50 Years since the Giant Leap for Mankind

On July 20, 1969, at 3:17 pm (Little Rock time), the lunar module Eagle set down in the Sea of Tranquility on the moon. Astronaut Neil Armstrong radioed to Mission Control in Houston, “The Eagle has landed.”

At 9:39 pm, several hours ahead of schedule, Armstrong opened the hatch and started his slow descent to the lunar surface.  At 9:56 pm, he set his booted foot on the moon and uttered his now famous (and garbled) statement: “That’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.”

At 10:15 pm, astronaut Buzz Aldrin joined Armstrong on the moon.  The pair explored the surface, conducted experiments, took photos, and planted the US flag.  They also spoke with President Nixon.  Shortly after midnight on July 21, the pair returned to the Eagle.  Twelve hours later they began heading back to the Apollo 11 which was orbiting the moon piloted by astronaut Michael Collins.

Since the Arkansas Gazette was a morning paper, they did not carry the news until the morning of July 21.  Though the Arkansas Democrat was an afternoon paper, they published their Sunday edition in the morning. And since the events transpired after what would have been their afternoon deadline, their coverage did not appear until the afternoon of July 21.  (During liftoff, the Democrat got the lead on the Gazette by publishing stories on it in their July 16 edition while the Gazette had to wait until July 17.)

As expected, much of the news in those papers was about the moon landing. Even some of the other news had a lunar bent. A photo showed US soldiers in Viet Nam listening on the radio to coverage of the landing.

But there was other news going on.  Egypt and Israel were still fighting.  Indira Gandhi celebrated a political victory in India, while Spain was looking toward Prince Juan Carlos eventually becoming King upon the death or retirement of Franco (which would not come until 1975).  It was announced that Senator Ted Kennedy would be charged with leaving the scene of an accident after his wreck in Chappaquiddick which resulted in the death by drowning of his companion,  Mary Jo Kopechne.

Closer to home, the new Miss Arkansas, Marilyn Kay Allen, was adjusting to her new role.  The Arkansas Constitutional Convention continued to grind on.  The Travelers lost 4 to 1 to Amarillo on the road.

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Little Rock Look Back: Apollo 11 Lifts Off on July 16, 1969

On July 16, 1969, Apollo 11 lifted off from Florida as 528 million people (15% of the world’s population at the time) viewed it on television.  As would be expected for that historic trip to the moon, both the Arkansas Gazette and the Arkansas Democrat were filled with stories covering all aspects of the preparations and the launch.

The Gazette carried a story in which Sargent Shriver, then Ambassador to France, recalled his brother-in-law John F. Kennedy saying that if he died before the US landed on the moon, he would be watching it from his rocking chair in heaven and would have a better view than anyone on earth. The comments were made on May 25, 1962, the same day President Kennedy addressed a joint session of Congress about the quest to send man to the moon.

But Apollo 11 was not the only thing in the newspapers.

  • July 16 was the first preliminary night for the Miss Arkansas pageant.
  • Ruth the elephant was ailing at the Little Rock Zoo.
  • The Arkansas Constitutional Convention continued
  • The Loch Ness Monster had gone into hiding according to Scottish officials
  • Plans were underway to bring private Little Rock University into the University of Arkansas System

Sports headlines included:

  • The Cardinals beat the Phillies 5 to 0
  • The Travelers were rained out at home.
  • Joe Namath was in secret meetings with NFL leadership regarding his retirement plans. He’d announced them rather than give up ownership of a club frequented by mobsters.
  • Brooks Robinson was named to his 13th consecutive All-Star game.

In advertisements (and there were pages and pages and pages of advertisements – comparing them to papers of today one really sees how much a drop in revenue newspapers are facing):

  • Curtis Finch Furniture offered a side by side refrigerator with icemaker for $499
  • Bruno’s was now serving wine and cocktails
  • Moses Melody Shop had a color TV for $399.50
  • Pfeifer-Blass was selling shoes for $3.50 and women’s jersey dresses for $11.99

There She Was: Donna Axum as Miss America sings at Robinson Auditorium in May 1964

Photo from Encyclopedia of Arkansas, courtesy of Mike Polston

While she had made a few other appearances in Little Rock during her reign as Miss America, on May 11, 1964, Donna Axum appeared in concert at Robinson Auditorium.

She sang with the Arkansas Symphony (not directly connected with the current Arkansas Symphony Orchestra) and the Arkansas Choral Society.

The concert was part of the Arkansas State Festival of the Arts which was an annual event from the late 1950s until the late 1960s.

Before her death in the fall of 2018, her final two appearances at Robinson were in conjunction with the Miss Arkansas pageant being held there.

In June 2017, she appeared, along with several other former Miss Arkansas title holders, at the 2017 Miss Arkansas pageant.  She was joined on stage by Savvy Shields, who like Miss Axum, was a former Miss Arkansas who held the title of Miss America. She and Savvy were both back at Robinson in June 2018 for the Miss Arkansas pageant.

When the Miss Arkansas pageant is back on stage at Robinson in June 2019, there will undoubtedly be a tinge of sadness that Donna Axum is not on stage with the other former title holders.

Final day to see Miss Arkansas gowns at Old State House Museum

For the second year in a row, the Old State House Museum has had an exhibit of gowns worn by winners of the Miss Arkansas title.

While many of the gowns are those worn on the night the winner was crowned, among the collection is a gown worn by Helen Gennings, Miss Arkansas 1968. After her win, Helen went with other pageant winners from across the country to entertain troops in Vietnam. The gown has dirt on the sleeve and hem from Vietnam.  As a tribute to the troops, Helen refused to have the dress cleaned.

You can see this and other gowns at the Old State House today from 9am until 5pm.

The Old State House Museum is an agency of the Department of Arkansas Heritage.

Little Rock Look Back: Miss America Donna Axum sings at Robinson Auditorium

Photo from Encyclopedia of Arkansas, courtesy of Mike Polston

While she had made a few other appearances in Little Rock during her reign as Miss America, on May 11, 1964, Donna Axum appeared in concert at Robinson Auditorium.

She sang with the Arkansas Symphony (not directly connected with the current Arkansas Symphony Orchestra) and the Arkansas Choral Society.

The concert was part of the Arkansas State Festival of the Arts which was an annual event from the late 1950s until the mid 1960s.

Miss Axum’s most recent appearance at Robinson was last June when she appeared, along with several other former Miss Arkansas title holders, at the 2017 Miss Arkansas pageant.  She was joined on stage by Savvy Shields, who like Miss Axum, was a former Miss Arkansas who held the title of Miss America.

LR Women Making History – Betty Fowler

Photo courtesy of the Arkansas Jazz Heritage Foundation

The word “Entertainer” seemed to have been invented for Betty Fowler.

Born in Wynne, her love for music began at age 9, when she started taking piano lessons. Betty began her illustrious career at age 18 after winning a talent contest, which gave her the push she needed to pursue her life’s passion. Betty graduated from Little Rock Jr. College in 1944. She spent most of her life in Little Rock as a popular musician and television entertainer.

Betty began her musical career on a statewide radio show. She moved on to become a television performer in the early 1950’s in Little Rock with what is now known as Channel 7. She was best known for her children’s TV show, “Betty’s Little Rascals”, which began in 1955.

She went on to co-host the “Little Rock Today Show” on Channel 4 with Bud Campbell, where she did live commercials, played the piano and interviewed celebrities who came to town, such as Liberace, Sammy Davis Jr., Bob Hope, Red Buttons and Robert Goulet.

Through the years, Betty maintained a vigorous schedule with her band, “The Betty Fowler Four”, which produced a record album of her music. She was also musical director for The Miss Arkansas Pageant (1960-84), Musical Director for Broadway musicals produced by the Community Theater, Musical Director for the Farkleberry Follies and The Gridiron.

For many years, Betty taught piano and had a recording studio in her home, where she gave voice coaching lessons and made accompany tapes for many aspiring performers.  Betty Fowler will forever be remembered and treasured for her lifetime love and devotion to the world of music, both in performing and in the teaching of music to others.

Little Rock Look Back: Aluminum Bowl

Aluminum_Prog_f

Courtesy of Paul Edwards to the Encyclopedia of Arkansas History and Culture

On December 22, 1956, Little Rock played host to the first (and only) Aluminum Bowl.  It was the NAIA national championship game between Montana State University and St. Joseph’s College (of Indiana).  This was the first time the NAIA had a football championship.

Originally the game was set to be played in Shreveport, Louisiana.  But because some NAIA schools were integrated, it was forbidden by a state law passed by the Louisiana legislature.  The Little Rock Chamber of Commerce and others worked to bring the game to War Memorial Stadium.  Because of the importance of the aluminum industry in Central Arkansas, the name Aluminum Bowl was chosen.  Both ALCOA and Reynolds were major sponsors of the event.

The game, which was aired on CBS TV and radio, was played on a rain-soaked muddy field and turned into a defensive slugfest. Both teams only got close to scoring once.  The score ended up a 0 to 0 tie.  Both teams were declared co-champions.  The rain kept the crowds away as only 5,000 people showed up leaving 33,000 empty seats in the stadium.  Miss Arkansas Barbara Banks, who had been wearing a dress made entirely out of aluminum, spent the game covered up to keep the dress dry.

The next year, the game went to Saint Petersburg, Florida, where it was rechristened the Holiday Bowl.  The Little Rock outing would mark the only appearance by either team in the NAIA championship game.  Both teams subsequently switched to NCAA competition.  As of the spring of 2017, St. Joseph’s has suspended operations because of financial shortcomings.

It has been said that Little Rock leaders had wanted to get the Aluminum Bowl game to showcase that Little Rock was a progressive Southern city when it came to race relations. By 1956 the buses and the public library were integrated.  However, both teams were faced with their African American players having to stay at separate hotels while in Central Arkansas (one in Little Rock, the other team in Hot Springs).

For more on the Aluminum Bowl, visit the Encyclopedia of Arkansas History and Culture.