Frances Cranford: Keeping Mount Holly in High Spirits

Some may think it strange and a bit morbid to picnic in a cemetery, but to Frances Cranford and many other locals, it’s anything but weird. The Pine Bluff native, former Miss Arkansas and future resident of Mount Holly, has served on the board of the Mount Holly Cemetery Association for eight years, and is committed to maintaining one of Little Rock’s greatest treasures and the final resting place of numerous Arkansas notables.

Built in 1843 from land donated by Roswell Beebe and Senator Chester Ashley, Mount Holly Cemetery is the second oldest in the state and is on the National Register of Historic Places. It spans a four-square-block space between 11th and 13th and from Broadway to Gaines.

According to The Encyclopedia of Arkansas, there are 11 state governors interred there, 13 state Supreme Court justices, four Confederate generals, four United States senators and 21 Little Rock mayors, as well as doctors, attorneys, prominent families and military heroes, like venerated David O. Dodd, a 17-year-old boy executed for being a “Confederate spy,” and often referred to as the “Boy Martyr of the Confederacy.”

Just like any antiquated structure of its size, Mount Holly Cemetery needs constant care and maintenance. That’s where Cranford and the MHCA step in.

Cranford says the ladies’ Mount Holly Cemetery Association was incorporated in July 1915 to clean and preserve the grounds of Mount Holly. “They had dead trees removed, driveways cleared, unsightly vines removed from the

fence and markers straightened. Their stated goal—to ‘care for and beautify’ Mount Holly—has been consistently met.”

But Cranford says maintaining the cemetery is a difficult and costly task, especially since it’s on the National Register of Historic Places and must follow strict preservation standards. “All of the walls need repair, and now the one on Broadway is crumbling due to the snow and ice,” she said. “There’s always something that needs attention, from trees being damaged by storms to just the daily maintenance of the grounds. Therefore, one of our jobs is to raise money.”

The association’s primary fundraiser is its annual picnic, which is now in its sixth year. The theme of the picnic is “Restore in Perpetuity” and will be held from 5 to 7 p.m. Sunday, April 25, on the cemetery grounds. Tickets are $75 per person, and the festivities will include cemetery tours, boxed suppers, musical entertainment and a silent auction. Attendees can sip on wine and Mount Holly spritzer, a refreshing mixture of wine, lemonade and fresh mint.

MHCA also plans to unveil their new cookbook, “Recipes in Perpetuity,” a project three years in the making which will include recipes as well as stories of some of the cemetery’s most notable residents (see pg. 24). “We thought about “Recipes to Die For,” said Cranford, “but then one of our board members visited a cemetery in Lynchburg, Va., that had already done that. Because our picnic is ‘Restore in Perpetuity,’ I thought our cookbook should keep the R.I.P. and be ‘Recipes in Perpetuity.’ The subtitle is: ‘Timeless Tastes and Tales of Residents and Future Residents of Mount Holly.’” In addition, DVDs of the documentary “A Guided Tour of Mount Holly Cemetery,” featuring Mary Worthen, the late Peg Smith and Tammie Dillon, and filmed by one of Cranford’s sons, Chris, will be for sale.

For more information about the upcoming picnic or cookbook, contact Kay Tatum, 375-5197.

And for those interested in interment at Mount Holly, Cranford says there are spaces available in the new garden columbarium the association installed by the fountain.

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