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Grannis Vigil

On September 29, 1975, in the tiny town of Grannis (Polk County), a group of approximately twenty-five residents, most of them relatives, closed themselves off from the rest of the world to ready themselves for what they believed to be the soon-approaching return of Jesus Christ. Over a period of almost ten months, the vigil members left jobs, removed children from school, and gathered food and supplies in a single residence to await the end of the world. The ensuing vigil garnered local and national attention and even sparked debate relating to the separation of church and state and the right of religious expression. The vigil ended on July 16, 1976, when federal marshals acted on a court-ordered notice of eviction and forcibly removed the families from their home.

The members of several related families—Nance, Bard, and Fenwick—had moved to Grannis, located in southwestern Arkansas between the slightly larger towns of Mena (Polk County) and De Queen (Sevier County), prior to the beginning of the vigil. They met together for religious services and prayer, and during one meeting, one of the family members reported hearing a direction from God that they were to gather together and wait for the return of Christ.

The members gathered in the home of Gene Nance, many of them leaving cars and houses of their own behind. One of the families owned a store, which was used for supplies. Initially, the children of the group were kept home from school, but a juvenile court judge removed six of the younger children from their parents’ custody and returned them to school. Another student was taken from her mother and the vigil and placed with her father, who was not a participant. The judge involved with the case arranged for court reporters and attorneys to take depositions at the vigil house, since the members would not leave to appear in court.

The Washington Post ran two articles on the vigil—one in December 1975 and the other in July 1976—and the Arkansas Gazette produced several updates on the event. Elizabeth Nance Bard often spoke on behalf of the group to newspaper reporters. The Log Cabin Democrat in Conway (Faulkner County) published an editorial concerning how the event was relevant to the need for religious freedom. The editorial was primarily directed at neighbors of the vigil who had begun a petition drive calling the participants and their activities a public nuisance and asking for an intervention in the situation.

Since Nance made no mortgage payments on his house during the vigil, it was repossessed and the residents evicted by federal marshals on July 16, 1976. The families also lost three other houses and six cars to repossession during the course of the almost ten-month vigil. The Arkansas Gazette interviewed some of the participants as they left the house and reported on the eviction with a front-page story. The participants left the house peacefully at the request of federal marshals, ending the Grannis Vigil. The Gazette reported on September 1976, one year after the vigil had begun, that most of the participants had newly-rented houses and new jobs and still lived in the area. The juvenile court also granted custody of the removed children back to their parents.

For additional information:
Spillman, Brenda. “Grannis Residents Wonder How Neighbors Went Astray.” Arkansas Gazette. November 3, 1975, pp. 1A–2A.

Watson, Peggy. “Eviction Ends Long Vigil at House.” Arkansas Gazette. July 17, 1976, pp. A1–2.

Mike Caldwell

Conway, Arkansas

Last Updated 1/4/2013

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