In 1974, Richard Nixon, not wanting to be removed from office by Congress for his role in the Watergate scandal, became the first U.S. president to resign the office. Patty Hearst was kidnapped by the Symbionese Liberation Army. Batting for the Atlanta Braves, Hank Aaron broke Babe Ruth’s home run hit record with his 715th career home run. Muhammad Ali knocked George Foreman out in eight rounds in the Rumble in the Jungle in Kinshasha, Zaire. Barcodes hit the grocery stores. And, sadly, Alex Jones was born.
Competing with this big news was the first issue of the Arkansas Times, which debuted as the Union Station Times.
High school alums celebrate their 45th class anniversaries with reunions, why not us? We’re celebrating our sapphire year by looking outward, rather than inward, with stories that reflect the times. Here’s the way we were (the most popular song of 1974, by the way), the way we went and the way we are now, year by year.
The Union Station Times, as the Arkansas Times was then known, was first published on Sept. 9, 1974, as a 32-page tabloid that came out every other week. At the time, “The Amorous Flea” was playing at the Arkansas Philharmonic & Theatre (the predecessor to the Arkansas Repertory Theatre); Judy Petty was running against 2nd District Congressman Wilbur Mills; the Terminal Hotel was selling plate lunches; the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band had a gig at the University of Arkansas’s auditorium; and a Rising Tide saxophone player and Wine Cellar regular complained “there’s no good local music scene happening publicly here.”
The 1970s: A newspaper is born
In its “Maiden Voyage” (in which a note from the staff said, “Advertising is welcomed and encouraged”), New York native Crescent Dragonwagon held forth on why she liked living in Eureka Springs:
In Eureka Springs, there’s a wide variety of personalities, a strength in diversity with an underlying, no-need-to-say-it unity. The community, rich in a number of truly extraordinarily different elements — young professionals, hippie craftspeople, older retired people, natives, artists, religious fanatics. There seems to be a basic tolerance of others not found elsewhere. In accepting the inconsistent, uneven, compelling beauty of the terrain, perhaps we unconsciously learn to accept the uneven beauty of ourselves and each other.
Accepting, mind you, does not mean peace-love-vegetable-gardens-brotherhood-and-you-can-crash-at-my-place. In a town so small that you know everyone and their dog by name and astrological sign, you become acutely aware that there are people you just don’t like, and people who don’t like you. What’s new is being able, after saying, “I think he’s a neurotic, tight-assed, son-of-a-bitch,” to add, and truly feel, “but that’s okay, it truly is.” …
The intimacies of this town are exasperating but delightful, constricting but freeing. Forget clandestine affairs, no such thing; go to a city where you want to be indiscriminate. In Eureka, if someone spends the night with you, expect their mail to start turning up in your mailbox: the postman saw, and recognized their car in your driveway. But expect, too, that your overdue notice from the library will have a little note on it from Mrs. Naff, the librarian: “How’s your garden coming, Crescent?” …
From the ‘Offbeat’ column, JAN. 2, 1975
The owner of a restaurant which claims to have the “world’s worst service” says business is great.
Rich Younker, retired from the Air Force and proprietor of Grandpa’s Catfish House on Mission Road in North Little Rock, uses the billing as an advertising gimmick.
The curious who see the sign on the outside of the restaurant, usually find themselves on the inside sooner or later, Younker says. “Besides, everybody else says they have the best.” And, while the service may be the worst, Younker claims the food is perfect.
The famous mineral water of Hot Springs has been traveling in fast company. In a recent edition, Esquire magazine rated Mountain Valley Water, bottled in Hot Springs, as one of the three best waters in the world.
Former President Nixon took cases of the Arkansas product with him wherever he traveled, and Secretariat, the racehorse, also drinks it.
More on Wilbur
A story by Marshall Frady in the New Times magazine says the tab on Wilbur Mills’ recent visits to the Silver Slipper to see Fanne Fox usually costs from $200 to $400 each.
“On occasion, Mills would bring Polly along with him, she sitting still and vague and mostly mute amid the rowdy bawling ribaldry, mustering only an intermittent festiveness. …”
Past favorite ads
CRIME IS OLD NEWS
The March 1976 issue (the Times was now published monthly) was devoted to crime. One article by Donna Watson asked, “How safe are you in Little Rock?”
Last year, your chance of being murdered in the capital city was one in about 3,600; of being raped, one in 1,000; and of being robbed or assaulted, one in seven. Those figures are based on 19,091 Class I offenses committed in Little Rock during 1975, of which 39 were homicides and 137 were rape. In Arkansas, the crime rate … increased 17.9 percent over 1974, a rise that was faster than either the national percentage of increase, 11 per cent, or the 13 per cent in the South. The Little Rock Metropolitan area ranks 25th in the nation in per capital crime, a ranking that criminologist Dr. Douglas Buffalo at the University of Arkansas this is “pretty high for a town our size.” …
Fear of crime and violence is affecting lifestyles and methods of doing business. People are buying guns to protect themselves and their property. Handgun sales are up as much as 20 per cent in Little Rock department stores … . Women are learning judo to be able to defend themselves in case of attack. … A downtown restaurant near the river plans to employ a doorman to park cars so customers will not have to walk to and from a parking lot.”
Another article in the same issue, by David Glenn, asked “How safe are our schools?”
Metropolitan High: A girl cut the arm of another girl with a scissors as she got off the school bus.
Dunbar Junior High: A student set fire to Christmas decorations on a classroom door.
Booker Junior High: A girl stabbed another girl in an argument, slightly injuring her.
Parkview High: A student brought a pistol onto the bus and got into an argument with the driver when he told him to get off the bus.
Forest Heights Junior High: A student was suspended for carrying a knife into school.
Arkies R Us
In the September 1997 issue, Southern author and Arkansas native Francis Irby Gwaltney opined on “What It Means to Be an Arkansan.”
Quite a bit is required to be an Arkie. Birth in one of the seventy-five counties helps, although we do occasionally offer a quasi-honorary citizenship. Some pretend to be Arkies when they were actually born in such faraway places as Oklahoma, Tennessee, Mississippi, and — God help them — Texas. They’ve been here so long they can mutilate the English language so convincingly that it never occurs to anybody that the speaker should be asked the place of his nativity; therefore, there are people, free, walking the streets and looking in store windows, who know quite well they should be watched. …
A redneck Arkie, for example, is a Democrat who consistently votes Republican; likes Barry Goldwater, Richard M. Nixon and Ronald Reagan; hates George McGovern and William Fulbright, is beginning to become suspicious of Dale Bumpers and respects John McClellan “for what he is.” …
Our Western Arkies don’t know exactly what it’s all about. They sound like Oakies but almost all of them, these Arkies, have kinfolks in California, some of whom are beginning to drift back here because our rivers still run and our trees remain green and our factories rarely go on strike … .
The most delightful Arkie is the hillbilly. Cunning, wary, friendly on his own terms, decidedly amused by anybody he meets beyond the next valley, he is also the most entirely independent man still functioning in the Western hemisphere. He doesn’t drink as much moonshine as lore would have you believe because he knows poison when he tastes it. He likes, instead, homebrew. …
Nudity in the Times
It’s a theme we’ve often returned to, for reasons not fully understood: Skinnydipping. In the June 6, 1978, issue, Ted Thompson wrote that “all over the state people are stepping illegally out of their clothes and unabashedly into the water. Yes, indeed, Arkansas is thawing out nicely”:
As a sport, skinnydipping started a long time ago, back when people wore fig leaves for clothes. It is said that a number of English kings did it, some with more abandon than others, and President Johnson is supposed to have paddled nude in the White House pool. It has been popular down through the years because it has always felt so good. Of course, you don’t have to buff it to feel good in the water, but just try enjoying a shower in a pair of cutoffs or a long soak in the tub with your bathing suit on.
Nowadays, skinnydipping in Arkansas has gained widespread popularity and is regarded by some as a real problem. The State Police may look at you twice if they catch you at it but they will also lock you up, and the Parks and Tourism people avoid the subject altogether in their literature, no doubt fearing the power of suggestion. As it was once explained to me, “We can’t have naked people lying around on our islands and shores, swimming and frolicking and volleyballing and who knows what else all over the place.” …
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Foot in mouth
The June 1979 cover featured a picture of Little Rock Mayor Sandy Keith, who agreed to pose with a shoe in his mouth. He’d been named one of “101 Things We Can Do Without” for his comments on women, i.e., that the city’s incidence of rape was high because “We have prettier women,” and Little Rock “is not ready for a woman mayor.”
Also on the unwanted list:
Reports on Amy Carter’s sex life.
The Arkansas Legislature.
The Athletic Dorm at Fayetteville.
Chihuahuas in sweaters.
Newspapers on the roof.
Black shoes, white socks.
A December letter to the editor:
Today I received my September issue of the Arkansas Times. I am a regular reader and do enjoy finding it in my mailbox. However, your article “Pragmatic Pedagogy and the Polished Pick-up Trucks” is a disgrace to A.S.U. and is not truthful. …
First of all, the picture was totally ridiculous. I never rode in a pick-up truck, especially not in the back, never wore baby blue anklets or straw hat.
A.S.U. grads, write in and let the readers and especially future college students know the truth about A.S.U. It is neither a cow college nor a haven for pick-up trucks.
Arkansas Times, in the future please send someone not so biased to do your interviews (and a little younger for college articles). Eugene Richard, did you ever graduate from high school or college? Where? 1950? Have you ever heard of frat parties, Roy’s or Memphis, Tennessee? That is where we spent our weekends. We were not packing our suitcases for a ride home in the back of a pick-up truck.
Mary E. Dalton
(You probably mistook my picture — in the September issue — for that of Bill Terry, the editor, who is just this side of being a senior citizen. I am the younger one who is asleep. As for ASU’s social scene, if things were so hot in Jonesboro, how come you spent your weekends in Memphis? — Eugene Richard.)
I just completed perusing a September copy of the Times. I must say that since leaving Arkansas a year ago to continue my graduate work, I have failed to see a dozen of your past issues. I was impressed at the increase in professionalism exhibited by your magazine. And it was probably the photography that led to my analysis of a positive contrast … .
Mark T. Rushing
Morgantown, West Virginia
In its August 1981 issue, the Times published the earnings of a handful of public servants and private citizens. Among the results:
Craig O’Neill, disc jockey for KKYK, $19,500.
A general surgeon who asked not to be named, $150,000-$160,000 a year.
Tommy Robinson, sheriff, $27,000.
Frank White, governor, $35,000.
Sonny Simpson, police chief, $37,387.
Patrolman Bill Williams, $16,100.
William Bowen, chairman of the board and CEO of Commercial National Bank: $106,306.
Jerry Maulden, president of Arkansas Power & Light Co., $127,000.
Lou Holtz, Razorback football coach, $55,804 salary. “According to a ‘special language section’ of the University of Arkansas Appropriation Act, an aggregate of up to $40,000 is authorized for additional payment to the coaches, the athletic director and the associate athletic director.” Plus “auxiliary income” generated from games.
Alan Leveritt, publisher, Arkansas Times, $18,000, “including bonuses and commissions.”
Pot was hot
Marijuana agriculture in Arkansas goes way back, as does the Arkansas Times’ pot coverage. Bill Terry provided this story, “The Arkansas Weed Industry,” in the April 1982 issue of the Times that year.
The growing of marijuana in Arkansas is big business, so big that law enforcement agencies have a hard time policing it and so profitable that the potential for corruption is strong among county authorities who may be tempted to look the other way, rather than crack down on an operation, in return for a share of the profits. The money involved can be significant indeed. One former narcotics investigator in Arkansas who now works for the U.S. Justice Department estimates that a nine-acre marijuana operation can realize gross sales of $40 million a year. And, according to Jim Beach, a captain in the State Police drug enforcement division, “It’s a bigger business than most people realize. Like the ostrich with its head in the sand story, people pretend it doesn’t exist. But it does. Last year we (in State Police) seized only what I would estimate to be about 20 percent of the total crop.” That figure, he says, amounted to some $20 million in street value. That would place a value of $100 million on the total Arkansas crop — a lot of money for what is known as “Arkansas Krazo” (Ozark spelled backwards) and “Razorbud.” …
Prying eyes are not appreciated, in any event. Take the case of Harold Lepel of Jasper. Lepel, a biologist with the Game and Fish Commission, had made it a practice on government and his personal time to ferret out marijuana operations in Newton County and report them to the authorities. Such zeal was soon assessed as a nuisance, and it wasn’t long before he was officially reprimanded, the reason given by the Game and Fish Commission being that he was “alienating” so many people in the county — the guilty, of course, but also the innocent who resented his snooping forays onto their property.” …
Most of the marijuana harvested in Arkansas is produced by small time operations and by farmers variously described by narcotics agents as “zit-faced kids” or “aging hippies.” …
Clinton v. White
In 1982, former Gov. Bill Clinton was battling Gov. Frank White to take back the seat he’d lost over Cubans and car tags. In our January 1983 issue, the Times ran an excerpt from part one of writer Mel White’s campaign journal, “The Rematch.”
July 28: The MacArthur-Orsini murder case; Father FOU and the Jasper shootout; Israel’s invasion of Lebanon; IRA bombings; the space shuttle; the economy …. It’s tough for a political candidate to make it onto the front page of the evening news, and it must be hard on their egos. Politicians crave ink the way a junkie craves dope, and there just isn’t enough space to go around right now. Of course, it’s early yet, but the race between Gov. Frank White and his predecessor, Bill Clinton, should have started to heat up. Instead, just the other day, both men appeared together at a charity function saying nice things about each other. Such chumminess! When what we want is action, bitterness, maybe even rancor. …
Also in the January 1983 issue, B.C. Hall offered up a story on Norris Church Mailer, the young Atkins native whose marriage to Norman Mailer was big news. But he started it with a story about Allen Ginsburg:
“There’s no other taste in the world quite like a fried dill pickle,” Allen Ginsburg once remarked.
This wasn’t a line in one of his Beat Generation poems. The Big Daddy of Howl was merely trying to pass along a little praise to the handful of half-listening regulars at the Loner Drive In in Atkins where he had stopped off as he was passing through Arkansas.
Ginsburg might have launched into a hip little dithyramb then and there if the locals had paid him more mind. But the Loner has drawn so many notable people over the years with its fried dill pickles that Ginsburg didn’t make much of an impression. No more than if he’d been Winthrop Rockefeller or Buckminister Fuller or Norman Mailer. If he’d had Johnny Cash or Dolly Parton with him, the story might have been different, but then again maybe not. …
Clip this one out
Within the July 1983 issue of the Arkansas Times was the special Summer/Fall Dining Issue, and within the dining issue was the story “The Recipes You Asked For.” What folks asked for: Escargots from Little Rock’s most upscale eatery, Jacques & Suzanne.
Escargots Jacques & Suzanne
14 oz. unsalted butter
½ oz. Garlic, finely chopped
½ oz. Shallots, finely chopped
1 ½ oz. Parsley, finely chopped
½ piece Anchovy filet, finely chopped
1 piece Filbert, chopped
2 ½ tsp. Salt
Pinch Pepper, white
Pinch Cayenne pepper
¼ Lemon’s juice
1 tsp. Pernod (liquor)
2 tsp. Dry white wine
¾ cup Whipping cream
24 pieces Snails
1 ½ cups Dry white wine
½ cup Whipping cream
Prepare all ingredients for escargot butter. Place garlic, shallots, parsley, anchovy filet and filbert in blender and blend thoroughly. Place butter and dry seasonings in mixing bowl and beat until butter is well incorporated with air. Add puree mixture from blender, lemon juice, Pernod and white wine and keep beating. Place snail butter in covered container and refrigerate for several days. Butter can be frozen if not for immediate use. For service, butter should be at room temperature. Heat 24 snails in dry white wine. Place the snails in escargot dishes. Reduce ¾ cup of whipping cream by half. Remove from heat, and when it is tepid, using a French whip, incorporate piece by piece 1 ½ cups of the soft (room temperature) butter. Fold in the ½ cup of whipped cream. Pour the prepared butter-cream mixture over the snails and glaze them quickly under the broiler until golden. Serve with crusty French bread.
Mudbugs for money
The July 1984 issue of the Times reported on crawdad farms v. crawdads in the wild in Dee Dowell Wright’s “Stalking the Wild Crawdad”:
“Farm bred, Grain Fed Arkansas Lobsters” says the bumper sticker on the pickup in front of you; or maybe “I Love My Mississippi Mud Bugs.” Both slogans are evidence of one of the newest agricultural developments in our area: the raising of crawfish (crawdads, crayfish) as a cash crop. There’s even an Arkansas Crawfish Producers Association to give legitimacy to the efforts. Raising crawfish for food, rather than for bait, is relatively new, but with Arkansas’ abundance of shallow water — rice fields, drainage ditches and old river lakes — we have always been well supplied with this fresh-water crustacean.
Long before the rise of this latest agricultural crop, some of us were already well acquainted with the pleasures of crawdadding in the wilds. Our inspiration came in springtime drives through Louisiana, which revealed hundreds of folks wading in bayous and ditches setting out crawfish nets. If it can be done there, my friends and I thought, why not here? A trip to TG&Y in Shreveport to purchase nets put us in business. …
The only bait needed is liver — preferably rotten. …
A letter to the editor, May 1985
Ave Atque Vale
I would like to cancel out now my subscription for Arkansas Times magazine.
I plan to leave Arkansas as I am fed up with Bill Clinton and his laws also the Highway Dept. and Arkansas Power & Light.
The schools have gone money crazy, all day and all night they plan for more money. I can’t remember how many times they have raised the mills in the past three years in Montgomery, Pike and Clark Counties and it’s up again now. You come in from the track, turn on TV for the evening six o’clock news, what do you get, school and Grand Gulf and highway news — all trying to rake and fool the consumer. …
The Highway Dept. always going to do wonders with upgrading the highways but when they get extra money, they shut up and you hear no more. Where does the money go, everyone knows where. If they do any work, it’s overpasses or underpasses, loops or dips right in Little Rock. …
It seems a shame to excerpt, rather than run in full, Mike Trimble’s “Memoirs of a Miner” that was in the September 1985 issue of the Times. In fact, now that we think about it, we need to add it to the Times’ website. We’ll get around to it. Until then, here’s a taste:
Only triumphs are replayed in dreams; the vanquished find solace in heavy, unremembering sleep.
Most of us are doing pretty well, I guess. Salty Crowson is selling insurance and raising a short ton of kids over in Conway, and Jonesy is a college professor with a highly praised book under his belt. Satchelbutt Wilmoth married his high school sweetheart; ditto Bud Richards, who, last I heard, was running a very used car lot out on the highway and serving on the Bauxite School Board. I earn three squares a day just sitting in a chair, typing.
I don’t hear much from the members of the 1960 Bauxite Miner football team — except for Salty, who handles my insurance and always calls around my birthday to remind me that I am one year closer to dying — but every year about this time I start thinking about them — Salty and Satchel and Bud and Rolleigh and Harold Selby and Dan Reed and the rest — and I wonder if they are still as embarrassed as I am at getting beat by Bryant.
I don’t mean getting beat by Bryant last year, or even the year before; Bryant doesn’t even play Bauxite in football any more, having outgrown any semblance of athletic parity with the Miners since becoming the landing field for Little Rock’s white flight about ten years ago. I mean getting beat by Bryant in 1960, the year that Rolleigh and Dan Reed and Bud Richards and Jimmy Birmingham and Bill Ramsey and Jonesy and Johnny Holland and Paul Mansfield and I were seniors.
I am getting embarrassed right now, just thinking about it. My God! Bryant? Until 1960, Bryant had never beaten the Bauxite Miners. Ever! They had seldom even scored. Until 1960, the Bryant game was the annual laugher — always played at home because Bryant didn’t have its own field; always played against a hapless bunch of skinny, inept players whose uniforms didn’t even match. I remember lining up as an eighth grader against a Bryant tight end who played in cowboy boots.
We had started the 1960 season as the undefeated District 5-A champions. In 1959, the mighty Black and Gray had roared through the schedule like a turpentined kitty. We had rocked ’em, we had socked ’em. We had Kicked Butt. Now, only a few months later, it was ashes, all ashes. Sic transit gloria mundi! The Bryant Hornets had beaten the Bauxite Miners, and before the season was over, so had just about everybody else. The center had not held, and I was the center.
Portrait of the artist as a young soldier
In the February 1986 issue, the Times ran a story featuring the World War II drawings of George Fisher, the cartoonist who would later draw for the weekly newspaper version of the Times that originated in 1992. Along with the drawings, it had a brief bit on the artist.
“I enlisted in the Army with the understanding that I could finish school first,” Arkansas Gazette cartoonist George Fisher remembers, “but they called me up before I did. I always thought it rather selfish of the government to consider winning World War II more important than my finishing Beebe Junior College.”
Fisher trained at Camp Roberts, California, and then hooked up with the Seventy-Sixth Division, which eventually was stationed in Bournemouth, England. It was there that Fisher, drawing cartoons for a regimental newspaper, looked up from his drawing board to meet the eyes of Rosemary Beryl Snook, a pretty English girl who would become his wife.
… Fisher’s 417th Regiment, code-named “Trigger,” crossed the channel into France and joined Allied forces in the Battle of the Bulge. Fisher was a sergeant in a 105-milimeter howitzer company. …
Soldiers in combat do many things to take their minds off the horrors of war. Some write long letters home; some drink; some simply withdraw into themselves. George Fisher drew pictures, sometimes for Army newspapers, sometimes just for himself, in makeshift booklets that he made from typing paper and bound with a bent nail. His cartoons depicted the life of the common footsoldier, because that’s what Fisher was. …
Another favorite ad
A good law sneaks in
The General Assembly passed the real estate transfer tax, an astonishing piece of progressive legislation. The “I Speak Arkansaw” column noted it in the July 1987 issue.
Not long before the June special session of the Arkansas General Assembly, one legislator was quoted as saying that the House and Senate “did not accomplish a single thing” in the regular legislative session earlier this year. “It would have been better not to meet,” he added.
In fact, though, one good thing did come out of a session that seemed preoccupied with special interests and embarrassing trivia. A determined group of environmenalists and preservationists managed to push through a bill that will have an immediate and lasting effect on the quality of life in Arkansas. The bill provides money for the state, and for local governments, to create parks, nature preserves, and recreational facilities, and to develop and maintain existing parks.
The money will come, naturally enough, from a tax increase — not an easy thing to get through the Arkansas legislature. Act 729 doubled a tax that most people don’t even know exists: the real estate transfer tax. …
Northwest Arkansas residents will see this money put to use fairly soon, since one of the first projects to be funded will probably be the new Beaver Lake State Park. Parks and Tourism has owned land on the lake for years, but hasn’t had the money (nearly three million dollars) to build roads, campsites, administration buildings, and everything else a state park needs. Another priority is Mississippi River State Park, a small, now-undeveloped area south of Osceola. …
Kay Kelley Arnold, director of the Department of Arkansas Heritage, was one of the leaders behind the effort to get the funding bill passed. … Conservationists around the state made hundreds of phone calls to legislators in support of the bill, which was opposed by homebuilders, the Farm Bureau, and real estate interests. …
Remembering a hit: ‘Jelly-Behind Woman’
If you spent any time downtown in 1988, you would have met up with Elton and Betty White, one of Little Rock’s most unusual couples. The Times took note of a couple of tapes they’d released in the “I Speak Arkansaw” feature in the October issue.
The Little River lights
In 1988, the residents of Little River County were treated to nearly nightly sightings of UFOs. After a flying object hovering over a house in the Wallace settlement north of Foreman suddenly zoomed up a road in pursuit of a car, the Ashdown press put out the word, and, as Bob Lancaster wrote in the June issue that year, “A wire service picked up the story and seasoned it with a local-yokel quote from a deppity about spaceships a-suckin’ people up,” and an astronomer opined that folks were seeing “moonlight reflecting off the breasts of high-flying geese.” Lancaster, in the company of Bob Taaffe, a paper-mill executive, and Jim Williamson, the publisher of the Little River News, who’d made pictures of the objects, went to Little River County to glimpse a rectangular craft that had been seen gliding there.
The hope of witnessing such a thing — rather than merely seeing some bashful, baffling lights — was what brought me to Hippo Hill, to scan the sky while slapping mosquitos the size of hummingbirds in the starlight. … An hour, two hours passed uneventfully in on Hippo Hill, and from our conversation I gathered that Taaffe and Williamson had never thought — had never seriously entertained the idea — that there was anything supernatural or otherworldly about the Little River County UFOs. … [The men had] kept their sense of humor about all this. … From our summit we could see the distant fuzzy blurs where the road hits the horizon, and Williamson explained that these were a cluster of just-across-the-state-line beer joints. Because many of the dancing lights had appeared in the sky that direction, he said, the wags had wasted no time in calling them the Bud Lights. …
Ned Perme Index
The February issue that year was mostly focused on Oaklawn, but another item found its way in: The fame game.
How ’bout that mustache?
Alternate title to the April 1990 cover story on longtime political columnist (and later editor of the Arkansas Times) John Brummett: “Or, How a Chubby Statehouse Reporter Became the State’s Best-Known TV Pundit.”
More than 25 years before Arkansas’s HIA Velo made a big splash in the cycling world by making carbon-frame bicycles in the U.S., Brent Trimble was laboring away in his grandparent’s old dairy barn in Berryville. Trimble, the designer of the Kestrel 4000, the world’s first all-carbon composite bicycle, left California for Arkansas in 1988 to make frames using, as Trimble described, “kind of a new science.”
His company’s location in Berryville has been ideal, Trimble says: everything costs less here than in California, and it was easy to find good employees … Trimble is purposefully vague about the future of his company. Carbon-fiber composites will take over in bicycles just as they already have in tennis rackets and skis, he says.
Among Trimble’s high-end clients as reported by the Times in February 1990: Bruce Jenner, “the guy who produced ‘Miami Vice,’ ” and Robin Williams. …
Convenience store decade
“The Eighties seem to me to have been, in Arkansas anyway, the time of the conqueror convenience store,” Bob Lancaster muses in his Endpapers column in February 1990.
Pine trees conquered the countryside; convenience stores the crossroads settlements and small towns… . The places I mean have names like Road Runner, In and Out, Day and Night, Tummies ’n’ Tanks. Many have the perfectly appropriate word Quik in their names. And, in their pervading spirit of hurrying up everything, they often abbreviate the and down to ’n’. Quik ’n’ Easy. Or, better, Quik ’n’ EZ. …
The convenience store of Eighties Arkansas sells pump-ur-self gas, milk you’re always vaguely apprehensive about, bread that’s neither fresh nor stale, and just about anything else that somebody might get a hankering for in the wee hours or out of the blue. Sunglasses, flashlight batteries, bags of ice, vulgar bumper strips, Pepto-Bismol, bubblegum to turn your child’s mouth bright blue. Plastic-wrapped gray sandwiches that, heated in the on-premises microwave, assume a quality that requires you to allow them to disintegrate of their own accord as they squish unchewably around your grinders. …
Revenues from sweatshirts
The Times sold I speak Arkansas sweatshirts, modeled in the ad by Phyllis Britton (bottom), director of advertising.
“Dull White Men’s History Month”
Tinkering with death
“A real piece of cake to build” is how Fort Smith’s Jay Wiechert described the electric chairs he built for Arkansas and Georgia correction departments in a January 1990 interview with the Times. “Wiechert got into the electric chair business in 1978, after reading a newspaper article in which an Arkansas Correction Department official complained that the department couldn’t find a new electric chair,” Gary Smith reported.
“ ‘I wrote him a letter telling him I’d build him an electric chair. Of course, I didn’t know anything about how to do it at the time.’ ” Some research at the University of Arkansas gave Wiechert the information he needed, or at least enough to submit a $9,260 bid for the construction and installation of one electric chair at the prison unit at Cummins. “ ‘I don’t have any particularly strong feelings about capital punishment,’ Wiechert said. ‘I just got into it because it sounded interesting, and I like to use the gray matter.’ ”
Our January 1991 cover feature (left) previewed the coming legislative session, the first since 1957 without formidable Sen. Knox Nelson. The cover featured (from right, clockwise) freshmen legislators: former Michael Dukakis campaign co-ordinator and future U.S. Rep. Mike Ross of Prescott; law professor John Pagan of Little Rock; doctor, lawyer and future U.S. Rep. Vic Snyder of Little Rock; Jim Argue of Little Rock; and lawyer Bill Lewellen of Marianna.
“I can’t jump up on that stool anymore,” Jerry Jones told John Brummett for an October 1991 cover profile of the Rose City native who bought the Dallas Cowboys in 1989. Brummett explained:
Not so many years ago, when he would join other hard-core Razorbacks for a night of drinking and fun, he would sometimes display the athletic prowess he had retained from the glory days: He’d stand flat-footed and jump to a standing position on a bar stool. It was pretty impressive. …
“I got interested in taxidermy about three years ago,” Terry Chamberlin (left) of Roland told the Times in April 1991.
“So I ordered some taxidermy books and supplies and thought I would try my hand at it. I started doing ducks and squirrels. An old domestic black cat was actually the first thing I ever did. It’s in there [on the refrigerator]. I thought, ‘Well, the first thing I tried wasn’t bad,’ so I pursued it. The first ribbon I ever won was for the first fish I ever entered in a contest.
“I’ve been a door-to-door salesman for 20 years. I’ve sold fire alarms, vacuum cleaners, insurance, and massage therapy equipment. I sell lingerie to shops. However, I also try to work home calls, and the parties, and girls that work in men’s entertainment clubs. I sell to them because you go fishing where the fish are.” …
Young Huck, same Huck
For our Aug. 20, 1992, issue, John Brummett profiled a 36-year-old Mike Huckabee amid his ultimately failed bid to unseat U.S. Sen. Dale Bumpers.
“I, too, believe in a place called Hope,” Huckabee tells about 30 supporters at the Western Sizzlin’ in Monticello. “The difference between me and Bill Clinton is that I actually grew up in Hope.”
Well, there are more differences than that. Clinton supports gay rights. Huckabee, who says he has counseled many people who came to him and thought they were homosexual, calls homosexuality “learned behavior.” He says he tells gay-leaning people the same thing he tells men who come to him for counseling about extra-marital sexual urges. “You’ve got to control yourself.”
Clinton has emerged as the nation’s great hope for continued abortion rights. Huckabee, while decrying the ”sloganeering” that dominates the abortion debate on both sides and saying he opposes the tactics of Operation Rescue, says abortion is wrong and that Roe vs. Wade needs to be repealed because the U.S. Supreme Court contrived a right of privacy to protect it.
Clinton advocates school health clinics that could distribute contraceptives. Huckabee likes to tell audiences that he longs for the old days. “When I was in school, they handed out Gideon Bibles; now nurses hand out contraceptives.” (In fact, only three schools out of hundreds in Arkansas distribute contraceptives.) Abstinence is the only real solution to teen pregnancy, he says.
Huckabee says Clinton does not represent the Southern Baptist religion, though he disapproves of the independent Baptists from Texas who have demonstrated outside Clinton’s church, Immanuel Baptist in Little Rock. Those people shouldn’t mix religion and politics that way, he says. The way to mix religion and politics, he says, is his way: run on your value system and let the voters decide.
Asked if he believes the Republican Party more properly represents Christian values than the Democratic Party, he says, “I have to be careful answering that,” but eventually answers it this way: “Yeah, I do.” …
‘Off the record? It’s big. It’s really big’
Richard Martin captured the Election Night scene in Little Rock in our Nov. 5, 1992, issue:
By Monday afternoon the excitement was well underway. Downtown Little Rock, with T-shirt hawkers, mobile pay phones, blaring music, roving packs of foreign journalists, and general good-natured bustle, seemed like a combination of the last day before Christmas, Mardi Gras and the State Fair. Downtown watering holes took on a New York City air, with the requisite celebrities and local wannabes.
Tom Cruise was spotted in the Capital Hotel
bar. A courthouse clerk was beside herself with excitement: She’d had her picture taken with movie star Richard Gere. His main squeeze, supermodel Cindy Crawford, snapped the photo for the star-struck young woman.
Doe’s Eat Place, by now the nationally known power center for the Clinton inner circle, lived up to its billing. Proprietor George Eldridge, normally the coolest of hosts, was flustered by the backroom scene where a gang of Clinton’s Georgetown buddies partied with campaign honchos. When the Clinton officer corps — pollster Stan Greenberg, strategist James Carville and campaign manager David Wilhelm — entered Doe’s main room, a hush fell on the boisterous room.
As election day dawned, Little Rock had become something of an international media capital. The carnival atmosphere increased as early exit polls boded a possible landslide: Vermont swing precincts going for Clinton-Gore. Bush staffers despondent. James Baker, the former miracle-worker, nowhere to be found.
Early in the evening, the doors of the Capital Hotel were opened wide. Inside, the lobby had become a cafe. The undercurrents of celebrity rumor animated the crowd during the early hours of waiting. One onlooker swore that two days ago Stephen Stills was offering a full month’s rent for three days in a condo in Little Rock; he said Stills ended up at the Riverfront Hilton. Richard Dreyfus had checked in at the Capital. Jackie O was supposedly spotted in the Capital lobby. …
It was not a night for those who can’t stand crowds. … People wrapped in flags, people in Uncle Sam suits, people with Bozo heads, but no chicken suits. Street vendors did a good business, especially in hot coffee since the night was cold and rainy, and nobody seemed to mind much. Maybe the weather brought the crowd even closer together, just as the long wait to vote earlier in the day, about two hours at most precincts, seemed to promote a sense of we’re all in this together, and it’s kind of exciting, isn’t it. That’s how Clinton voters felt anyway, some of whom were busy getting their picture made with a life-size cardboard cutout of Clinton. …
By 8 p.m. the electoral vote stood at 238 for Clinton and a paltry 33 for the beaten incumbent, and the famed Clinton War Room, the third floor of the old Gazette Building, had reached a state of delirious, relieved ecstasy. Carville, the Louisiana assassin, a gold
Sheriff’s badge glued to his forehead, behind his horseshoe desk and chanted “More! More! More!” Two staffers imitated the candidate by tossing a football across the crowded room. And Hunter S. Thompson, who looks to become a sort of drugged-out Boswell to Clinton’s Johnson, was scanning the celebration with a handheld video camera.
“Early in this race, I saw chaos coming,” Thompson confided in his ravaged, Fifth-Horse-man-of-the-Apocalypse voice. “When I organized the Rolling Stone forum, I wasn’t enthusiastic about Clinton, but the more I saw of him, I saw he was a warrior and a winner.” And was it the Rolling Stone endorsement that did it for Saxophone Bill? “Oh yeah. We got a lot of people out to vote that don’t normally vote. And we got a lot shit about Tipper, but I didn’t care: It was time to win.” …
On the street, it was Mardi Gras and Carnival and a hundred Arkansas festivals rolled into one. The night gave new meaning to the term “street theater.” In front of the Camelot Hotel, a group called the Good Energy Troupe inflated a swaying, bulging blob dubbed “Bag-O-Debt” while dancers identified as “The Face of Change” assaulted the billowing monster. Nearby, a man wearing a sad-sack face that looked remarkably like that of the defeated president strolled by wearing a sign that read: “Will work for food.” He asked if anyone had any gutters that needed cleaning. In front of the Excelsior, a nine-foot-tall Uncle Sam (on stilts) walked down the street, authoritatively clearing traffic so a wayward limousine could pass. …
The overriding feeling was one of pride. “They’re going to know us after tonight,” a woman said. “They’re going to be moving to Arkansas.” In the warm, uncrowded Grand Ballroom of the Excelsior Hotel, Little Rock realtor Rett Tucker, balancing a barbecue sandwich and a drink, predicted a terrific future for Little Rock. “Already,” he said, AP&L’s parent company Entergy has plans to move six executives here from New Orleans. “It’s a great day. I really can’t believe it,” he said. Skip Rutherford, former state Democratic chairman and a Clinton campaign worker, was pressed for exit-poll results. “Off the record? It’s big. It’s really big.”
While the regulars partied upstairs, the VIPs gathered downstairs at Josephine’s restaurant, where the 70 or so six-figure Democratic donors and 1,100 biggest fundraisers were feted. Another floor down, the press had a close encounter with Clinton supporter Richard Dreyfus. “There’s a larger event going on here,” Dreyfus said. “It’s a mass movement. It’s bigger than Clinton.” The landslide victory, Dreyfus declared, signaled a new era for America. “The energy is just beginning.” Dreyfus’ comment was echoed all over downtown: “There will never be anything like it ever again.” “Arkansas will never be the same again. It’s the greatest thing that ever happened to Arkansas.” “The whole world is going to look at us in a different light.” …
“WASHINGTON—Ever stood in a restroom line at a Razorback game at War Memorial stadium?” Max Brantley, writing from Washington, D.C., where he was covering the inauguration of Bill Clinton for the Jan. 21, 1993, issue.
Make that a late-season game with the temperature in the 30s and the Hogs up by three or four touchdowns.
The feeling is the same at all the key venues in the flag-bedecked nation’s capital, aswarm with an estimated 10,000 Arkies — and thou-sands more former Arkies — positively jubilant over the ascension of Hope-Hot Springs-Little Rock-and-Fayetteville favorite son Bill Clinton to the presidency. …
Dee White took a sound meter to Little Rock clubs to measure decibel levels in an Dec. 9, 1993, article entitled “Primal screams and the human ear.” The results:
Smitty’s: 95 decibels
Juanita’s: 110 decibels
Vino’s: 108 decibels
White Water Tavern: 100 decibels
Mark Abernathy, owner of Juanita’s at the time, said his venue’s contracts said bands could not exceed a 100.4 decibel level. “Unfortunately, a lot of sound engineers and musicians have already destroyed their hearing, so what is normal to them is loud to someone else,” he said. …
Mara Leveritt, writing Oct. 4, 1994, exhumes a little known chapter in the life of then-Gov. Jim Guy Tucker:
“In 1968, Tucker entered Cummins prison to begin serving a sentence for theft and burglary. Outfitted in prison whites, Tucker was assigned to a work detail in the kitchen, where he spent his days cleaning chickens. Tucker’s stint in prison has never been trumpeted by his political opponents, partly because it’s not been widely known, and partly because Tucker volunteered for it. Sentencing papers were drawn up as part of an undercover investigation overseen by Arkansas State Police.”
Tucker’s friend and later lawyer John Haley, who was then a member of the Board of Correction, helped set the operation up.
“Back then,” Haley told Leveritt, “we had maybe a hundred or so employees and maybe 3,000 inmates. And the records were kept by inmates and the inmates carried guns, and it was a very strange life down there.
We had heard some rumors that the inmates who worked in the record room would, for a very substantial fee — thousands of dollars — forge new commitment records, so that anyone who was committed for a 20-year sentence could have his records altered to reflect a two-to three-year sentence and get out early. This was before computerization, so it was harder to confirm these things.”
Tucker, a former Marine, entered Cummins shortly after returning from Vietnam. He went by the name James Gus Turner and his back story was “a three-time loser, a burglar and a second-story man,” Tucker’s press secretary Max Parker said.
Tucker only stayed in prison a day or two when he was abruptly pulled out after Gov. Winthrop Rockefeller got wind of the operation, but Haley said Tucker’s observation helped clean up some of the corruption.
Asked by Leveritt why he volunteered and what he learned, Tucker said, “I was young and thought I was immortal and you don’t want to go there.”
The poem above by Bob Lancaster ran in the Feb. 10, 1995, issue. Also included was this poem for then Razorback basketball coach Nolan Richardson:
A big old box of valentine
for our favorite coach,
Who’s a real dandy.
But do us one small favor,
Do less talking about the
Keep your press conference
And try not to be so
People will think you’re a
whole lot sweeta
If you just talk ball and not
Enlightened on death row
In our Oct. 11, 1996, issue, in the immediate wake of the release and critical embrace of the documentary “Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills,” Mara Leveritt, who in 2002 would publish “Devil’s Knot,” the definitive chronicle of the West Memphis Three, interviews Damien Echols on Death Row. “I’m pretty much ignored here now,” Echols told Leveritt.
Nobody pays much attention to me. When I first came here, it was like having a purple monkey in the living room. You can’t help but notice it. But after time, you get so you don’t notice it. It’s just a purple monkey.” … He said he’s developed a deeper sense of what it means to be a pagan and that that brought him peace of mind. “I think I have a much more mature understanding,” he said. “I have found purpose in being on this earth. If I would have known that everything in my life had to happen to bring me to this point, I would gladly have gone through it, even if it means sitting here being innocent on Death Row.”
Echols said that, while he doubts he’ll ever get used to being in prison, he has discovered a loveliness to life, which is something new to him. “I’ve always had this extremely self-destructive streak, which coming here has somehow made me overcome.”
Asked if his behavior during the investigation of the murders and during his trial — especially that taunting the police — was what he would call self-destructive, Echols quickly replied, “Oh yes. I played with the cops’ minds. I deliberately led them after me, even knowing the consequences of it. Basically, I knew they were looking at me anyway, so I figured, if you haven’t done anything wrong, they can’t prove you’ve done anything wrong, so I might as well have some fun while they’re looking at me.”
Now he considers that approach stupid and one of “extreme vanity.” “I knew it could blow up in my face,” he said, “but I was still getting off on it.” Asked why, he suggests, “I guess for the same reason that people dodge trains. It’s something to break the mundanity of their lives, something to give them some distraction.” …
So close, Wally Hally and Willie Oates S
Former Razorback and longtime radio personality David Bazzel and KATV anchor Joan Early were Times readers’ picks in our annual Best of Arkansas survey for Best Male and Female Sex Symbol, a category the Times poll no longer includes. Runners-up included Chris May, Bill Clinton, Kelley Bass, Wally Hall, Ned Perme, Anne Jansen, Dawn Scott, Leslie Basham, Willie Oates, Janet Huckabee and Tracy Douglas. Early’s son Ethan Strauss was a member of the Arkansas Times Academic All-Star Team in 2019.
Policing the police
In the wake of a controversial Little Rock police shooting and revelations that a white officer, fired for using the word “nigger,” had previously managed to hang onto his job despite racking up 19 complaints, including 12 that resulted in discipline and 31 days of suspension, Judith Gallman reported on increasing calls for a citizens review board in a May 2, 1997, cover package. But Jamie Johnson, Little Rock FOP president, tells her such boards are unnecessary and expensive. “This is life, this is reality, it’s not always fair. [This system] is working as well as any,” he said.
In July, more than 20 years later, the Little Rock Board of Directors approved Mayor Frank Scott Jr.’s plan to create a citizens review board.
The ’90s were weird
Teenagers pretending to be vampires were part of a Sept. 18, 1998, survey on nightlife options for underage Little Rockers written by Little Rock native Mikael Wood, now pop music critic for the Los Angeles Times.
Remember when we had hockey?
“Arkansas’s newly minted hockey fans may not yet know a hat trick (three goals by one player in the same game) from a Hog call, but they know a good fight when they see one,” writes Michael Haddigan Oct. 30, 1998, on the Arkansas GlacierCats debut at Barton Coliseum. The team was squeezed out of the market after only two years after the Arkansas RiverBlades hockey team began playing at the newly opened Alltel Arena in 1999. It only lasted until 2003.
“I don’t know anything about hockey. But I like the fights,” said a grinning Brandon Hogue, 13, of Hot Springs, who wore a Jason-like plastic hockey mask as he stocked up on eats during an intermission. …
Cartoonist George Fisher characterized the work of Special Prosecutor Kenneth Starr in the Oct. 23, 1998, issue.
Tom Mars, with only a two-year stint as a policeman in Virginia on his resume, was a surprise pick by Gov. Mike Huckabee to head the State Police. But he came with other bona fides: He finished first in the Virginia police academy he attended; first in his University of Arkansas Law School class; and achieved the top score on the Arkansas Bar Exam in 1986. His law partner John C. Everett of Fayetteville sang his praises to Michael Haddigan for a July 9, 1999 profile:
“He’s the best lawyer I know. He’s the most entertaining conversationalist I know. And he may be the smartest son of a bitch on the face of the earth. … When he goes into the bathroom in the morning, he doesn’t take Sports Illustrated. He takes the United States Code.”
After leading the State Police, Mars worked as corporate counsel and in upper management for Walmart and, more recently, represented Houston Nutt in a lawsuit against Nutt’s former employer Ole Miss for disparaging Nutt (the former coach and the university settled). The suit also led to the ouster of Nutt’s successor, Hugh Freeze, after a public records request by Mars revealed that Freeze called an escort service number. Rex Horne, the former pastor of Immanuel Baptist in Little Rock, connected Mars and Nutt. Mars later became the go-to attorney for NCAA athletes in transfer eligibility cases. This summer, he was hired by the NCAA. If you can’t beat ’em, hire ’em.
THE 2000s & Beyond!
Home sweet trailer
Leslie Newell Peacock takes a tour of the Arkansas Governor’s triple-wide in the Sept. 1, 2000, issue:
Janet Huckabee swore she wasn’t on drugs.
No, the reason for her euphoria, she told the assembled crowd last Wednesday, was that she was about to enter her new triple-wide manufactured home trucked in three weeks ago from Indiana. … It was the answer to the Huckabee’s dilemma of where to stay while the Governor’s Mansion is replumbed, rewired and remodeled. … It’s a comfortable home, 2,100 light-filled square feet filled with lump sofas in floral and plaid upholstery and faux country French armoires and tables. Gilded sconces are hung stair-step fashion in the front hall … . The governor has an office just big enough for a daybed and a desk; he’s decorated the latter with photos of his smiling hunter sons decked out in camouflauge and holding up carcasses. A print of Ronald Reagan hangs on the wall. Framed scripture from II Chronicles that promises God will heal the land of repentant sinners decorates the laundry room off the kitchen, and the first couple (sans children, now that their youngest child, Sarah, is off to college) has a shady porch off the master bedroom, complete with patio furniture. …
Land of Opportunity
In our May 4, 2001, issue, Lisa Broadwater visits small town Danville, which had dramatically grown its population in the last decade, thanks to an influx of Latinos who came to work at chicken processing plants.
“It takes time for people to adapt to change,” Wayne Farms’ William Abbott says. “But there’s an old saying, ‘The only constant in life is change.’ You can see that right here in Danville. It’s changing. And the majority of the people have accepted it.
“There’s a few people that don’t. Fortunately, there hasn’t been any real bad situations in town with the Hispanics that would turn people against them. They’re just like you and I: They’re looking for a better life for their families. The majority of the folks we’ve got, if you ask them, ‘Why did you come to Danville, Arkansas?’ they’re just looking for a better way of life for their families.” …
Arkansas Times staffers shared their favorite Christmas memories and gifts in our Dec. 20, 2002 issue. This came from then-editor Max Brantley:
My best childhood Christmas gift came from Santa, meaning it appeared unwrapped on Christmas morning. It was 1965… Laugh if you want. The present was a discus. I was so pleased, I took it to bed with me that night. I put it on the floor, in its canvas carrying bag, so I would see it when I awoke. So I could reach over and touch it. Thirty-seven years later, I still have it, though it rests these days in the garage. …
Good for pedicures, too
David Koon writes in the Oct. 10, 2003, issue about the origin story of the Russellville-made Microplane:
Told around Grace Manufacturing with the same reverence as Mrs. O’Leary’s cow is mentioned in Chicago, the story is: In 1994, one of the stores selling Microplanes was Lee Valley Tools, a chain of Canadian hardware stores. One evening, Lorrain Lee, the wife of the owner of Lee Valley Tools, was trying to zest oranges for a cake. Fed up with the performance of her dull grater, she ventured to her husband’s woodworking shop, where she borrowed a rasp he had recently been bragging over. It worked incredibly well, zesting the orange rind into perfect, gossamer strands. Lee soon found that it worked equally well on everything from cheese to chocolate, was easy to clean, and was indestructible. The next time Lee Valley Tools issued a catalogue, the Microplane was featured with a double use: woodworking implement and kitchen gadget. …
Vision that were not to be
“A series of recent property acquisitions on Main Street in downtown Little Rock can be traced to financier Warren Stephens, and sources close to the transactions confirm that they are part of a $100 million strategy to transform the neighborhood,” Warwick Sabin reported in the July 9, 2004, issue.
One person familiar with the project said that Stephens is prepared to make a $100 million investment to create a theater and arts district that would have as its core a new home for the Arkansas Repertory Theatre. This person, who did not want to be identified, said discussions were ongoing with the University of Arkansas at Little Rock about allowing the Theatre Arts and Dance Department to relocate to the current Rep complex, which is on Main between Sixth and Seventh Streets.
Another focal point of development is the Center, an old movie house on Main Street between Fourth Street and Capitol Avenue that Stephens has begun renovating for use as a combination restaurant and theater.
The Rep failed to get a grant from the Reynolds Foundation that would have allowed its move farther north on Main Street, and Stephens eventually razed the Center Theater. …
Laurie Taylor (later Laurie Masterson and now Laurie Lee) generated a boatload of controversy in her ultimately unsuccessful quest to get a list of more than 50 books removed or restricted from Fayetteville school libraries, Doug Smith reported in the Sept. 30, 2005, issue. Among the books on her list: Toni Morrison’s “Beloved,” Gabriel Garcia Marquez’ “One Hundred Years of Solitude” and Judy Blume’s “Forever.”
“Every one of those 54 books has multiple [offensive] passages,” she said in an interview. “I’m talking about a plethora of verbiage, most of it gutter language, on all sorts of sexual behavior, on bestiality, on incest, on homosexuality.” A student should not be reading such a book without the knowledge of his or her parents, she says. “Why would any conscientious adult have a problem with that? I’m having a hard time conceptualizing why anybody would object.”
Lee used the controversy as a springboard into a career in politics, advocating, among other things, for the so-called school reform movement.
Taking on the coastal elites
In the June 7, 2007, issue, Leslie Newell Peacock defended Alice Walton’s work-in-progress Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art from coastal critics. The museum opened Nov. 11, 2011, to rapturous critical acclaim:
Just because billionaire Alice Walton was raised in the hills of Arkansas does not mean she is the wrong person to build a great museum of American art.
Just because her museum will be located in Bentonville and not on either coast does not mean that Americans will be deprived of beloved historical paintings.
Those who knitted their eyebrows at the news that a first class museum of American art would arise in the Ozarks might want to consider this: Bentonville has an airport. They can use it.
New York art critics who beat their breasts over losing Arthur Durand’s Hudson Valley masterpiece “Kindred Spirits” to the boonies (one writer said Walton had “raided” the New York Public Library to get her hands on it) should take a look around at the art looted from abroad in their own museums.
And those who criticize Alice Walton because the money she’s investing in art derives from her interest in the world’s biggest and often-criticized retailer should consider: How many fortunes that helped build the nation’s museums were made in a socially laudable way? Do they avoid the Whitney because of Mrs. Whitney’s mother-in-law’s ties to Standard Oil? (Should we shun the Arkansas Arts Center, once propped up by Winthrop and Jeannette Rockefeller, for the same reason?) …
Scenes from a dancefloor
Lindsey Millar, in the Oct. 16, 2008, issue, reports on a scene the Times has devoted cover attention to at least once a decade: late-night clubs. Here, he describes the scene at The Electric Cowboy off Interstate 30 in Southwest Little Rock:
Everyone does “The Cha-Cha Slide.” On an August Friday this summer, I watched a trim middle-aged man, who, with a chinstrap beard, high-waisted pants and a black bow tie, looked like a recently fallen Amish, sprint to the dance floor when the opening bars of the songs blared across the club. At first, after finding his place in line, he stood almost rigid, save a gentle leg wag in time with the beat. As the bass deep-ened and DJ Casper gave a call for clapping, the man obliged. When the commands got more complicated — “slide to the left/slide to the right…/one hop this time/right foot, let’s stomp” — he followed along expertly, but perfunctorily, like he was doing a job that he’d done for years, but grown weary of.
The song catches its breath three quarters of the way through with more clapping and a series of questions, posed as dares, “How low can you go? Can you down low? All the way to the floor?” Like limbo, there’s a tremendous potential for people to make asses out of themselves during this section. Liquid confidence inspires the too-drunks to forget their limber limits, and they go tottering over. And then there are the short-skirted. On this particular Friday, a woman in a mini, heard earlier loudly decrying thong underwear in the women’s bathroom, dropped low enough that everyone in sight respected her choice. …
Before he went on to win an Eisner Award for his acclaimed collaboration on the “March” trilogy with civil rights hero U.S. Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), Little Rock native Nate Powell’s work popped up on the pages of the North Little Rock High School newspaper, on the covers for local cassette releases and here, on the cover of the Sept. 23, 2010, issue of the Arkansas Times.
Preppers, stock your wet bar
For our July, 22, 2010, issue, when craft beer upstarts were still outpaced in proliferation by rabbits and wisteria vines, Sam Eifling wrote about Diamond Bear Brewing. Diamond Bear was churning out suds from the little Rock side of the river in those days, and was one of only five such outfits in the state. In doing so, Eifling happened upon a bit of beer history that’s bound to come in handy in the event an unhinged world leader mashes that big red apocalypse button.
It’s the end of a long day for Russ Melton, tire salesman. He enters his brewery, Diamond Bear, at Fourth and Cross streets still wearing his Michelin button-down and apologizing for being late — “spent 45 minutes with a guy on some silly tire questions” — but happy to talk beer, his hobby and obsession. This fall will mark a decade of brewing in this one-time car dealership where Melton, his wife, Sue, and three employees have built up Diamond Bear,
Arkansas’s largest stand-alone brewery, into a regional distributor and maker of award-winning craft beers.
“The reason beer and wine are such a big part of our culture is microbes that’ll kill you won’t live in alcohol,” Melton says. “Plus you boil it, and that kills ’em, too. That’s why it’s such a big part of Western civilization. By 1000 AD most of the water in Europe was contaminated in some form or fashion, and you’d drink it and get sick or dead. Beer and wine, they felt pretty safe, because they just never got sick from it.”
Trump on the horizon
Gerard Matthews, in the Aug. 27, 2009, issue provides a dispatch from a town hall meeting hosted by U.S. Reps. Vic Snyder and Mike Ross at Arkansas Children’s Hospital to discuss proposals for health care reform.
Kim Magninn, an unemployed former kindergarten teacher, tells Matthews that government involvement in the health care system would lead to rationing and that there’s no need to fix a problem that only affects “15 percent of the population.” She also believes it is uncertain whether President Obama is an American citizen.
“The anger, the frustration, the outrage is not just in relationship to the health care legislation,” she said. “Health care just happened to be that proverbial straw. The outrage is directed toward the unmitigated gall of this administration to intrude on our personal lives, our freedoms, our choices. It is in direct opposition to the Constitution,” she said.
Snyder retired in 2010; Ross won re-elec-tion and was the lone bright spot that year for Democrats in what was otherwise a GOP wave election, then lost big in a gubernatorial bid against Asa Hutchinson in 2014.
West Memphis free
Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin and Jessie Misskelley Jr. — known to most of the country as the West Memphis Three — were freed from prison in 2011 after spending nearly two decades in prison for the murder of three young boys in 1993. They accepted a deal in which they pleaded guilty, nevertheless maintaining that they were innocent of the crime. In our Aug. 24 issue, longtime Arkansas Times staffer David Koon reflected on the Times’ ongoing coverage of the trials from Bob Lancaster and Mara Leveritt, going on to describe the scene at the Craighead County Courthouse on Aug. 19, where Eddie Vedder, Dixie Chicks singer Natalie Maines and seemingly every reporter in the country awaited their plea hearing.
In 2002 — just moved back from Lafayette, Louisiana, with my wife and son, my father not a year in the grave and my heart still broken by his death — I saw an ad in the back of the Arkansas Times looking for a reporter. Being a journalist was never in the cards for me before that mo-ment. I’d toyed with the idea in college, but soon figured I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life writing about traffic accidents and sewage projects. But when I saw that ad, I remembered those early stories on the WM3 in the Arkansas Times, before almost anybody else had even considered the idea that Echols, Baldwin and Misskelley were anything less than guilty as sin, and I realized that I wanted to be a part of that. …
Just after noon, the word came down: The West Mem-phis Three were free. A cheer rose up. Grown men literally wept, and didn’t give a damn who saw them.
I broke from the crowd and went down to the press conference in the basement. First, the prosecutors came in and tried to explain the pleas; to explain that, even though they thought the WM3 would likely win their freedom if re-tried, prosecutors still believed them to be the sole killers of the three children.
After the prosecutors were gone, Echols, Baldwin and Misskelley came in with their attorneys and supporters, looking like men just woken from long sleep. Monday morning, they had all lived with the idea that they might die in prison. They probably hadn’t had a good cheese-burger or a pizza or a milkshake in almost two decades. How long since any of them stood with his feet in running water? How long since any of them had felt the rain? How long since any of them ran as long and as far as he wanted? Now here they were, soon to ride out of Jonesboro; soon to be free to do whatever and eat whatever and love whoever they damn well pleased.
Jessie Misskelley has a jailhouse tattoo on the top of his head: a clock face with no hands; a symbol of his status as a lifer, with nothing but time. It’s the tattoo a man would get if he thought he would spend the rest of his life in jail. As the WM3 settled into their chairs before the assembled press, Bruce Sinofsky from “Paradise Lost” — 18 years old-er than he was when he and his friend Joe first decided to make a documentary about three Satan worshippers who killed three boys — spoke up. I’ll remember what came next for the rest of my life:
“Hey Jessie,” Sinofsky shouted. “What time does your clock say?”
Jessie Misskelley smiled. “I dunno,” he said. “What time is it now?” …
Craig gets candid
Highlights from Lindsey Millar’s 2011 conversation with THV11’s Craig O’Neill:
“I started in radio when I was 19 in 1969 at KBTN in Jonesboro. The most popular show was a 15-minute newscast at 9:30 p.m. that included five minutes of obituaries. You’ve heard of the top 20 hits? We did the top 20 obits.”
“I was Randy Hankins until 1972, and then in 1972 my program director at KARN thought that Randy Hankins sounded too country. He had worked with a guy in Seattle named Craig O’Neill and thought that was a cool name, so he gave it to me.
“I’ve never heard from him, but I have heard from people who say, ‘Didn’t you used to work Seattle?’ I also get, ‘Didn’t you used to work at Cincinnati?’ And, ‘Didn’t you used to work in Atlanta?’ So I’m thinking the other Craig O’Neill, the real one, he got around a lot.”
Kickers and screamers
Our Sept. 26, 2012, “Little Rock Confidential” issue teased out the grittier, unseen bits of working life — the pawnbroker relaying an old axiom about a “pawnbroker with a heart” being a broke pawnbroker, or the yoga instructor recalling the time a practice mat made contact with a “calming candle” and caught fire. Here’s an excerpt from former Times staffer Cheree Franco’s conversation with a bikini waxer.
“I’ve had a few screamers. People will ask for a towel and put it over their face. I had someone come in with a sunburn once. I said, ‘I can’t do this,’ and she said, ‘Please just try.’ I tried with one strip, and then I wouldn’t do the rest of it because she was in so much pain. You’ll get kickers because your automatic reflex is to slam your legs shut and kick out. I’ve heard about things like the wax ripping the skin, but that’s never happened where I work. That’s when the wax is too hot, and the esthetician should know better. You can test it on your arm, or if you know your wax pot well enough, you just know. I have given somebody strawberries, just little peckers on the skin, if the skin isn’t held taut or if they have a lot of skin and you can’t hold it the correct way. But those go away in a couple of days. Some women just lay still and are very stoic about it. You can tell personality types by how people handle the pain.” …
Also in 2012:
The Arkansas Times bids farewell to ousted Hogs football coach Bobby Petrino with a candid cover, after a motorcycle crash that exposed Petrino’s affair with his assistant Jessica Dorrell.
An un-trivial pursuit
In a year where the Mayflower oil spill and a barrage of legislative folly dominated our weekly dispatches, a bright spot came in late April, when 2013 Arkansas Times Academic All-Star Leonard Cooper managed not only to win Teen Jeopardy that year, but to keep mum — per his contract — about his win long after it happened, even as he and his eStem schoolmates watched Cooper during the final rounds of the televised competition at Gusano’s Pizza during lunch for four consecutive days. Cooper secured enough of a lead that he provided the following answer in the Final Jeopardy round, in response to a question about World War II: “Who is some guy in Normandy? But I just won $75,000!”
Courtney Spradlin Bryan
Mayflower found itself at the center of a devastating oil spill when ExxonMobil’s Pegasus Pipeline burst in the backyard of a middle-class house in the town’s Northwoods subdivision. This photo ran with our story in the April 11, 2013, issue.
‘All hell and happiness broke loose’
As Leslie Newell Peacock wrote in our May 15, 2014, issue, “marriage equality arrived in Arkansas at 4:51 p.m. Friday when Pulaski County Circuit Judge Chris Piazza filed his ruling striking down both a 2004 constitutional amendment and a 1997 statute that ban same-sex marriage in Arkansas.” After the word came down, Peacock said, “all hell and happiness broke loose.” The following Saturday morning, the Carroll County clerk’s office — open for a few hours on Saturday morning to marry couples who retreat to picturesque Eureka Springs to be wed — issued 15 marriage licenses. Kristin Seaton-Rambo, 32, and Jennifer Seaton-Rambo, 31, were the first same-sex couple to be legally married in Arkansas.
“I’m still in shock,” Rambo said. “Last night we went home and got a Redbox, turned off the phones and kind of soaked it in for a little bit. It’s a great feeling.”
Seaton and Rambo, who have been together four years, said they were “keeping high hopes” about the future legal battles ahead.
The timing of Judge Piazza’s ruling worked out perfectly for the couple. Seaton proposed in March and they were planning their ceremony for October. “Now it’s going to be the real thing,” Rambo said. “It’s indescribable.”
Seaton proposed while they were hiking in Devil’s Den State Park. “It was actually her birthday weekend, and I had a whole weekend planned for her,” Rambo said. “We stayed in a cabin in Devil’s Den, and she surprised me. It was one of the first places we had went after we met: Yellow Rock Trail. We were climbing up to the top, and the next thing you know, it started raining a little bit. She got down on one knee. It caught me off guard. It was the biggest surprise and the best surprise that’s ever happened to me.”
“I knew it was meant to be when it rained,” Seaton said. “The rain was her and her father’s thing, and her dad had recently passed. Once it started sprinkling, I was like, ‘This is him letting us know he’s here.’ It was bittersweet. It still gives me chills right now, thinking about it.”
Are they going to be together forever?
“Forever and ever,” Rambo said.
“Definitely,” Seaton said. “We’re old-fashioned and traditional about that, believe it or not.” …
Will Stephenson penned “The story of Jimmy Doyle’s Country Club” about Jimmy Doyle’s honky-tonk just off Interstate 40 at the Galloway exit for the Oct. 16, 2014, issue. He got the story of Jimmy Doyle’s beginnings.
Jimmy Doyle, it should be mentioned, isn’t a first and last name — it’s a double first name, like Mary Catherine or John David. His family name is Brewer, as in Brewer Bottoms, the township 15 miles below Stuttgart where he was born in 1936. The son of a nurse and a moonshiner who “agreed to disagree,” as he puts it, when he was still a toddler, Jimmy Doyle was shaped by the place, a 12-mile circle of swamplands along Bayou Meto. After his mother left, he helped his father make whiskey in the woods, pumping the water and making delivery runs with a little red wagon. His favorite stories from childhood involve running from “the revenue men” on horseback. “It’s the only way we had to make a living,” he said, though it seems they often didn’t. Before he got out, he said, things got so bad that their kitchen was a 10- by 12-foot tent and they survived primarily off tree bark and “possum grapes” (similar to blueberries). He still remembers the day he joined the Navy — Dec. 6, 1954.
He wanted to show me around upstairs, an area he hardly uses anymore except as storage, so I followed him up the back staircase. … One room was filled entirely with small porcelain figurines — I counted four unicorns. By way of explanation, he said simply, “We went to Mexico a few times.” Then he showed me into his old recording studio, which featured vocal and drum booths, a 32-track mixing board and an old Fostex tape recorder. Brown shag carpet covered the floors, around which were scattered broken musical instruments and boxes of unlabeled tapes. Live wires dangled from the ceiling. I asked when he’d last recorded there. “Hell, I don’t know, 10 years ago?” he said. “I can’t keep track of time.” …
The aftermath of Piazza’s ruling wasn’t met with universal celebration; Rev. Sen. Jason Rapert posted afterward on his Facebook page that gay people “have no right to redefine marriage and dilute the bedrock principle of families in our country.” We decided in the May 14, 2014, issue to look under the hood.
In the March 12, 2015, issue the Arkansas Times broke a troubling story on the adoption and “rehoming” by former state Rep. Justin Harris (R-West Fork) and his wife, Marsha, of three children — one of whom, after the Harrises sent her to live with another family, was sexually abused. It was, as former Times reporter Benji Hardy would later write, “always two stories at the same time: the wrenching, intimately personal story of a failed adoption and three victimized children, and a larger story of political influence being deployed to serve powerful people and marginalize the interests of others.” It was also, as Hardy wrote, a difficult story, at times “hideous or morally complex or technocratic and complicated” — and representative of a state child welfare system that is deeply broken. Subsequently, the legislature made “rehoming” a felony, Govenor Hutchinson ordered a review of the Arkansas Department of Human Services’ Division of Children and Family Services, and further reporting by Kathryn Joyce and Hardy on the foster care system in Arkansas detailed what Arkansas child welfare stakeholders have called “the worst placement crisis” in state history.
Post Trump taunts
On Nov. 17, 2016, shortly after the stunning and sad election of Donald Trump as president of the United States, the race- and LGBTQ-baiting began. Leslie Newell Peacock wrote about problems at Arkansas schools and elsewhere, hate-filled messages that came to characterize the Trump administration.
Two female African-American students at Star City High School were arrested Thursday after a post-election campus altercation the day earlier between white kids telling black and Latino students to get on the “Trump Train” back to where they came from and black kids yelling “Black Power.” It was one of several post-Trump backlashes at Arkansas schools.
Lincoln County Prosecutor Clint Todd said one girl was charged with third-degree battery, disorderly conduct and terroristic threatening and the other with disorderly conduct. They were arraigned Monday, but Todd declined to give details because they are juveniles.
State troopers, sheriff’s deputies and local police were called to both Star City High School and Hamburg High School in response to rumors of guns or potential violence on the campuses. …
At Hamburg High, in Ashley County, some kids brought rebel flags to school and waved them around before school started, Superintendent Max Dyson said. The flags were confiscated and students who brought them punished, but Dyson did not say what the punishment was. …
In a Facebook post, Star City High School student Cody Pickens wrote “all of the people was saying trump train and one of those black girl though I was video them and she tried to get my phone then she hit me so I grab her by the throat and she fell what when all of the fight started.” A screen shot of the post was provided to the Arkansas Times.
But Todd said he had no evidence except that gathered to arrest the African-American students. …
In Fayetteville on Friday, a sign painter sped into action after someone painted “Fuck Niggers” (and I [heart] Laura) on a boarded-up window at the old City Hospital south of the Fayetteville Public Library. Olivia Trimble dashed to the scene after learning about the sign on her Facebook page and painted “Love Always Wins” in pink and blue over the sign. …
LGBT rights were a target, too, last week: After a grocery shopping trip, Melanie Hayes of Rogers returned to her car to find a note next to her marriage equality sticker on her rear window that said, “Your marriage is an “Obama-nation” This is Trump nation now! Time to straighten yourself out!” …
K2 in prison: widely available, difficult to detect and potentially deadly
In the Oct. 5, 2017, issue, reporter Jacob Rosenberg revealed how deaths of inmates held by the Arkansas Department of Correction were probably caused by synthetic marijuana, also called K2.
K2, otherwise known as synthetic marijuana or spice, is believed to be linked to multiple deaths in Arkansas prisons, according to former prison employees, inmates and internal communication obtained by the Arkansas Times.
The Arkansas Department of Correction acknowledges that inmates are using K2, and that the rate of use is rising rapidly. The ADC recorded six incidents of K2 use in 2013. In the first seven months of 2017, the ADC has recorded 707 incidents.
The ADC will not, however, confirm that K2 — which is actually not one drug but many and which Times sources said is being smuggled into prisons by employees — is killing its inmates. A prison spokesman said that ADC policy restricts the information the department can publicly reveal only to whether a death was by natural causes.
But it is known that at least one inmate died in a cell this year after smoking K2.
On the night of Feb. 17, a guard in the East Arkansas Regional Unit of the Department of Correction in Brickeys (Lee County) found inmate Julian Shavers unconscious in his cell and covered in vomit. “There was no pulse, but he was still warm,” said the guard, who is no longer employed by the prison system and who spoke to the Times on the condition of anonymity for fear of retribution. Shavers, 38, was rushed to the prison infirmary, but health care staff could not revive him. The incident was documented in a Lee County Coroner’s report, which notes that “ingestion of K2 synthetic pot” was a “significant condition contributing” to Shavers’ death. “We know for a fact it was [related to] K2,” the guard told the Times. “We found the blunt next to him.” …
The Mena file
In our Sept. 28, 2017, issue, Arkansas Times Contributing Editor Mara Leveritt revisited the story of drug smuggler Barry Seal, and found it to be “littered with dead ends — secrets that are still being carefully kept — especially in Arkansas.”
By late 1982, when Seal moved his aircraft to Mena from his home base in Baton Rouge, federal agents had already identified him as “a major international narcotics trafficker.” Police watching Mena’s airport notified federal authorities that a fat man from Louisiana had begun frequenting an aircraft modification company there called Rich Mountain Aviation.
That same year, President Ronald Reagan appointed Asa Hutchinson, already a tough, anti-drug crusader, as U.S. attorney for the Western District of Arkansas. Wanting to keep tabs on Seal, Hutchinson ordered William Duncan, an investigator for the IRS, to watch for signs of money laundering around Mena resulting from Seal’s presence.
Another investigator, Russell Welch of the State Police, was assigned to look for evidence of cocaine arriving there. Duncan and Welch both told me that being assigned to Seal ended up ruining their careers.
Welch said he began to suspect that something was amiss one night in December 1983, when he and several other law enforcement officers had staked out the airport, watching for Seal. He said they’d seen the smuggler and his co-pilot land and taxi to a hangar at Rich Mountain Aviation, where workers installed an illegal, extra fuel tank in the plane.
Welch said that Seal had taken off into the wintry night, fast and without lights. But what he remembered most was how surprised he, the FBI agents and the Arkansas Game and Fish officer who’d joined them had been that, although officers for the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration had met them at a motel in Mena, none had gone with them to the stakeout. …
‘Show me where I’m dirty’
Revelations of kickbacks and bribery that have put Arkansas legislators and others in jail are still unfolding. In the Aug. 16, 2018, issue, reporter David Ramsey, relying on nine state and federal corruption cases and interviews with more than 30 lawmakers and ex-lawmakers, told the tale of the man in the middle of the scandal, lobbyist Rusty Cranford. Cranford is in jail in Springfield, Mo., after pleading guilty to a charge of bribery and participation in an embezzlement scheme. It started out this way:
On Feb. 21, 2018, federal agents arrested longtime Arkansas lobbyist Milton “Rusty” Cranford at a residence in Bentonville where he was staying. They found $17,700 in $100 bills in a black backpack and multiple bottles of pills for which he did not have a prescription, including Xanax, Ambien and Hydrocodone.
Cranford was asked whether there were any weapons in the home and he showed agents a Bond Arms Defender, a .45-caliber derringer-style pistol in a box in the closet. The government would later allege that Cranford planned to hire an old family friend to murder a witness who was cooperating in a federal corruption investigation against him.
“This motherfucker right here,” Cranford had told the family friend, a felon who was acting as a confidential informant for the FBI and recording the conversations. “He’s in Philadelphia. He’s in South Jersey.” Cranford then whispered: “He needs to go away. He needs to be gone.” According to the informant, Cranford then made a gun-shooting gesture with his hand.
Before his downfall, Cranford had been an executive at one of the largest Medicaid providers in the region, and a powerful lobbyist who helped bankroll countless political campaigns in Arkansas and influenced state policies that remain in place today. During the recorded conversations, he complained that he was being railroaded by the feds: “So those comments have been made that, ‘There’s no way he could have accomplished all this shit without being dirty.’ Well fuck that. Show me where I’m dirty. I mean, yeah, have I wrote a hell of a lot of — have I paid a hell of a lot of politicians? I sure have over the years. A shitload of money. But I’ve wrote them all checks, so there’s a paper trail of everything I wrote. If motherfuckers tryin’ to buy somebody, they ain’t going to write ’em a check for it.” …