Letter Gives Details of 1902 Chatham Wedding

By Patricia B. Mitchell

The following letter, written by Wyatt Whitehead to his daughter Parke (who later married a tobacconist named Foot Wooding) describes an Edwardian wedding. This letter was provided courtesy of Nancy J. Phillipson.

Chatham, VA., June 19, 1902

I attended the marriage of Miss Nora Shields and everything was up to date. The church (Chatham Baptist) was carpeted completely in black cotton, the pulpit and choir gallery were beautifully decorated in potted plants and flowers of every hue and kind, fern leaves bore a conspicuous part in the decorations, the initials of the contracting parties were inscribed in large letters on the choir gallery, beautiful lamps reflecting lights of many hues were arranged in up to date style, placed in various places on the pulpit. Then all the windows were decorated with flowers of all kinds. The doors were hung in Nottingham balls decorated profusely with palm of fern leaves. This completes my description of the church.

The crowd was large, house and gallery packed, a few vacant seats reserved for family and relations. We got there rather late, but after manipulating with the ushers, I managed to get my crowd on the front seat in the Amen Corner. Very few were so fortunate. We looked upon the crowd with some degree of sympathy as the thermometer then registered about 100 degrees F. and the gallery about 120 degrees F., but with the vigorous use of fans, they managed to pull through, all right.

Promptly at half past eight, the great organ pealed forth on the Wedding March shaking this old church from center to circumference. Then I saw a little girl come down the aisle beautifully attired in white, bearing in her hands something like a cushion. I did not know what this meant. I suppose it was the Wedding Ring. Then I saw a beautiful girl arrayed in white, with a long train, and bearing beautiful flowers step down from a side door and simultaneously a young man arrayed in a 20th century suit, step down from the other door. They moved slowly and ghostly. They met, crossed over and disappeared at the front of the church. Then I saw two more act in the same way and then two others and then two others, all dressed alike and all disappeared as did the first couple. Then I looked and low the first couple came back from the front door, lady in one aisle, man in the other. They met, converged at their places in front of the pulpit, then another couple, then another, then another.

While gazing on and admiring this array of youth and beauty, I looked again and behold Bro. Aylor approaching from a side door. His look was grave, and his shoulders fit to bear the weight of mightiest monarchies, he took his stand in front of the pulpit. My gaze was directed toward the front door, and I beheld a beautiful object (Mollie Shields) approaching the altar. (She is the maid on honor).

Then I looked again and saw the bride approaching, almost enveloped in white tulle, and then I heard a scrambling at my side and saw the bridegroom with his best man coming from the rear door. They met in front of the altar, and then the organ softened its tones and amid a deathly stillness we listened to the marriage vows. The ceremony was short, owing to the fact that the bride had a slight hemorrhage just before entering the church. It was thought best by the doctor to cut it short.

After they were pronounced man and wife and a short prayer invoking blessings on their heads, this array of beauty slowly disappeared and then the congregation broke up and returned to their homes. Upon the whole it was quite a pretty marriage.


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