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A Snapshot of Love from our Collection, to Celebrate Engagement Season!

Ah, engagement season: that magical time between Thanksgiving and Valentine’s Day (“Wedding Christmas” according to wedding vendors) when 40% of annual engagements occur. Couples use the holidays to officially pop the question, put a ring on it, and then begin planning their dream wedding – probably the biggest event they will ever throw.

Of course, due to Covid, weddings look a little (OK, a lot) different this year – and probably will into 2021 as well. The Mariners’ Museum and Park is part of people’s nuptials as a private event venue, and I can tell you straight up that we miss our engaged couples terribly.

So, since I’m not currently helping folks plan their big day at the moment, I thought I would search our Collection for artifacts we have that pertain to weddings and marriage, to celebrate this season of love!

The Captain Can Marry Us!

As America’s National Maritime Museum, I thought surely we would have information in our Library on ship captains marrying people at sea. That happens, right? Turns out, not really (I know, I’m shocked as well). It’s actually an old fable – propagated by movies – which cruise lines are very happy to play up. Captains of cruise ships have to become wedding officiants, or they have someone else perform the legal portion of the ceremony. Who knew??

Wedding photo of whaling captain C.H. Becker and Barbara E. Klock. P0001.016-01–PP2613

So someone, other than another captain, married these two lovely folks – whaling Captain C.H. Becker and his bride Barbara E. Klock. Luckily, wedding photography has come a long way since 1858 when this daguerreotype was taken. Not much is known about the couple, but it is interesting to note that the bride isn’t wearing white – a trend Queen Victoria of England made popular when she married her husband Prince Albert in 1840. Mrs. Becker was probably a much more practical woman, and wedding gowns could be any color at that time and were made to be worn many times.

Who Needs a White Dress Anyway

Lionel C. Escude and Alice R. Friel exchange rings at the Hampton Roads Port of Embarkation Chapel, Feb. 2, 1945. P0003-01–E-12306

During World War II, brides often donned their military uniform instead of a wedding gown – partly due to lack of cloth and also a lack of time. We see that here with Technician Fifth Grade Alice Friel, who married Private Lionel Escude on Feb. 2, 1945 at the Hampton Roads Point of Embarkation Chapel in Newport News, Va. One bride who got married in 1947 after the war used her groom’s nylon parachute to make a beautiful white gown with a train. That dress is now housed at the Smithsonian. Check it out here!

One Ring to Rule…Well, You Know the Rest

Gold ring from the Huntington estate. 1972.0089.000001

Whatever the wedding couple decides to wear, we all know the most critical piece of a ceremony is the ring! As many movies have shown us, chaos ensues if the ring is lost, stolen, misplaced, or otherwise absent. The Museum has three gold wedding bands in its Collection that we received from the Huntington estate. Two are fairly plain, but the third one has an inscription that reads May the wearer be as happy as she is good, then she will know no sorrow.” There is another inscription, possibly a name, but it is too faint to read.

Nothing Says Love Like Reindeer

Scrimshaw walrus tusk Inuit marriage proposal. 1933.0144.000001

Of course, if rings aren’t your thing you can always grab a walrus tusk and carve your proposal onto it, like this Inuit native did for his future wife. This piece of undated scrimshaw includes a scene of kayaks, reindeer or caribou, a dog sled, bowhead whale, snowshoes, hunters, and an Inuit woman – presumably the bride. Talk about a labor of love!

Love Is All

What all of these artifacts have in common is that they show that love is timeless. Love continues, despite Covid and any other world upheaval. People find each other, fall in love, and want to link their lives together. And it doesn’t matter if they have a white dress, a ring, or a walrus tusk … life, and love, go on. And although many 2020 wedding couples had to adjust what their big day looked like (or the actual date of the big day), in the end the two will become one and that’s all that matters.

So to all of you getting engaged this holiday season, congratulations! And to those of you waiting to schedule your wedding, be patient. Better days are definitely ahead. Enjoy your love for one another. And when you’re ready to begin planning your wedding, please do check out the Museum! I’d love to meet you.

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