A Whole-House Exhibit at the Trail End State Historic Site
March 2009 - December 2009
Kooi-Reynolds wedding, circa 1926 (Moeller-Edwards Collection, TESHS)
State Historic Site
THERE WERE ALL sorts of festivities associated with weddings: engagement parties, bachelor dinners, bridal parties, showers and wedding receptions among them.
When Manville and Diana married in 1929, they took advantage of all available opportunities for entertaining:
Yesterday was full of festivity for the bridal party. The bride-elect and her attendants were entertained at luncheon at the Carlton. At the same time the bride-groom was entertaining the best man and ushers at Meridian Mansions, where his parents make their home. Sen. and Mrs. Kendrick gave a dinner for the bridal party last evening. Afterward Manville took the group to Club Chanticleer for dancing.
Manville's pre-wedding party at the Club Chanticleer was probably pretty tame by today’s standards. Emily Post stated that the groom was required to host a “bachelor” dinner for his groomsmen, ushers, and other close friends. Even in the 1920s, such dinners had a reputation for wildness, but Post maintained that they were worse in thought than in deed:
Popularly supposed to have been a frightful orgy, … the groom’s farewell dinner is exactly like any other “man’s dinner,” the details depending upon the extravagance or the frugality of the host, and upon whether his particular friends are staid citizens of sober years or mere boys full of the exuberance of youth.
Two years earlier, when Rosa-Maye and Hubert were planning their wedding, they too attended many parties, teas and luncheons. Following their engagement announcement on January 20, the couple attended celebratory dinner parties on the 24th, 25th, 26th and 30th of January, plus the 2nd, 3rd, 7th, 9th, 12th, 13th, 14th, 15th, 16th, 17th and 18th of February. The only reason the parties stopped, apparently, was because the wedding was scheduled for the 19th!
One of the most delightful of their parties was a surprise "shower" given to Rosa-Maye and Hubert by a large group of friends:
When we reached the club we found a large crowd of ... friends assembled. When we reached the table upstairs, very festive with its lovely flowers, we found a veritable shower about to pour upon us. A tiny suitcase lettered (one end) H.R.H. - (other end) R.M.K.H., filled to overflowing with little gifts done in tissue and ribbon, each with a clever little verse attached to lend pertinence and piquancy. ... Besides those enclosed in the suitcase, each guest had brought some tiny offering. Came home glowing still with excitement and the pleasure of being the center of attraction to many very kind and loving friends.
As for wedding receptions, they came in all shapes and sizes. A morning wedding was often followed (or sometimes preceded) by a wedding breakfast, such as that enjoyed by Lucy Booth and Hugh Cumming in 1896:
At noon, a handsome and substantial wedding breakfast was served to the immediate bridal party and the near friends and relatives of the contracting parties who had come from a distance to witness the marriage. The dining room ... was, like the hall, elaborately decorated with wreaths of holly and cedar, the tables being ornamented with crimson autumn leaves and bunches of mistletoe, preserving the harmony of the general decorative scheme.
An afternoon wedding might feature just cake; an evening wedding could be followed by a formal wedding dinner and dance. According to Emily Post, however, there was only one “unalterable” rule concerning the wedding reception:
No matter whether a wedding is to be large or tiny, there is one unalterable rule: the reception must be either at the house of the bride’s parents or grandparents or other relative of hers, or else in assembly rooms rented by her family. Never under any circumstances should a wedding reception be given at the house of the groom’s family. They may give a ball or as many entertainments of whatever description they choose for the young couple after they are married, but the wedding breakfast and the trousseau of the bride must be furnished by her own side of the house!
When Rosa-Maye Kendrick married in 1927, friends and family met at her parents’ home following the service to share in the cutting of the traditional wedding cake, which was done with her husband's father's military sword. According to one newspaper, "A small reception followed the ceremony at the apartment of Senator and Mrs. Kendrick. The apartment was decorated with spring flowers and ferns, and on the table was a large wedding cake with baskets of spring flowers."
Although not always in a form we would recognize, wedding cake has been a part of the marriage ceremony for centuries. Ancient Romans, for example, served a small wheat cake which the groom – after taking a bite for himself – broke over the bride’s head! This was supposed to ensure long life and many children.
In Colonial America, a time during which wedding feasts were elaborate affairs lasting two or more days, the wedding cake was a thick, rich and spicy concoction full of alcohol, dried fruit and nuts – similar to Christmas fruitcake. It received a thick white frosting that took hours to make:
Take the whites of twelve eggs, and a pound of double-refined sugar pounded and sifted through a fine sieve. Mix them together in a deep earthen pan and beat it well for three hours with a strong wooden spoon till it looks white and thick. With a thin paste knife spread it all over the top and sides of your cake and ornament it with sweet nonpareils, or fruit paste, or sugar images, and put it in a cool oven to harden for one hour. You may perfume the icing with any sort of perfume you please.
In some cultures, this cake has lived on in the form of the “groom’s cake,” which is served alongside the bride’s cake. According to Emily Post, the presence of the groom’s cake was mandatory in 1922. As she stated, "There are at all weddings, near the front door so that the guests may each take one as they go home, little individual boxes of … “black” fruitcake."
Today’s light multi-tiered cake covered with white icing first appeared in America in the 1860s, made possible in part by the introduction of baking soda, baking powder and finely ground white flour. One source contends that, like the wedding dress, the color of the icing was an indication of wealth: white icing required the use of only the finest refined sugar, so the whiter the cake, the more affluent the bride’s family appeared.
Most of the maids who worked at Trail End in the 1910s, '20s and '30s were the teenaged daughters of coal miners who worked at the underground mines north of Sheridan. These mine families came from a variety of religious, ethnic and racial backgrounds, each one offering different wedding customs and traditions.
One popular custom brought over from Europe was the chivaree. This mock serenade involved plenty of noise and alcohol, and took place at the newlyweds’ home the night of the marriage. In one 1908 wedding at the Sheridan County mining town of Carneyville, things got a little out of hand. A Finnish miner, John Killinen, had been recently married:
… and his fellow workmen had been having a merry time and free drinks at his expense ever since. Night after night they went to his house with bells, horns and other instruments, making night hideous until the groom came out and put up something to satisfy their appetites for cigars and drinks.
After a few nights, the newlyweds refused to respond, at which point another miner climbed on top of the house and covered the chimney with a washtub, intending to smoke the honeymooners out. All he got in response was a shot in the leg from Killinen’s revolver! According to witnesses, the climber “came down off the house like a squirrel from a tree.” The chivaree spree ended and so did the honeymoon: the groom abandoned his bride and "took off for the hills" shortly after the shooting.
The Washington Post, 1929 (Kendrick Collection, TESHS)