I visited this week with an Anniston couple in their 90s who recently celebrated a rare occasion, a 69th wedding anniversary.
Lamar and Mary Nelle Turner Dill shared a celebration of their long marriage with their adult children, Jay and Phyllis Dill and Joe and Lark Dill Howell. The family drove to The Battle House Hotel in Mobile, once their honeymoon spot. They could hardly believe how beautiful the hotel still is, although it is different in décor and surroundings from the original hotel that once had damage from a fire.
Their visit was made even more special thanks to royal treatment.
Daughter Lark phoned ahead to the staff to let them know that the couple had enjoyed 69 years together. The employees responded in a big way. First, they allowed them to stay in the $3,000-a-night presidential suite that included a large living room, fireplace, and terrace. Second, they arranged for photographers and members of the media to welcome the couple. Third, they lavished appetizers and champagne on the family and even helped out with a parking problem.
Last year, Lamar, a long-time car aficionado, bought a second-hand limousine. It was not a stretch limo, but it was still too big to get into the hotel parking garage. The staff allowed them to park in front of the hotel.
“I decided I wanted a limousine and looked around,” Lamar said. “I found a six-door, family limo in Connecticut.”
During their anniversary celebration, one of the Dill family members drove the limousine to Mobile; and Mary Nelle said they laughed and had a great time along the way.
“We got all six of us and our luggage into the car just fine,” said Lamar.
The royal style of their visit was different from the honeymoon.
Mary Nelle said that long ago they stayed at The Battle House Hotel briefly and then drove to Gulf Port, Miss. There they registered at a modest tourist court. Mary Nelle inspected the not-so-clean place and decided it was not the place for them. They checked out and moved onward.
“It was awful,” she said.
Prior to meeting Mary Nelle, Lamar was drafted for World War II while in high school. He worked on a U.S. Navy destroyer escort in the Pacific Ocean and shielded convoys from enemy submarines. He served for three years before returning home to finish his education.
The Dills met through his cousin who arranged a blind date that Mary Nelle dreaded. She thought there were better ways to meet a gentleman. However, when she met Lamar, he impressed her with his manners and good looks.
“I thought he was handsome,” she said as she sat close to her husband on the couch in their home near Tenth Street. “He dressed nicely and met people so easily. He talked to my mother just as he was supposed to.”
Lamar was equally impressed, and the two dated briefly before deciding to marry.
Lamar started a business selling appliances and worked for Anniston City as the chief electrician. He remembers when the first traffic lights were installed: lights that did not always work properly. He said it was his job to fix them.
“I would have to get up at two or three o’clock in the morning,” Lamar said.
Mary Nelle stayed home with her children for a while and then began working as a teacher at the First Presbyterian Church in Anniston. Later she taught as an assistant teacher for the remedial reading program at Tenth Street School. She helped install a computer lab there and retired after also working at Cobb School.
The couple remains in their original house, and Mary Nelle remembers when Tenth Street was a dirt road.
“We were supposed to have a quiet anniversary,” she said, “and even the kids didn’t know about all of the things the hotel staff had planned.”
Lamar said when he walked into the fancy suite, his heart jumped.
“I knew I could not afford it,” he said.
However, the staff assured Lamar that the room was an upgrade, and the family enjoyed the remainder of the trip by eating at various restaurants and seeing a few sites.
Lamar said he hopes others will get an opportunity to visit the hotel. In fact, I suspect any other couples who honeymooned at the Battle House Hotel 69 years ago might also get special treatment.
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