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.

Advertisements

MACARTHUR MUSEUM TO EXPAND HOURS OPEN TO PUBLIC

Effective April 1, the MacArthur Museum of Arkansas Military History will expand its hours of operation and remain open until 5 p.m. daily.  The museum was closed for renovations during much of 2018, and reopened to the public last fall.

“The increase in our hours comes exactly one year after the museum closed to undergo a $1.55 million renovation,” says Museum Director Stephan McAteer.  “We are delighted to be open more, allowing local, state, national and international visitors additional opportunities to visit the historic Arsenal Building and exhibits relating our state’s rich military heritage.”

A deciding factor in the decision to expand hours was the hiring of additional staffing.  Reveille Isgrig was hired to assist current staff with school tours, the museum’s reading program, and publicity.  Ms. Isgrig has a B.A. in English Literature from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock and a M.A. in Modern Art History, Theory, and Criticism from Azusa Pacific University. For 10 years she worked at the UALR Survey Research Center and has extensive experience in maintaining data archives.  As a volunteer with the Mac Park Group, she coordinated “MacArthur 125,” commemorating the anniversary of MacArthur Park’s creation, in conjunction with the museum’s reopening.

New hours for the museum, beginning April 1, will be Monday – Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday, 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. The MacArthur Museum of Arkansas Military History is located at 503 E. 9th St. in downtown Little Rock’s MacArthur Park. The museum is operated under the City’s Parks and Recreation Department.

Little Rock Look Back: LR Voters Overwhelmingly Support Arts+History

On Tuesday, February 9, 2016, Little Rock overwhelmingly approved the Arts+History initiative which funded expansion and enhancements to the Arkansas Arts Center, MacArthur Museum of Arkansas Military History, and MacArthur Park.

There were 7,989 votes cast in the special election.  This was 6.61% of the electorate.  Of those, 6,733 or 84.28% voted for the proposal.

In 2018, the MacArthur Museum of Arkansas Military History was closed for several months for a renovation, which was financed by these bonds.  It reopened in September.  The Arkansas Arts Center unveiled plans in February 2018 for its expansion.  It is preparing to start construction later in 2019. As part of that, Arts Center programming will continue in a variety of locations including Central Arkansas Library System branches.

Rock the Oscars 2019: Gregory Peck

In August 1977, Oscar winner Gregory Peck appeared in Little Rock for the premiere of the film MacARTHUR.  He played the general who had been born in Little Rock but who spent most of his life downplaying (or even denying) that fact.

MacArthur was brought to the screen by Universal Pictures.  It was their attempt to capitalize on the success of the movie Patton, including sharing some of the same members of the production team.

Told entirely in flashback, it starred Peck as the fabled World War II general who was born in Little Rock. It focuses primarily on events in 1942 during the war, his dismissal by Truman in 1952, and his famous address to West Point in 1962.

Peck initially did not care for the subject or the script, but eventually stated that he grew to admire the challenges MacArthur faced.  Peck later called it one of his favorites roles, if not one of his favorite movies.

Producer Frank McCarthy, who worked on both Patton and MacArthur once said of Patton and MacArthur: “Both were complex men but General MacArthur was complex on a much broader scale. Patton had no ambition except to be a soldier and to command a field army. He was strictly command.”

Most of the film was shot on the backlot at the movie studio, which impacted the quality of the film.  The production budget simply would not allow for overseas location filming.

The premiere was a fundraiser for the Museum of Science and History (now the Museum of Discovery).  At the time it was located in the Arsenal Building, in which MacArthur had been born.  Since 1999, that has been home to the MacArthur Museum of Arkansas Military History.  Since MacArthur only spent a few hours in Little Rock as an adult, it is possible that Peck spent more time in the building than the General did.

The evening of August 5, 1977, started with an exclusive reception for 100 people with Gregory and Veronique Peck.  The movie itself was shown at the Cinema 150, where its general run would start on Saturday, August 6.  Following the film, a reception and silent auction brought people back to the museum.  Tickets ran $250 a person for all events, $100 a person for the film and post-show reception, and $25 for the movie.  It sold out.

Governor and Mrs. David Pryor escorted the Pecks into the theatre.  Former Governor (and World War II hero) Sid McMath introduced Mr. Peck to the crowd.  He extolled the virtues of Peck and MacArthur.  (It is interesting that he should admire MacArthur so much, since the General and President Truman had a well-publicized tiff, and McMath and Truman had enjoyed a warm relationship.)  Little Rock City Director Jim Dailey presented Peck with a Key to the City.

MacArthur did not lead to an Oscar nomination for Peck (though he did earn a Golden Globe nomination for the role).  But the actor had enjoyed four nominations prior to his win for To Kill a Mockingbird.  He also received the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award from the Academy.  He served as president of the Academy for several years.

Little Rock Look Back: Birth of a General

On January 26, 1880, Douglas MacArthur was born in the Arsenal Building while his father was stationed at the Little Rock Barracks.  Though he left Arkansas a few weeks later when his father was transferred, he returned to his birthplace on March 23, 1952. On that day he was greeted by crowds welcoming one of the USA’s most famous military figures.

Though Gen. MacArthur spent only a few weeks in Little Rock, he was baptized at Christ Episcopal Church.  The location of the baptism remains a mystery today because the church was meeting in temporary locations due to the first structure having been lost to a fire.

When the General returned to Little Rock in 1952, he did pay a brief visit to Christ Church.  He also spoke at the Foster Bandshell in the park which bore his name.

When General MacArthur died, he was granted a state funeral.  He was one of the few non-Presidents to have been given this honor.

Today, the MacArthur Museum of Arkansas Military History is located in the Arsenal building.  It was created to interpret our state’s military heritage from its territorial period to the present.

Located in the historic Tower Building of the Little Rock Arsenal–the birthplace of General Douglas MacArthur–the museum preserves the contributions of Arkansas men and women who served in the armed forces.

Exhibits feature artifacts, photographs, weapons, documents, uniforms and other military items that vividly portray Arkansas’s military history at home and abroad.

Little Rock Look Back: Tornado lays waste to parts of Little Rock on January 21, 1999

Image result for january 1999 tornado little rockIn their 5pm and 6pm forecasts, Little Rock TV station meteorologists had warned of the potential for severe weather on the evening of January 21, 1999.

But no one seemed prepared for what happened.

A tornado cut through a huge swath of Little Rock stretching from the southwest portion of the city up through the Quapaw Quarter and beyond.  At least four people died in Pulaski County and over 150 houses were destroyed.

A Harvest Foods collapsed trapping people inside the store as storms pummeled survivors with rain and wind.  Stories were ripped off buildings. Sides of houses were peeled back.  Cars and trees were tossed about as if they were made of papier mache.

While not short-changing all of the devastation throughout the city – and there was a great deal – there were several cultural institutions and historic sites which were hit by this system.

  • A portion of the roof of Daisy Bates’ home was ripped off. Some of her books and papers were sucked up by the wind and scattered throughout the storm’s path.
  • The Governor’s Mansion sustained damage in addition to losing power and phones.
  • The original Fire Station 2 in MacArthur Park, then still serving as a museum storage facility, lost a portion of its roof and sustained water damage
  • The Arsenal Building, in the process of being prepared to become the MacArthur Museum of Arkansas Military History, lost a portion of its roof.  The storm’s impact also set off the sprinkler system in the building causing flooding throughout the interior of the building.
  • The Arkansas Arts Center sustained minor damage. The museum was hosting a reception that night for the opening of an exhibit. Many trees in MacArthur Park fell that evening, including several on cars of patrons present for the party.

It would take months and years for the areas hit by this storm to be rebuilt and recover.

The Museum of Discovery – which would have been impacted by the tornado if it had not relocated to the River Market District two years earlier – has an exhibit which allows persons to relive this night.  Tornado Alley Theater provides a riveting seven-minute experience for museum visitors as they relive the tornado that devastated the Governor’s Mansion district area of downtown Little Rock in January 1999. Hear the stories of people who survived the storm and see TV footage of the event as broadcast on THV 11 that fateful evening.

18 Cultural Events from 2018 – Reopening of MacArthur Museum of Arkansas Military History

After several months of renovations to the building, the MacArthur Museum of Arkansas Military History reopened on September 29.

The museum closed in March 2018 for five months of extensive structural work.  The $1.5 million renovation for the 178-year old structure included both interior and exterior upgrades.  The first phase of the project, which began last December, involved renovation to the north and south porches and was partially funded by a Historic Preservation Restoration Grant from the Department of Arkansas Heritage. The interior renovation includes upgrades to the heating and cooling systems, installation of new lighting, and repainting of interior gallery spaces.

Funding for the renovations came from proceeds of a hotel tax which was approved by Little Rock voters in February 2016.

The MacArthur Museum of Arkansas Military History was created to interpret our state’s military heritage from its territorial period to the present. It is a program of the City of Little Rock’s Department of Parks and Recreation.

Located in the historic Tower Building of the Little Rock Arsenal–the birthplace of General Douglas MacArthur–the museum preserves the contributions of Arkansas men and women who served in the armed forces.  Exhibits feature artifacts, photographs, weapons, documents, uniforms and other military items that vividly portray Arkansas’s military history at home and abroad.

In conjunction with the reopening, there will be a belated 125th birthday party for MacArthur Park. (The park actually opened on July 4, 1893.)  Originally known as Arsenal Park, it became known as City Park shortly thereafter. In 1942, it was renamed in honor of Gen. Douglas MacArthur, who was born there. At the time he was commanding US troops in the Pacific Theatre of Operations during World War II.

At ten that day, Vice Mayor Kathy Webb and other officials cut the ribbon to officially reopen the facility.