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Saturday, Apr. 30, 2016

A glimpse of history

Thursday, August 14, 2008

MAMMOTH SPRING -- The 115th Old Soldiers, Sailors, Marines and Air Force Reunion is in full swing this week at Mammoth Spring State Park.

Reunion activities will wind down late Saturday night with the carnival pulling out of town and heading to their next fair or activity.

There is a lot of history surrounding this reunion. Several years before it was officially organized in 1893, hard feelings were still being felt between Civil War oppositions. The Mammoth Spring community, being in Arkansas, had sided with the Confederacy in the war and some of their close neighbors to the north in southern Missouri had shown support for the Union troops.

Two communities being so close knit, as they are today, often had families separated by the Mason-Dixon Line. The opposing factions would gather by the Mammoth Spring to discuss their differences.

Before long, the opposing veterans were bringing their families and picnics and the reunion had begun.

In 1893, Captain Mark Archer of the Confederacy was elected president of the reunion and Captain A.L. Cooper of the Union Army was chosen as vice-president, and it was called the Blue and Grey Reunion.

The Mammoth Spring, one of the seven wonders of Arkansas, and located near the site of the Civil War "Battle of Spring River" on the Missouri/Arkansas border, seemed an excellent site for drawing the Boys in Blue from the north and the Boys in Grey from the south. The official opening was announced at sunrise on the first day by the roar of a cannon and a belch of black smoke over the Mammoth Spring.

That very cannon has been moved to what is now called the Cannon Plaza and Arkansas State Parks will dedicate Cannon Plaza Aug. 16 at 1 p.m.

The old cannon was originally on wheels but was always in danger of being pushed into the water. The wheels were removed and until just this spring, the cannon was cemented in place near the park pavilion. It has been refurbished and moved closer to the welcome center.

The first reunion was three days and three nights long with people coming together cooking and visiting.

There was some discussion on what flag should fly at the reunion. The Stars and Stripes, the blue flag for the northern states or the grey flag for the confederacy. They finally decided on the Stars and Stripes.

On Wednesday of reunion week there was always a parade. They would meet at the Methodist Church on Main Street. The parade would go west across the old bridge that always had red, white and blue lights on it. Will Hackus was called Mr. Parade because he always led the event.

Fife and drum corps participated, and floats drawn by horses and mules carried the veterans dressed in blue and grey singing songs.

The parade would march down Main Street and cross the bridge at the reunion site. There was a lot of backslapping, handshaking and reminiscing. Speeches was the order of the day whether it was election year or not.

Races and contests were held among the old soldiers and prizes were given to the winners.

The children also had their games, but the main attraction was the mule-drawn merry-go -round.

At sunset the old canon was always fired and a huge bonfire was built and everyone sat around telling stories of Civil War adventures and singing songs like "Old Black Joe" and "Tenting in the Old Camp Ground."

In 1919, the management of the annual event was turned over to the newly formed American Legion Forest-Stone Post 55 which carried on the custom calling it the Reunion of the Soldiers, Sailors and Marines.

In 1975 the Mammoth Spring Langston Vincent Lunn VFW Post 7831 started managing the reunion and added the Air Force to the service organizations already mentioned.

Today the carnival draws a lot of attention at the reunion. The bonfires, old soldiers stories, fife and drum and the mule drawn merry-go-round have been replaced by brightly lit midways with fast flying whirly machines to ride and games of chance.

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