After more than 100 years of solitude, the one-horse, two-digit town of Eighty Eight’s time had come: 8/8/88. On the eve of the big day, as the strains of “God Bless America” rolled over the bluegrass hills, the Kentucky town’s entire population of 200 paraded proudly down the main street. In a chauffeur-driven car came 88-year-old Grand Marshal Elsie Billingsley, the town’s most senior citizen. Deborah Muhlbeier, 33, and Tom Accardo, 29, followed in an Oldsmobile Delta 88. They’d come all the way from Casper, Wyo., to be married at 8:08 p.m., Aug. 8, on the 8th step of the Refuge Church of Christ. (The ceremony, of course, was scheduled to last 8.8 minutes.)
Located 8.8 miles east of Glasgow, the town was named in the 1860s by Dabney Nunnally, a store owner who needed to give the hamlet a handle in order to get it a post office. Being illiterate but good with numbers, he emptied his pockets, came up with 88 cents—et voilà! Eighty Eight was coined. The town has had an uneventful past, although it did win a place in Ripley’s Believe It or Not by casting 88 votes for Truman and 88 for Dewey in the 1948 presidential election.
The idea for an ’88 celebration originated with Rose Mary McPherson, 36, owner of the 88 Market, who thought it would be “just a fun Sunday afternoon for the community.” As it turned out, 4,000 folks showed up from around the country. Fortunately, the town had 88 gallons of punch on hand, and a cake that measured 8’8″ long, 8’8″ wide and 8.8″ deep.
The once-a-century August date sparked an outbreak of numerological mania. The six-foot by eight-foot post office in the corner of the 88 Market was flooded with stacks of stamped mail from people who wanted their missives sent out with the 8/8/88 Eighty Eight postmark. Pearl Russie, 45, a janitor at Northern Illinois University, sported a button reading “Showing up is 88% of life.” She drove the 500 miles to Eighty Eight in her Olds Delta 88 with license plate ANY 88. “I’m crazy about 88,” said Russie. “I was the first one here for the parade, and I’ll be the last to leave. It’s the most fun I’ve had all year.”
Go figure. The folks who live in Eighty Eight like their hometown any old year. “It’s a nice place to live. Everyone’s just like family,” says Postmaster Donnie Sue Bacon. (Actually, just about everyone is family.) “But I never thought it would be this famous, and I wonder if things will quiet down once it’s over.” No doubt they will—at least until 2088.