#FBF: The famous ghosts of Sparkman-Hillcrest

From Left: H.L. Hunt, Mary Kay Ash and Mickey Mantle
From Left: H.L. Hunt, Mary Kay Ash and Mickey Mantle

Originally published October 2016

Our neighborhood is studded with celebrities, from political powerhouses to high-profile athletes to reality television stars. But some of Preston Hollow’s most famous residents aren’t living alongside us, but 6-feet underground at Sparkman-Hillcrest Memorial Park Cemetery.

With graves dating back to the 1850s, it is one of the oldest cemeteries in Dallas, which in 1893 became the George W. Loudermilk Undertaking Company. That same year, Will R. Sparkman got his start in the undertaking business a few states away in Jackson, Tenn. It would be 24 years before Sparkman relocated to Dallas, with plans to purchase Loudermilk.

Sparkman relocated the business to one of Dallas’ most well-known properties, the Belo mansion on Ross Avenue, in 1926. But it was 1934 when the Sparkman name gained fame, and notoriety, across the city.

 When legendary Dallas criminal Clyde Barrow was on the run from the law, his father knew it was only a matter of time before he was caught and killed. According to the 2011 obituary of Bill Sparkman, grandson of Will Sparkman, the Barrow patriarch asked the family to handle the bank robber’s funeral, whenever it should occur. After Clyde Barrow died in a shootout with police, the Sparkmans sent a hearse to pick up his bullet-riddled body in Louisiana. Thousands came to see the criminal’s corpse in an event covered around the nation.

While Barrow’s body was laid to rest at Western Heights Cemetery on Fort Worth Avenue, many other famous names can be found among the tombs of Sparkman-Hillcrest on Northwest Highway.

Mickey Mantle 

This Triple Crown winner needs no introduction as one of the most decorated players in baseball history, who still holds the record for the most home runs (18) hit in a World Series. Considered the greatest switch-hitter of all times, Mantle was born in 1931 and was a highlight of the New York Yankees roster from 1951-68. The next year, the team retired his jersey, No. 7, placing him alongside greats like Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig. By 1974, he was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.

But once his ball career dried up, Mantle fell on shaky times, fighting a losing a battle with alcoholism.

Most of his time in Dallas was spent between the greens and the bar at the exclusive Preston Trail Golf Course just north of our neighborhood. His struggle became public during an interview with sportscaster and friend Bob Costas. It was a disease he spread to his four sons, who each fought their own battle with addiction.

Although a successful stint at the Betty Ford clinic in 1994 left his mind clear, his body was ravaged by years of drinking. The next year, he died at Baylor University Medical Center after a quick but vicious bout of liver cancer.

More than 1,000 people crammed into Lovers Lane United Methodist Church, selected not because Mantle practiced his faith there, but because it could hold the overwhelming crowd expected for his final goodbye on Aug. 15, 1995. His gravesite at Sparkman-Hillcrest still draws the occasional fan, who comes to pay respects to one of America’s greatest athletes.

Mary Kay Ash 

Long before flashy pink Cadillacs were synonymous with success, Mary Kay Ash was a woman frustrated in a man’s world. Sick of being passed over for promotions that went to her less-qualified male counterparts, she set out to level the playing field on her own terms. Ash launched one of the most successful cosmetics companies of all times and created a way for fellow women to build their own financial future.

Born in 1918, she grew up working class in a Houston suburb and watched her mother put in long hours at a restaurant. Ash was a young Girl Scout pushing cookies when she discovered her knack for sales. She found her way working for home goods stores but was never able to ascend the ranks. Unfulfilled, she left her career in 1963 with plans to write a book to help working women. Instead, at age 45, she wound up with a business plan. The home-sale makeup business wasn’t new, but Ash used a $5,000 loan to build an empire designed to help women establish their own wealth.

She stayed involved in the company until a stroke in 1996 made it difficult for her to work. She was a neighbor with a custom-built pink mansion at 8915 Douglas Ave., in Old Preston Hollow. When she died Nov. 22, 2001, her company was worth $1.2 billion and had more than 850,000 sales reps in 37 nations across the globe.

 Her gravesite at Sparkman-Hillcrest often is adorned with flowers in her signature color: pink.
H.L. Hunt 

For years, he held the title as the richest man in the world. Haroldson Lafayette “H.L.” Hunt’s oil empire helped put Dallas on the map, while simultaneously serving as a battleground for the many branches of his storied family tree that includes three wives and 15 children.

Hunt was born a lucky man in 1889, a point he proved over and over at gaming tables across the country. The story goes that a hand of five-card stud won him the dollars needed to buy up his first oil field in Arkansas. He later secured the East Texas Oil Field, one of the largest oil deposits in the world, a spring of near-endless fortune.

 But like so many stories, great wealth led to a legacy of secrets. He married his first wife, Lyda, and had seven children in a house on the shores of White Rock Lake crafted after George Washington’s Mount Vernon, but then he took another wife and had four children who were tucked away in Florida. He later had another four children with a woman in Louisiana, who he would marry after his first wife’s death.

Despite his bigamous lifestyle, Hunt’s funeral took place at First Baptist Church of Dallas after he succumbed to cancer in November 1974. It sparked the first of many battles over his enormous net worth, a war that is still being fought in federal court today.

 But Hunt would live beyond his years on earth, in a way. In the 1980s, the breakout soap opera “Dallas” spun a dramatized version of the Hunt’s family tale, with lead character J.R. Ewing based on the Dallas oil tycoon who also went by his initials.

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