state capitol

Accountable for Treasures

The Auditor of State is one of the seven constitutional officers of Arkansas’s state government.  The post was created in the Constitution of 1836 and acts as the State’s general accountant, keeping track of fund and appropriation balances of all state agencies and writing warrants or checks in payment of the liabilities of the State, including paychecks of state employees. The Auditor also carries out other responsibilities; the best-known of these is managing the state’s Unclaimed Property program.

“Accountable for Treasures,” the Capitol’s autumn exhibit, affords visitors a rare look at a rich sample of items which have been “left behind.” Unclaimed property is any financial asset, held for a person or entity that cannot be found.  It may consist of bank account balances, uncollected wages, securities, refunds or checks of many kinds, but safe deposit box contents are the most varied and most evocative. These lock boxes may contain money but often, more personal items are left behind, including personal papers, awards and decorations, collections with high intrinsic value (such as rare coins or stamps) and others with value mainly to the men or women whose obsessions they reflected.

“Accountable for Treasures” features an assortment of items removed from safe deposit boxes from across Arkansas and sent to the Auditor’s office in hope that owners or their heirs will claim them.  Highlights include extensive coin collections, silver ingots, military medals, family photographs and letters, jewelry and souvenir trinkets. One collection consists exclusively of Beanie Babies plush toys, another encompasses watches, belt buckles, ID bracelets, books, numerous men’s rings and a bottle of vintage champagne while yet another combines Beatles LPs with VHS copies of films featuring Sean Connery as James Bond.  A pair of police service revolvers, once the property of a Pine Bluff patrolman, are displayed near an accumulation of pocket knives both pristine and well-used and a silver trinket box containing a gold teddy-bear ring.

The exhibit also features a rare relic of the office’s history: a letter book preserving the official correspondence of State Auditors beginning in 1836 and continuing into the 1870s.  The letter book is featured through the courtesy of the Arkansas State Archives, which acquired the book on Arkansas’s 180th birthday, June 15, 2016.

Finding Your Adventure

On August 25, 1916, President Woodrow Wilson signed into law a measure creating a new agency within the Department of the Interior, charged with managing an assortment of over thirty places already set aside by the federal government. That agency, the National Park Service, would grow both in size and in responsibilities carried. Today, as it approaches its 100th birthday, the National Park Service oversees more than four hundred sites encompassing more than 84 million acres spread across the United States, its trust territories and protectorates.

Finding Your Adventure, the Arkansas Capitol’s summer exhibit for 2016, is a birthday salute to the National Park System (NPS) and a “sampler” of its Arkansas sites. They are distinguished by their variety: in them, one may take a hike, sink into a thermal bath or float a river. One can stand where battles raged in the Civil War and in the Civil Rights Movement, explore an historic courthouse or a U.S. President’s childhood home and much more.

The exhibit features artifacts and images selected by staff members from each of the seven NPS sites within Arkansas. Architectural details and bath house memorabilia represent Hot Springs National Park, while Fort Smith National Historic Site’s offerings include a court document pertaining to notorious bank robber Henry Starr, signed by famed “hanging judge” Isaac Parker. Buffalo National River is represented by a half-canoe, crafted from a wrecked watercraft by park staff, while the William J. Clinton Birthplace and Home contributes a Little Golden Book once the property of a young Billy Blythe, the future president.

For 100 years the National Park Service has protected the nation’s natural and cultural treasures, preserved its stories and provided opportunities for recreation, learning, discovery and awe. These are your public lands and in this Centennial Anniversary year, the Capitol, along with the NPS, encourages visitors—natives and out-of-staters alike—to seek and find adventure in a national park in Arkansas.

Finding your Adventure will remain on display through Labor Day.

Ghost Signs of Arkansas

Beginning in the mid-Nineteenth century and continuing into the Twentieth, a new kind of graphic blossomed across America: outdoor advertising, in the form of signs painted on building walls or roofs or even natural features. Many of these advertised local concerns but also were “privilege” signs—ones promoting regional or even nationally-branded products such as Coca-Cola, patent medicines, tobacco products or cigars. Painted with care and stylistic flair by lettering artists who earned the appellation “wall dogs,” these signs boomed the products and enterprises of a growing, diversifying American economy.

Such signs once covered almost any flat building side. With the spread of billboards and other advertising media, the vogue for wall signs faded; many signs were obscured as new buildings went up, others were covered over with paint or plaster and many were simply left to fade away. The wall dogs did good work, though; across Arkansas and the nation, these graphics (many created using tenacious lead-based paint) survive as “ghost signs,” persistent reminders of our business past.

In the 1990s, the Arkansas Historic Preservation program, a division of the Department of Arkansas Heritage, began documenting Arkansas’s ghost signs. This project led to “Ghost Signs of Arkansas: Off-The-Wall Relics,” an exhibit which made its debut at the Old State House Museum in 1994. The exhibit featured photographs by Jeff Holder and text by Cynthia Haas, both of the Arkansas Historic Preservation Program. The images recorded fading wall signage from Trumann, Fordyce, Conway, Pine Bluff, Prescott and other towns across the state; many of the signs had outlasted the products they publicized. In 1997, the University of Arkansas Press issued Ghost Signs of Arkansas, in which Haas and Holder expanded on the exhibit. The exhibit itself graced the offices of the Arkansas Senate for many years, then went into storage.

This summer, however, Capitol visitors will be able to enjoy these “ghosts” once more; Ghost Signs of Arkansas is on view in the Capitol’s lower-level gallery through August. The images are more than two decades old and the survival rate of the signs depicted is unknown, so for this outing the exhibit is doubly “ghostly”: the signs recorded were shades of their original selves, and their images may virtually preserve the shades of things that have disappeared altogether.