Little Rock Culture Vulture

Cultural events, places and people in the Little Rock area


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Little Rock Look Back: Death of Joseph Taylor Robinson

Eighty years ago today, on July 14, 1937, U.S. Senator Joseph Taylor Robinson died in his apartment in Washington D.C.

The Senator’s wife, Ewilda, was in Little Rock making preparations for a trip the couple was to take. (She was informed of her husband’s death when her sister-in-law called to express condolences. No one had yet notified her in Little Rock.) Following his demise, Mrs. Robinson went to Washington to accompany her husband’s body back to Arkansas.

As the Senate Majority Leader, Senator Robinson was usually President Franklin Roosevelt’s point person to shepherd legislation on Capitol Hill.  The Democrat’s 1928 Vice Presidential nominee, Senator Robinson was particularly close to FDR. He had successfully steered numerous pieces of New Deal legislation through Congress.  However, at the time of his death, the Senator was facing an uphill climb trying to build consensus on the President’s unpopular Court Packing scheme.

The Senator was honored with a memorial service in the Senate chambers on Friday, July 17.  President Roosevelt and the cabinet joined members of the senate on the floor in what was described as a state funeral without pomp.  Mrs. Robinson sat with her brothers and two nephews as well as Bernard Baruch and Arkansas Power & Light’s Harvey Couch, who were Senator Robinson’s closest friends.  Eleanor Roosevelt was one of the many crowded in the senate galleries observing the service.  Following the service his body remained in the chambers until it was transferred to a train to make the journey to Little Rock.

The funeral train bore his body, his family, 50 senators and over twenty congressmen. It reached Little Rock around 8am on Sunday the 19th.  From there, Senator Robinson’s body was taken to his house on Broadway Street until noon.  It subsequently lay in state at the Arkansas State Capitol until being escorted by military to First Methodist Church.

1,500 people packed the church a half hour before the service began. The sun shone through the windows onto the flag-draped coffin as Rev. H. Bascom Watts led the service. Among the pallbearers was former Vice President Charles G. Dawes. Governor Carl Bailey of Arkansas was joined by Governors Richard Leche of Louisiana and E.W. Marland of Oklahoma.

As the funeral procession reached Roselawn Cemetery, thunder echoed. The skies which had alternated between sun and rain that day, returned to rain. A deluge greeted the end of the service and sent visitors hurrying for shelter at the end.

Five months after her husband’s death, Mrs. Robinson participated in the groundbreaking of the Joseph Taylor Robinson Memorial Auditorium.  The groundbreaking ceremony was the first time it was announced that building would be named in his memory.   On a plaque inside that building today, a quote from President Roosevelt stands as a further testament of the importance of Senator Robinson to the US.  Taken from President Roosevelt’s remarks upon learning of the Senator’s death, the plaque reads, in part, “A pillar of strength is gone.”

Seventy-eight and a half years later, the church was the site of the funeral of longtime US Senator Dale Bumpers in January 2016.

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Haco Boyd – Little Rock mayor who went to Cuba

On July 6, 1902, future Little Rock Mayor Haco O. Boyd was born in Leslie, Arkansas.  At the age of four, his family moved to Little Rock; he graduated from the Little Rock public schools.  He attended and graduated from Hendrix College.

In World War II, he was in the Army Air Corps.  He was a very decorated soldier earning two Purple Hearts, a Legion of Merit, and a Bronze star among other designations from the United States.  He also received high military honors from numerous European governments.  Boyd would remain in the Air National Guard and retired with the rank of Colonel in 1964.

As a businessman, he was a founder of Rebsamen Ford and then state manager of Benjamin Moore for Arkansas.  In 1952, he joined Union Life Insurance.  Throughout his career, he received most any recognition and honor and designation that the field of life insurance offered.

In November 1968, he won a three-candidate race for the Little Rock City Board of Directors. One of the candidates he defeated was former (and future) Director and Mayor Byron Morse.  In January 1969, he was selected to serve as Mayor of Little Rock.

One week later, Mayor Boyd and 70 others were on an Eastern Airlines plane headed for a life insurance convention in  Nassau, departing from Miami.  A passenger hijacked it and the plane was diverted to Cuba.   The next morning the passengers were returned to Miami and then sent to Nassau without incident. Once the media found out that one of the passengers was the Mayor of Little Rock, he was interviewed by numerous newspapers.  Mayor Boyd expressed that they had been treated well by the Cuban government, but that all in all he had rather not made that leg of the trip.

In other civic involvement, Boyd served on the Little Rock Airport Commission, including a term as chair.  He was also honored for his involvement with the Boy Scouts of America and Easter Seals.

In September 1923, Boyd married Mary Josephine “Polly” Goodrum.  They were married until her death in February 1977.  Haco Boyd died on March 27, 1988.  The couple are buried at Roselawn Cemetery.  They had two children and four grandchildren.


Little Rock Look Back: Mayor Sam M. Wassell

On April 28, 1883, future Little Rock Mayor Sam M. Wassell was born.  His grandfather John W. Wassell had been appointed Mayor of Little Rock in 1868.  He is the only Little Rock Mayor to be a grandson of another Little Rock Mayor.

Sam Wassell served on the Little Rock City Council from 1928 through 1934 and again from 1940 through 1946.  He is one of the few 20th Century Little Rock Mayors who previously served on the City Council.

Wassell was an attorney.  He practiced law privately and also served as an Assistant US Attorney.  In 1930, he ran unsuccessfully for the Democratic nomination for the US Congress representing the 5th Congressional District, which at the time included Little Rock.

Wassell ran for Mayor in 1947 and was unopposed in the general election.  He was unopposed in his bid for re-election in 1949.  During his second term, President Harry S. Truman visited Little Rock.  In 1951, he sought a third term as Mayor.  No Little Rock Mayor had been successful in achieving a third consecutive term since 1923.  Though he received the Democratic nomination, the Republican party nominated Pratt Remmel who defeated Wassell by a 2 to 1 margin.

With a new USS Little Rock nearing commissioning, it is interesting to note that Mrs. Sam Wassell christened the previous USS Little Rock in 1944.  At the time, she was a City Councilor’s wife.

Mayor Wassell died on December 23, 1954 and is buried at Roselawn Cemetery in Little Rock.


RobinsoNovember: Ewilda Miller Robinson

mrs-jtr-in-1938In a hallway at Robinson Center, are portraits of Senator Robinson and his wife:  Ewilda “Billie” Miller Robinson.  It is fitting that she be recognized at the building in addition to her husband.

Mrs. Robinson first was connected to Robinson Center when she participated in the groundbreaking on December 24, 1937. That ceremony was the first mention that the building would be named in memory of her husband.  On February 16, 1940, she cut the ribbon to officially open the new building.  At neither ceremony did she make remarks.

From the time they were married in December 1896 until his death in July 1937, Mrs. Robinson was devoted to her husband. She rarely spent time away from him.  She traveled the world with the Senator.  Given his leadership positions within the Senate and the Democratic Party, she spent time with numerous national and world figures.  When he died in Washington DC, she was actually back in Little Rock to make preparations for them to take an extended trip.  It was said she was inconsolable upon learning of her husband’s death.

After the Senator died, Mrs. Robinson was appointed postmistress of Little Rock and served in that capacity for 15 years.  For someone who was not sure she could survive a day without her husband, she lived another 21 years after his death.  She died in August 1958 and was buried next to him in Roselawn Cemetery.


RobinsoNovember: Senator Joseph Taylor Robinson

150px-joseph_t-_robinson_croppedThis month, Robinson Center Music Hall will reopen after a two year renovation/restoration/remodeling/reconstruction.  To commemorate that, each day in November, the Culture Vulture will look at a person or event connected to Robinson Center Music Hall.

Up first, the eponym for the building.

Senator Joseph Taylor Robinson was born in Lonoke in 1872.  In 1894 Robinson was elected to the Arkansas General Assembly for one term.  From 1903 until 1913, he served in the US House of Representatives as a Congressman from Arkansas’ then-Sixth District.

He chose not to seek another term in Congress and ran for Governor in 1912.  On January 3, 1913, sitting US Senator Jeff Davis died in office.  Robinson was sworn in as Governor on January 16, 1913. Twelve days later he was chosen by the Arkansas General Assembly to become the next US Senator. He became the final US Senator to be selected by a legislator instead of popular vote.  At the time, Senate terms started in March, so Robinson served as governor until March 8, 1913.

He rose through the ranks of the Senate and eventually became the first person to hold the title of Senate Majority Leader.  In 1928, he was the Vice Presidential nominee for the Democratic Party.  Four years later, he rode with Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt to the inauguration ceremonies before FDR took the oath.  He would be President Roosevelt’s go-to man on legislative issues.

 

 

Senator Robinson died in Washington D.C. on July 14, 1937.  His wife was in Little Rock making preparations for a trip the couple was to take. Following his demise, Mrs. Robinson went to Washington to accompany her husband’s body back to Arkansas.

The Senator was honored with a memorial service in the Senate chambers on Friday, July 17.  President Roosevelt and the cabinet joined members of the senate on the floor in what was described as a state funeral without pomp.  Mrs. Robinson sat with her brothers and two nephews as well as Bernard Baruch and Arkansas Power & Light’s Harvey Couch, who were Senator Robinson’s closest friends.  Eleanor Roosevelt was one of the many crowded in the senate galleries observing the service.  Following the service his body remained in the chambers until it was transferred to a train to make the journey to Little Rock.

The funeral train bore his body, his family, 50 senators and over twenty congressmen. It reached Little Rock around 8am on Sunday the 19th.  From there, Senator Robinson’s body was taken to his house on Broadway Street until noon.  It subsequently lay in state at the Arkansas State Capitol until being escorted by military to First Methodist Church.

As the funeral procession reached Roselawn Cemetery, thunder echoed. The skies which had alternated between sun and rain that day, returned to rain. A deluge greeted the end of the service and sent visitors hurrying for shelter at the end.

It was not until December 1937, that Senator Robinson’s name became attached to the municipal auditorium which Little Rock voters had approved in January 1937.


Little Rock Look Back: Mayor Sam Wassell

S WassellOn April 28, 1883, future Little Rock Mayor Sam M. Wassell was born.  His grandfather John W. Wassell had been appointed Mayor of Little Rock in 1868.  He is the only Little Rock Mayor to be a grandson of another Little Rock Mayor.

Sam Wassell served on the Little Rock City Council from 1928 through 1934 and again from 1940 through 1946.  He is one of the few 20th Century Little Rock Mayors who previously served on the City Council.

Wassell was an attorney.  He practiced law privately and also served as an Assistant US Attorney.  In 1930, he ran unsuccessfully for the Democratic nomination for the US Congress representing the 5th Congressional District, which at the time included Little Rock.

Wassell ran for Mayor in 1947 and was unopposed in the general election.  He was unopposed in his bid for re-election in 1949.  During his second term, President Harry S. Truman visited Little Rock.  In 1951, he sought a third term as Mayor.  No Little Rock Mayor had been successful in achieving a third consecutive term since 1923.  Though he received the Democratic nomination, the Republican party nominated Pratt Remmel who defeated Wassell by a 2 to 1 margin.

With a new USS Little Rock nearing commissioning, it is interesting to note that Mrs. Sam Wassell christened the previous USS Little Rock in 1944.  At the time, she was a City Councilor’s wife.

Mayor Wassell died on December 23, 1954 and is buried at Roselawn Cemetery in Little Rock.


Little Rock Look Back: Werner Knoop

Mayor KnoopTo Little Rock citizens under a certain age, the name Knoop means Knoop Park — a picturesque park tucked away in a pocket of Hillcrest.  There are, however, still many who remember Werner C. Knoop as a business and political leader who helped shape Little Rock as a modern city.

Knoop was born on March 30, 1902.

In 1946, Knoop joined with Olen A. Cates and P. W. Baldwin to form Baldwin Construction Company in Little Rock.  Knoop had previously founded Capital Steel Company and established his business reputation there.  From 1945 through 1951, he served on the Little Rock School Board.

Following a series of political scandals, efforts were undertaken for Little Rock to shift from Mayor-Council to City Manager form of government.  Even before the desegregation of Little Rock Central put the city in the eyes of the world, an election for new leaders had been set for November 1957.  Knoop was on a “Good Government” slate and was one of the members elected.

At the first meeting of the new City Board, Werner C. Knoop was chosen by his fellow directors to serve as Little Rock Mayor.  Knoop served as Mayor until December 1962.  For the first several months in office, Little Rock had no City Manager so Knoop oversaw the transition of City staff as the forms of government changed.

Though City Hall generally stayed out of school district matters, that did not mean that the public viewed the two entities separately.  In September 1959, the Baldwin Construction offices were bombed as part of a series of terrorist activities protesting the desegregated reopening of all Little Rock high schools.

Downtown LR as viewed from Knoop Park

Downtown LR as viewed from Knoop Park

After two terms on the City Board, Knoop decided against seeking a third term.  He concluded his elected public service on December 31, 1962.  Following his time on the City Board, Knoop did not retire from Civic Affairs.  In 1970, he served as Chairman of the Little Rock Chamber of Commerce.   The previous year he served as President of the Arkansas Chapter of Associated General Contractors.

Mayor Knoop died in July 1983.  He is buried at Roselawn Memorial Park next to his wife Faith Yingling Knoop, a renowned author.

In the 1930s, Knoop moved into an Art Moderne house on Ozark Point in Hillcrest.  It was adjacent to Little Rock Waterworks property which was developed around the same time.  Eventually much of the land was deeded to the City for creation of a park.  In 1989, it was named in tribute to long-time neighbor Knoop in honor of his lifetime of service to Little Rock.