A couple of weeks ago I took a week’s vacation from work so that I could attend the North Arkansas Ancestor Fair and the Graham family reunion, both in Marshall, Arkansas. This will be a recap of the highlights.
Left Chicagoland and drove south. Our goal the first day was simply to travel to East Saint Louis, Illinois for an overnight hotel stay, and then visit the Gateway Arch in Saint Louis before continuing on. That didn’t work out so well. As we were packing up the car at the hotel the following morning I noticed that the rear left tire seemed low. “That’s why, right there,” said my wife Ashli as she pointed to a nail embedded in the tire. So instead of going to the Gateway Arch we went to Walmart to get the tire patched. With the morning gone, we then travelled on to Marshall, promising to visit the Arch on the way back.
Arrived in Marshall in the early evening and got a room at the Sunset Hotel. Dinner at the nearby Sunset Restaurant. Everyone stopped what they were doing to look at us when we entered. “Who are these strangers?” they must’ve been thinking.
A (Half) Day at the Fair
Following breakfast at the Sunset Restaurant (“Didn’t I see y’all last night?” the waitress asked us. “Yes,” I said, “and you’ll see us again tonight!”), we spent the morning at the first sessions of the North Arkansas Ancestor Fair, which was held at the still-under-construction Veterans Memorial Hall. While I was at the sessions on finding Civil War ancestors, Ashli and the kids wandered over to a nearby flea market. Yeah, this vacation was really all for me, they were just along for the ride.
The Searcy County Memorial Association is accepting donations to complete the hall’s construction, and a $100 donation will get donors a plaque with the name of a veteran that they wish to honor. I thought about getting a plaque to honor William Thomas Graham, my grand uncle that served in the Army during World War I.
Lunch at Sonic, then we ditched the second half of the fair to visit the Searcy County Library. The library has a very good genealogy wing with numerous books and records on the county and its citizens. I spent the afternoon going through the various volumes of obituaries from the local papers, furiously typing some into the my iPad because I didn’t have any change for the copier. As the afternoon went on, more and more people from the fair began to show up at the library, and I heard how the afternoon session had become so hot as to be unbearable.
Dinner at the Sunset Restaurant (leaving just before the fair’s mixer dinner commenced), then met up with mom and dad, who had come over from Alabama for the Graham family reunion. We followed dad out to East Lawn Cemetery to lay flowers upon the graves of Uncle Leroy and Aunt Lorice, then Ashli and I wandered around the cemetery taking photos of any name that rang any bell in the family tree. Then we all drove over to Sulphur Springs Cemetery to visit the graves of Uncle Millard and Aunt Ermadean Kelley and for more pictures.
Saturday Cemetery Tour
Breakfast at the Sunset with mom and dad. Then they went to visit dad’s cousin Doyle Graham while we went to the Genealogy Swap Meet at the “civic center”. I put that in quotes because that’s what the building was called in the fair’s promotional material, but there was no such sign at the actual building, which led us to drive way past our destination in search of this place before we turned around, decided that brown brick building we passed must have been it, and finally arrived. Went from table to table looking over stuff and chatting with folks. Had a nice conversation with Barbara Van Camp, who runs the Watts Family site at MyFamily.com and organizes the annual Watts family reunion in Marshall. I’m sure she won’t mind if I plug it, so plan now to attend the Watts reunion in October!
Met with mom and dad at Kelley’s Restaurant (I wondered if the owner was related to uncle Millard, but we didn’t learn the answer (but it’s probably “probably”)), then went in search of Shady Grove Cemetery, where most of the Searcy County Grahams are buried. We drove down Arkansas Highway 254 for so long that dad became unsure of the direction and pulled over. As I was pulling in behind him, I noticed that he’d pulled over right at the cemetery! I parked the car and got out, then the realization dawned on dad that we were there and he parked, too. Ashli took a lot of photographs here, and I noted that someone had placed newer stones for Jesse and Sarah Graham – their original stones were so weather-worn that they were altogether unreadable. Took several photographs of the marker for William Thomas Graham, which named the Army unit that he served with in the war, which I hadn’t previously known.
We then went up the mountain to visit Rambo Cemetery, where my grandparents (dad’s parents) are buried. Saturday was Decoration Day at Rambo so mom brought flowers, and with my daughter’s help they placed them on the graves of grandma and grandpa and Uncle Charles and Aunt Ruby. Just after the flowers were placed, dad’s sister Aunt Jan showed up with one of her daughters, Marie, and her family, so there was a little impromptu reunion as we all wandered around the cemetery.
As we were leaving the cemetery I asked dad if he could remember the way to the Rambo School. He did, and so we followed him there. I was surprised to see that it was abandoned and weathered, as I had heard that it had been refurbished and was being used as a community center. That had been true, but that was also some time ago, and now the school stands unused. Dad tried the door and it was unlocked, so we stepped inside for a moment. There were still rows of chairs and tables inside, and it looked like it had been used for church services. Dad told us how it looked when he went to school there. Back outside the school, it occurred to me to ask dad exactly where he had been born. “In a cabin right up the road” he said, “I could probably find the land but I bet the cabin is gone.” He offered to take us but I declined. It was getting late, the kids were getting tired and so was mom. They all stayed in the car here – only Ashli, dad and me explored the school.
Dinner that evening was just Ashli and me at Pizza Hut while the kids stayed at the hotel. We were getting tired of the Sunset Restaurant.
Didn’t meet mom and dad for breakfast – skipped it altogether. They went to visit dad’s niece while we continued our cemetery tour at the little Marshall Cemetery there in town. Didn’t recognize any names from my research, but we snapped a few photographs of whatever interested us.
I decided I wanted to visit Bear Creek Cemetery, so we went out driving down Arkansas Highway 27 to find it. Never did find it, but we ended up at Canaan Cemetery where we snapped a few photos of the possibly related.
Long about that time mom called on the cell phone to ask where we were since they were about to serve lunch at the reunion, so we hightailed it up the mountain and to the fire department. Ate lunch and reminisced with some cousins I hadn’t seen in nearly two decades. Ashli and the kids sat at the table behind me, mostly keeping to themselves and probably wishing we’d go to the Buffalo River for a swim.
Left the reunion and hit the wide open road. Stopped briefly at the Buffalo River to try for that swim, but it was so crowded we decided against it, so we went on. Got a hotel room in Sullivan, Missouri, then ate dinner at a Jack in the Box, which I hadn’t been to since the late 1970s, when all the ones in Illinois closed.
Breakfast at Cracker Barrel, then on to Saint Louis and the Gateway Arch! It was confusing to find the entrance to the arch’s parking lot. Ended up accidently taking a turn that put me on the Eads Bridge over the swollen Mississippi River. There was a traffic signal at the Illinois end of the bridge, and at Ashli’s insistence I did a u-turn to head back across. In mid-u-turn, I spotted an East Saint Louis police car pulling up to the traffic light (the East Saint Louis Police Department is right there!). I swore and kept on going back across the bridge, checking the rear-view mirror the entire time to see if the police was following, but he didn’t. I guess he didn’t want the hassle of following me into another state jurisdiction for a traffic violation.
The Gateway Arch has a tram system to take visitors to the top. The cars of the tram seat five people, but they are small and cramped, and the doors are tiny. It looks and feels a bit like entering a pod from some 1960s time travel movie. As I was purchasing the tickets, the salesperson asked if any of us were “claustrophobic, afraid of heights or prone to motion sickness”. I replied, “Not yet.”
The sky was clear and sunny, so the view from the observation area was great. To the east we could see Illinois and the flooding it had endured from the Mississippi River, and to the west was the city of Saint Louis. I could feel the arch swaying, and it would vibrate as the trams arrived at the top.
After we left the arch, the rest of the trip was unremarkable. We got home safely, unloaded the car, and went to bed.