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July 15, 2010 / johnoliversimon

The Wedding Day – 1

The wedding party at "Unadilla," June 12, 1907

It is Wednesday, June 12, 1907, the wedding day of my maternal grandparents. Although the society page of the San Francisco Call, carefully pasted into a family album, has rusted golden-brown across a century, its breathless gossip is still legible, testimony to the acid-free quality of the California forests consumed to put out the morning edition. Here’s how the Call’s columnist “Lady Teazle” forecast the event:

One of the most elaborate out-of-town weddings that has taken place in the past year will occur at Menlo Park to-day at noon, when Miss Frances Coon, daughter of Mrs. A. Palmer Dudley, becomes the bride of Oliver Kehrlein of this city. The marriage will be solemnized at church and will be followed by a reception at the home of the bride’s grandparents, Mr. and Mrs. W. J. Adams. Decorations will be entirely in white, both at the church and at the Adams country place. A special train from this city will take a large number of San Francisco friends to Menlo for the ceremony. Later a wedding breakfast will be served on the lawns that surround the Adams household. Miss Coon’s bridal costume is exceptionally handsome. Over a white silk underdress hangs an exquisite overdress of point applique, its deep flounce of rose point lace, an heirloom, as filmy as a cobweb. It will sweep in long lengths into a court train, held out by graduated lace flounces upon the underdress. The bodice is cut with an empire back, but follows a long, graceful line in front, ending in a girdle-like point. Her veil will be of tulle, and her only ornament a beautiful diamond and pearl necklace, with sapphire pendant, the gift of the groom. Her bouquet will be natural orange blossoms.

I am grateful to Lady Teazle (whom I imagine as a gay man of a certain age with a weakness for white gloves and black leather), because my own vocabulary for wedding apparel is sadly deficient. After I walked Frances Coon’s great-granddaughter Kia Simon down an aisle under redwood trees one summer afternoon nine decades after the wedding in Menlo Park, a woman friend unable to attend asked me to describe the wedding dress. “It was white…” I faltered.

But we are not entirely dependent on Lady Teazle to form our image of the event. A photographer has been contracted, this being a modern twentieth-century wedding, and he captures a resolute array of bridesmaids, Edith Metcalfe, Amy Bassett, Janey Dudley and Dorothea Coon, as they advance with roses and candles, their white gowns trailing behind them.

And now the newly-married couple emerges from the white clapboard Church of the Nativity, where a coach and pair awaits them. The bridegroom, in black tails, is attentive, even obsequious, as he takes the hand of his bride, who bursts from the shadowed doorway, her tulle and lace in motion with the impetus of newly married status. Frances Coon Kehrlein is a force of nature; don’t get in her way.

Now the wedding guests are flowing up a flight of stone stairs and across a lawn toward the Adams mansion, “Unadilla,” built in 1869, with pillared porches, white wooden filigree and green shutters; the day has turned foggy and the wedding breakfast will be served indoors after all. The great white hats of the bridesmaids lead the way, festooned with ostrich plumes, like clipper ships under full sail. Lovely Edith Metcalfe looks back abruptly over her shoulder, her mouth caught in the exclamation of a little O, as Achilles Artiguez, one of the groom’s men, bends gallantly but rather boldly to adjust the creamy bow of the sash at her hourglass waist. Achilles Artiguez: the Mediterranean name stands out like a touch of olive skin in this highly Anglo-Saxon setting. Natural son, perhaps, of a Spanish grandee? Grandson of a Greek plutocrat?

The flower girls in their white pinafores bring up the rear. Little Grace Dudley is blushing, with freckled giggles; the bridegroom’s darkly handsome brother Emil has been flirting with the twelve-year-old, he signed his name in the guest book right under hers, connecting them with two little hearts, initialed G. and E. for everyone to see. A little tipsy on the hymeneal ardor of the occasion, anticipating an excellent breakfast champagne, and absolutely certain of their privileged status in a dynamic, optimistic society, not one of the wedding guests is paying the slightest attention to the photographer.

Only the bride’s five-year-old cousin, in sailor suit and straw hat, has turned to look back, suddenly intrigued by the magical clicking lens that will record this moment unto all eternity, and fascinated by the mysterious skills of the man who crouches behind the tripod, shrouded in his black hood. Within a few years, his parents will present this lad with a Brownie Box camera of his very own, and as he roams Yosemite Valley with his little cousin Frances Kehrlein, he will begin snapping images of waterfalls and granite walls, the mountain vistas which will make him world-famous. But in his autobiography, Ansel Adams does not recall that afternoon in 1907 when he tagged along behind the flower girls as they strewed white roses.

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One Comment

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  1. Edie Bruce / Aug 6 2010 8:05 pm

    John-
    I love this entry-the photo and the writing.

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