Saturday, February 14, 2009

Way to Look Out for the Sanctity of Marriage...

She has been Mrs. Scott, Mrs. Street and Mrs. Smith. She was also Mrs. Moyer, Mrs. Massie and Mrs. McMillan. But the former Mrs. Berisford, Mrs. Chandler and Mrs. Essex was born Linda Lou Taylor.

She grew up in the Central Indiana town of Alexandria -- a place that lays claim to the largest ball of dried paint in the world. Farther south is Greensburg, where a man once leaped from a plane 640 times in a day. More than a decade ago, the 68-year-old found her own way to bring Indiana a Guinness world record: She got hitched for the 23rd time.

Her first marriage was in 1957, for love. Her most recent wedding was in 1996, for publicity.

Now known as Mrs. Linda Wolfe, she is the most-married woman in history. She is also the most-married person alive. And she is alone.

Wolfe can't list her husbands in order. But she remembers things that matter. The nicest was George Scott, her first and -- at seven years -- her longest marriage. He was 31 and fresh from a stint in the military. She was 16 and just out of eighth grade. "We used to sing that song, 'I'm only 15 and he's 21,' " Wolfe said. "But we'd go around saying, 'I'm only sixteen and he's thirty-one.' "

The best lover was Jack Gourley, who liked skinny dipping and impromptu trysts. She wed him three times. The marriage to Fred Chadwick was the shortest: 36 hours. The love wasn't there.
The strangest exchange of vows took place at the Indiana Reformatory at Pendleton to a one-eyed inmate named Tom Stutzman, whom she said was wrongly convicted of rape. And her last beau . . . well, his history of marriage makes Wolfe seem almost chaste.

Wolfe has been married in front of judges and priests, in grand halls and living rooms. The bride wore a white taffeta gown. The bride wore a yellow, two-piece suit. The bride wore denim. She never wrote her own vows. And she always saw the end coming.

Two of her husbands were gay. Two were homeless. A few stepped out on her. One choked her and turned her lip inside out. Another secured the fridge with padlock and chain. Wolfe had enough bad experiences to rue the whole chaotic sequence. So one day, she squashed all her wedding and engagement rings into her daughter's dirty diapers, bagged them and waited by the curb for the trash collector. "I stood right there and watched, and they were beautiful rings," she said. "Good riddance."

Wolfe wears acid wash jeans and a sweatshirt, and goes heavy on the blush. Her hair used to be blond, but it's gray now. She lives in Anderson's Longfellow Plaza Apartments, a retirement complex that is HUD housing for the elderly. At $195 a month, it's affordable. She's been here three years, long enough to fill her room with trinkets, like her plastic Furby collection. Long enough for dust to gather on a half-dozen fake roses.

Medicine bottles, glass angels and crucifixes sit on the coffee table in front of her like talismans. Between lungfuls of smoke from her second Maverick 100 of the hour, she explains how she passes the time praying, and watching married TV couples like Ray and Debra Barone on "Everybody Loves Raymond" every night.

"It's easy to sum up," she said of her life. "When I was younger, I was just a snot-nosed kid, but the neighborhood boys were all in love with me. They all wanted to marry me."

Linda Lou Taylor was born in 1940, the youngest of seven children. Her father died when she was 2. Her mother took in washing and ironing and cleaned houses. "She made it -- took us through school," Wolfe said. "She was a real kind, sweet, loving mother. We grew up all of us Christians, till we got older."
As a young teen, Wolfe started chasing boys. She claims to have run off and unofficially married several of them, until her mother put a stop to it, pulling her indoors in the evening. Wolfe ended up with seven children of her own, born to her first three husbands. There's Ruth, who has three daughters. Becky is on her third marriage. Melody was a lingerie model. Robert died of cancer. Louis is in prison for a drug-related offense. Joe and Dan round out the set of siblings, all of whom endured a cavalcade of stepfathers and suitors.

"They don't come around me," Wolfe said of her brood. "They've got their own lives to live. "
Becky visits Wolfe occasionally. She said the kids try not to discuss their mother's marital odyssey -- not because they're mad, but because they're busy.

"People see it as something different, but it wasn't that way with us kids. It was hard to grow up with," Becky said. "We were made fun of when we were in school."

Her notoriety went way beyond school. By the early 1990s, Wolfe was commanding appearance fees of $5,000 to $20,000 on the talk-show circuit. "I've been on Joan Rivers, Geraldo, Phil Donahue. He got real fresh with me," Wolfe said. "I've been on Maury. I liked Maury. He gave me a real nice spread of flowers." She met Wayne Newton, Chuck Norris, Liberace and Sally Jessy Raphael. She did "Inside Edition" and was in the National Enquirer. "Oprah wanted me," she said, "but they didn't pay anything."

Locally, she did radio and newspapers, and rode in Muncie's St. Patrick's Day parade. But Wolfe laments that people in Anderson treat her as some kind of joke. "I got to thinking that in some of these towns where world record holders live, they have signs outside city limits," Wolfe once said. "I wouldn't mind if Anderson would have a sign like that."

Wolfe walks with a cane now. When she was younger, she said, she used to strut. "I'd flip my hair back -- it was just something I've always done," she said. "The cars would honk. There was a wreck or two because of me. That's just the story of my life. Men ran after me. I've tried to figure it out and I can't."

The many husbands of Linda Wolfe include a convict, a vending machine repairman, barmen and brawlers, electricians and plumbers, musicians and machinists. But her final man was a preacher. Glynn "Scotty" Wolfe was a Baptist minister, and by the time he reached his 80s, he was also the most married man in the world. Linda Wolfe was his 29th bride.

They say Scotty took the holy out of matrimony, that he married so often because he wanted sex without sin, and that he once divorced a woman for eating sunflower seeds in bed.
Scotty and Linda wed in Quartzsite, Ariz., in 1996. A British TV crew filmed the event, but Wolfe has never seen the footage, or the money promised to her for the publicity stunt.

"They carried him out from his nursing bed for the ceremony," she said. "I knew something was fishy." Shortly afterward, she returned to Indiana and he to California, where he died, destitute, 10 days before their one-year anniversary. One of his 19 children came to the funeral -- a son who couldn't afford the cremation fee.

Wolfe fears a similar fate. "I'm left with nothing, except a few old newspaper articles and some photos," she said. "I got a dollar and 33 cents to my name." She has been single now for a dozen years, her longest stint unmarried since childhood. Since her last groom, she hasn't dated and she doesn't kiss. Wolfe has the record, but she would rather have something else, more common and more lasting.

"But I would get married again," she said, "because, you know, it gets lonely."

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