Little Rock Look Back: John Wassell

Future Little Rock Mayor John Wassell was born on February 15, 1813 in Kidderminster, England.

In 1829, he came to the United States.  He learned carpentry and construction in Ohio and ended up in Little Rock.  One of his jobs was as the finishing contractor on the State Capitol building, now known as the Old State House.

He later gave up carpentry and became an attorney.  (It is said that he did so after becoming embroiled in a legal dispute arising from one of his construction jobs.) Wassell also served as a judge.

In 1868, he was appointed Mayor of Little Rock by President Andrew Johnson.  He is Little Rock’s only Mayor to have served through a military appointment.  Mayor Wassell died in January 1881 and is buried at Mount Holly Cemetery along with his wife and other family members.  One of his grandsons, Samuel M. Wassell also served as Mayor of Little Rock. Another one, Dr. Corydon Wassell, was the subject of the Hollywood film The Story of Dr. Wassell.

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2nd Friday Cinema at Old State House: THE CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON

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In 2013, the Old State House played host to Little Rock native Julie Adams where she discussed her work in the film The Creature from the Black Lagoon.  Miss Adams died earlier this month. As a tribute to her, the Old State House is screening her seminal film.

This 1954 movie tells the tale of a strange prehistoric beast which lurks in the depths of the Amazonian jungle. A group of scientists try to capture the animal and bring it back to civilization for study. The explorers capture the mysterious creature, but it breaks free. The Gill-Man returns to kidnap the lovely Kay (played by Adams), fiancée of one in the expedition, with whom it has fallen in love.

 

Rock the Oscars 2019: THE STORY OF DR. WASSELL

From April 24 to 26, 1944, future Oscar winner Cecil B. DeMille was in Little Rock for the world premiere screening of The Story of Dr. Wassell.  This 1944 Paramount Pictures Technicolor release told the story of wartime hero Dr. Corydon Wassell.  It would be nominated for the Oscar for Best Special Effects.

Why was Little Rock chosen?  It was the hometown of Dr. Wassell.  His paternal grandfather, John Wassell, was Little Rock’s 27th mayor.  His first cousin, Sam Wassell, was serving on the City Council at the time of the film’s release and would become Little Rock’s 51st mayor.

Based on a book by James Hilton, it was inspired by the heroic efforts of Dr. Wassell, a naval officer, as he led the evacuation of several sailors (and treated their wounds) in Java in February 1942.  President Roosevelt highlighted Dr. Wassell in his May 26, 1942, fireside chat.

Little Rock rolled out the red carpet (literally and figuratively) for DeMille and a contingency from Hollywood.  Dr. and Mrs. Wassell also returned to Little Rock for the festivities.  Unfortunately, Gary Cooper (who played Wassell in the film) was unable to attend due to illness.  His costar, Laraine Day, was making another film and could not attend either.    Those in attendance with DeMille (and Mrs. DeMille) included actresses Signe Hasso and Carol Thurston, and actor Melvin Francis.  The latter played himself; he had actually been one of the sailors saved by Dr. Wassell.

On April 24, 1944, DeMille and Dr. Wassell appeared on a radio program broadcast live from the music hall of Robinson Auditorium.  The next day, the troupe toured Camp Robinson and spoke to the soldiers there.  Later that day, Miss Hasso and Miss Thurston sold war bonds at Pfeiffers and M.M. Cohn’s.

April 26, 1944, was a full day for the DeMilles, the Wassells, and the others.  It started with a luncheon at the Hotel Marion, hosted by the Lions Club and Little Rock Chamber of Commerce.  Governor Homer Adkins presented DeMille with an Arkansas Traveler certificate.  DeMille, in return, presented Governor Adkins with a copy of the script.

When it was Dr. Wassell’s time to speak, he praised Little Rock’s efforts on the home front.  He also asked for a standing tribute to longtime Little Rock school superintendent R.C. Hall, who had died the day before.  Dr. Wassell had taught with Mr. Hall decades earlier.

Following the lunch, there was a parade on Main Street.  It started at 10th and Main and proceeded to Markham before ending at the War Memorial Building (now the Old State House Museum).  Newspaper accounts said that it was four miles long and featured many military units and marching bands.

Dinner that evening was at the Lafayette Hotel before screenings of the movie at the Capitol and Arkansas Theatres. Both screenings were sold out.  On April 27, 1944, a regular run of the movie started at the Capitol Theatre.  It would be released nationally on July 4, 1944, which also happened to be Dr. Wassell’s birthday.

2nd Friday Art Night – Old State House Museum

Celebrate the New Year with a musical journey!

During 2nd Friday Art Night on January 11, the Bob Boyd Sounds will perform a mix of popular standards, swing, and popular jazz spanning several decades.

Stone’s Throw Brewing will serve Arkansas-made brews, including the award-winning Pre-Prohibition Porter.

 

 

 

Little Rock Look Back: Roswell Beebe born

Roswell Beebe, Little Rock’s 16th Mayor

On December 22, 1795, future Little Rock Mayor Roswell Beebe was born in Hinsdale, New York.  His family were wealthy English immigrants.  At seventeen, Beebe went to New Orleans and fought with Andrew Jackson in the 1815 Battle of New Orleans.  He stayed in the Crescent City for the next two decades building successful lumber and brick businesses.

Due to health concerns, he moved north to a drier climate in 1834.  After first stopping in Fulton, Arkansas, he settled in Little Rock in 1835 at the age of forty.  He stayed at the home of Chester Ashley and married Ashley’s sister-in-law, Clarissa Elliott.  He and Clarissa had two children, Roswell and Cora.

For nearly 30 years, Little Rock had a complicated history of deeds, titles and land ownership.  In 1839, Beebe went to Washington DC and received the original patent from President Martin Van Buren.  He then set about clearing up the land and title issues, as well as drawing up a plan for the city and laying off blocks and streets.  Beebe deeded the streets and alleys to the City for a dollar.  He also donated the land on Markham Street for a new State Capitol building (now home of the Old State House Museum).  Along with his brother-in-law Chester Ashley, he donated the land for the establishment of Mount Holly Cemetery.

In 1848, Beebe was elected to the Little Rock City Council.  The following year, he was elected Mayor.  He served as Mayor of Little Rock from April 1849 to February 1850.

While his primary business focus in the 1840s had been real estate, in the 1850s he focused on railroads.  Beebe was named president of the Cairo and Fulton Railroad Company in 1853.

While on a visit to New York, Beebe died on September 27, 1856.  His body was returned to Little Rock, and Roswell Beebe was buried at Mount Holly Cemetery.  The town of Beebe, Arkansas, is named in his honor.

Mosaic Templars Cultural Center Holiday Open House on December 2 from 2pm to 5pm

Image may contain: foodMosaic Templars Cultural Center will celebrate the holiday season with its annual Holiday Open House, featuring the sixth annual “Say it Ain’t Say’s” Sweet Potato Pie Contest, from 2-5 p.m. on Dec. 2.

In addition to the baking competition, the Holiday Open House will feature performances by several local musical groups and performers. The museum will also host a holiday craft-making station for children.

The “Say it Ain’t Say’s” Contest derives its name from Little Rock restaurateur Robert “Say” McIntosh who is known for his popular sweet potato pies. A panel of celebrity judges will select first- and second-place winners in both the amateur and professional categories, and a “People’s Choice” award will be determined by open taste-tasting beginning at 2:30 p.m.

Open to the public, MTCC’s Holiday Open House is a free event, though visitors are encouraged to bring a toy to donate to the Stop the Violence organization, which was founded by Robert “Say” McIntosh.

For more information, please call (501) 683-3593 or visit mosaictemplarscenter.com.

Mosaic Templars Cultural Center is an agency of the Department of Arkansas Heritage.

Admission is free, and a trolley will be available to take patrons between Old State House MuseumHistoric Arkansas Museum and Mosaic Templars Cultural Center, as well as the Arkansas Governor’s Mansion, at no charge.

The Old State House Holiday Open House is Sunday, December 2

No automatic alt text available.Help ring in the holiday season at the Old State House Museum on Sunday, December 2, at Holiday Open House!

Visitors will find the Old State House colorfully decorated for the season, and local music groups will perform delightful carols. Fun, hands-on activities will be available to children; they can create unique holiday cards and more.

The hours are 1pm to 5pm, and admission is free.

Schedule of performances at Old State House Museum:

1:30 — Bethel Middle School Bryant
2:00 — Little Rock Central High School Madrigals
2:30 — Sweet Adelines, Top of the Rock
3:00 — Clarksville High School Choir
3:30 — Forest Heights STEAM Middle School Choir
4:00 — JA Fair High School Choir
4:30 — Pine Bluff High School Choir

The Old State House Museum is an agency of the Department of Arkansas Heritage.  A trolley will be available to take patrons between Old State House MuseumHistoric Arkansas Museum and Mosaic Templars Cultural Center, as well as the Arkansas Governor’s Mansion, at no charge