Monday, May 24, 2021

Finding Patrick Cleburne in 'Wedding Capital of the South'

The world famous Ringgold Wedding Chapel of Love.

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WARNING: This post includes bad puns.

Sometimes the pursuit of history leads to great frustration. En route from Cartersville, Ga., hometown of General Trevor Lawrence, to Nashville on Route 41, I got sucked in by Civil War historical markers in Cassville (burned by Sherman in '64!), Adairsville (home of annual Great Locomotive Chase festival!), and Resaca (site of best reenactment in Georgia!).

And then I stopped in Ringgold, Ga., about 17 miles south of Chattanooga, Tenn. Oh, lawd, curses to you, soul-sucking Ringgold!

The Patrick Cleburne monument in Ringgold, Ga.,
 minus those pesky kids and their cigarette-smoking parents.
Bad news came in waves after I stopped in the county seat of Catoosa County, where food was so scarce in late 1863 that Confederate soldiers often subsisted on mule meat. First, Mrs. B. nixed my idea to purchase a brown rocking chair at Southern Traditions. (Her text was remarkable for its brevity: "No.")

Then I saw several or a hundred kids, hovering like drunken bees, about the Patrick Cleburne monument in the "pocket park," where their parents were having a picnic and smoking cigs. On Nov. 27, 1863, the "Stonewall of the West," outnumbered roughly 3 to 1 at Ringgold Gap, stuck it to Joseph Hooker, thus burnishing his already impressive resume. But I couldn't focus on the text on a grimy historical tablet because two of the brats children, stalking me like tigers, looked like they wanted to bite me on the leg.

Ugh.

And then I read a Nashville Street historical marker: Ringgold apparently was the Wedding Capital of the South (and still is, according to this.) Talk about tying me into knots. 

Dolly Parton
(Kristopher Harris)
In 1966, Dolly Parton was married in Ringgold in the First Baptist Church. "We picked Ringgold to get married because for some time in his youth, my husband lived on Missionary Ridge, right on the Tennessee-Georgia border just outside of Chattanooga,” Parton said. “I also liked the idea of ‘rings of gold’ -- Ringgold. I thought that sounded like a good sign.” The Parton-Carl Dean union has stood the test of time. The George Jones-Tammy Wynette marriage -- the country music stars tied the knot in Ringgold in 1969 -- did not. I can't say I am surprised -- her hit single was D-I-V-O-R-C-E.

From 1858-2016, according to a town historical marker, 228,000 couples were married in Ringgold (present-day population roughly 3,600). Why? Quick turnaround on a marriage license and super-fast blood tests (no longer required in Georgia for a license). Damn, a testing facility in town even had a wedding chapel. "We got married there because that was where you would go to get married in a day," Jones told the local newspaper in 2003. "Everyone went there if you wanted to get married fast."

The chapel offers an Ultimate Romantic Package wedding reception for $525.

I vowed to dig a little deeper, to see if the historical marker had a ring of truth. So I walked across the street, where a sign on the small, brick building proclaimed "Ringgold Wedding Chapel of Love," and read another historical tablet.

Decades ago, Ringgold was a popular wedding destination for soldiers based at Fort Oglethorpe, near the Chickamauga battlefield. The post there served as a military base until 1947, when it was decommissioned. My research indicates one military man got married in Ringgold and then moved with his bride to Buffalo. (Sheesh, talk about starting a life together at rock bottom.) 

I pressed my iPhone against the window 
of the Ringgold Chapel of Love for this
peek at the inner sanctum. The RWC was 
closed on a Sunday afternoon.
In 1959, a Catoosa County officer insisted rules and procedures were in place so all the Ringgold weddings were on the up and up. "It takes the three-day waiting period for those under the legal age, and I enforce it," he told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. "I issue marriage licenses five and a half days a week -- none at night, and none on the weekends. If somebody who has been drinking comes in for a license, they don't get it, and may wind up in the county jail."

In 1969 in Ringgold, former Louisiana governor/singer/song writer Jimmie Davis, who wrote "You Are My Sunshine," married Anna Carter Gordon of the "world-famous" Chuck Wagon Gang -- that's a singing group, not some weirdly named criminal enterprise. To get hitched, couples went to either the county courthouse, a church, or one of the town's wedding chapels. 

Judging from the vibe, the wedding biz isn't what it used to be in Ringgold. But if the town packaged "Weird Wedding Tales of Ringgold" for TV, it could generate some buzz.    

"I have seen men in jail come in in shackles to apply for a license,” a county official told the Journal-Constitution in 2003. “We had one woman who was only 37 years old who had been married 13 times. One woman came through who was 78 years old marrying a man 25. She had on 3-inch heels, came in a limo, and invited us to go with them to Atlanta to party.” (Mom, Why!?)  

K-9 Tub Time, the Ringgold Wedding Chapel of Love's
neighbor, is for mutts, not post-wedding romance.
Because I'm not married to the Ringgold version of the truth on the historical markers, I deployed journalism skills honed long ago -- I used Google -- and discovered the Ringgold Wedding Chapel of Love offers a Ultimate Romantic Package wedding reception for $525. Personalized for a bride, groom, and five guests, it includes:
  • Unity Sand or Unity Candle Ceremony 
  • CD of 10 photos (Photography Basic Package)
  • Ringgold Wedding Chapel Historical Certificate Bouquet & Boutonniere 
  • Mini-reception with cake cutting (personalized 8-inch cake)
  • Toasting ceremony (with sparkling juice)
  • Two bottles of sparkling juice 
  • Decorated reception room 
  • Romantic first dance (Note: Italics added by blogger.)
Hmmmm ... wonder if they'd decorate a cake with an image of Cleburne. For those aiming higher, you may select the Ringgold Wedding Chapel Ceremony Doves ($75 for release of two). No word if  K-9 Tub Time --  a "place for God's creatures" and RWC's next door neighbor -- offers romantic wedding specials. 

Needless to say, my trip home wasn't completed without a hitch. All my time in Ringgold added at least an hour's travel time and guaranteed a very frosty reception -- pun intended -- in Nashville. And I simply didn't have the heart to tell Mrs. B about my visit to the New York State monument next to Ringgold's water treatment plant.

The New York State monument in Ringgold sits near the town's water treatment plant.


-- Have something to add (or correct) in this post? Email me here.

SOURCES

-- Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Aug. 20, 1959, April 9, 2003

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