The moment you’ve been waiting for is here! I’m going INSIDE the mausoleum at Sparkman/Hillcrest Memorial Park. This post is longer than usual but trust me, it’s worth it.
I wish I could tell you exactly when the mausoleum was built, who the architect was, and an estimate on how many people are entombed within it, but I don’t know. When I called to ask, the woman who answered the phone could only say she knew it was built in the early 1960s and didn’t know who the architect was. That was it.
Once you walk inside, it can feel a bit overwhelming. The main entrance opens into a high-ceilinged hall.
With one long main hall, the mausoleum has a gazillion smaller halls that extend off of it. The only other person we saw the entire time we were there was a member of the cleaning crew who was mopping the floor. Otherwise, it was eerily quiet.
Fortunately, I knew where to go in order to find the first person I was looking for. We were just two of the scores of people who take the same route to the Saint Mathew hall to visit his final resting place.
Birth of a Baseball Legend
Born on Oct. 20, 1931 in Spavinaw, Okla., Mickey “The Mick” Charles Mantle would become a beloved yet controversial figure in American baseball. A man of humble origins, Mantle’s prowess on the ball field wowed millions. Some consider him the greatest switch hitter in baseball history. At the same time, his personal life included much turmoil.
Mantle began his professional baseball career in Kansas with the semi-professional Baxter Springs Whiz Kids. After graduating from high school, Mantle signed a minor league contract and was assigned to the Yankees’ Class-D Independence Yankees of the Kansas–Oklahoma–Missouri League, where he played shortstop.
Mantle was invited to the Yankees instructional camp before the 1951 season, becoming a right fielder. In the second game of the 1951 World Series, he was injured while racing for a ball and tripped over an exposed drain pipe. This was the first of numerous injuries that plagued his 18-year career with the Yankees, playing the rest of his career with a torn ACL in an era when such surgeries to repair them weren’t done the way they are routinely done now.
Over the next years, Mantle’s star would rise as a Yankee, the only MLB team he ever played for. He had his breakout season in 1956, which he described as his “favorite summer.” He had a major league-leading .353 batting average, 52 home runs, and 130 runs batted in (RBIs). He brought home both the Triple Crown and first of three MLB Most Valuable Player Awards.
On January 16, 1961, Mantle became the highest-paid player in baseball by signing a $75,000 (equivalent to $640,000 in 2019) contract.
Mantle announced his retirement at the age of 37 on March 1, 1969. He gave a farewell speech on Mickey Mantle Day, which was June 8, 1969, in Yankee Stadium.
Mantle married Merlyn Johnson in Oklahoma in 1951 and together they had four sons. While the media did not report on his many affairs at the time, Mantle was notorious for his dalliances. He was also an alcoholic, an affliction shared by his wife and three of his sons.
After Merlyn and his sons sought treatment, they urged Mantle to do the same. He checked into the Betty Ford Clinic on January 7, 1994. Although he received a liver transplant at Baylor University Medical Center in Dallas, on June 8, 1995, Mantle died on August 13, 1995. He was 63 years old. Despite the fact he and Merlyn had been estranged for years, they never divorced and she was with him at the end.
Two of Mantle’s sons are also entombed with him and Merlyn, who died in 2009 at the age of 77. Billy Mantle, who suffered from Hodgkin’s Disease, died at the age of 34 in 1996. Mickey Jr. died in 2000 at the age of 47.
Mantle’s tomb is located in the only area in the entire mausoleum that is fully air conditioned, which appears to be a more modern section. All I know is that it was a welcome relief after the rather stagnant air in the rest of the building.
Located in the same blessedly cool air as Mantle is the tomb of another well-known person but her distinction is not from baseball. However, I’m sure the founder of Mary Kay Cosmetics had to keep cool under pressure while making her company world famous.
A Start in Sales
Mary Kathlyn (Mary Kay) Wagner was born in Hot Wells, Texas in 1918 to Edward Alexander and Lula Vember Hastings Wagner. At 17, Mary Kay married Ben Rogers and they had three children. While Ben served in World War II, she got her first taste of the arena she would eventually master when she sold books door-to-door.
After her husband’s return in 1945, they divorced. Over the next two decades, she worked in sales. Irritated when passed over for a promotion in favor of a man that she had trained, Mary Kay retired in 1963. She wrote up a business plan for her ideal company, and in the summer of 1963, Mary Kay and her new husband, George Hellenbeck, planned to start Mary Kay Cosmetics.
However, one month before Mary Kay and George started Beauty by Mary Kay, as the company was then called, George died of a heart attack. A month after George’s death, with a $5,000 investment from her oldest son, she started Mary Kay Cosmetics. She copied the same “house party” model used by Stanley (who she had worked for), Tupperware, and others. It was a tremendous success.
In 1968, Mary Kay married Melville Ash. That same year, she and her partners took the multi-level marketing company public. In 1985, the company’s board decided to take the company private again. Ash remained active in Mary Kay Cosmetics, Inc. until suffering a stroke in 1996.
As many know, Mary Kay Ash loved the color pink and it was a key theme in her company, from the product packaging to the Cadillacs she gave away to top-earning consultants each year.
Son Richard Rogers was named CEO of Mary Kay Cosmetics, Inc. in 2001. At the time of Ash’s death in 2001, Mary Kay Cosmetics had over 800,000 representatives in 37 countries, with total annual sales over $200 million. As of 2014, Mary Kay Cosmetics had more than 3 million consultants worldwide and wholesale volume in excess of three billion.
Another trailblazing woman is entombed in Sparkman/Hillcrest’s mausoleum, paving the way for other women in a male-dominated career field. But most people only know her from a photograph of the back of her head.
Blazing a Judicial Trail
Born in 1896 in Baltimore, Md., Sarah Augusta Tilghman (later Hughes) stood only five feet one inches tall. But Hughes let nothing get in her way, be it academics or excelling in sports. After graduating from Western High School, she attended Goucher College, an all women’s college in central Baltimore.
Hughes taught science at Salem Academy in North Carolina for several years. In 1919, she moved to Washington, D.C. to attend The George Washington University Law School. She went to classes at night and during the day, worked as a police officer. Amazingly, she lived in a tent home near the Potomac River and commuted to the campus by canoe each evening. She graduated in 1922.
Hughes moved to Dallas in 1922 with her husband, George Ernest Hughes, whom she met in law school. While George quickly found employment, Sarah struggled since law firms generally did not regard women as qualified at the time. The small firm of Priest, Herndon, and Ledbetter gave her a rent-free space and referred some cases to her in exchange for her services as a receptionist.
The First of Many Firsts
But Hughes was preparing for broader horizons. After practicing law for eight years in Dallas, she got involved in politics, first being elected in 1930 to three terms in the Texas House of Representatives as a Democrat. In 1935, Hughes accepted an appointment as a state judge from Governor James Allred for the Fourteenth District Court in Dallas. In doing so, she became the state’s first female district judge. In 1936, she was elected to the same post. She was re-elected six more times and remained in that post until 1961.
Judge Hughes received a recess appointment from President John F. Kennedy on October 5, 1961 to the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas to a new seat. She was nominated to the same position by President Kennedy on January 15, 1962. She was the only female judge appointed by President Kennedy, the first female federal judge in Texas, and the third female to serve in the federal judiciary.
It almost didn’t happen. Her friendship with Vice President Lyndon Johnson helped, having campaigned for him in the past. At age 65, many (including Kennedy and his brother, Robert) thought Judge Hughes was too old for the job.
On Nov. 22, 1963, Judge Hughes was thrown fully into the spotlight when President Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas. Amid the ensuing chaos, she was summoned to administer the oath of office to Vice President Johnson, who chose her for the task. Hughes was driven to Love Field, while Air Force One was held up just for her.
In the photo above, you can only see the back of Judge Hughes’ head. But to me, this photo taken by Cecil W. Stoughton has always been a powerful picture of what took place on that terrible day. In that horrible moment, Hughes became the only woman to swear in a president – and the only Texan.
Hughes retired from the active federal bench in 1975, although she continued to work as a judge with senior status until 1982. She remained a close friend of Lyndon Johnson and his family, participating in his inauguration in 1965 and in the dedication of the Lyndon Baines Johnson Library and Museum.
In 1982, Hughes suffered a debilitating stroke which confined her to a nursing home in Dallas. She died three years later on April 23, 1985. But she will never be forgotten for pushing forward into a world where she was often told “no” with her intelligence, determination, and talent.
Next time, I’ll be showing off some of the amazing stained glass at Sparkman/Hillcrest’s mausoleum in Part IV.