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A Wedding Made in Heaven

The following story is based on true facts gleaned from a copy of a news article in the NEW YORK HERALD, Thursday, November 8, 1865, which was so graciously provided to this office by Audrey Anderson, descendant of Thaddeus Lowe.      


 By Alaska Summerkind

Being a reporter of the time sometimes brings one into the realm of things thought to be far beyond their grasp when first imagined. So it was when this strange assignment was handed to me. Not having seen, nor been to such an affair before, no visions were thereby banked for me to draw from. By duties course I set forth making my way through the already gathering throng awaiting the grand event. 

Painted silk fan
An Early painted silk fan depicting a balloon scene

A wedding! Imagine my distain for my dear editor when asked to cover such an affair after the struggles I’d gone through just to have him see my penned work in years past. Now a reporter in good standing with the New York Herald and he has me to cover a wedding! But hark, what manner of madness has come upon our city. The sixth avenue streetcars are packed, in but one direction, and the sidewalks are full. Have I been led amiss in my assignment? 

As I strode quickly towards the amphitheatre where the event was to be held, one could not help but to hear and see the merriment that seemed to be excreting from this one event. Catches of words and phrases soon quickened my pace as I put together that this was indeed a special assignment, and forgive my thoughts oh dear editor, as I now understand the importance of the event. You ask, “Who and what and where?” and I will reply in haste, “Not who and what and where, but how!” “But how?” You say. “Yes, but how? And only just now I found out myself it was to be a balloon bridal! 

Who would have thought, and least of all myself, such a romantic affair would be in the making just beneath our nose? Well, dear friends apparently quite a few were aware of the event, and where had I been, to not know? Be that as it is, on gaining entrance to the amphitheatre I found it rapidly filling. The park surrounding the amphitheatre was a solid block of people from all walks, sitting, standing, and generally gaining view from any perch available anxiously awaiting the grand affair. 

Discussion ran from rock to window, and back to grassy knoll, between countrymen, promoting theirs to be the finest place to land. A young Scott, cried out, “Why dinna ye ken, mon, they’re gangin to Bonnie Scotland.” His countrymen declared their friend was “frashed” and the whole sally raised much laughter. 

Off to another side a “Fenian” burst in with a comment about “it’s the Isle of Shky they be striking acrass unbeknownst to themselves!”  An old man shouted, “Maybe his wife will be blowing him sky high soon enough without his saving her the trouble.” 

The police moved in the area and things soon quieted down for a while whilst beyond their view, bourbon whiskies made the rounds. The squatters in the neighborhoods were in their glory. Freedom was theirs for the day, and even the high picket palings surrounding the enclosure, were not sufficient to keep them from witnessing everything. The roofs of unmistakable Irish Cabins were covered with the families that occupied them, “barrin’ the pigs” who left themselves snouted around after the manner of pigs in general. The policemen seemed to also have an aerial beat watching foolhardy burglars who had designs on the Virgin and the Scales. 

In yet another part of my view, were those lovers smitten by the day’s romance and whispering sweet nothings into each others ears, whilst Pat seated beside his pretty Colleen, near the chimney, pressed her for a date with the priest. They would all bless the wonderful professor for inaugurating so admirable and improved a ceremony.  

Finally gaining a better view myself I caught sight of the great balloon swaying to and fro on its platform turned cathedral for the day. It was located in the center of the platform and it too seemed anxious for the event to begin, sharing the impatience of the crowd. To reach the platform one was to pass through a passage formed by a row of evergreens on either side, at which end was a floral arch. From the tops of the arch are suspended tassels of white and silver, forming the ends of a true lovers knot. 

The platform was carpeted to the edge, and surrounded by rows of seats arranged for the privileged spectators. Professor Thaddeus S. C. Lowe and his assistants were at work all the previous night I am told, making preparations, and by the time people started pouring in, all was in readiness. I was captivated by the swaying of this heavenly flier held back by sandbags attached to the ropes, which prevented it from taking off without the bride and bridegroom. 

Beneath the swelling balloons web like network that enclosed it, hung suspended the bridal car. This matrimonial basket was in striking contrast to the modest basket used to serve the city in other service years past. I observed its opening faced the Sixth Street entrance. It is made of wickerwork through which are interlaced the iron wires to the hooks of which the ropes of the balloon are attached. This hymeneal altar basket is six feet long by four and one half feet wide and two and one half feet deep to the seat. The bottom of the car is carpeted and the cushioned seats are covered with rich green flowered satin, stretching around it and up to the edge. The cords from the concentrating ring are of alternating red, white, and blue silk wound around with colored cords and strapped with velvet. Silken twisted ropes of red and green cross these cords, thus making a network, which combines great beauty with considerable strength. 

Easter Lilies

On the top a canopy of blue and silver damask covered the car, and reaches to within about six feet of the bottom, from which wonderful lace curtains are hung, and the entire getup is then surrounded by the stars and stripes. These curtains are then gathered together and drawn aside with cords and tassels of union colors. The wicker car itself is covered with folds of crimson and gold damask, which contrast admirably with the decorations. When the curtains are drawn aside one can get a full glimpse of the couples inside. 

It is seldom that such a marriage ceremony would ever even take place in such a car, and surely one could say that never has there been one so tastefully decorated to celebrate such a momentous occasion. 

As the hour grew near the intensity of the crowd began to peak. Anyone daring to show up gaily attired was immediately assumed to be “The One” only to be quickly dismissed as soon as another came along. Time seemed to have slipped past the appointed hour and the anxious crowd began to wonder what might have gone wrong? “Had they lost their courage?” “Had they been fixed in the eye by an Ancient Mariner and forced to listen to strange adventures of the sea?” “Or was this all just an elaborate hoax?” 

At a half past three a cheer went up from the plebeians and I glanced towards the street to see the carriages rolling up to the Fifth Street entrance of the enclosure. Soon there was another and the upper crust exclaimed “Ah Bravo!” Alive they were again with cheers, and then the rush and crush, and the hurry and the bustle, all to be the first to see the bride. From the first carriage some ladies descended but none were she. And then amidst more cheers, from the second coach she did depart, and immediately a thousand eyes peered into to her face, as if to take a photographic portrait to memorialize her face. 

Her name is Miss Mary West Jenkins, daughter of the late Richard Jenkins Esq. Of Northampton, Virginia. When she was an infant she lost both of her parents and was adopted by J. L. West, of St. Louis. This lovely creature graduated from Montecillo Seminary in Illinois. Her forte is music and drawing, and while I mention drawing, let me say now, that the hands of artists from the illustrated papers are busily sketching away the scenes before them, preparing for inevitable deadlines.

The bride was accompanied by her husband to be, and both were led to the carpeted area, where they then proceeded down the path between the evergreens towards the car. In front of them lovely young ladies in white and silver spangled dresses strewed flowers before their feet. 

When Miss Jenkins passed by me, I was able to get full view of her dress which was in good taste sufficient to stamp herself a lady. It was of the richest poplin of the most unusual and beautiful tint known as ashes of roses. It is trimmed with rich velvet, just a shade darker and her hat and gloves all matched. She had on oriental pearl earrings and a darling turquoise broach. Though perhaps her dress was a bit unusual for a bride, one must remember the circumstances of the wedding and it will readily be excusable. 

I could hear the whispers of other young women in the audience dreamily designing dresses of their own, were they in the circumstances of the day. “I would wear sky blue” and “rose would be my choice.” Her dress was not all that was surmised as comments were made like, “she had star like eyes,” and “a celestially inclined nose,” and “a face like a full moon.” It all seemed balloonatic to me, as a beautiful sight she was, and needed not to be compared to any heavenly body. 

Miss Jenkin’s complexion was fresh and her hazel eyes were clear, and above her brow her silky brown hair was frizzed in front and led to the irrepressible waterfall in the back, which contrasted nicely with her neck of swanlike whiteness. A sweet smile hovered over the twenty-two year olds lips, transforming this tall and commanding figure of a woman, into an angelic looking bride.

On her side was the bridegroom, a Dr. John F. Boynton of Syracuse, who appeared from the beginning with the most satisfied look on his face. Here to the questions and comments danced around my ears. “Who is he?” and “What does he do?” of course there were the, “Hmmm isn’t he the handsome one?” and the sighs, “Oh, I wish it were me.” I must say I was rather taken myself by this gentleman easily passable for an English Lord or a Major General. In fact Dr. Boynton was a graduate of Syracuse as a medical man, but for the last eight years has been doing the lecture circuit on the subject of geology, which is more to his particular liking. He has also earned a high reputation as a surveyor frequently commissioned to the United States government to survey mining tracts throughout the country. 

Though he wore a plain suit of black, his happy demeanor more than overcame the somber color. 

Now the couple reached the end of the path and took note of the motto above the floral arch, “Ever Thus.” Many an inward wish echoed the mute letters, which formed the motto and hoped thus it would always be. “Ever Thus” might the bride and groom live and love and look into one another’s eyes and be happy. Mine own eyes partook a tear at this point, thinking my own thoughts of “Ever Thus.”

But quickly wipe away that tear, as this happy occasion is near to take to the heavens. There were not less then six thousand persons in the enclosure, while outside the ticket holders were legion. The bridal party was now on the platform. The reverend Talmage was unable to be present during the balloon tour so the ceremony was preformed before hand. Miss Jenkins then stepped into the car, followed by her lord and master, as they say, other family members, and lastly Professor Lowe. After a short speech the couple joined hands and the usual vows were spoken. 

Professor Lowe was unable to procure in this city or Philadelphia sufficient aid for the manufacture of pure hydrogen and was compelled to fall back on common street gas. In consequence of this, the balloon would carry only four passengers, which in my mind presented a much more romantic flight. The other family members left the car, leaving the bride, the groom, and Professor Lowe.

Balloon view of New York
This engraving depicts New York as it might have appeared while rising to the clouds in 1865. Wood lithograph is from the Jake Brouwer Collection

It was time to reach for the heavens and amidst the heavy cheers it was affecting to witness the tender leave takings of the bride before the car began to rise. Then all hands were removed from the ropes and the balloon began to rise buoyantly up into the air in a northwesterly direction. Cheer upon cheer went up from the crowd to chase the ears of those within the heaven bound balloon. “Godspeed.” Some shouted. It was near deafening the roar, and soon yet scarcely two thousand feet above the earth the airship changed its course moving in a semicircle first north and then northeast. The shades of evening were fast falling upon the scene and when last observed the balloon was moving northeast direction. 

Aboard the craft, a marriage contact was brought out, and the Holy Writ signed by bride and groom and witnessed by the professor. A wedding cake ornamented in the highest style of confectionary had been kindly presented by Messer’s Stetson and Bradford of the Casino as well as a basket of wine, which was toasted in the highest of places. The cake was decorated in the likeness of the balloon, complete with colored flags. 

That was the last I saw of the Boynton's and though, had I chose to follow up the affair, I would not have been reprimanded in the least, I instead chose to leave it as it was. A happy and loving couple dashed away into the clear and cloudless night for a romantic flight to a wedding made in heaven. 

Editor: The article states that “the balloon landed later as softly as a snowflake and without any difficulty in Mount Vernon around sunset. They returned to the city that night by the 8:10 train and then drove to the Fifth Avenue Hotel where they will remain for some time. The balloon car was brought back and put on exhibition. The complications of 0not having gas available to the Professor led him to design and patent new ways of producing the fuel earning him the Cresson Medal from the Franklin Institute, however that is another story..

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Last modified: February 12, 1999

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Copyright 1999