spend the city out of the doldrums and driving up the city’s debt.

Knowlton was elected City Clerk in 1921 and had been re-elected in 1923, 1925, 1927, and 1929. He was viewed as an efficient politico and a stalwart member of the party.

The City’s financial state was the main thrust of Knowlton’s campaign against Robinson.  The phrase “orgy of spending” appeared in an ad. The incumbent countered with the progress of the City.

A third candidate, Bob Brown, was not a factor in the race.

November 10, 1930, dawned. It was the local Democratic primary day. Since the GOP was virtually non-existent, the winner of the nomination would be the ultimate winner in April 1931.

Anyone thinking the nasty election would be over soon was in for a surprise.

When the results came in, the tallies were: Horace A. Knowlton, 4,537; Pat L. Robinson, 4,554; Bob Brown. 61. It appeared that Robinson had eked out a 17 vote victory.  On November 12, the Pulaski County Democratic Committee certified the results.

Three days later, Knowlton filed suit in circuit court claiming that a variety of illegal votes had been cast for Robinson.  A few days later, Robinson alleged that illegal votes had been cast for Knowlton.

The case was extensive. The transcript of the trial runs over 1,800 pages.  The judge reviewed the more than 9,000 ballots cast and compared them to voter rolls and poll tax lists.  Ultimately, he found that Knowlton had received ten more votes than Robinson and declared that Knowlton was the nominee.

Knowlton’s name was placed on the ballot in April and he was elected, taking office later that month.

However, Robinson had appealed the circuit court ruling to the Arkansas Supreme Court.  In June 1921, the Court upheld the lower court ruling and affirmed that Knowlton was indeed the duly elected mayor of Little Rock.

Little Rock Look Back: Mayoral Race of 1928

Robinson

After serving two, 2-year terms, Mayor Charles Moyer sought a third term in the Democratic primary of 1928. There were three people standing in his way of a new term:  City Attorney Pat Robinson, School Board member H. T. “Will” Terry, and Alderman Joe H. Bilheimer, Jr.

Robinson had been elected City Attorney at the age of 27.  He was viewed as a rising star in not only the Democratic Party of Little Rock, but for the state as well.  He was no relation to US Senator Joe T. Robinson, who hailed from Lonoke County. Pat Robinson had roots in Clark County.  Alderman Billheimer had served on the Little Rock City Council since 1917, while Mr. Terry had been on the School Board for several years and been president of that body.

As the incumbent, Mayor Moyer spent most of the campaign on the defensive. His policies and programs were attacked. What was not attacked (or even mentioned) was his disappearance from Little Rock during the 1927 lynching of James Carter.  Mayor Moyer promoted his efforts for the successful amendment to the Arkansas Constitution which expanded the bonding capacity of cities. He also was proud of having established the Planning Commission for Little Rock.

Moyer largely ignored Bilheimer in his remarks. But he charged Robinson with dereliction in duty as City Attorney. He also questioned Terry’s business acumen.  Terry for his part stressed his work as a man who had started driving a milk wagon and then rose to become the head of a large dairy.  He took a swipe at single Robinson by stressing that he was a person with family ties.

Bilheimer questioned Moyer’s expenditures including $4,000 a year to keep City Hall clean. He claimed that was a payoff for a political contribution. He also noted that during Terry’s tenure on the school board, the Little Rock schools were only able to purchase milk from his dairy.  He also charged Terry with campaign violations. At the time, state law set that campaign expenditures could not exceed the salary of the position being sought. At the time, Little Rock paid $5,000 per year to the mayor.  Bilheimer charged that Terry was exceeding that.

Other than defend his record as City Attorney, Robinson fairly successfully stayed above the fray. He admitted that he was not aggressive prosecuting bootleggers or others connected to Prohibition offenses.

Rallies and radio were the order of the day as the campaign wound down.  On November 26, 1928, the primary took place.  Robinson won every precinct.  He captured 4,077 votes to 1,682 for Moyer, 1,518 for Terry, and 298 for Bilheimer.

The polls closed at 6pm.  By 8:30pm, the results were known and a Robinson victory parade filled the streets.  It marched down Main Street and then down Markham to City Hall.  On the steps, Mr. Robinson remarked, “I shall try always to be the same old Pat.”