Little Rock Look Back: Airplane explosion shatters Hillcrest calm

An LRPD officer talks to bystanders next to a piece of debris

An LRPD officer talks to bystanders next to a piece of debris

An LRPD officer talks to bystanders next to a piece of debrisThe peaceful morning of March 31, 1960, was interrupted by a horrendous noise over Hillcrest around 6:00am.  A six-engine B47 from the Little Rock Air Force Base exploded mid-air.

Flaming debris fell from Allsopp Park all the way to the State Capitol grounds and stretched from Cantrell to 12th Street.  Other debris was found as far away as the Country Club of Little Rock.  The next day the Arkansas Gazette ran a map which showed the extent of the damage.

Three airmen died in the explosion.  The only survivor from the crew, 1st Lieutenant Thomas Smoak, was found dangling from a tree in his parachute at Kavanaugh and Martin.  He was treated by a nurse, Jimmye Lee Holeman, in whose yard he had landed.

Two civilians on the ground were killed by falling debris.  Many vehicles and homes were damaged, some were destroyed by debris.  The damage estimate was put around $4 million.

Police and fire crews were quickly on the scene to secure impacted areas, fight fires and rescue injured persons.

Those who perished were Captain Herbert Aldridge, Lieutenant Colonel Reynolds Watson, Staff-Sergeant Kenneth Brose, and civilians Alta Lois Clark and James Hollabaugh.

Today, a portion of the crash site is part of the Arkansas Children’s Hospital campus.  Other sites were removed by the I-630 construction.  Other houses were rebuilt or removed.

While there may not be visible reminders of that fateful morning, to those who lost loved ones, there is still a sense of grief over their loss.  It is a reminder that History is not just places, names, and dates: but events that happened to actual people.

B47 Wreck Map

Arkansas Gazette map of debris and damage

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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.

Little Rock Look Back: First night of first TABRIZ

After over a decade of the Beaux Arts Bal (it was spelled the French way with only one “L”), a change was afoot in 1971. Because of the need to raise more money for the Arkansas Arts Center, the Fine Arts Club decided to replace their evening of dining and dancing with an auction event.

While there had undoubtedly been thrift sales and small-scale bidding on items to raise money in Little Rock, this effort would be the first large-scale endeavor to use an auction as part of a fundraiser.   In order to maximize the fundraising potential, it was decided this would be a two-night event. The first night (Friday, February 12) would be casual with a silent auction while the second (Saturday, February 13) would be formal.

There were two major reasons the Fine Arts Club needed to raise more money.  The National Endowment for the Arts had issued the Arts Center a challenge grant which required a $10,000 match. In addition, the Arkansas Arts Center was trying to build up an endowment for future purchases.  (This was less than three years after the facility had been faced with closing its doors.)

The name Tabriz was chosen because it was the name of a cultural city in the Mideast known for its marketplace.  The first edition had the tagline of “A Persian Market of All Things.”

The logo was designed by Jim Johnson of the firm then-known as Cranford/Johnson Associates. The decorations echoed the exotic theme employing palm trees, ferns, ceramic elephants, paisley fabric swaths, and turbans.

Among those working on the first Tabriz were Jane McGehee Wilson, Betty Mitchell, Betty Terry, Frances Cranford, Feetie Hurst, Tina Poe, Annette Connaway, Willie Oates, Phyllis Brandon, Jane Wolfe, and Mary Worthen.

Over 650 people attended the Friday night event. Admission of $5 provided sandwiches (conflicting newspaper accounts indicate either coldcut sandwiches or hot dogs) and beer.  Mixed drinks were an additional $1.

Newspaper coverage indicated that men wore “sports outfits,” suits without ties, or colorful parkas. It attracted men with “longhair and beards” and “conventional haircuts.” (Depending on who the writer was, “longhair” could have meant anything over one inch.)  The women that Friday favored maxi or midi skirts. There were no mini skirts on hand, but a Gazette reporter noted that some women were wearing hot pants which might make a mini skirt look long.

Music was provided by the trio of Tom, Jerry, and Barbara.

Because a Silent Auction was such a new thing, newspaper coverage pointed out that the rooms were actually quite full of sound as people chatted with each other both about bidding on the items and socializing in general.

To give people a preview of the auction items, the Arts Center galleries had been opened for viewing on the Sunday and Monday prior to the Friday and Saturday events.  An auction catalog was also available for pickup in advance of Friday.

Among the items up for bid were tennis and golf lessons, visits to beauty salons, credit at a pharmacy, a tour of the Municipal Courts building and lunch with city prisoners, a tour of the Little Rock Zoo, jewelry, artwork, tickets to Razorback games, a football jersey worn by Lance Alworth, a week in Las Vegas (one of only three items with a minimum bid), and a subscription to an answering service.

When all was said and done, the evening raised $9,500 for the Arkansas Arts Center.

Super Bowl Sunday look at the Copper Bowl

Today is Super Bowl Sunday, so it seems to be a good time to remember the five year series of football games in Little Rock known as the Copper Bowl.

A Little Rock police officer tackles a NLR player in one of the Copper Bowls.

A Little Rock police officer tackles a NLR player in one of the Copper Bowls.

From December 1959 through December 1963, the Little Rock Police Department played the North Little Rock Police Department in a series of football games.  The Copper Bowl games were fundraisers to help the LRPD provide food and presents for needy families during the Christmas season.

The agreement was that the teams would play for five years. The team with the most wins would permanently receive the Copper Bowl trophy.  The LRPD was outfitted with uniforms from Little Rock University and Louisiana State University (thanks to the efforts of Sgt. Harold Zook).  The games were played at Quigley Stadium.

Before the final game on December 1, 1963, the series was tied at 2-2.  The LRPD team won the game and permanently captured the trophy.  Over the five year period several thousand dollars were raised.

Little Rock Look Back: First six Little Rock Police officers are hired

On January 9, 1866, the new Little Rock City Council held its second meeting after the post-Civil War resumption of municipal government.  At that meeting, a special committee was created to meet with Gen. Williams who was the military commander for Arkansas.  Mayor J. J. McAlmont, Alderman I. A. Henry, and Alderman Henry Ashley were authorized to discuss the creation of a permanent police force in Little Rock.

At the same meeting, the City Council hired the first Little Rock police officers. These six men were hired on a temporary basis until a department could be created. Their pay was $3.00 a day (that would be the equivalent of $47.55 a day in 2019). The first six officers were John O’Brien, Thomas Doyle, James Anderson, John Henry, Fred Kurtz, and Joseph Chears.

Prior to the Civil War, Little Rock had a Constable and volunteers, but no police force.  As the City had continued to grow, even during the Civil War, as the government was reorganizing, it was felt it was time for a permanent police force.

The Little Rock Police Department was officially created on January 15, 1866 by Ordinance 2 of 1866. Two days later, the salary was set at $2.00 a day.  No reason was given as to the reduction from the temporary pay base.

Little Rock Look Back: Post-Civil War government resumes for Little Rock

One hundred and fifty three years ago today (on January 8, 1866), Little Rock City Hall resumed functioning after the Civil War.  The City government had disbanded in September 1863 after the Battle of Little Rock.  From September 1863 through the end of the war (on on through part of Reconstruction), Little Rock was under control of Union forces.

Following the April 1865 conclusion of the Civil War, plans were made to restart local government in Little Rock.  Even though Arkansas would not have Congressional representation in Washington until June 1868 (becoming the second Confederate state after Tennessee), the establishment of local government took place in January 1866.  (It was supposed to have started earlier, but the local elections set for November 1865 were cancelled on the day they were originally set to take place.)

The first City Council meeting took place on Monday, January 8, 1866. The council met again on Tuesday, January 9 and Monday, January 15 as they were trying to establish committees and rules for the new government.

The first post-Civil War mayor was Dr. J. J. McAlmont, who was a physician and pharmacist. Following his service as the city’s chief executive, he would later be a co-founder of what is now UAMS.  The initial aldermen were I.A. Henry (who had been on the City Council when it ceased in 1863), Henry Ashley, M. H. Eastman, Rick Bragg, Dr. P. O. Hooper, G. S. Morrison, John Collins and Alexander George.

Their first action was to approve the bond of Thomas C. Scott as Constable and City Collector.  Vouching for him were S. H. Tucker and future LR mayor John Gould Fletcher.  The Recorder was asked to present his bond and the next meeting.

The Mayor then established several committees of the City Council and named his appointments. Among the committees were Finances, Streets, Ordinances, Mount Holly Cemetery, Fire Department and Police.

That meeting and the following two meetings, the City continued to approve motions, resolutions and ordinances to set up the duties and responsibilities of a government.

Ordinance Number 1 established the rates of Licenses for 1866.  Among those were:

  • $100 for the privilege of selling goods at auction
  • $20 for a one-horse wagon, paid quarterly
  • $35 for a two-horse wagon, paid quarterly
  • $50 for a four-horse wagon, paid quarterly
  • $25 to run a cab or bus (which would have been in some horse drawn conveyance), paid quarterly
  • $40 a month to sell liquor, wine, ale, beer, etc., by the glass or bottle to be consumed in a store, tavern, shop or store
  • $25 each quarter for each billiard table
  • $50 each quarter for each ten pin alley

Elvis at 84

Elvis backstage at Robinson–photo by Wayne Cranford

Eighty-four years ago today, Elvis Presley was born in Tupelo, Mississippi. He would, of course, grow up to become a cultural phenomenon.

Elvis performed in Little Rock throughout his career. In April 1972, he played at Barton Coliseum (with tickets on the arena floor going for a whopping $10!). In the 1950s, he played three at Robinson Auditorium. His first appearance was as his career was just starting to take off. The final appearance on that stage, a mere 15 months later, was when he had become a national icon.

His first appearance at Robinson was on February 20, 1955. Billed as the “WSM Grand Ole Opry” show, Elvis Presley was third on the bill behind the Duke of Paducah and Mother Maybelle and the Carter Sisters as he began week long tour of Arkansas and Louisiana. On this date there were a pair of shows, at 3:00 and 8:15 p.m., at Robinson Auditorium. Tickets were 75-cents in advance, $1.00 at the box office and 50-cents for kids. It is believed that Gladys and Vernon Presley attended this performance, invited by Elvis who wanted to introduce them to the Colonel. Gladys was a big fan of the Duke of Paducah. Elvis Presley, Scotty Moore, and Bill Black receive $350 for these two shows instead of their usual $200 per day. In August 1955, he returned and played Robinson as part of the All-Star Jamboree.

His third and final appearance at Robinson Auditorium was on May 16, 1956. This time, the Auditorium was packed. The tickets were $1.50 in advance at Walgreens and $2.00 at the box office. The ads featured 8 great acts in “his” variety show which consisted of the Jordonaires; Rick and Emil Flaim and their orchestra; vocalists Frankie Conners and Jackie Little and comedian-magician Phil Maraquin. A second show was added to accommodate the ticket demand.

About 30 minutes late, due to a missed flight, Elvis appeared on stage in a purple blazer and started singing “Heartbreak Hotel.” The crowd rushed the stage. Little Rock police officers were able to control them eventually and get the teenagers back to their seats. While the crowd was impressed, the police officers were less so. One of the patrolmen told the Arkansas Gazette reporter: “I wouldn’t know him if I saw him. And I wouldn’t be here unless I was being paid.”