Hanger Hill isn’t one of Little Rock’s most obvious neighborhoods. It doesn’t have the modern aesthetic of the up and coming East Village, nor does it have the history and high profile of Hillcrest or the Heights. It doesn’t have waterfront views like downtown and it doesn’t have the nightlife fun of South Main.
So, what is it that makes Hanger Hill so unique? Maybe it isn’t so much the what but rather the who. Hanger Hill, the small, tucked away neighborhood just east of downtown Little Rock, is home to Little Rock National Cemetery, the final resting place for more than 25,000 military veterans and their family members.
The cemetery itself dates back to just after the Civil War, when Union soldiers who were still occupying Little Rock purchased a small portion of the newly established city cemetery to use for military burials. Designation as a National Cemetery would follow in 1868, along with the mission to house the deceased Union soldiers who had originally been buried throughout Arkansas. By the end of 1868, the remains of nearly 1,500 soldiers had been relocated to the city cemetery from various battlefields around the state.
A few years later, in 1884 an 11-acre Confederate Cemetery was created adjacent to the preestablished cemetery, almost doubling its footprint. When the Confederate Cemetery was eventually handed over to the federal government, it was done so under the stipulation that no one other than veterans of the Confederacy could be buried there. This restriction would be held in place until 1938 when the Confederate Cemetery officially became the Confederate section of the larger National Cemetery.
The expansion of the cemetery continued into the 1990’s when, finally in 1999, the city of Little Rock donated an acre of land, bringing the cemetery’s footprint to just over 31 acres. In 1996, the cemetery was added to the National Register of Historic Places and its last active duty burial came in 2001 when a Jefferson County native was interred after being killed in the September 11 attack on the Pentagon.
Understandably, the cemetery houses many Arkansans, but one of its largest monuments actually pays homage to veterans of another state entirely: Minnesota. In 1913, the state of Minnesota set out to honor fallen Minnesotans who lost their life fighting the Civil War in Arkansas. 126 Minnesotans died in Arkansas during the war, and 36 are still buried within Little Rock National Cemetery. A memorial consisting of a seven-foot-tall bronze statue of a soldier was completed in 1916 in a ceremony attended by the governors of both states. Together with the sculpture’s pedestal, the monument reaches more than 13 feet in height.
Each Memorial Day, the cemetery comes to life with patriotic color when 120 American flags are raised to form the Avenue of Flags. This temporary instillation along the cemetery’s primary entrance and roads is a tangible aspect of the solemn sacrifices that those interred at the cemetery have made.
If you’d like to pay your respects and visit Arkansas largest National Cemetery on Memorial Day, a commemoration ceremony will take place 10 a.m. on Monday, May 27. The ceremony includes, among other things, the playing of “Taps,” and a 21-gun salute.