Little Rock Culture Vulture

Cultural events, places and people in the Little Rock area


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Little Rock Look Back: First Arkansas Razorback game at War Memorial Stadium

On September 18, 1948, the Arkansas Razorbacks took on Abilene Christian and won the game by a score of 40 to 6.  It was the first game of the season, and the Razorbacks went into the game ranked #13. They maintained that ranking for four weeks before falling out of national standings.  The team ended up with a season record of five wins and five losses. Playing four of their games at War Memorial that season, they were two and two in Little Rock. They were one and two in Fayetteville and amassed a 2-1 record on the road.

Dedication ceremony in 1948. Photo courtesy of the War Memorial Stadium Commission.

Dedication ceremony in 1948. Photo courtesy of the War Memorial Stadium Commission.

Prior to the game, the stadium was dedicated to the veterans of World War I and World War II in a ceremony led by former Razorback standout and Medal of Honor recipient Maurice “Footsie” Britt.  Though he would later be known for entering politics and becoming Arkansas’ first Republican Lieutenant Governor, in his college days he was known statewide as an outstanding Razorback football and baseball athlete.  During World War II, his bravery and courage allowed him to become first person in American history to earn all the army’s top awards, including the Medal of Honor, while fighting in a single war.

Also participating in the opening ceremony were a mass of high school marching bands from across the state. Reports indicate up to forty bands were on the field to play the National Anthem as part of the event.

The construction of the stadium had been a dream of Governor Ben T. Laney. He had encouraged the Arkansas General Assembly to create the stadium during the 1947 session.  In August of 1947, Little Rock was chosen as the location over Hot Springs and North Little Rock. West Memphis had abandoned its bid when it was unable to secure the necessary financial pledges.  Construction started in 1947 and continued up until opening day.  On the day of the game, newspaper photos showed heavy equipment grading the parking lot prior to paving.

Though it had been Laney’s dream, with the passing of the guard, a newspaper photo on the day after the dedication focused on the incoming governor, Sid McMath.  Because Arkansas was such a Democratic heavy state, the paper referred to him as Governor-designate even though it was six weeks prior to the 1948 General Election when he would face off against C. R. Black.  McMath won the race with 89.4% of the vote.

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Little Rock Look Back: 1944 Launch of USS Little Rock

On August 27, 1944, the first USS Little Rock was launched in Philadelphia at the Cramp Shipbuilding Company shipyards.  A 10,000 ton light cruiser, it first touched water in the Delaware River.

The sponsor of the ship (who broke the champagne bottle on the hull) was Mrs. Ruth May Wassell, the wife of Little Rock alderman Sam Wassell.  The main address was delivered by Congressman Brooks Hays, whose district included Little Rock.  A crowd of 5,000 was gathered to witness the launch.

According to the Associated Press Congressman Hays called light cruisers, “the hottest item of naval combat.”

The congressman further elaborated:

The people of Little Rock are proud to have such a ship as this bear their city’s name.” said Mr. Hays. “Even those of us who know little about the classification of naval vessels know that the cruisers have distinguished themselves in the Pacific war and that this is the outstanding type of combat vessel for that area. The navy men tell us that the cruiser is the ‘work horse of the navy.’ big enough to go into any battle, fast enough to lead any task force.

Carrying, as it has, the heaviest load in the Pacific where the greatest battles have taken place, the cruisers have added luster to naval history. We hope that, in the time remaining before our enemies are put down, the Little Rock will take her place along side the Boise, the San Francisco, the Helena,and the Chicago, preserving the prestige of the cruisers.

We are glad to honor the workmen and the company for which they work.  I am sure we are all impressed with the spirit of teamwork which produced the results we observe today.  In March 1943, the keel was laid and for 18 months materials for the ship have come from everywhere. The taxes to pay for it will be assessed against men and women of great and little resources. Teamwork from beginning to end did the job.

So with the war.  A glorious victory lies ahead, but there is much remaining to be done. Only teamwork can supply the dynamic power yet needed to complete that victory. Every ship launching is a reminder of the power that comes to a people who work together to achieve.”

Other guests at the ceremony included United States Senator John L. McClellan and Congressman and senator-elect J. William Fulbright. Alderman Sam Wassell was also present.  He and his wife hosted a dinner for the Arkansas delegation and other dignitaries the night before the christening while they were in Philadelphia.

At the request of the Secretary of the Navy, Little Rock Mayor Charles Moyer designated Mrs. Wassell for the honor of sponsoring the USS Little Rock. There are not details as to why Mayor Moyer made the designation.  A first cousin of Alderman Wassell, Dr. Corydon Wassell had been an early World War II hero and was a favorite of President Franklin Roosevelt.  Paramount had released a movie about him earlier in 1944. That may have been a reason for the designation.

The Little Rock City Council sent a bouquet of roses to the ceremony, fitting since the city’s nickname at the time was “City of Roses.” After the launch, Mrs. Wassell sent a telegram to Mayor Moyer and the Council

Thanks a million for the beautiful bouquet of red roses. They made the christening of the cruiser Little Rock perfect. I wish it could have been possible for you to have been present.  The cruiser is 600 feet long and will have a crew of 1,200 men.  I was so proud of our city.  Little Rock has something to be proud of.


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: War Memorial Stadium formally approved

On March 18, 1947, Governor Ben T. Laney signed the bill into law which authorized the construction of War Memorial Stadium.

The plans for the stadium were the brainchild of Arkansas Secretary of State C.G. “Crip” Hall and University of Arkansas Athletic Director John Barnhill.

Apparently the Southwest Conference was threatening to kick Arkansas out because of an inadequate football facility. Since the University did not have the funds to build a new one on its campus, Barnhill and Hall decided that the state should build one. Many other states were building War Memorial facilities of a variety of natures. The duo decided that the new football facility could be a War Memorial Stadium to pay tribute to the men who died in the recently concluded World War II.  While the stadium was touted as being of use to all colleges in the state and a variety of other types of activities, it was very much designed to be a home for the Arkansas Razorbacks.

Getting the stadium through the Arkansas General Assembly was not easy.  The bill to create the stadium commission sailed through both houses. But even some who voted for it said they would oppose any funding bills.  When time came to vote for the funding, the bill fell far short of the three-quarters vote that was needed in the House for an appropriation bill.

WWII veterans were on both sides of the issue.  Some felt it was an appropriate way to honor those who died.  Others felt it was a gimmick to get the stadium approved.  Some of the opponents felt that a new state hospital for UAMS would be the more appropriate way to honor those who died during the war.  The debates were often heated and personal.

Overnight a new bill was created. It would pay for the stadium through the issuing of bonds. In addition to the state issuing bonds, any city which wished to bid for it would have to put up money for it as well as provide land.  This new bill would require only 51 votes to pass the House.  It was able to pass that threshold.  The Senate made a few amendments (mostly dealing with the composition of the stadium commission and the amount of dollars that the host city had to pledge).  Finally the House agreed to the Senate amendments and it went to Governor Laney.

The next hurdle for the stadium was choosing a location. That process would occupy stadium proponents throughout the spring and summer of 1947.

 


Little Rock Look Back: 75 Years Ago – the City of Little Rock responds to Pearl Harbor

Little Rock City Hall in the 1940s

Little Rock City Hall in the 1940s

On December 8, 1941, one day after Pearl Harbor was attacked, the Little Rock City Council held a regularly scheduled meeting. While much of the business took place as previously planned, there were two actions that night which were in support of the war effort.

By a motion of Alderman Franklin E. Loy, seconded by Alderman L. L. Stewart, the City Council passed a motion to allow the erection of signage for a new Soldier Service Center which was to be set up in the War Memorial Building (now the Old State House Museum).

The same night, an ordinance was introduced for the City to purchase up to $40,000 in War Bonds. This was referred to the City Attorney to review.

Though the U.S. entry into World War II was only hours old, the City was already responding.

The following week, on December 15, 1941, the City Council discussed a plan to create a Civil Defense Coordinator for the City of Little Rock.  Also, City Clerk H.C. “Sport” Graham reported that City employees had purchased $4,819.50 in Defense Savings Stamps and Bonds. There were also pledges for another approximately $20,000. A payroll deduction plan was being set up.

Over the coming weeks and years, many City employees would enlist or be drafted into the armed services. Victory gardens would be planted by City employees and their families. Rationing would take place. Eventually a USS Little Rock battleship would be commissioned.

There would be much to be done to support the war effort. But in the early days, the City was already taking steps to do its part for the war.


Turkey Day Football in LR – Little Rock High vs NLR

lrhs-nlrhs-grid-1957After 20 years of playing a variety of schools on Thanksgiving, in 1934 Little Rock High School had started the new tradition of playing the North Little Rock High School Wildcats.  These cross-river rivals had played a few games previously in the 1910s and early 1920s. The competition was resumed in 1931, but was not on Thanksgiving Day until 1934.  With that game, the Tigers of Little Rock would begin a 49-year tradition of taking on their biggest rival on Turkey Day.

For much of the 1920s and 1930s, a Thanksgiving Day game for Little Rock High School meant rain.  That was the case in the 1934 meeting at Kavanaugh Field. (Located at the current spot of Quigley Stadium, it was a baseball field on which football games could also be played.  In 1936, the current stadium opened.)  The Tigers and Wildcats played to a 2-0 win achieved by the southside Bengals of Earl Quigley.

Another notable matchup was the 1938 game.  Little Rock won 12 to 7. With that win, it captured its first official state football championship. (Though the Arkansas Activities Association does now credit LRHS with several prior championships.)

The 1939 edition took place on Arkansas Thanksgiving.  That November featured five Thursdays.  President Roosevelt issued a proclamation that Thanksgiving would be the fourth Thursday, as it traditionally was. However Arkansas and a few other states chose to observe it on the final Thursday.  Little Rock won 6 to 0, but it was a messy game. Some sports fans joked that the game was FDR’s revenge on Arkansas for ignoring him regarding Thanksgiving.

In 1941, only a few days before the US would be plunged into World War II, North Little Rock achieved its first Turkey Day win over Little Rock.  The score was 26 for the Wildcats and 0 for the Tigers.  This was only the third ever loss for the Tigers on a Thanksgiving Day.  The Tigers were so dominant on Turkey Day games, a student had once remarked to a Gazette reporter that the matchup against Pine Bluff should be moved to Thanksgiving since the Tigers always seemed to win on that day.  (Pine Bluff was the state’s other football powerhouse at the time and often gave the Tigers fits in games.)

North Little Rock repeated as winner in the 1942 game, this time with a 31 to 12 score.  Writing for the Gazette, Orville Henry wondered if this would be the final meeting for the duration of the war.  He opined that many of the players might be in a different type of uniform for future games and that rubber might be needed for the war effort instead of athletic equipment.  While some colleges and high schools did drop football during the war, neither LR nor NLR did.

The Tigers were back on top in 1943 by a 13-7 score.  (It would be the last football game for the NLR coach who had been drafted.)  The 1944 game also featured a 13-7 score, but this time it was flipped and the Wildcats were winners.  The 1945 edition ground to a 13-13 tie.

In 1947, both teams were undefeated heading into the Turkey Day classic.  The inky wretches and scribes were predicting another evenly matched slugfest.  Instead Little Rock owned the game and came out with a 13-0 win.

The teams met eight times in the 1950s on Thanksgiving.  Little Rock won seven of the eight, losing the 1951 game by one point (13 to 14).

With the anticipation of a second Little Rock high school to be opened in a few years, Little Rock High School was rechristened as Little Rock Central High in 1954. The new school, named Hall High, opened in 1957 but played much smaller schools for its first year on the gridiron.  Plans were underway for Hall and Central to meet on Turkey Day in 1958, so the 1957 meeting of Little Rock and North Little Rock would be the final time the two teams would meet on Thanksgiving Day.

Little Rock Central High had dominated world headlines in September and October 1957 with the integration of the Little Rock Nine.  The sports coverage of this game however belied all the drama off the field. News reports focused on Turkey Day as the final game between the longtime rivals and on the fact that it had a morning start time instead of the traditional afternoon start time.  In the end, the Tigers had the same result as they did in the first Turkey Day meeting: a win.  The Bengals scored 40 while the Cats only managed 7.

After 24 meetings on Thanksgiving Day, Little Rock had 19 wins, 4 losses, and one tie.  Seven times they shut out the Wildcats, and one time the northern team blanked them.  The fewest total points scored were 2 in the 1934 game, while the 1950 game produced a cumulative total of 71 points (LR 64, NLR 7).  The Tigers scored a total of 517 points over 24 games and gave up only 203.


RobinsoNovember: President Harry S. Truman

HST in LR2

President Truman in War Memorial Park. A photo of him at Robinson does not seem to exist.

Today is Veterans’ Day, a chance to pause and remember those — both living and deceased — who have served in the Armed Forces of the US.  November 11 was chosen since it was on November 11 in 1918, at 11:11 (Paris time), the Armistice was signed to end the Great War, as World War I was then known.  In 1954, the holiday was renamed Veterans Day since the US had been in two military conflicts since the Great War.

A World War I infantry reunion brought President Harry S. Truman to Little Rock in June 1949, a few months after he won his own term in the Presidency. During his time here, he spoke twice at Robinson Auditorium.

Upon arriving, he made some informal remarks:

I am most happy to be here. I am only here in my capacity as a member of the 35th Division. Tomorrow I will address you as President of the United States, and I am afraid you will have to listen, whether you like it or not.

I hope to have a pleasant time in Little Rock, as I always have when I come here. I have been here a dozen times–one of the most hospitable cities in the United States. They know how to treat you, they know how to make you like it, and want you to come back.

I will see more of you later on in the day.

I appreciate the welcome that everybody has given us here this afternoon.

Thank you very much.

 

Later that night, he spoke at a Ball at Robinson.  It followed a banquet that had taken place at the Hotel Marion.

Governor McMath, the Mayor of Little Rock, and distinguished guests:

I can’t tell you how very much I appreciate the cordial reception which I have received in Little Rock. It has been like coming back home to come down here. It’s a habit of mine and has been for 25 years. I have been here in town many a time, and attracted no attention at all. But my friends were just as cordial to me then as they are now.

And I want to thank Eberts Post No. r for its cooperation with the 35th Division in putting on this ball and entertainment.

My education, so far as taking part on the floor is concerned, was sadly neglected as I grew up. I am a Baptist–not a light-foot one–so I didn’t learn how to dance. But I did learn a lot of other things in life, maybe, that I shouldn’t have learned.

I hope that the 35th Reunion this year will be the usual success that 35th Reunions are. I have missed only one, I think, in 25 years or more. I didn’t want to miss this one. The fact that you had it on a weekend gave me and the congressional delegation of the great State of Arkansas an opportunity to be present and attend the meeting. Otherwise, we would have had to stay in Washington and work.

It doesn’t make any difference, though, where the President goes, his work follows him up. I told the congregation this afternoon–you see, I am talking as a Baptist talks–that it didn’t make any difference where I went, I have to sign my name some 600 times a day to keep the country running. And it has, up to date, and I think it will continue, at least for 3 1/2 years more.

I am looking forward to a most pleasant time. I am talking to you now as a member of the 35th Division only, but if you want to hear the President of the United States you had better come out to the stadium tomorrow, and I will tell you something that will be good for your souls.

Thank you very much.

The following day he gave a national address on foreign affairs at the dedication of War Memorial Park.  It was carried on coast-to-coast radio.  There was no radio coverage of his remarks at Robinson, but a large press corps of national correspondents captured his words.

The Little Rock Mayor to whom he referred was Sam Wassell.  Mayor Wassell’s wife had christened the USS Little Rock during World War II.  A first cousin, Dr. Corydon Wassell, was a war hero who had been played by Gary Cooper in a movie.