Rare Finds from a Media Goldmine, When You Have the Time to Look

Corliss Williamson with fans; 2003.

I’m not sure you can find anyone who would dispute the statement that 2020 has been a strange year that has brought many changes to our lives. I certainly would not. For me, some changes have been a little stressful. Early in the pandemic, the Central Arkansas Library System closed down, sending all employees home, and when many of us returned to work, it was on reduced hours. As a person who likes to stay busy, this proved a bit of a challenge initially, but during those early days, I started a new project that has added a lot of new material to the CALS Encyclopedia of Arkansas.

U.S. Senator David Pryor as speaker at the rededication of the Camp Nelson Confederate Cemetery; 1982.

Before I joined the staff at CALS, I had long worked as a history teacher in Cabot, in addition to serving as the director of an award-winning museum, the Museum of American History/Cabot Public Schools. This sounds like a big-shot name, but it is deserved. The museum, which is operated by teachers and students, was founded in 1985 and now preserves a growing collection of over 10,000 artifacts documenting social, political, and military history. The museum has a little bit of everything.

Congressman Jim Guy Tucker, Secretary of Defense Harold Brown, and Senator Dale Bumpers (left to right); 1977

With the pandemic raging, I had time to thoroughly examine the museum collection for media that can be used on the CALS EOA. I simply had not had the opportunity to look through the whole collection until this very strange year, even though I knew it had a lot of potential for some major finds.

The collection has thousands of photographs of Arkansas interest, many of which were donated to the museum when the Cabot Star-Herald went out of business several years ago. Going through the photographs, many not yet processed and catalogued, has been slow and sometimes tedious, but there are many treasures to be uncovered.

Cone Magie (left) shaking hands with Governor Bill Clinton; 1980.

The photographs document many topics, including sports, military operations, and politics. The politics collection, which includes thousands of campaign items from past elections, has been the most valuable for use on the EOA. The collection contains hundreds of photos of Arkansas governors, senators, congress members, and state officers. Bill Clinton, Jim Guy Tucker, Dale Bumpers, David Pryor, state representative Bill Foster, and others are well represented in the collection, with a number of their photos being used on the EOA. Other images are sure to be added.

Confederate recruitment poster early in the Civil War; 1861.

There are many more boxes of photos that still require processing. You never know what will be found. And though I am back to a more normal work schedule of writing, reviewing, and factchecking for the EOA, I do still take some time to dig for treasures now and then. This, at least, has been one little bright spot for me during the year 2020.

Read more about the Museum of American History/Cabot Public Schools on the EOA here.

By Mike Polston, staff historian of the CALS Encyclopedia of Arkansas






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