General William O. Darby
The Fort Smith Museum of History welcomes you to the ‘Darby Room’: A collection of artifacts from the life of one of Ft. Smith’s most famous citizens: General William Orlando Darby.
William Orlando Darby
North Africa, 1943
Photograph by Army Photographer Phil Stern
Photograph Courtesy of Terry Toler
Bill Darby was the original commander of the U.S. Army Rangers, an elite force patterned after, and trained by, the legendary British Commandos. Darby’s Rangers (as they came to be known) were the first American Soldiers to actively engage the German Army in combat, at a desperate time when America had few resources to counter Nazi aggression in Europe, during the early days of World War II.
Billy Darby was born on February 8, 1911 to a very close-knit family: Father ‘Percy’, Mother ‘Nell’ and a sister ‘Thelma’. A major portion of this Collection was donated by another sister, Doris, who was born a few years later
Young Darby was encouraged to explore music and literature at an early age. His parents were very active, both in the community (they owned a Printing business) and the First Methodist Church. Father ‘Percy’s’ passion, was forming and leading the popular ‘Darby’s Orchestra’. Billy learned the clarinet and saxophone and occasionally performed with his father’s group at Ft. Smith’s popular Electric Park, also at weddings, social events and many of the local silent movie houses.
Billy Darby’s Ft. Smith High School days were filled with activities common to any vivacious teenager. He joined a local hiking group (similar to the Boy Scouts), and loved to read popular culture novels and magazines. One of his favorites was a serial Army adventure series called the ‘Khaki Boys’. He was a member of the Annual Staff, the school band and enjoyed acting in school drama productions. Darby Junior High School, which bears his name, still uses the original auditorium (and grand stage) from that time.
During his senior year, the promising young man overcame great odds to secure an appointment to the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York. Amazingly, two candidates ahead of him were disqualified for various reasons. Another close call occurred when a panel of medical examiners ruled in his favor after the discovery of a “rapid pulse” during a physical examination.
The Collection features one of Darby’s West Point uniforms, his cadet sword and other items from that period. Bill Darby graduated in 1933 in the middle of his class. A classmate remembered his deft handling of a potentially explosive situation involving bruised egos, when Darby was given command of a Cadet Company in which he had not been a member. “One of the first examples (of Billy’s outstanding character) was his Captaining ‘I’ Company as a cadet in the face of resentment at his transfer from another company. In a short space of time the entire company was eating out of his hand.”
Second Lieutenant William O Darby entered the Depression era Army as a member of one of the last horse mounted artillery units (Fort Bliss, Texas) whose primary duty was patrolling the Mexican Border. Over the next nine years, the young officer experienced many duty stations, where he was exposed to an ever increasing array of weaponry and tactics as the world moved closer to war. Some of his uniforms from that period are on display here.
In 1942, America’s leaders were painfully aware that it would be quite some time before an invasion of Europe could be realized. Taking a cue from the successful hit and run tactics of the famed British Commandos, the Army was tasked with organizing and (and with British help) training an elite group of soldiers, to be classified as Rangers. The First Ranger Battalion and its offspring, the Third and Fourth Battalions, experienced a rare partnership where both officers and enlisted men trained, fought and-many times-died together. The original group of 500 soldiers suffered a casualty rate of 90 per cent.
Darby’s Rangers spearheaded invasions in North Africa, Sicily and Italy. The Darby Room displays many large photos from that period, most of which were taken by the iconic photographer, Phil Stern-himself a Ranger. Ranger Stern was wounded so severely that he was given Last Rites on the battlefield. He survived and went on to be a feature photographer for Life Magazine and other major publications. His subjects included: James Dean, Marilyn Monroe, JFK and John Wayne.
Fort Smith’s downtown ‘Cisterna Park’ is named after the Italian city, some 20 miles outside of Rome, where Darby’s command was defeated by an overwhelming number of elite German forces. The Rangers were attempting to seize the strategically important city prior to invading the capital. Over 700 Rangers were killed, wounded or captured. It would take nearly four more months of bitter fighting before Cisterna’s liberation. A few months later, Darby wrote his Mother, Nell: “It is tragic but yet it should still make the people back home stand up and be proud that we do have soldiers who are proud to fight like fury, without thought of themselves, for their country.” In appreciation of the Ranger Sacrifice, Cisterna, Italy and Ft. Smith became Sister Cities.
Cisterna Park proudly hosts a new, bronze statue of General Darby, by the well-known artist and sculptor, Kevin Kresse, which is scheduled for dedication on April 30th, 2016-The 71st anniversary of the Ranger Leader’s death.
William Orlando Darby was killed in combat while serving as Assistant division commander of the famed Tenth Mountain Division, just days before the German Army surrendered in Italy. His long journey from North Africa to Sicily, then up the boot of Italy was virtually completed. At the age of thirty-four, he was posthumously given the rank of Brigadier General-the only American soldier in World War II to receive such an honor.
Bill Darby was awarded 3 Purple Hearts, 2 Distinguished Service Crosses, a Silver Star, the British Legion of Merit, the Russian Order of Kutuzov and the French Croix de Guerre.
Darby’s beloved hometown boasts the Darby Foundation which is headquartered in his boyhood home on a street bearing his name, not far from the Museum. Please ask any of our staff for directions.
By Darby Watkins
Nephew of General Darby
Art by the People- For the People
June 20-August 24
A new temporary exhibition at the Fort Smith Museum of History features vintage black light poster graphics from the mid-1960s-early 1970s. Art by the People-for the People celebrates the private collection of 1960 Poteau High School graduate and current Poteau resident, Roberta Bell. The exhibition will open in the Boyd Gallery on Thursday, June 20 with a 6:00 pm reception and program with Ms. Bell.
Allan and Roberta Bell Ehrlich published two hundred posters as part of the company, the Third Eye, Inc. in New York City. Allan Ehrlich oversaw sales, booking, and finance. Roberta Bell Ehrlich oversaw product development, marketing, plant layout, and supervised the art department.
Among the artwork on display are fourteen posters designed by Ms. Bell. Also included are Marvel Comics heroes Iron Man and Spider-Man. The Third Eye bought the rights to publish posters and greeting cards of Marvel Comics and distributed the products all across the country. The company also published art from other American creators. The Third Eye was the first company to manufacture and distribute black light posters in New York City.
Originally, in the 1960s and 1970s, the company’s goal was to provide interesting graphics to the general public at an affordable price. The posters sold for $1 each to wholesalers with a retail cost of $2. Today, the vintage posters sell for $500-$1,000 each.
Each color screen for the Third Eye posters were hand cut by highly trained artists employed by the printer at the "in house" art department. The posters were printed in the finest print ships in the United States. The Third Eye's primary printers were in New York, New Jersey, Chicago, and Atlanta. Approximately one hundred fluorescent black light reactive posters were produced in die-cut geometric shapes. Fluorescent colors do not mix according to the rules of reflected light. Due to the nature of the pigments, modulating and shading colors can be very difficult.
The Third Eye was a casualty of the 1973 worldwide recession. The recession featured a gas shortage, lost jobs, and inflation. As the economy went into shock, chain stores cancelled orders or put them "on hold" indefinitely. The entire industry, including many printers, collapsed. Paper mills shut down. Artists, advertising agencies, and creative businesses were the first to lose their jobs and businesses. By late 1974, the Third Eye filed bankruptcy.
Roberta Bell Ehrlich was born in Mena, Arkansas, graduated from Poteau High School, and studied silversmithing and painting at the Universities of Mexico City and Kansas.
Experience the brilliant and unique posters displayed in a black light environment.
The exhibit will run through the summer. Ms. Bell will present programs for students.
Check the website for a schedule of programs: www.fsmuseum.org
The exhibit and programs are included with museum admission.
Arkansas' Western Post
Arkansas State Capitol Rotunda in Little Rock through August
Secretary of State John Thurston invites the public to view “Arkansas’s Western Post,” the Capitol’s summer exhibit.
In 2019, Arkansas celebrates its two hundredth birthday. In the spring of 1819, it was declared a separate territory, no longer Missouri’s lower half. That summer and into fall, populations of existing settlements in the east of the new territory swelled modestly, anticipating the arrival of the newly appointed governor and the launch of official business.
But even before Governor James Miller’s keelboat tied up at Arkansas Post in late December, the government of the United States established a foothold in the middle of the sprawling territory: Fort Smith. A year or more before the first wave of appointees, boomers and speculators descended upon Arkansas Post, the Stars and Stripes flew above a new stockade and fledgling settlement more than two hundred and fifty miles upriver. They still do.
“Arkansas’s Western Post” highlights episodes and individuals from Fort Smith’s more than twenty decades. Created in collaboration with the Fort Smith Museum of History, the exhibit offers select reminders of the city’s storied past as military post, market town, port, place of judgement and gateway. These include a toy catapult marked for the Fort Smith Biscuit Company, a box of rough garnets found in the personal effects of General Benjamin Bonneville, ornamental plaster from the storied Goldman Hotel (once the city’s elite lodging house) and a utilitarian U.S. Army Ordnance Department-marked Elgin wrist watch, once worn by Colonel William O. Darby.
The Fort Smith Museum of History, in operation for over 100 years, curates a collection of over 40,000 artifacts and offers two full levels of exhibits and attractions, including an operating soda fountain. This exhibit offers Capitol visitors a taste of what they can expect if they follow the Arkansas River west to Fort Smith. The original plan was to include just twenty images and twenty items, one for each of the city’s decades, but a few “extras” have crept in: Fort Smith has too many stories worth telling.
On the Air
On the Air chronicles the broadcast history of Fort Smith and the region.
From the first radio station in Fort Smith in 1922, to the 1953 launching of KFSA TV, by Donald W. Reynolds, through fifty years of the growth and development of radio, television, media and communications the exhibit chronicles the previously unaddressed history. Learn about the many radio and television stations in the region and the fascinating personalities that made broadcast history.
On May 1, 1922 John Fink Jewelry Company received a license for radio station WNAC, the first in Fort Smith. July 19, 1953-KFSA TV Channel 22 went on the air at 4:22 pm from studios at 920 Rogers Avenue. The station was owned by Donald W. Reynolds.
On the Air replicates the art deco structure, the KWHN Radio Center that began broadcasting on November 22, 1947 at 421 Garrison Avenue. The unique structure is no longer standing. View the exhibit and an excellent photograph of the 1947 building. The station officers in 1947 were Allen Whiteside, President; Dr. Arthur Hoge, Vice-president; and Hiram S. Nakdimen, Secretary-Treasurer.
Explore the fascinating history of radio and television broadcast in Fort Smith and the region.
Court of Judge Isaac C. Parker
Isaac Charles Parker was born on October 15, 1838 in Barnesville, Ohio. He studied law, passed the bar exam in 1859 and began his legal career in St. Joseph, Missouri. Parker was elected United States Congressman from Missouri for two terms, 1871-1874. Appointed by President Ulysses S. Grant in 1875, Isaac Parker began his famous tenure as Federal Judge for the Western District of Arkansas, a post he would hold until his death in 1896.