Seventy years ago, people from all over the United States heard about the DeSoto County seat of Hernando as it gained the reputation for being the “Marrying Capital of the United States.”
As former mayor and pre-eminent amateur historian J.B. Bell pointed out in his “Historic Window” recollection, "there was no waiting period, no blood test, no parental consent — just $3 for the license and whatever could be extracted by the officiant who performed the ceremony.
"Two ladies from Las Vegas moved to the city and rented the lobby and several rooms in the Spencer House, where they opened a 'marriage chapel,' complete with canned music, wedding ring selections and the bride’s bouquet.”
Life Magazine even came to DeSoto County and sent photographers and writers all the way from New York for the story.
In addition to the thousands of nuptials exchanged on the historic town square were well known celebrities like country singer Charley Pride and rockabilly pioneer Jerry Lee Lewis who would exchange vows with their “beloveds” before the decade was over.
That year, two of the town’s leading citizens, Herbert McIngvale and J.B. Bell would purchase the very first television sets in the area. Most of the programs were only shown at night. People would come inside the Hardware Store and watch wrestling or “wrasslin” on TV. The villain was said to be “a slinky little man in black tights named “Spider Galinto.” His antics in the ring elicited boos and catcalls from the audience, both in the studio and those watching at home. Jane Pennington Henderson was one of the most avid fans of TV wrestling, we are told. I would not want to “mess” with Miss Jane. No sir!
Despite the availability of television, there were still very few rural telephones and DeSoto County was split between Memphis, Olive Branch, Coldwater and Tunica telephone exchanges.
Because everything was long distance, county officials worked tirelessly to get one single service for the entire county.
Television antennae reached as high as 90 feet in the air in order to receive a transmission from a distant TV station.
DeSoto Countians, like everyone else, enjoyed such programs as “Gunsmoke,” “I Love Lucy,” and “Leave It to Beaver.”
Technology continued to make advancements in the fields of telecommunications and lighting.
New mercury vapor street lights were installed around the Square and the DeSoto Times-Promoter newspaper reported that it was possible to read a newspaper by the bright streetlights.
Now, that’s what the Time Traveler says is being able to shed some light on the subject.
And speaking of reading, the local library system that year expanded to include five counties and purchased DeSoto County’s first bookmobile. Mrs. Howard Scott drove the very first bookmobile throughout the district.
One hundred-thirty years ago, the time machine landed just up the road in the small town of Nesbit to the sound of five-alarm bells and the discovery of a blazing fire that completely destroyed the two-story residence of T.O. Bridgforth. Nothing was said to be left of the old Bridgforth home but charred ruins. It was reported that some $1,400 in cash also burned up in the fire. Bridgforth’s loss was estimated at more than $5,000.
As evidenced by the prosperity of the Bridgforth family, T.O. Bridgforth would rebuild and start again.
It’s a case of up from the ashes and having a spark of determination, a lesson that lingers today with the legacy of the Bridgforth family.
ROBERT LEE LONG is Curator at the DeSoto County Museum.