Elvis at 85

Photo by Wayne Cranford

Eighty-five 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.”

Resumption of City of Little Rock government in post-Civil War era

One hundred and fifty four 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

Tricks and Treats on Little Rock Streets: Halloween 1950 in Downtown

A recent romp through an ARKANSAS GAZETTE gave insight into Halloween in Little Rock in the middle of the 20th Century.

Apparently by late afternoon on Halloween 1950, downtown Little Rock was filled with kids and teens in costumes. Much of the focus seemed to be on tricks as many of these revelers were utilizing water guns to soak people, throwing enough talcum powder to create an aroma downtown, shooting off firecrackers, and soaping store windows. Several industrious store owners had coated there windows with glycerine so that soap would not mark them.

The mayhem was enough to cause even more problems to traffic at rush hour. Police officers were helpless as they were directing traffic.  One city bus filled with passengers was attacked by a phalanx of waterguns, until the windows were all closed.

GAZETTE writer noted that two teen boys were dressed rather convincingly as girls. One was described as “rather pretty.” It was not until the teen let out an expletive (which the paper reported as “g— d—–”) that the reporter was certain it was a male.

Not everyone was focused on tricks.  Merchants in the Heights neighborhood created a block party with a carnival. It was deemed to be so successful that it would become an annual event.

On Sept. 21, 1863, Little Rock City Hall suspended operations for duration of Civil War

A few days after the defeat at the Battle of Little Rock, the City of Little Rock ceased operations on September 21, 1863.

Planning for this cessation had started in August, which would suggest that civic leaders were none too confident in the ability of Confederate forces to hold on to the city.  At the August 24, 1863, City Council meeting it was reported that the City’s funds (presumably Confederate) had been “placed in the hands of a reliable party who is well known to the Council.”  The identity of this “reliable party” has never been disclosed.

On September 21, the Council met and took three votes.  The first was to suspend the operation of City police (which at the time was not an official police force, it was a constable and some volunteers). The second was to suspend the collection of City taxes.  The final vote was to adjourn.

There is no record of Mayor William Ashley being present at this meeting.  Recorder A. J. Smith (the equivalent of City Clerk today) was not present.  The minutes were signed by “J. Ash, Deputy.” Records do not indicate if that gentleman was officially Deputy Recorder or if he had simply been deputized to take minutes at the meeting.  The five City Council members present were C. P. Bertrand (a former mayor and step-son of Little Rock’s first mayor, Matthew Cunningham), S. H. Tucker, W. B. Walt, I. A. Henry (would would also serve on the first City Council after the war in 1866), and Lou George.

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