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Sunday, April 21, 2002

Vacaville saw weddings big and small

Sabine Goerke-Shrode


Events focused on details

My last column explored how the Christopher and Towson families celebrated their respective weddings amid close friends and relatives at the bride’s home. Most weddings of that day were conducted in this quiet fashion. The wedding of Frank H. Buck and Annie Elizabeth Stevenson on April 29, 1886, on the other hand, was a large, elaborate affair.

The ceremony took place at the College Chapel on School Hill (known today as Andrews Park), officiated by the Rev. Henry W. Jones. A large number of guests, friends and relatives witnessed the event.

The Judicion newspaper provided a detailed description on May 1, 1886. It also listed many of the guests, providing a veritable who’s who of Vacaville society.

The Judicon item, in mid-description:

“... following the bridesmaids, arranging themselves in a half circle behind the latter. Immediately after, came the bride and groom; the former, a beautiful blonde, clad in white silk cut en traine, her charming face and figure half obscured by a long bridal veil sweeping to the ground; the latter, a fine, manly-looking fellow clothed in the customary broad cloth. No sooner did the pair gain the stage and front the officiating clergyman than the organ ceased and the solemn words of the marriage service, which bound the twain indissolubly, were pronounced by the Rev. Henry W. Jones of the Vacaville Congregational Church, the bride received from the groom the sacred ring, the blessings of the Deity were invoked, and the happy couple, followed by the silent God speed of spectators, heading the brilliant cortege of bridesmaids, groomsmen and friends, left the chapel for the residence of the bride’s father, where an elegant breakfast was served.”

The bride had chosen an elegant dress of silk bengaline and cut velvet, with a lovely fleur de lis pattern. It shows a snugly laced bodice, tight sleeves, exaggerated bustle, and a neckline decorated with a lace flounce. The dress was custom-sewn by a dressmaker of significant skill. It is interesting to note that the skirt was never completely finished.

On her wedding day, Annie Elizabeth Stevenson was sewn into her wedding dress. Whether the dressmaker was time-pressed to add the finishing details, or (much more likely), whether Annie Elizabeth wanted to achieve the very tight fit fashionable, we will never know. Her stunning dress and train are currently on exhibit at the Vacaville Museum.

After the ceremony and wedding breakfast, the bride changed into a traveling gown and the couple set out on their honeymoon.

“Mr. and Mrs. Buck left on the afternoon train for Santa Cruz, where they will spend a portion of their honeymoon. A large party of friends were at the depot to see the rice thrown, which should ensure the bridal couple a happy lot, and to extend to them their congratulatory felicitations. Many accompanied them as far as Elmira.

The newly married couple were presented with many rich and elegant presents, a list of which we regret not being able to publish.”

Most weddings took place on a quieter scale than the Stevenson/Buck one. They were true home weddings, where every part, from ceremony to wedding banquet, was lovingly handcrafted and executed without much outside help.

One such wedding took place between Harriet Harbison and Jim Masson at the residence of Luther and Hester Harbison, on Oct. 10, 1917.

In a letter to her niece Julia Sims the following day, Hester described the whole ceremony in detail: “Our little wedding was the prettiest ever and perfect in every detail. Mrs. Masson sent a huge box of wonderful autumn leaves and woodwardia ferns, (Harriet’s sister) Helen put chicken wire across the windows at the window seat and covered it with leaves, branches and ferns, then put a large vase of the branches at either side on the seat.

“At one side of the floor, next to the lounge, was your tea jar filled with delicate graceful eucalyptus and on the other, branches of the same fell from the top of the casing to the floor. The effect was very beautiful and in front of this the bridal party took their place.”

By then, pink and white had become the traditional colors for a wedding, and the decorations reflect this.

“The dining room was pink and white. (Harriet’s sister) Jule’s verbenas bloomed profusely for the occasion, so we used them profusely, pink and white verbenas and pepper leaves and blossoms among the flowers. Above the table, attached to the light fixtures, was a large white tulle bow with one long streamer reaching over the wedding cake and to the end of the table fastened with a bow and cluster of flowers where the bride and groom sat.

“At each place was placed two of my little white (crocheted) baskets, tied together with white tulle, a bow on top of each. One filled with salted almonds, the other pink and white bon bons. The other end of tulle was short and floated over the flowers below in the brass basket. All this was the idea and the work of Helen. Then I put baskets and bowls of flowers on the side-board and the windows.”

Like the decorations, the food was homemade and lovingly decorated.

“I was that proud of the wedding cake!” Hester wrote. “Harriet wanted me to make the cake and I felt that I wasn’t equal to decorating a cake for such an occasion. But we all wanted everything as simple as possible and would rather have our own if it wasn’t equal to a professional. I baked it in a milk pan the size we wanted, several weeks ago, wrapped it in waxed paper and put a pear in the cake box to keep it moist. The pear was not quite ripe when I put it in, but when I took it out the day before, it was dead ripe.

“The day before, I put on the first coat of fondant icing, made with water. When it was thoroughly firm, I put on a boiled, white of egg icing, which made a smooth white covering over the top and sides. Then around the edge of the top I placed a row of tiny white candy roses which we selected in S.F. and placed a cluster of them in the center. The whole family raved over it.

“Its place on the table was at the end near the bride and groom. Around the edge of the huge plate that held it, I arranged the palest of pink and white verbenas and it just filled the space nicely between the center flowers and the end.”

And the menu? Elaborately homemade, too. “Fruit cocktail Ð grapefruit, pineapple, banana, tokay grapes, peeled and seeded, of course, orange and lemon juice, topped with a maraschino cherry. Sliced cold turkey (best parts of a 20 lb. Bird), sliced boiled ham (our own make), celery salad on lettuce, tiny hot biscuits, butter balls, spiced pears, olives, pink and white brick ice cream, little white cakes, wedding cake and black coffee.”

After all these festivities, the couple left for a honeymoon “somewhere” in the Tahoe region.

This column is dedicated to Liz Whatley, dear friend and avid reader of this column, who died on April 16, 2002. I’ll miss her good questions and encouraging suggestions!