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In Bryant, Arkansas, one such landmark familiar to several generations of residents is no longer situated at the familiar intersection of Stagecoach Road (Hwy. 5) and North Reynolds Road. A cross made of concrete stood at the location for decades. School buses passed by it every day. People headed to work caught a glimpse of the words etched into both sides of the cross. Children played on it after school.
But many years ago a road project to widen the avenue near the cross required that it be removed.
And overnight, a familiar and loved landmark was gone.
What many people did not know is that a deal made with God in 1917 by a 19 year-old man trapped between a coal car and a wall deep in a Kentucky mine shaft is the foundation upon which the cross began its journey to Bryant.
Henry Harrison Mayes found himself trapped underground, fearing for his life. Fortunately for Mayes, he was rescued and taken to a local hospital. His prognosis was not promising and the doctors told his wife, Lillie, that Mayes would probably not survive the night.
But he did.
Mayes experienced what he described as faith’s healing power in his recovery and made a commitment to spend the rest of his life devoted to uplifting God’s name. He was a quiet man and public speaking was not a strength he possessed. Preaching was out of the question.
So he decided to build signs.
His first signs were made of steel, but he quickly found the medium of which the majority of his crosses were made – concrete. Mayes built wooden forms in the back yard of his Kentucky home. In his spare time from working in the coal mines, he made signs in two shapes. The familiar cross shape as was placed in Bryant and a heart-shaped version. Both signs had messages carved into them.
The cross in Bryant displayed the directives of “Get Right With God” on one side and “Jesus is Coming Soon” on the other.
Mayes never learned to drive but a couple of times a year he would enlist friends with trucks to help. He never had a plan as to where exactly he would place each cross. Whenever a location looked especially good to him, he and his friends would pull over, dig a hole and place the cross in it. Many times Mayes did not seek permission for the location and was often at odds with local highway departments.
By the time he died in 1986, Mayes had placed crosses in 43 states. The actual date of the Bryant cross’s placement is not known but many venture it to have been in the 1940s. Mayes was a very interesting man. A quick Internet search of his name brings up several articles of his life.
I first wrote about the cross back in 2008. I received email from a great number of people who remember the cross and they related their experiences to me. One reader said he knew where the cross was located. After additional investigation, I found the cross.
In part 2 of this article, we will explore what happened to the cross, memories from local residents and the impact it has had on the current keeper.
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