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 May 23, 1814, in Hampden County, Massachusetts. He later moved to Indianapolis and Louisville 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.
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 attacked.
Captain Totten ignored the ultimatum. Merrick, however, did not lead an attack on the Arsenal, which would have certainly been viewed as aggression against the federal government.
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.
2019 marks the 176th 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 location 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.
Mount Holly’s Annual Spring Picnic will be held April 28, 2019!
On the last Sunday of every April the supporters and friends of Mount Holly gather in the cemetery from 5-7 p.m. for a picnic, silent auction, and entertainment. Funds raised at the picnic help maintain the cemetery as a beautiful historic landmark.
- Turn of the century picnic “delicacies”
- Live music
- Performances by several Parkview students reprising their roles from Tales of the Crypt
- Silent auction of items, experiences, elegant dinner parties, and opportunities for exclusive events at Mount Holly Cemetery.
Guests will have the opportunity to join in a tour of the cemetery. Enjoy either a history tour featuring famous and infamous residents of Mount Holly or a naturalist’s tour of the flora of Mount Holly.
Tickets are $75.00 for adults, $25.00 for children under 18. Purchase tickets online through Eventbrite.com
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.