Today is Flag Day. Here are several photos of the Stars and Stripes taken in Little Rock over the past few years.
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.
Thomas D. Merrick was born on 23 May, 1814, in Hampden County, Massachusetts. He later moved to Indianapolis IN and Louisville KY before ending up in Little Rock.
On January 17, 1841, he married Anna M. Adams of Kentucky at Christ Episcopal Church in Little Rock. They had seven children: George, Annie, Ellie, Mollie, Lillian, Dwight, and Thomas. Thomas died at age ten.
Merrick became a prominent member of the Little Rock business community, as a merchant and cotton broker. He was involved in Freemasonry, holding the position of Grand Secretary of the Grand Lodge of Arkansas in 1845.
In 1855 Merrick entered into a business partnership with future LR Mayor John Wassell. Merrick was also involved in city politics, serving on the city council and also as mayor from January 1854 to January 1855.
He saw active service during the Civil War. On February 6, 1861, Merrick delivered an ultimatum to Captain James Totten of the United States Arsenal at Little Rock, demanding the surrender of the federal troops. This was more than two months before Fort Sumter was attached,.
Merrick also raised a regiment of Confederate Arkansas Militia, holding the rank of Colonel of Infantry at Camp Conway, near Springfield, Arkansas. Following the Battle of Shiloh (April 1862), Merrick resigned his commission and returned to Little Rock.
Merrick died in his home in Little Rock on March 18, 1866. He is buried in 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.
Eliza Wilson Bertrand Cunningham was the First Lady of Little Rock. She literally was the first lady and the founding mother.
She became the first permanent female resident when she joined her husband Matthew Cunningham in Little Rock. She gave birth to Chester Ashley Cunningham, the first baby born in Little Rock, as well as several other children with Cunningham. When he became the first Mayor of Little Rock, she was the first First Lady of Little Rock. They hosted the first Little Rock Council meeting at their house on what is now the block downtown bounded by Third, Main, Fourth and Louisiana Streets. Her son Charles P. Bertrand, from her first husband, later served as Mayor of Little Rock, making her the only woman to be married to a Mayor and be mother of a Mayor.
Born in Scotland in December 1788, she emigrated with her parents to the United States as a young girl. In 1804 or 1805, she married a French businessman, Pierre Bertrand in New York City. She lived in New York City, while he traveled to his various business ventures. He never returned from a trip to his coffee plantation in Santo Domingo and was presumed to have died in 1808 or 1809. She and Bertrand had three children, Charles Pierre, Arabella and Jane. (Jane may have died in childhood, because records and lore only indicated Charles and Arabella coming to Little Rock with their mother.)
Eliza married Dr. Matthew Cunningham in New York City. He later moved to Saint Louis and settled in Little Rock in early 1820. Eliza and her two children came to Little Rock in September 1820. In 1822, she gave birth to Chester Ashley Cunningham, the first documented baby born in Little Rock. (There are unsubstantiated reports that at least one slave child may have been born prior to Chester.) She and Matthew also had Robert, Henrietta, Sarah and Matilda. The latter married Peter Hanger, after whom the Hanger Hill neighborhood is named.
Dr. Cunningham died in June 1851. Eliza died in September 1856. They and Chester (who died in December 1856) are buried in the Hanger family plot at Mount Holly Cemetery.
On April 28, 1784, in Virginia, future Little Rock Alderman (and acting Mayor) Major Nicholas Peay was born the eleventh of at least thirteen children. (His gravestone lists a May date for his birth, but all other records indicate April 28, 1784.) A veteran of the War of 1812 and the Indian Wars, he later moved to Kentucky (where he met and married his wife, Juliet Neill, in 1814) before settling in Arkansas on September 18, 1825. At the time, they were the ninth family to set up residence in Little Rock.
After arriving in Little Rock, he bought the Little Rock Tavern. This started a fifty year tradition of his family owning taverns and hotels in Little Rock. In 1828, he was appointed Assistant Postmaster of Little Rock. From 1825 to 1831, Little Rock residents were allowed to elect five Trustees prior to the formal incorporation. Major Peay was one of those who served on the Board of Trustees.
He later served on the Little Rock City Council, and in 1839 served for seven months as Acting Mayor due to the prolonged absence of Mayor Jesse Brown. In 1841, his friend Gen. Zachary Taylor, paid a visit to Little Rock and stayed with him on the General’s way to Fort Smith.
Nicholas and Juliet Peay had at least eleven children, though only five appeared to have lived until adulthood. One of those, Gordon Neill Peay, served as Little Rock’s 23rd Mayor from 1859 to 1861. Other descendants of Nicholas Peay who followed him into public service include his grandson Ashley Peay, who was an Alderman in the 1920s (son of John Coleman Peay) and great-great-grandson Joseph B. Hurst (a great-grandson of Mayor Peay), who was a City Director from 1967 to 1970. In addition, City Director Hurst’s daughter-in-law, Stacy Hurst served three terms on the City Board from 2003 to 2014; she is now Director of the Department of Arkansas Heritage.
Major Peay’s egg-nog recipe has been passed down for generations. It is the inspiration for the Historic Arkansas Museum yearly Nog-Off. Retired HAM director Bill Worthen and his daughter are the sixth and seventh generation of the family to make Peay’s egg-nog.
Major Nicholas Peay is buried with his wife and many other family members in Mount Holly Cemetery.
The Smithsonian Institution records indicate they have an oil painting of Major Peay as well as of his wife. But there are conflicting records as to whether they have been lost or are in private collections.
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.