The Flotsam Files, II
Nevada legislators plan to tax bachelors while a husband fakes death to punish his wife.
Welcome to another installment of the Flotsam Files, an eclectic arrangement of the historical tidbits that washed across my desk this week. For no good reason, today’s edition celebrates the possibilities and potentialities of the wedded state: we encounter an early use of remote technology to facilitate long-distance nuptials; travel to Nevada to read about ambitious plans to fine bachelors; and finally, round off our tour with a marriage gone wrong.
Remote Weddings now Possible!
Enthusiastic technology evangelist, L. W. Buckley, announced plans to orchestrate the world’s first remote wedding in Seattle. The city had decided to host an exposition in 1909, and Buckley, wanting to crown the event with a special attraction, realized that the telephone would allow a couple to do what had never before been: enter into wedded bliss remotely.
Buckley proposed that the minister would perform the ceremony standing firmly on the ground. The happy couple would be placed in a hot air balloon and hover over the exposition grounds on Seattle Day. A telephone line, strung between earth and the sky chariot, would convey the voices, allowing for the first remote wedding.
Unfortunately, despite an ambitious promotional push, no couples stood forward to attempt the feat. Zoom weddings might be a commonplace in the twenty-first century, but electric nuptials were still too far ahead of their time.
Source: Seattle Star, Sept. 1, 1909
Bachelors Hounded in Nevada
And they weren’t likely to succeed in Nevada either. The problem in that dusty country wasn’t an aversion to remote romance; in truth, many of Nevada’s crustier residents wanted nothing to do with marriage in any form.
State Senator Hunter decided to fix that. In January 1909, Hunter announced his intention to introduce a bill in the Nevada legislature that would create a state “Bachelor Tax.” Under the innovative law, unmarried men over the age of 28 would pay an annual fee of $450 for the privilege of remaining single.
“The bill is very drastic in its provisions,” wrote the Daily Independent, “and, if it becomes law, it will make the men who travel in single harness pay liberally for breathing Nevada’s pure air so long as they shun the allurements of the fairer sex.” Although the Daily Independent was uncertain of the constitutionality of the measure, it asserted that there were good reasons to support the legislation: the law would raise money for the state (the newspaper estimated that each county had 50–500 crusty bachelors), it would smash the reluctance of those “living in opposition to the commands of the Bible,” and it would create new families, which were society’s strength.
News of the innovative measure spread quickly across the country. Within days, inquiries from interested women began arriving in the state. A group of women in Washington D. C. wrote Attorney Schnitzer of Reno, asking if he thought it would be possible to secure husbands in Nevada. Marital prospects were poor in the nation’s capitol, but if men were pressured to marry, these women might be able to find mates. What was the situation?
The Reno Gazette endorsed the idea of importing fresh women into the state. The local bachelors “are too well-known here to stand any chance with the fair sex, but they might be able to win a stranger.” An infusion of new blood might be just the necessary jolt required to jump start marriages.
Assemblyman Leslie Smaill introduced Assembly Bill 208 into the legislature on March 6, 1909. It proposed stiff fines on bachelors, but, in section three, exempted members of the legislature and newspapermen from having to pay the tax. We might infer that Smaill needed the support of these special interests to pass his bill. Either that, or he doubted whether any sensible woman would want to marry a politician or newspaperman.
The bill was referred to committee. Reaction was positive, although some amendments were introduced. The tax base was expanded: the new law would apply to unmarried men and women over the age of twenty-eight. The stiff annual tax for singleness was reduced from $250 to $25, however, persistent offenders would see their fee rise to $50 when they turned thirty-five, and they would be required to continue to pay until they reached an age at which “they would be considered too old to be of further benefit to society” (seventy years old). Finally, if the bill became law the Governor, assisted by the Women’s Relief Corps, would establish three “matrimonial bureaus” that were intended to maintain lists of available bachelors and assist in facilitating matches.
With the bill, the legislators hoped to increase Nevada’s population, to compete with the rapidly growing population of Utah, and to provide future students for the recently-established state university.
It was an innovative proposal, but one, if passed, that might have led to a statewide exodus. Ultimately, despite the fanfare, the bill never reached a final vote. Assembly Bill 208 died quietly, much to the great relief of crusty old bachelors across the dry state of Nevada.
Sources: Daily Appeal (Carson City, NV), Mar. 10, 1909; Daily Independent (Elko, NV), Jan. 13, 1909; Feb. 16, 1909; Reno Gazette-Journal, Feb. 2-Mar. 11, 1909
Marriage Ends in Faked Death
Nevada bachelors knew instinctively that few marriages run blissfully from wedding to death. Even the most promising relationship can devolve into discord, acrimony, and mutual loathing. Such was the case of Charles and Minnie Hines of Los Angeles, California. Acidity and antagonism had etched fissures in the unhappy couple’s relationship. A low point was reached during a holiday on Catalina Island in the summer of 1908. The couple had hoped that time away from the city might provide an environment for healing their breach. Alas, it was not to be. Even on vacation they sliced miserably at each other with the machetes of marital displeasure.
Charles became so vexed, reported Minnie, that he threatened to kill her several times. Finally, she decided, for her own safety and the sake of the remaining tatters of the relationship, it would be better for her to return early from the holiday and let her husband go on without her. Minnie went home to Los Angeles; Charles disappeared.
Several months passed.
On February 2, 1909, Minnie attended a performance at the Mason Opera House. As she departed the venue, a messenger approached and handed her a telegram. It read:
Your husband was killed in a boiler explosion in Cananea, Mexico. What shall we do with the body?
Minnie was devastated. Her husband, killed. A feeling of bitter loss surged over her. The man she had sworn to love and cherish was no more. Cruel death had stolen her man.
She rushed home, disconsolate. She forgave Charles all of his vices, all of his shortcomings. She vowed to stage a funeral that would remember the good, efface the bad, and serve as an enduring testament to the man she had loved and lost.
Minnie hustled up the sidewalk in front of her house, climbed the steps to her porch, and nearly tripped on a corpse. There, howling with laughter, spread across the entryway, was the revivified body of Charles Hines. His fingers clutched a bottle of the “amber liquid. What a gag, he snorted. What a great joke.
Minnie was not amused. She called the police and had her husband removed from the property. The officers escorted the drunken spouse to the Central Station and treated him to a night in the city jail. The next day, sober and now fully aware that his wife had little appreciation for comedy, he pleaded his case before a police court justice. The judge also failed to see the humor of the matter. Charles was sentenced to a fifty day term in the city workhouse.
But it proved even less amusing: In April, Minnie sued her husband for divorce. The fake telegram was the primary exhibit for the plaintiff. Charles argued that Minnie should have realized the missive was only a prank: it was written in pencil on a Western Union Telegraph form. The judge was unsympathetic.
Judgment for the plaintiff.
Sources: Los Angeles Times, Feb. 3, 1909; April 18, 1909.
The Flotsam Files is a weekly collection of interesting tales our great-grandparents would have read. If you enjoy these nuggets from the past, follow historian Richard J. Goodrich to ensure that you don’t miss an issue.
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