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Fall brings colorful leaves, crisp days, chilly nights and a hint of spookiness in the air. With Halloween just around the corner, thoughts turn to Arkansas’s eerie places, and few are as mysterious as cemeteries. Arkansas has some interesting cemeteries that serve as the final resting place for governors, soldiers, and many others.
Photo of Walnut Hill Conway Cemetery State Park courtesy of the Arkansas Department of Heritage, Parks and Tourism.
Conway Cemetery in Bradley is also a state park, a unique designation for this half-acre of land that holds the gravesite of Arkansas’s first governor, James Sevier Conway. Conway began his tenure in 1836 and governed for four years. He resigned in ill health in 1840 but didn’t die until 1855. Conway was buried on his family’s cotton plantation, where other Conway family members were also buried. The small cemetery is Arkansas’s second-smallest state park. It was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1977, and the state park system acquired it in 1984 and maintains the site. The 11-acre state park has an access road, paved parking, and picnic tables for visitors.
Herman Davis State Park and monument courtesy of the Arkansas Department of Heritage, Parks and Tourism.
This park is the smallest state park in Arkansas, named after Arkansas soldier Herman Davis. Davis was born in Manila, Arkansas and spent his childhood hunting for food to assist his family’s income from their small store. Davis became a hunting guide while still in his teens and was drafted into the U.S. Army in March of 1918. He trained at Camp Pike and then was sent to France to fight in World War I. Davis’s sharp rifle skills served him well. While in France, he earned the Distinguished Service Cross and several French honors. Unfortunately, he was also exposed to poison gas. Davis survived the war but died in 1923 during an operation at the Veterans Hospital in Memphis, where he had been taken in poor health. The state park bearing his name contains a memorial to Davis, erected in 1925, and his remains were transferred to the base of the monument.
Photo of James Grover Tarver, Date Unknown; University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, https://texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Tarrant County College NE, Heritage Room. Fair Use.
Crittendon Memorial Cemetery in Marion is the site of some famous Arkansans’ graves. The first you’ve likely never heard of, but he gained fame as the tallest man in the world. James Grover Tarver was part of the Barnum and Bailey Circus. Born in Texas in 1885, Tarver eventually grew to 8’4” tall and traveled with the circus as “The Tallest Man in the World.” He lived on his farm in Turrell until his death in 1958. Other famous gravesites at Crittendon include U.S. Congressman E.C. “Took” Gathings and two former NFL players, Dave “Hawg” Hanner and Dr. Cary E. “Doc” Middlecoff.
Photo of Mount Holly Cemetery courtesy of the Arkansas Department of Heritage, Parks and Tourism.
Perhaps Arkansas’s most famous cemetery, Mount Holly, is located in the Quapaw Quarter in downtown Little Rock. This park-like cemetery holds the gravesites of 11 Governors, seven Senators, 15 state Supreme Court Justices, 22 Little Rock Mayors, four Confederate generals and many veterans. It is also the final resting place for some famous writers, including Pulitzer Prize winner John Gould Fletcher. Elizabeth Quatie Brown Ross, wife of Cherokee Nation Chief John Ross, is also buried here. Ross and his wife were among the last band of Native Americans forcibly removed from their homes in Georgia and sent on the Trail of Tears. Elizabeth died aboard a steamship just before reaching Little Rock. The cemetery hosts Tales of the Crypt on the second Sunday of October every year, which draws over 1,000 visitors, but it is also open to visitors all year long.
Fort Smith National Cemetery is one of the oldest cemeteries in Arkansas, tracing its roots to the frontier days before statehood. The fort was established in 1817, but in 1824, an outbreak of disease hit the troops, and several died and were buried at the fort. The army abandoned the fort that year. In 1838, a new fort was built and once again, soldiers arrived and occupied the fort until 1861, when the army left the fort during the Civil War. Confederate forces took over and held the fort for two years. During this time, many Confederate soldiers were buried at the fort. When the Union took the fort back in 1863, they brought the remains of soldiers killed in battle and also buried them at the fort. An estimated 1,400 to 1,500 Union and Confederate soldiers were buried, many in unmarked graves. Perhaps the most famous occupant is Judge Isaac C. Parker, known as the “Hanging Judge.” Parker sentenced 151 men to hang for their crimes, and 83 of these executions were carried out. Parker died in 1896, and his gravestone can still be viewed today, along with 22,000 other gravesites on the 32 acres of land. The cemetery holds an annual wreath-laying ceremony during the Christmas season each year.
Portrait of Daisy Bates in the Daisy Bates House, courtesy of the Arkansas Department of Heritage, Parks and Tourism.
Haven of Rest Cemetery is the largest historic African-American cemetery in Arkansas. It’s located in the heart of Little Rock and is the final resting place for many Black Arkansans, including Daisy Bates and Scipio Jones. Bates was a Civil Rights activist who was instrumental in organizing school integration in Little Rock. She helped the Little Rock Nine enroll at Central High School and supported the students. She also became president of the NAACP and was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Bates died in 1999 and was buried at Haven of Rest. Scipio Jones was an attorney in Little Rock during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. He is most well-known for defending twelve Black men accused of murdering a white man during the Elaine Massacre in 1919. Jones was part of a legal team that successfully obtained retrials for all twelve men. Six men were declared not guilty, and the other six received sentences of twelve years. Jones died in 1942 and was interred at Haven of Rest. The cemetery currently has 17 acres with over 12,000 gravesites.
Gravestones and cemeteries may represent Halloween for a short time each year, but Arkansas’s many cemeteries are a way to remember the past and those who lived in Arkansas before us all year long.
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