City Hall Auditorium & Fair
Looking North on Main St. in Hope, AR- ca. 1953
Kodachrome by J. Taylor
Hope, Arkansas was first settled in 1852 and is situated in the southwest corner of the
25 miles northeast of Texarkana and 120 miles southwest of Little Rock.
In 1853, the
Cairo and Fulton Railroad, the predecessor of today's Union Pacific,
was chartered by the State of Arkansas to
build a railroad line across the state from Missouri to Texas. James Loughborough,
the land commissioner for the railroad, drew up the original plans for the city
and named the workmen's camp for his daughter. The city was incorporated in 1875.
Since 1939 it has been the seat of Hempstead County.1
Watermelon Festival parade in Hope, AR - ca.1927
Courtesy of the Southwest Arkansas Regional
Encyclopedia of Arkansas
Hope is the birthplace of
William Jefferson (Bill) Clinton, the fortieth and forty-second
governor of Arkansas and the forty-second president of the United
States, and also
Mike Huckabee, Arkansas’s forty-fourth governor. In the 1920s, John
S. Gibson, a druggist who also sold seeds, started a watermelon-growing
competition to promote the economy and the Chamber of Commerce sponsored
the first Watermelon Festival in 1926. It has since become renown
as home of the world's
Hope, AR City Hall and Auditorium at 206 W Avenue A St. - ca.1940
Hope had been producing its own electricity since 1900,
with its own
water and light plant, an idea promoted by retired steamboat Captain
Judson T. West. The City Hall was built in 1926, at 206 W Avenue A
Street, largely with funds from
those profits, and also contained the city's auditorium. The auditorium
takes up the 2nd and 3rd floor accessed by two staircases on the east
end of the building. The main floor of the auditorium (2nd level of the
building) sat 400 with about 200 more in the (3rd floor) balcony.
The Auditorium was also used to host commencement
ceremonies for Hope High School. Ruby Rose Blevins was one of 64
in the class of 1928 that graduated from Hope and one of her
proudest and most vivid memories was looking through the curtains and
seeing her mother in attendance. Known professionally as
Patsy Montana she would later become the first female country singer
to have a million selling single, I Want To Be a Cowboy's Sweetheart.
She would later write, graduation from Hope High School in 1928 was a
statement of courage, diplomacy, determination and persistence. It took
me from the Ozark hills to the Smithsonian Institution in Washington,
D.C.; WLS and the Chicago National Barn Dance; The Grand Ole Opry in
Nashville; The Ozark Jubilee in Springfield, Missouri; a motion picture
in Hollywood; and around the world.2
Paul W. Klipsch perfected the design of his louspeaker in
a tin shack - 1947
Mad Mike's America
Months before the United States entered World War II, the
government built the Southwestern Proving Ground, an army ordnance plant
just north of Hope which employed more than 750 daily from Hope and
surrounding counties. At the end of the war some of the employees, both
civilian and army, remained in Hope. Among them was an officer,
Paul W. Klipsch, who would soon start
Klipsch and Associates,
one of the first U.S. loud speaker companies.
Elvis Presley the nations singing sensation in
the folk music world, will be with the WSM Grand Ole Opry show appearing
in the Hope City Hall Tuesday, February 22
Hope Star Ad - Feb. 21, 1955 courtesy Francesc
On February 22, 1955, Elvis, Scotty and Bill made the
first of two appearances in Hope. It was one of the last stops on
a tour billed as a "Grand Ole Opry" shows that featured the Duke of
Paducah , Mother Maybelle and the Carter Sisters,
Jimmie Rodgers Snow, Charley Stewart
and Uncle Dudley. They had performed the night before in
Camden and the tour would wrap two days later
in Bastrop, Louisiana.
City Hall and Auditorium at 206 W Avenue A St. Hope, AR - ca.
Kodachrome by J. Taylor
At this time, as Peter Guralnick wrote, there
was no aspect of Elvis' new life with which he was not entranced. When
the Carter Sisters and Mother Maybelle joined the tour, he and Scotty both were a little taken with Anita, the youngest sister, and they considered it a great triumph when they could get her to ride with them, away from the watchful eye of Mother Maybelle.3
Though Anita was the youngest sister, by this time she
was a month shy of 22 years old and had been married and divorced to Don
Davis, the steel guitarist with Pee Wee King's band. She was only
17 when her family joined the Opry in 1950. Jimmie Rodgers Snow recalls Anita as a great person
and enjoyed working with her in those days, as he did with Elvis.
He said, I often tell people about those days, and tell what a great person Elvis was.
I honestly never saw him take a drink, smoke, or use profanity in anyway.
I can't say the same about myself. I was a terror in those days, but Elvis was
always good to me.
Photo courtesy web
He remembers that on the way to the show in Hope, he and
the Carter sisters, Anita at the very least, rode together. Elvis drove
and decided to take a short cut on what we thought was a good gravel
road. We found ourselves on a dirt road that was not finished and we did
not think about the fact that it had just rained. He got his car stuck
on that road, and we could not go any further. We had to be at the show,
and we were running out of time.
An (unknown) 1953 Chevy Bel Air stuck in
the mud (added for visual effect only)
Photo courtesy web
Guralnick wrote that Scotty tried to make time with
Anita in the backseat while the others did what they could to persuade a
farmer to help pull them out of the mud.3
They were unsuccessful (as was Scotty) and had to leave the car behind and pick it up
later. Jimmie said, a farmer picked us up and we rode in the back of
his truck. We all rode in a farmers truck in the back standing up to get
to the show. If it had not been for him helping us we would not have
made the show that night. I imagine that he has talked about that a 1000
Billboard Magazine reported that the show was promoted
in part by Carroll A. Wynn of
radio in Hope. Wynn had a one hour show called "Cousin Carroll
Calling" that ran five days a week in addition to a 10 minute sponsored
show, "Country Music Time." At the time she had been complaining about
the plight of small town country and western deejays and their inability
to locate and order records while they were still a "hit" since a number
of the major companies, aside from Decca, stopped shipping new releases
to the smaller stations. Subsequent issues reported that RCA Victor was
one of the first to rectify that.4
According to Lee Cotten, the show did not draw anything
close to a full house and it may
have been co-sponsored by Holsum
Bread, as one teen recalled getting in free with a bread wrapper.5
According to locals, admission was actually one bread wrapper or one
Campbell's Soup can. George Frazier, a local, was the emcee of the
show. At the time he recalled not being all too impressed.
Their second and likely last appearance in Hope is said
to be on the following June 5th. According to recollections of
Margie Marek as told by Bill E. Burk, it was in the summer. She had
first seen Elvis in nearby Texarkana and heard that he would perform in nearby Hope, Arkansas
though evidently misremembered the venue Four
States Fairgrounds, singing from a flatbed truck. Johnny Cash, George
Jones, Jim Ed Brown and his sisters were also on the show.
We arrived early to get good seats and be close enough to talk to him. He said he was going to a
watermelon party after
the show; asked if we would be there. That was the first we had heard of the
party. He left immediately after the show for
the party. We checked on the party and were told no one under eighteen was allowed there.
Bill credited the party as believed to be the first Elvis fan club
meeting in history.6
Margie likely confused the venue and events with another
she may have attended in the area, possibly nearby New Boston, TX where
they performed at the High School field. The watermelon party in Hope was at the home of Lura Mae Mitchell, who at
the time was the president of a local fan club, the Tommy Sands fan club
In actuality Margie appears to have misremembered more
than the venue. They performed at the Coliseum in Fair Park and
though the Browns may have shared the bill, its not likely that Johnny
Cash or George Jones would have at that time. Other events said to
have followed the show that evening cast doubt on the party being the
same date as well.
Billboard Ad - Nov. 25, 1950
The Coliseum and exhibit building in Fair Park was
completed in July of 1950 at a cost of $125,000. It was completed in time for the 6th
Annual Third District Livestock show. It featured a 5000 seat
arena in addition to the coliseum hall. Its intended use was for
Rodeo, the Circus, Ice Shows, Basketball, Skating, Home Shows, Dances
and stage shows with name bands on a year round basis.4
there was no permanent stage, in either the arena or smaller venue of
the Coliseum, they used temporary platforms.
Elvis at the Coliseum in Hope, AR - June 5, 1955*
Photo source Cristi Dragomir courtesy DeAgostini
According to Lee Cotten, on June 5, 1955 Elvis drove from
Shreveport to Hope, Arkansas, where he played the indoor Coliseum located in Hope
Fair Park. On stage he was dressed in a white lace shirt, black
pants and no jacket*. The turnout for this Hope appearance was
much greater than the poor showing in February. (Authentication comes from the back of a photo showing Elvis seated on
his Cadillac behind the Coliseum. It is autographed and dated on
the back. It belongs to a fan who desires anonymity.)5
Bobbie Rae Powell was attending a baseball game in the park,
when she heard the music. Along with a friend, she ambled over
to the Coliseum in time to catch Elvis taking a break. He was
standing out front with several entertainers and was wearing
black pants with a stripe down the leg and a pink coat. Bobbie
knew of Elvis, but her interest lay with the boys playing baseball.
Even Gwen Telford of Texarkana, who was kissed by Elvis a
month earlier, remembers that she was visiting her aunt and
uncle in Hope when she heard that Elvis was performing in
town. Unfortunately, she arrived at the park after his show was
over. She did get a chance to renew Elvis’ acquaintance,
although she wouldn’t say if she was kissed a second time.5
Shirley (Searcy) Delgado and Elvis - June 5, 1955
Elvis had been dating Shirley Searcy at the time, a girl from Troup, TX he had first
met in Shreveport at a Hayride show. On this particular trip she and
friends had accompanied Elvis, Scotty and Bill from to Hope. After the show
Elvis drove with Shirley while Scotty, Bill and the others drove
together behind them.
Elvis' first Cadillac burned - June 5, 1955 Photo by Shirley Searcy Delgado
Elvis had made it bout halfway to Texarkana, just outside of Fulton, and
as Peter Guralnick wrote, a wheel bearing
caught fire and he had watched his pretty pink Cadillac burn up. He had
had it for little more than two months, and he was as proud of it as
anything he had ever owned. For a moment, as Scotty and Bill gave him a
hard time and the instruments and clothing sat forlornly by the side of
the road, it was like watching all his dreams go up in flames — but then
there was business to be taken care of, they had to charter a plane to
get to the next show, call Bob (Neal), get someone to drive the Crown Victoria
down to meet them in Dallas, move on.3
Photo courtesy Google Streetview
The Coliseum received renovations in the 1980s and at
that time a permanent formal stage was added. Today it hosts activities
that include the Third District Fair and Livestock Show, the Watermelon Festival, and other community events.
The Watermelon Festival has continued to draw interest
since the first one in 1926, especially after the Ivan and Lloyd Bright 1979 and 1985 melons were listed in the Guinness Book of World Records.
In August 2004, more than 20,000 attended the four-day event.1
Paul Klipsch went on to
hold 23 patents and the incredibly efficient Klipschorn loudspeaker he
designed, with minor variations and improvements, is still being
produced today. In June of 1995 the Auditorium in Hope's City Hall was
renamed the Paul W. Klipsch Municipal Auditorium in his honor.
Acoustically, it is a very good auditorium and little
about it has changed since 1955. An elevator was added just outside the
auditorium and it now has central heat and air. The ceiling, trim and
seats are the same though several were removed when two ramps were added
in the front of the stage and when lighting equipment was added to the
balcony. Curtains have been added to the windows to help muffle
the sound of the trains coming through Hope.
In the fall of
1995, just before her eighty-seventh birthday, Patsy Montana played concerts
in Hope and Little Rock. She was frail and tiny in her boots and cowboy
hat, but she sang and yodeled vigorously, closing as always with “I
Want to Be a Cowboy’s Sweetheart.” She died in San
Jacinto, California, on May 3, 1996 and was inducted
into the Country Music Hall of Fame later that year.
Anita Carter, along with her family, would later become
a regular touring act with Johnny Cash though she would occasionally
record solo. She would later write and record Ring Of Fire,
which Johnny would soon have a hit cover with. In 1962, she
recorded All My Trials, a traditional folk song which would be
adapted by Mickey Newbury in his American Trilogy, which itself
would become a staple in Elvis' act during the '70s. Anita's last
charting with the Carters was in 1973, she passed away in 1999.
George Frazier, who served as the master of ceremonies
for Elvis' show in 1955, is now 93 years old.
Frazier told a friend he thought Elvis should keep his day job. “Later I
felt like an idiot. He became one of our greatest entertainers,” Frazier
The 1912 Iron Mountain depot on Division Street at the end of S. Main was rededicated in 1996 as a visitor center and museum. Exhibits include the history of Hope, the story of Hope’s world champion watermelons, Missouri-Pacific Railroad memorabilia, and the life of Clinton from Hope to the White House.1
Hope Visitor Center on East Division Street
Photo courtesy two
Among the items on display there is a small section
devoted to Elvis and his appearances in Hope.
* It has been suggested that the date of
the Coliseum show may have been June 7th. It is thought that the date of
the Cadillac burning was the 5th, the same night as the Coliseum show
which all may originate from what Lee Cotten described as the
handwritten date on the rear of the photo. That photo is likely
the one on display in the visitor center and dated as such. No further
verification of either date is known by us at this point. Special Thanks to Jimmie Rodgers Snow, Mark Keith of the
Chamber of Commerce, Darrell Allen and Vicki B. Lewis for their assistance
with this page.
Palmer says he assisted the King in ’55 as the pink Cadillac went up in flames
By: Jim Williamson - Texarkana Gazette
Elvis Presley had a burning love for his first pink and white Cadillac in 1955.
But the love turned to nervous excitement when Elvis thought the Cadillac was going to explode.
Ken Palmer was cruising U.S. Highway 67 that day, returning to Texarkana from Hope.
Elvis was driving his Cadillac from Hope to Texarkana after he performed his rock ‘n’ roll show Sunday, June 5, 1955, in the
Hope Municipal Auditorium.
And he wasn’t alone, though no one has officially confirmed the identity of the woman riding with Elvis to Texarkana.
Authors reporting on the burned car wrote Elvis looked desolate watching his Cadillac burn.
Palmer was at an historic moment in the stories of early rock ‘n’ roll.
Patsy Green of New Boston, Texas, mailed Palmer a copy of the Texarkana Gazette section about “U.S. 67 The Highway to Rock ‘n’ Roll.” The section was published Nov.
24 of last year and had a story about the fire which destroyed the
Palmer, now lives in Sandusky, Mi., called the Gazette and confirmed he helped Elvis pull items from the burning car. He also gave Elvis and the young woman a ride to Texarkana.
The fire occurred on U.S. Highway 67 near Fulton and a “long bridge,” Palmer said.
“I was just goofing off and was driving back from Hope to Texarkana on the Fulton bottom bridge and saw the car smoking,” Palmer said.
When he stopped, he had no idea the car belonged to Elvis.
“He left the emergency brake on and the brake fluid caught on fire. The smoke was coming from the trunk.
The other stories said smoke was coming from the engine, but it was the trunk,” Palmer said.
“I was the first guy who got there. Elvis kept yelling it’s going to blow. He got his girlfriend away from the car,” he said.
The fuel tank was full and kept the car from exploding, Palmer speculates.
“If the fuel tank had been half empty, it would have exploded,” said Palmer, who was
stationed at the Red River Army Depot.
The trunk was full of equipment, he said.
“We got his guitar out and the amps. He got the money box out. I pulled out an amp from the back seat in the floorboard,” Palmer said.
“Elvis tried to put the fire out with a fire extinguisher, but he couldn’t get to where the fire was starting to burn,” said Palmer, who was 21 in 1955.
The fire started consuming the car and Elvis told Palmer he had a $500 movie camera in the glove box.
“We couldn’t get to the glove box and the camera burned up,” Palmer said.
Elvis and the young woman rode with Palmer to Texarkana and stopped at a cafe next to a motel.
Elvis knew the band was supposed to meet him at the cafe.
“The band was there and had no idea the car burned. Elvis offered me $5, but I wouldn’t take it. He offered to buy me coffee and I let him buy me coffee,” Palmer said.
“We talked some. It was fun. That was the end of it,” he said.
The Cadillac was used as the primary vehicle to take Elvis and his guitar player Scotty Moore and bass player Bill Black to their scheduled shows.
On that night, Moore and Black used another car to get to Texarkana while Elvis drove his Cadillac.
The destruction of the Cadillac has become part of the folklore about the connection between Elvis and his mother, Gladys.
Gladys always recalled how she was awakened out of a sound sleep at home by the
feeling something was wrong. She always said she could sense when bad things were about to happen to her son.