Monday, April 2, 2012

Little Rock, Hot Springs & Hope, Arkansas

Sun, March 25th - Mon, April 2nd

We spent Sunday and Monday in Hope, Arkansas where President Clinton was born as William Jefferson Blythe in 1946. His father was killed a few months before he was born. He lived with his grandparents his first four years. His mother spent two years in New Orleans getting her nursing degree. There is a very nice visitor center in the home to the left and a memorial garden for his mother. There is a nice little ten minute tour of his grandparent's home. A picture of his third birthday in one room has about 50 kids in it.

When Billy was four, his mother married Roger Clinton and they moved across town to a small home where they lived for a couple years, before moving to Hot Springs.

In this home he played with his Lionel Electric train set and dressed up like his hero, Hop-a-long Cassidy, and pretended to be a cowboy. In 2004 he did an interview with Dan Rather on this porch for "60 Minutes". Even though he left Hope after first grade, he kept lifetime friendships with some of his classmates and had them working with him in the Governor's office and as President, including Vince Foster as Deputy Legal Council to the President and White House Chief of Staff Mack McLarty. His stepfather was a binge drinker and abusive, but could be kind and generous. His favorite memory of him was a trip he made with him to St. Louis to see his favorite team, the Cardinals. His brother, Roger, was born when he was about 10. When Bill was 16, even though his parents were divorced by then, he changed his name to Clinton, so his little brother would have no issues about their different names when he started school. Mike Huckaby is also from Hope and well represented in their little depot museum.

Tuesday we headed to Little Rock. Across the street from the Visitors Center was Occupy Little Rock with a huge section of solar panels and a sign that said, "Rain, snow, sleet or hail, Occupy will never fail." At the Visitors Center, they told us that they had been camped there all winter with no problems.

From our campground, we walked across the Clinton Presidential Park Bridge over The Arkansas River to the William J. Clinton Presidential Center & Park. Clinton graduated from Georgetown University in 1968. He was a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford one year and then went to Law School at Yale graduating in 72 or 73? He worked a year for some politician, then ran for Attorney General and held that office for two years. He ran for Congress and lost and by 1978 was governor. He lost his second bid for Governor, but came back and won four more terms, before deciding to run for President (when Bush Sr. had a 90% approval rating). He was the nation's youngest governor in four decades and the first democratic president to win a second term since FDR. The next 8 years were the longest, strongest expansion in American history. 1998 was the first time the president's party had gained House seats in the sixth year of a presidency since 1822.

Looking at the Center from the Bridge. It's very modernistic, totally unlike the other presidents have. It opened in 2004 and has sparked $2 billion in economic development in Little Rock.

View from the other side of the bridge is the wetlands area and walkways, with the downtown skyline on the other side of Interstate 30. It includes a bat house to eat the mosquitos, which were fierce here and in Texas already in March.

Down on the wetlands walkway, looking back at the Center. They really like him down here. Who could blame them? He did so many good things for their economy, education, health he did for the country, in spite of seven different investigations of him that were ongoing the entire time he was president and cost over us over $100 million. The only thing they ever found him guilty of was lying under oath in the civil suit against him by Paula Jones. Not that I approve of all the things he did in his private life, but I wonder how many people we could have fed worldwide with $100 million. Was it really worth it for the world to find out the details of his personal life? When he came to office we had a $290 billion deficit, projected to grow to $455 billion by 2000 with high interest rates and growing poverty, welfare and inflation. During his term the deficit not only went to zero, but we had a surplus to put toward saving Social Security. Welfare rolls were reduced by 60%, the lowest level in 32 years. Family income rose every year he was in office. African American and Hispanic families had the highest income and lowest poverty rates on record. Overall poverty was the lowest since the 70s and unemployment the lowest in three decades. What happened? Now we are trying to dig out of a hole again and things are gradually getting better. If we could just stay out of wars! An interesting side note--After law school, Hillary was selected to join the Judiciary Committee's impeachment inquiry staff investigating President Nixon and Watergate in 1974.

On a cheerier note, Happy Easter everybody! They had a big Easter Egg Hunt here on Saturday with mobs of kids and parents. Besides the eggs, they had live music and bouncy houses and all kinds of fun games and stuff. In the museum there are lots of gifts on display that the Clintons received from all over the world. These are some fancy Easter Eggs someone sent them. The Easter Egg Roll at the Whitehouse started in 1876. Today they have 30,000 guests rolling 10,000 eggs across the lawn. The Clintons started cybercasting it, so children worldwide could join the fun.

I thought these nesting dolls of world leaders were interesting. Clinton, Bush Sr., Boris Yeltsin, Mikhail Gorbachev, Helmut Kohl, John Major, Margaret Thatcher, Francois Mitterand and Saddam Hussein (I guess we don't have to worry about him anymore). Clinton visited 74 countries and 6 continents while in office.

Did you know that when we entered WWII in 1941 the only armored automobile available to the President was the car seized by the federal government from Gangster Al Capone. The following year limos were procured. The Secret Service was established in 1865 to investigate counterfeiting of U.S. currency about three months after Lincoln's assassination. Not until two more presidents were assassinated in 1881 and 1901 did Congress assign Secret Service to protect the President.

Temporary exhibits include the Girl Scouts 100th Anniversary. They started with a troop of 18 and now are 3.7 million strong. First Ladies have served as Honorary President since Lou Henry Hoover, who was the official President in the 1920s before her husband became president. There is also an exhibit of the Cardinals, including their 2006 World Series Trophy and jerseys of Dizzy Dean and Stan Musial. Musial was a childhood hero of Clinton's when he listened to the Cardinals on the radio and he was honored to have him as a guest at the White House. All Presidents since William Howard Taft have thrown out at least one first pitch, except Jimmy Carter.

Next to the Center is another huge building, the Clinton Library, housing all the papers from his time in office, more documents than any other president. In front of the library is an old, two-story railroad depot that houses the Clinton School of Public Service, part of the University of Arkansas. The top floor is offices for his Foundation that works to end poverty and disease worldwide.

This is a view of the park behind the Center. This building on the other side of the park is the new World Headquarters of Heifer International (2005), my favorite charity. It was started in 1942 by a guy who thought it would be smarter to give animals to people, so they could raise them and provide food for their families and have some left over to sell and make money, rather than just giving them food and welfare. People who receive animals are expected to pass the gift on by giving away the first born to a neighbor to help them get started out of the poverty cycle. We have donated flocks of ducks and chicks, bunnies and bees, etc. with a nice Christmas card sent to my Mom, our kids, our grandson and others to let them know that a gift was given in their name. It works great for people who really don't need or want anything, or you just don't know what to get them, a gift that keeps on giving to people who really need a hand up, so they can start to build a better life for themselves and their families. They have helped over 50 million people in 125 countries, including the U.S. If everyone in the U.S. reduced their holiday spending by 10%, it would add up to $47.5 billion! The United Nations says that would be enough to end extreme hunger and poverty in 10 years. I think if we could improve the economy and education all over the world, it would go a long ways toward stopping wars.

Thursday we went to Hot Springs, about an hour west of Little Rock, where Clinton graduated from high school. They have been famous for the baths since the 1830s. There are eight of the grand old bathhouses still on Bathhouse Row, but only two still in operation, one with the traditional bathhouse experience and one more contemporary.
This is Fordyce Bathhouse and is now the Visitors Center for the National Park and a museum. Just one of the bathhouses gave 67,587 baths in their peak year of 1946.

This is the men's waiting area with marble benches, beautiful fountain, stained glass ceiling and maybe thirty or forty dressing rooms. Of course, on the women's side there are only seven baths and no fancy place for waiting your turn. They also had separate areas on the roof for nude sunbathing, however the women were sheltered so they could maintain their lily white skin. There are 23 natural springs in the hills behind the baths and the water comes out at 143 degrees at the source.

This Grand Promenade is on the hillside just behind the bathhouses, for fresh air and exercise to add to the healthy baths. I decided to give the baths a try. I went to the traditional one that is controlled by the park service. I was given a changing room and a locker, to get nude and store my stuff. From there you turn your back to the attendant who wraps a sheet around you like a toga and takes you to your private bath that has already been drawn, about 105 degrees. She takes your sheet and helps you into the tub, if you need help. Then she turns on the whirlpool machine, gives you some of that healthy warm water to drink, puts a rolled towel behind your neck and leaves you to soak for 20 minutes or so. When she returns, she scrubs your back and arms and legs with your personal luffa mitt. Then she helps you out of the tub and wraps your toga around you again and guides you to the sitz bath, which you sit in like the bottom of a shower stall with your knees over the threshhold and feet on the floor outside. She covers you with a towel and comes back 15 minutes later. This is supposed to be good for your lower back, knees and hips. From here she again wraps you and leads you to the steam box like the one in the picture. She puts you in here for five minutes, which is plenty long enough. It is very hot. Next you lie on a massage table where she drapes a hot towel over your neck and shoulders, puts another one under your back and wraps both legs from toes to thighs. Then she places a cold towel on your forehead and gives you some more of that healthy water to drink, iced water this time. After 15 or 20 minutes when the towels and your body have cooled down, you are led to the massage room where you get a full body, hot oil massage. This all takes about an hour and a half and costs $64.oo. I loved it and John just thought it sounded like torture. Hot Springs had a reputation as a colorful place. With it's pleasant climate and curative waters it drew celebrities, such as ball players like Babe Ruth and Joe DiMaggio, politicians, and gangsters like Al Capone, "Lucky" Luciano and "Bugsy" Siegel. Five ball fields were built and in 1886 the Chicago White Stockings (today Cubs) was the first major league team to come for annual spring training and to enjoy the baths, gambling and other vices available at the time. In 1884 they had a shoot out between operators of gambling establishments that ended with three dead.

For lunch we went to a little joint called McClard's BBQ. It is supposedly Bill Clinton's most favorite restaurant in the whole world. They even sell their BBQ sauce at the Clinton Museum Store. It was okay and they certainly give you a lot of food, but I wouldn't say it was the best place I've ever eaten. The homemade fries were great. They had a sign that said "Wednesday Only, BBQ Chicken Halves Til They Gone". They started in 1942 with car hops and a jukebox you could tune on in your car radio. That's all gone, but the place was packed. Every week they go thru 7,000 pounds of beef, pork and ribs, 250 gallons beans & cole slaw each, 3,000 hand-rolled tamales and 3,000 pounds fresh cut fries. I'm sure glad I don't work there, or anywhere else, for that matter. Thanks Johnnie, for making me save for retirement!

This is Little Rock Central High School. There are two wings on either side of the picture almost as big as the main part (I couldn't get it all in one picture), plus separate buildings for library and gym and a college size football stadium all covering two city blocks. It was built in 1927 and voted the most beautiful high school in America by American Architects. It became famous in 1957 when the Little Rock Nine became the first black students to integrate their high school. Governor Orval Faubus called out the Arkansas National Guard to stop them. Two weeks later a federal judge ruled their interference unconstitutional. On their second attempt there were only local police there and they had to sneak the kids out of the school when the angry mobs outside got out of control. The next day President Eisenhower sent in the 101st Airborn Division (1,200 soldiers) plus the Arkansas National Guard to keep the peace. They stayed thru October and the National Guard stayed all year. In the summer of 1958 the school board requested the court to delay further integration. When that was denied, Gov. Faubus used a newly-enacted state law authorizing him to close any school "being integrated by force", and shut down all four public high schools in Little Rock, with 3/4 of all residents voting to support his decision. The schools were closed all year and the school board tried to fire all the teachers that supported integration. A women's group finally got organized and got rid of the segregationist board members and managed to get the schools opened the next year. It was such an international scandal, that people wouldn't move to Arkansas or visit there or deal with salesmen or companies from there. It really hurt them economically.

Kitty corner from the high school is a very nice visitor center and museum, and across the street is a small plaza with a memorial to the Little Rock Nine. The high school is still in use, but you can take a tour by prior reservation. While we were there, most of the people coming and going appeared to be African American, so they are definitely integrated now. This monument on the north end of the Capitol is the Little Rock Nine.

Front view of the Capitol, modeled after our nation's Capitol. In the Arkansas exhibits inside, there was one about the state being called the "Arkansas Toothpick" which referred to the popular Bowie Knife, a rural Arkansas weapon of choice in the public imagination. The bowie knife was designed by a blacksmith in Washington, Arkansas for Jim Bowie, but the name was used to refer to any double-edged knife or dagger. In 1837 the state's reputation for violence cemented after a fatal knife duel of two legislators on the House floor. They are now known as the "Natural State" for all their natural resources.

Monday, our last day here, we rode the 17 mile bike trail that runs from our campground over the Clinton Bridge, under the interstate, along the south side of the river by downtown and through several parks to Murray Dam and Locks. These kids were having a blast in the park by downtown. It was about 90 degrees that day.

It was a long hill up to the bridge to cross the dam, but I made it. It is the longest pedestrian bridge in the world built just for pedestrians. The downhill was great. There were tons of white pelicans in the water below the dam. We also saw geese and a couple turtles on the bike path.

At the end of the bike path on the north side of the river near our campground is the Arkansas Inland Maritime Museum with the USS Razorback Submarine and this War Memorial to submarines and their crews. In WWII more than 7,800 torpedos were fired in combat. 52 out of 288 subs were lost (1 out of 5) with 3,505 men lost (1 out of 7). One sub (and it's men) was never found.

At the Historic Arkansas Museum they have the largest private collection of "Gone With The Wind" memorabilia. It is called the Reel to Real exhibit and includes a Civil War gallery to contrast what it was really like compared to the movie. Remember Hattie McDaniel who played Mammy? She and Vivian Leigh both won Oscars for their parts in this movie. In 1939, it was the first oscar won by a black woman, only ten years after they started giving out Oscars. Both the book and the movie are classics and Margaret Mitchell, who was born in 1900 and grew up hearing stories about the Civil War, only wrote it because she was laid up from an injury and bored. She said, "It stinks. I don't know why I bother with it." She never intended to publish it, but a friend told a publisher about it.

The Ku Klux Klan was started in 1865 by Confederate officers as a fraternal organization that turned radical. They appeared in Arkansas in 1868. Their ranks swelled to thousands in a very short time. They terrorized enemies with beatings, arson, lynchings and political assassinations. The Governor's mostly black militia waged war on the Klan and by 1869 they were mostly gone, but the last lynching in Arkansas took place in 1927.

A few miles north of our campground in North Little Rock is this recreated grist mill. It is the only surviving structure from the filming of "Gone With The Wind". It is in the opening credits.

This is definitely the prettiest man-made landscape I have seen anywhere. If you are ever in Little Rock, don't miss seeing this. Come on a weekday and bring a picnic lunch.

We were there on a beautiful Sunday evening and there were lots of people strolling about. And lots of photographers!

Our last night in the campground. Wonderful views of the city. We head for Fayetteville Tuesday and are slowly making our way north.

I apologize for my boring opinions and droning on. I hope you found some of it as interesting as I did. Have a great day!


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