A Pulitzer Preview – Prizing Mount Holly Cemetery

The Pulitzer Prizes are to be announced tomorrow (Monday, April 15).  This year marks the 102nd anniversary of the prizes, though not all of the current categories have been around since 1917.

Mount Holly Cemetery not only touts that it is the site of a whole host of elected officials, it is also the only place in Arkansas where two Pulitzer Prize recipients are buried.

The cemetery is open every day, but a special visit to these two prize winner gravesites can be made on Sunday, April 28, during the Mount Holly Cemetery Association’s annual “Restore in Perpetuity” fundraiser picnic.

In 1939, John Gould Fletcher became the first Southern poet to win the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry.  He was born into a prominent Little Rock family in 1886.  Fletcher was awarded the prize for his collection Selected Poems which was published by Farrar in 1938.  Two years earlier, he had been commissioned by the Arkansas Gazette to compose an epic poem about the history of Arkansas in conjunction with the state’s centennial.

Fletcher is buried next to his wife, author Charlie May Simon and his parents (his father was former Little Rock Mayor John Gould Fletcher).  Other relatives are buried nearby in the cemetery.

The other Pulitzer Prize winner buried in Mount Holly is J. N. Heiskell, the longtime editor of the Arkansas Gazette.  It was Heiskell, in fact, who asked Fletcher to compose the poem about Arkansas.  Heiskell served as editor of the Gazette from 1902 through 1972.  He died at the age of 100 in 1972.

Under his leadership, the Gazette earned two Pulitzer Prizes for its coverage of the 1957 desegregation of Little Rock Central High.  One was for Harry Ashmore’s editorial writing and the other was for Public Service.

Heiskell remained in charge of the Gazette until his death in 1972.  He is buried alongside his wife with other relatives nearby.  Also not too far from Mr. Heiskell are two of his nemeses, proving that death and cemeteries can be the great equalizer. In the early days of his Gazette stewardship, he often locked horns with Senator (and former Governor) Jeff Davis. Later in Mr. Heiskell’s career, he vehemently disagreed with Dr. Dale Alford, who had been elected to Congress on a segregationist platform.

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Women Making History – The Mount Holly Cemetery Association

Instead of featuring one woman, today’s entry focuses on scores of women. The Mount Holly Cemetery Association has been protecting, preserving, and promoting Mount Holly Cemetery for over 100 years. The organization was empowered with these roles by the Little Rock City Council at a time when women still did not have the right to vote.

The Mount Holly Cemetery is a treasure trove of history, architecture and horticulture on the edge of downtown Little Rock.  It was established in 1843 when Chester Ashley and Roswell Beebe donated the land to the city of Little Rock. Feeling the town fathers were not giving the cemetery the attention it deserved, a group of Little Rock businessmen formed a cemetery commission on March 20, 1877. Charter members of the commission were J. H. Haney, Fay Hempstead, James Austin Henry, Philo O. Hooper, and Frederick Kramer. However the private group of men did no better in maintaining the cemetery.

In 1914, a contingent of the town’s women became critical of the cemetery’s unkempt appearance and took over the reins from the men. Following adoption of City Ordinance No. 2199 in June 1915, the ladies’ Mount Holly Cemetery Association was incorporated on July 20, 1915. (It should be noted this action by the women came at a time when women did not have the right to vote.)

The Mount Holly Cemetery Association grew out of a meeting which took place on June 9, 1914 at the home of Mrs. A. H. Scott. Thirty-six women gathered for the purpose of improving the cemetery.

An executive committee was formed, and the women started working on improvements to the cemetery. Though first viewed by some men as an auxiliary to the Cemetery Commission, it quickly became apparent that the women were in no mood to take a back seat in matters pertaining to Mount Holly.

The first executive board (from June 1914 to July 1915) included Mrs. A. H. Scott, Mrs. B. S. Johnson, Mrs. George Thornburgh, Mrs. Moorhead Wright, Mrs. H. M. Bennett, Mrs. George Worthen, Mrs. W. E. Green, Mrs. George Stratman, Miss Louise Gibson and Miss Clara Hotze.

The July 1915 incorporators were Mrs. Scott as well as Julia E. Bennett, Eva C. Shields, Rosa M. Miller, Ruby P. Ratcliffe and Marguerite R. English. Mrs. Bennett, known affectionately as “Scrap” would serve as the first president, and Miss Miller was the first secretary.

Over the years the Association has undertaken countless projects large (construction of a mausoleum) and small (signs on the lanes) to improve Mount Holly Cemetery for its residents and for visitors.

In 1993, the Association published a history of the first 150 years of the cemetery.  More recently, they launched the annual RIP (Rest in Perpetuity) picnic held the last Sunday in April on the grounds.  They have also published a cookbook–Recipes in Perpetuity.

Today, the Mount Holly Cemetery Association is still going strong!

Women Making History – Dr. Sybil Jordan Hampton

Dr. Sybil Jordan Hampton made history as the first African American student to attend each high school year at and graduate from Little Rock Central High School.  But her impact on history exceeds that and extends into classrooms throughout Arkansas.

After a career which took her from elementary classrooms to corporate boardrooms, Dr. Hampton returned to Little Rock in 1996 to become the President of the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation.  In that capacity, she oversaw many opportunities to broaden the ways the arts and humanities were used in classrooms and outside of classrooms.  Dr. Hampton led the WRF until her retirement in 2006.  Through her vision and leadership, many tens of thousands of dollars of support went to cultural institutions and organizations during her decade at the helm.

In the mid-2000s, following the unexpected death of the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra’s executive director, Dr. Hampton served as acting executive director of the ASO while a national search could be conducted.  She had long been a supporter of the ASO and other cultural institutions as a patron.

During the Central High Integration 60th Anniversary, Dr. Hampton served as emcee of the Commemoration Ceremony.  A few months later, she received one of the LRCH Tiger Foundation’s first Award of Excellence. She has also been honored by inclusion in the Arkansas Civil Rights Heritage Trail and the Arkansas Black Hall of Fame.

She continues to be involved with Little Rock’s cultural life through her involvement in the Mount Holly Cemetery Association. She is a tireless advocate for this living museum of Little Rock’s past.

Last year, she was was interviewed by The HistoryMakers.  Recently, she was featured at Robinson Center when the public radio program “The Moth” recorded a show there.  L

 

Remember the Fallen on Memorial Day at Mount Holly Cemetery

Today is Memorial Day – a time to pay tribute to the men and women in uniform who died in service to their country.

As a way to give this recognition, today would be a good day to visit a cemetery. One of Little Rock’s most storied cemeteries is Mount Holly Cemetery. There are numerous persons buried there who died while in service to their country.

One of them is 2Lt Carrick W. Heiskell, son of Arkansas Gazette editor J. N. Heiskell.  2Lt Heiskell died while flying for the Air Transport Command in the Himalayas during World War II.  He was posthumously the recipient of the Distinguished Unit Emblem, Purple Heart, and the Air Medal.

Founded in 1843, Mount Holly has been called “The Westminster Abbey of Arkansas.” Thousands of visitors come each year. Those interested in history come to see the resting places of the territorial citizens of the state, including governors, senators, generals, black artisans, and even a Cherokee princess. For others the cemetery is an open air museum of artistic eras: Classical, Victorian, Art Deco, Modern––expressed in gravestone styles from simple to elaborate. Some come to read the epitaphs that range from heartbreaking to humorous to mysterious.

Though a City of Little Rock facility, the cemetery is maintained by the Mount Holly Cemetery Association, a non-profit organization with a volunteer Board of Directors. The cemetery is located at 1200 South Broadway in Little Rock. Gates are open from 8 a.m. until 5 p.m. in the summer and from 8 a.m. until 4 p.m. in the winter.

175 years of Mount Holly Cemetery

2018 marks the 175th year of Mount Holly Cemetery in Little Rock.

The land was donated by Roswell Beebe and Chester Ashley in February 1843.  From March through October 1843, the Little Rock City Council would pass a variety of ordinances and resolutions governing the cemetery and making other provisions for it.

Though the opening day sale of lots and picnic would not take place until May 1843, the first burial appears to have been on April 8, 1843.  William Cummins was buried will full Masonic orders on that day.  The service was conducted by Little Rock’s second mayor, Rev. W. W. Stevenson.

On May 1, 1843, it became illegal to bury persons in Little Rock any where other than Mount Holly.  This ordinance had been adopted on March 7, 1843.

The prior cemetery had been at Capitol and Gaines Streets (on which a portion of the Federal Courthouse now stands). Skeletal remains have also been found at Seventh and Rock Streets, in what was probably a family burial plot.  Other small plots were in existence until action in 1834 by the Little Rock Town Council which prohibited private cemeteries.

During the Civil War and years following it, the City would establish other cemeteries and allow additional cemeteries to be created.  But the creation of Mount Holly marked another step in Little Rock’s development as a city.

From 1843 until 1877, Mount Holly was governed by a City Council Committee.  Upset by the lack of attention given to the cemetery, a group of civic leaders asked the City Council to create a separate Commission to govern the cemetery. This was done on March 20, 1877.  It was possibly the first City Board or Commission composed of non-elected officials.

By 1914, the cemetery was once again being neglected.  This time a group of Little Rock’s leading women decided it was time to band together to address it.  In June 1915, the Little Rock City Council disbanded the Cemetery Commission for Mount Holly and designated the Mount Holly Cemetery Association as the governing body.  103 years later, the ladies of the Mount Holly Cemetery Association continue this outstanding work.

On Pulitzer Day, prizing Mount Holly Cemetery

The Pulitzer Prizes are to be announced today.  This year marks the 101st anniversary of the prizes, though not all of the current categories have been around since 1917.

Mount Holly Cemetery not only touts that it is the site of a whole host of elected officials, it is also the only place in Arkansas where two Pulitzer Prize recipients are buried. The cemetery is open every day, but a special visit to these two prize winner gravesites can be made on Sunday, April 30, during the Mount Holly Cemetery Association’s annual “Rest in Perpetuity” fundraiser picnic.

In 1939, John Gould Fletcher became the first Southern poet to win the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry.  He was born into a prominent Little Rock family in 1886.  Fletcher was awarded the prize for his collection Selected Poems which was published by Farrar in 1938.  Two years earlier, he had been commissioned by the Arkansas Gazette to compose an epic poem about the history of Arkansas in conjunction with the state’s centennial.

Fletcher is buried next to his wife, author Charlie May Simon and his parents (his father was former Little Rock Mayor John Gould Fletcher).  Other relatives are buried nearby in the cemetery.

The other Pulitzer Prize winner buried in Mount Holly is J. N. Heiskell, the longtime editor of the Arkansas Gazette.  It was Heiskell, in fact, who asked Fletcher to compose the poem about Arkansas.  Heiskell served as editor of the Gazette from 1902 through 1972.  He died at the age of 100 in 1972.

Under his leadership, the Gazette earned two Pulitzer Prizes for its coverage of the 1957 desegregation of Little Rock Central High.  One was for Harry Ashmore’s editorial writing and the other was for Public Service.

Heiskell remained in charge of the Gazette until his death in 1972.  He is buried alongside his wife with other relatives nearby.  Also not too far from Mr. Heiskell are two of his nemeses, proving that death and cemeteries can be the great equalizer. In the early days of his Gazette stewardship, he often locked horns with Senator (and former Governor) Jeff Davis. Later in Mr. Heiskell’s career, he vehemently disagreed with Dr. Dale Alford, who had been elected to Congress on a segregationist platform.

LR Women Making History – Mary Fletcher Worthen

Mary Fletcher Worthen cultivated history and music with the same grace and skill as she cultivated gardens.

Born outside of Scott, she attended Vassar and Little Rock Junior College. After marrying banker Booker Worthen, she has devoted her life to improving Little Rock. Together with Stella Boyle and George Smith, she and Booker helped found the precursor to the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra.  Through its many iterations, she has been a steadfast supporter and is now a life member of the ASO Board.  She has also been a supporter of many other music organizations in Little Rock including the Chamber Music Society of Little Rock, of which she was a founder.

Another hallmark of her involvement is Mount Holly Cemetery Association.  For over 50 years she has served on the board of this body.  Without notes, she can recite the history of practically every resident buried there.  The tours she would lead with Peg Newton Smith were hot commodities when auctioned at fundraisers.  These two loving and lifelong friends would sometimes remember things differently. They playfully prodded and needled each other as they wended and winded their way through the headstones and history regaling rapt audiences with yarns of yore, quips and quotes, plus an anecdote or two.

She has also served on the Old State House Museum Board and the Pulaski County Historical Society Board.  As a historian, she literally wrote the book on Trinity Episcopal Cathedral.  She combined her interest in herb gardening and history with the creation of the Medicinal Garden at Historic Arkansas Museum, which is now named in her honor.

Born in 1917, up until her final days in 2015 Mary Worthen continued to learn new facts, share her love of history and music, and work to cultivate the next generations of cultural enthusiasts.