During the administrations of Crip Hall and his successors, the Christmas decoration and lighting of the Capitol became an Arkansas tradition. Over the years, the lighting would grow and evolve.
In 1987, the dome lights flashed and coursed. This was the year of the famed, never-repeated “disco dome.”
From 1995 through 2002, the Capitol was decked with millions of lights, courtesy of local philanthropist Jennings Osborne.
Since 2003, the Secretary of State’s staff has lit the Capitol.
This year, all four sides of the Capitol will be lit for the first time.
The privately-funded Nativity figures have changed over time, too: from paper mache to a rubber composition to a carved wood set.
The changes of location have been accompanied by controversy. In 1993, the Arkansas Interfaith Council requested that Secretary of State Bill McCuen not erect the Capitol’s nativity scene. The Secretary promised that he would not erect the scene outside, then set it up for several days in December inside the Capitol.
In the late fall of 1994, Bill McCuen faced his final Christmas as Secretary of State. It seemed likely that his replacement, Secretary of State-elect Sharon Priest, might grant the Interfaith Council’s requests. The Arkansas State Capitol Association board voted to donate the nativity set to the Ozark Folk Center, since the figures were the work of Arkansas artists. Secretary of State McCuen then dismissed the board, installed new members and on the last day of his term dissolved the group altogether, transferring State Capitol Association funds to a new group, “The Foundation to Preserve and Promote the Nativity.”
In 1995, no nativity was displayed at the Capitol.
In 1996, a private individual set up her crèche scene.
In 1997, the Nativity returned to the north end of the Capitol, where the Little Rock Nine monument is today, sponsored and cared for by a local interfaith group.
A few years ago it was relocated to the south Mall, where it is today. A few yards away stands the Solstice Kiosk covered with information about non-Christian midwinter observances.
Capitol Snapshots is presented by Capitol Historian David Ware and the Secretary of State's Office.