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Harrison Mayes wanted to find a way to thank God for sparing his life in 1917 after an accident in a Kentucky coal mine left him pinned between a coal car and the mine shaft wall. Mayes was 19 at the time. His decision to place concrete crosses across the United States spread the word to an increasingly mobile population. The crosses became roadside history and impacted thousands. The cross he placed at the corner of N. Reynolds Road and Hwy. 5 was a familiar sight to generations of Saline County residents. Mayes remained committed to his promise until his death at age 88.
While some people felt the messages carved into the sides of the cross – “Jesus Is Coming Soon” and “Get Right With God” – were a bit harsh and frightening, others took the words to heart and simply called them “the truth.”
The cross is believed to have been placed some time in the mid-1940s.
Chuck Willis remembers the cross.
“I grew up on the corner where the cross in your story was.” says Willis. “My grandparents, Wade and Vuda Grissom owned the corner from where Walgreens is now down to where Waffle house is. In the 1930s they operated a travel court and a root beer stand there. I have a notebook where people passing through would sign and make comments. I grew up sitting, climbing and even hanging on that cross, as bad as that sounds! It was always a good way to explain to people where we lived. When we moved here in 1960, my dad, C.M. Willis started his first sheet metal shop in the old root beer building. It’s still in business today as C&C Sheet Metal in Mabelvale.”
David Thomas says he lived near the cross.
“From about 1958-1975, I lived about a city block South (on Reynolds Road) of the the old concrete cross. When we moved there, the section Reynolds Road north of I30 to Hwy. 5 was gravel. The cross was already there in 1958. It was always a mystery to my family and the locals.”
The cross continued to be a focal point of residents, visitors and children in school buses who passed the intersection every day.
As Bryant began to grow in the late 1990s, plans were in place to widen N. Reynolds Road. The intersection that was home to the cross for close to 50 years was set to be redesigned for the growing volume of vehicles, placing the cross squarely in the crosshairs of development.
Keeping the cross on the corner was not in the plans.
A resident found out about the plans to merely push the cross to the curb and contacted a friend to gauge interest in relocating the piece of local history. The friend agreed to have the cross moved to an area located in front of their residence. The resident made arrangements and the cross was moved.
I interviewed the current keeper of the cross approximately 4 or 5 years ago. The keeper is very protective of the cross and agreed to an interview with one condition – that I not reveal the name of the keeper or the location of the cross.
The couple that accepted the cross were devote Christians and were humbled to have the symbol of God’s love for mankind in view from their front porch.
The wife had become a widow in 2005. At the time of our original interview, she said the cross was a reminder of her life with her husband and the presence of it gave her peace with the knowledge that he was in Heaven. She knew one day she would be reunited with him.
She also told the story of how she felt the cross protected her and her family after the passing of her husband.
It was late one spring. Weather forecasters warned of potentially severe storms headed toward her home in rural Saline County. The storms grew stronger and a tornado was born from one, aimed directly toward her home.
She said she watched the storm coverage on television and could clearly see the tornado on radar. It was on a direct path toward her. She prayed for safety, but prepared for the worse.
The winds picked up and the trees began to sway. She thought this might be the day that she joined her husband.
“Then,” she said, “the strangest thing happened. The tornado split in two, passing along each side of my property.” Houses around her in the neighborhood were destroyed, but her home was not damaged. She survived.
She credits the cross and faith for what she described as heavenly intervention.
The cross stood steadfast in the ground, exactly where it had been placed. A point that just happened to be between her home and directly facing the oncoming tornado.
Later on, she said that water wells in the area had been poisoned, but hers remained safe.
In both cases, she gives all the glory to God.
Mayes continued to find ways to spread the Gospel, even when he could no longer travel due to age. He put messages of hope in bottles, shipped them to missionaries who would through them into rivers and bodies of water in undeveloped parts of the world.
He died on March 7, 1986.
Mayes felt that space travel would eventually be possible, but not in his lifetime. So he left instructions cut into the upper side portion of each cross he planted. The cross in Bryant was no exception.
On the upper stem, the following words are inscribed: “Erect this sign on the planet Venus. 1990s.”
Space travel as Mayes imagined has not come to pass. However, that doesn’t mean the cross will not again be visible to send the word of God.
Read Part 1 of the story here.
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