Library video shows historic Brookhaven

Published 6:00 am Friday, December 18, 2009

To the young, it’s just another entry into the library’sarchives.

But for the older men and women of Brookhaven, the three hoursof grainy home video shot by the late Dr. James Ralph Markette anddelivered to the library earlier this month is a copy of youth.

The Lincoln County Public Library plans to circulate the videos,converted to DVD from 8mm film, to the public in seven-day periodsbeginning next month. The local physician shot the videos at home,in Brookhaven and on travels across from the 1930s to 1954. Thediscs contain intimate moments with Markette’s family and friends,casual portraits of some of the city’s most influential men andwomen and precious landmarks – some that still stand today and someforever lost to fire and time.

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“It shows a lot of prominent citizens of Brookhaven and how lifewas in the 1930s and 40s,” said Billie Jean Smith, who works intechnical services at the library. “It has a lot of historicalvalue. You can see some of the people who had a lot of influence onBrookhaven, who made the city what it is.”

Well-known names like Dr. Robert Massengill, Dr. Lipsey, JapBecker Sr., Dave Moreton and Theresia Abshagen, “Miss Ab,” alongtime English teacher at Brookhaven High School, arerecognizable. Markette’s videos also offer a glimpse into war eraBrookhaven, with footage shot in front of businesses like theoriginal Laird Motor Co. in its first location at the corner ofCherokee and First streets, now a parking lot for the LincolnCounty-Brookhaven Government Complex.

Also shown are several scenes of snowy residential areas in thecity and elsewhere, Lake Dixie Springs in pristine condition – whenMarkette owned the only home on its shores – and panoramic views ofthe heart of the University of Mississippi. The doctor alsodocuments his travels to Niagra Falls, a deep sea fishing trip andwhat appears to be a parade in New Orleans.

Smith said the library would make several copies of the DVDs andprovide an authentic list of all the places filming took place.Markette’s youngest son, the late Dr. Ronnie Markette, detailed thescenes on paper before his death in Atlanta about a decade ago.

The home movies were converted to DVD by Atlanta’s PaulWilliams, a friend of Ronnie Markette who requested and receivedthe rolls of film from the late dentist’s wife, Kay. He mailed acopy to Brookhaven’s Jack Piper, who made a copy for thelibrary.

Piper, 73, was a lifelong friend of Ronnie Markette while JohnnyPerkins, 79, was a friend of Dr. Ralph Markette Jr. The twoBrookhavenites recalled the history of their good friends’family.

Dr. J. R. Markette married Myrtis Laird, and together they hadsons Ralph and Ronnie. Myrtis was killed tragically around 1945when she and her husband were involved in a head-on collision onHighway 51 just north of Bogue Chitto, speeding to an emergencyhouse call from their lake home at Lake Dixie Springs.

Both Perkins and Piper agreed the doctor was never the sameafter the accident, which caused him to spend months recovering ina hospital.

“He was just fortunate he lived,” Piper said.

Markette recovered and resumed practicing medicine, eventuallymarrying Dolly Swalm. Ralph moved to Montana to practice medicineand married into a family he met while his father was stationedthere during the war. He remained there until his death. RonnieMarkette became a dentist in Atlanta, Ga. He and his wife had twochildren, Josh and Amy, who still live in that city.

The Markette house still stands today on Chickasaw Street, justbehind Brookhaven Elementary School. Glimpses of it and thesurrounding neighborhood can be seen in the video, which both Piperand Perkins describe as a historical gold for Brookhaven.

“There’s going to be a lot of interesting things in there forpeople,” Piper said. “Anybody who looks at it will see it in adifferent way than the other person.”

Perkins said Brookhavenites are lucky to have the film, as videocameras in the 1930s, 40s and 50s were rare, expensive items.Markette was the man to have one, he said.

“That’s a real treasure, some excellent Brookhaven history,”Perkins said.