Why Picnic in a Cemetery?

The birth of Mount Holly Cemetery was described in our cookbook, Recipes in Perpetuity: “With early burials scattered in various places, the city of Little Rock badly needed a public burying ground.  The problem was solved in 1843 when two of the leading citizens donated a four block square on the ‘outskirts’ of the city,  held a picnic on the land in May, and auctioned off the original lots. ”

Picnics remained a tradition in later years when families of those buried at Mount Holly would have a picnic and tend the graves of their loved ones.

Today we have a dedicated Sexton and staff to maintain the grounds, wonderful Master Gardener volunteers, and a hard-working board to care for the cemetery.  One of the most delightful ways we raise funds for the maintenance of this peaceful and historic spot is to invite our friends to celebrate with us at our annual picnic.

Please join us April 29 at 5 p.m. for the annual Spring Picnic at Mount Holly. We won’t put you to work, but we will definitely enjoy your company, let you browse our silent auction items, tour the cemetery with one of our guides, entertain you, and feed you!

Tickets are available online through April 23. Children are $20 and adults are $100.

It’s time for a spring picnic!

Tickets are now on sale for Mount Holly’s annual Spring Picnic.

Spend time exploring the cemetery’s iconic graves with tour guides from Parkview High School, enjoy Celtic-Ozark music by Lark in the Morning, and watch Parkview High School drama students in period costume reenact tales from the lives of Mount Holly’s famous residents.

Our silent auction will feature works by local artists, gift packages, and special parties hosted by friends of Mount Holly Cemetery.

Appetizers and a box supper will be served, accompanied by lemonade and water. Please join us for the festivities – and bring the family!

Tickets are $100 for adults and $20 for children and are available through Eventbrite.

Early Morning Accident Damages Pillar

Early Monday morning a single-car accident resulted in damage to the north pillar framing the Broadway entrance to Mount Holly.

The top of the pillar cracked and shifted in the impact and a large stone was knocked from the rear (west-facing) side. The limestone capstone also shifted significantly. A long crack appeared in the recently-repaired north wall next to the pillar.

Fortunately, the driver and his canine passengers seem to have escaped serious injury.

Mount Holly’s sexton, Steve Adams, and city officials have examined the damaged pillar and concluded that falling stone and the possible further collapse of the pillar may present a danger to the public.

To ensure pedestrian and vehicular safety, the Broadway entrance will be closed temporarily and a fence erected around the damage so that no one can get too close to it. Visitors are asked to enter the cemetery from 13th Street.

At this time, we believe that the vehicle that hit the pillar is covered by insurance. The cemetery hopes to work with the insurance company to effect and pay for repairs very quickly.

The cemetery will provide more information as to the cost of repairs and a timeline for them as more information becomes available.

Let Freedom Ring

Matilda Buchanan, a member of the Mount Holly Cemetery Association, welcomed guests to our commemoration of Arkansas’s ratification of the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The event was sponsored by the Arkansas Civil War Sesquicentennial Commission. The commemoration was held at the bell house in the center of the cemetery.

This was her speech:

“April 14, 1865, was a monumental day. That day Arkansas became the 21st state to ratify the amendment to end slavery. That night, Abraham Lincoln was assassinated.

“On that April day in 1865, Mount Holly Cemetery was just over twenty years old. There were 640 Confederate soldiers buried here. Many were later moved after the war to Oakland Cemetery which had been opened in 1863 mainly to handle the thousands who died in the city’s hospitals during the war. Today  13 Union Soldiers and 217 Confederate Soldiers are buried at Mount Holly.

“The bell house was not here then. It was constructed in 1889, but there may have been a bell in the cemetery in 1865 to summon the sexton. Nevertheless, we stand in a place that connects us to that Little Rock of 150 years ago. Today we gather to reflect on history and to celebrate the ending of a horrible institution which still haunts every American.

“The Sesquicentennial Commission wants us to ring the bell 13 times beginning at 1:00, but I think everyone should ring the bell loudly and as long as we need to.”

The History of Tales of the Crypt

Susan Taylor Barham taught English at Parkview Arts and Science Magnet and was the original teacher contacted by the Arkansas Historic Preservation Program (AHPP) to start the “Tales of the Crypt” program at Mount Holly.

Knowing that Ms. Barham brought her students to Mount Holly Cemetery to read the poems from Edgar Lee Masters’ Spoon River Anthology, the sexton told the AHPP officials that they might want to contact her about the idea.

Barham enlisted the support of Judy Goss, a creative writing teacher and theatre specialist at Parkview, and Fred Bussey to assist in the project. Thinking we would be doing this as a one-time activity at first we plotted out twelve sites and solicited student performer-writers to assist. Leigh contacted the Arkansas Arts Center.

The costumer at the Arkansas Arts Center loaned us costumes which were placed across a bench. The performers were told to find something that would fit.

The three hundred people that were expected turned into over twelve hundred and the evening lasted until about eleven o’clock rather than the eight-thirty expected finish time. The City of Little Rock accepted the project and it has now continued eighteen years and this past year was to be the first that Susan was not physically present. Even in 2012, when she was fighting cancer, she made an appearance at the program she helped give birth to and loved dearly.

Tales of the Crypt continues to be Mount Holly’s most popular event. It is a wonderful legacy to Susan Taylor Barham’s creativity and commitment to education.

Dedicated to Mount Holly’s Master Gardeners

Mount Holly Cemetery extends a special thank you to Grounds Chair Nancy Phillips and to our Pulaski County Master Gardeners who lovingly care for Mount Holly throughout the spring, summer, and fall.

This year twenty Master Gardeners supported forty flowerbeds. We appreciate you very much!


Iconography and Symbolism in Mount Holly

by Marianne Ligon

Whether we are aware or not, we use symbols every day. When we see a red octagon sign at the end of the street, we know to stop. The golden arches are recognized worldwide as a place for hamburgers and fries. And the stick man or stick woman guides us to the appropriate restroom everywhere. Most people know the cross as a symbol of Christianity and the Star of David as one for Judaism, but few know the fern frond is a symbol for sincerity or sorrow and the scallop shell symbolizes a journey or pilgrimage.

Cemeteries house a wealth of symbols and iconography. Not only are there numerous styles of crosses: the Western, Latin, Celtic, Maltese, but some even are mingled with flowers and vines. Ivy may represent memory, friendship, fidelity as well as immortality or eternal life as it is always green. The morning glory represents resurrection, mourning, youth or brevity of life. The palm is a symbol of spiritual victory, the rose of love, beauty, hope and the lily for innocence and purity. Religious art and nature are only a few of the types of ornamentation found in cemeteries.

Architectural features and items from a daily life are visible on some markers. A broken column means a life cut short. Often a column will have a drape or pall over it representing sorrow or mourning. An obelisk is one of the oldest forms of symbols dating to the Egyptian for whom it represented the ray of the sun. For them the sun symbolized immortality. A scroll symbolizes a life as does an open book. An urn is a Greek symbol of mourning and may even have a pall on it or a flame (eternity) or additional meaning. There is even evidence of vocations and secret societies on markers. A caduceus may appear on the marker of a doctor, musical notes for a musician, and scales for a lawyer. Woodmen of the world often have a marker in the shape of a tree trunk. Odd Fellows would have a chain and Masons an all seeing eye or the square and compass.

There is so much more to read than the names and dates on the markers of Mount Holly. Call for a tour or spend a few extra minutes studying the symbols and learn to read the stones. There is a story to be had.

New Marker for 130-Year-Old Grave

For 130 years, the grave of LIttle Rock Chief of Police George A. Counts, who died in 1884 at the age of 35, has not been marked. Thanks to his great-grandson Jim Counts, current Little Rock Chief of Police Stuart Thomas, and the Little Rock Police Department, that has been remedied. The Little Rock Police Department will dedicate the marker on Friday, March 28th at 2:00 P. M. The public is invited.

There is an interesting story behind the story. Counts was nominated for the position of Chief of Police by Isaac Taylor Gillam, a former slave. Gillam had been a jailer and a LIttle Rock policeman as well.

Chief Counts contracted tuberculosis in 1883 and had to resign his position. He died in 1884. According to our records he would have been a very young man of 29 years old when he was elected Chief of Police.

Chief Counts was the grandfather of Hollywood actress Eleanor Counts, whose grave at Mount Holly was marked last year by the Downtown Dames.

UALR Public Radio (KUAR) covered the story, as did the Washington Times.

Questers Help Mount Holly

Six grants awarded through the Arkopolis Questers have been used to restore five major items at Mount Holly Cemetery including the Boyle Fountain, two monuments (the Samuel Adams Obelisk and the Sullivan monument), and a cast iron bench. Two separate grants will restore a cast iron fence around the Samuel Calhoun Roane burial site.

The Questers have obtained grants for Mount Holly totaling $11,856.

Thank you, Questers!

Nathan Warren Gets a Headstone

Founding pastor of Little Rock’s Bethel AME Church finally has a new grave marker to replace the monument that was destroyed a century ago.

On the morning of November 9, 2013, members of Bethel AME Church, the Masons, the Order of the Eastern Star, and the Mount Holly Cemetery Association gathered to celebrate the 150th birthday of Bethel AME Church and to dedicate a headstone marking the grave of its founding pastor Reverend Nathan Warren.

Mount Holly’s surviving records show that the Reverend Nathan Warren was buried in the Chester Ashley family lot and that an obelisk marked his grave. On November 9, 2013, a new monument, donated by Dr. Sybil Jordan-Hampton of Little Rock, was unveiled in the Ashley plot over the spot believed to hold Rev. Warren’s grave. Dr. Jordan-Hampton is a member of Bethel AME Church and a member of the Mount Holly Cemetery Association, which maintains the cemetery.

She said, “My brother Les and his wife Esther, along with Alfred and I decided to donate the headstone to honor my mother, Lorraine Jordan, who joined Bethel in 1932, at age 9.  It is neat to be able to honor Reverend Warren, Bethel AME on its 150th anniversary, and our mother with this gift.” She also said, “We want the community to know that the cemetery is not a closed place and we want to build broader support for Mount Holly.”

The Masons performed the traditional ceremony ensuring the marker’s installation according to Masonic tradition using the square, compass, level, plumb rule and trowel. The monument is crowned with the Masonic symbol and reads:


We have previously posted a biographical article about Nathan Warren.