It is more than 100 years old. My daughter cut off the greater part of it for her daughter’s wedding. That part that covers the bride’s head has a pattern of seed pearls sewn into it. The border all around the body, which is of silk netting, is a continuous row of pearls. Originally it was Cathedral length veil, which in photos lays coiled around to settle in front of the bride. But it was difficult to walk with it if one needed to turn a corner.
My Grandmother, Helen Dow, was 22 when she wore it at her wedding in February 1917. She was married on a Tuesday in her parents’ living room. William J. Hale, who had been her chemistry professor at the University of Michigan, became her husband. And she turned 23 just after that. By the following February, she was a mother, and by November she was dead of the Spanish Flu epidemic of 1918. Her daughter, my mother, Ruth Elizabeth Hale, never knew her mother. But she knew the way her wedding dress looked. Her mother’s clothes were kept in a trunk in the attic. My mother saw them every spring when her Grandmother would bring everything out of the chest and air it out in the sun.
When my mother, Ruth, married in 1940, she was too modern to wear that very old fashioned wedding dress which her mother had worn. She was a vision in fluffy, ruffled, white tule with a matching veil. She married my father, Wiley T. Buchanan Jr, in Midland, Michigan, on a Friday, April 12th, during a snow storm. They moved to Washington DC where they remained for the rest of their lives.
As a tradition-loving young girl, I was anxious to wear something of my Grandmother’s. Her tragic death at 24 always seemed so sad and such a waste to me. The veil was beautiful. My Grandmother had worn it with a pearl tiara, which looked very dated. But by itself, without the ‘crown’, it was magnificent. The silk net veil, Cathedral length, trimmed all the way around in pearls, the patterned top of the veil beautiful to behold. And I was 19 years old, living a fairy tale. I was the happiest I had ever been in my life walking down the aisle of that church, on Friday, June 23rd, 1961.
What changes that veil has seen. The world has reinvented itself since the first wearing. But all of us who wore it, are connected by it. I, who wore it at the age of 19, thrilled to be walking down the extremely long aisle of Metropolitan Memorial Methodist Church with my Cathedral length veil trailing behind me. I married my sweetheart, Charles Matheson. I was blissfully happy as I walked back up the aisle a married woman.
My two daughters, who are so different from each other, both wore the veil. First of them to wear it, in 1987, Lilla Youngblood Matheson. She married Christopher Ohrstrom in an antique wedding dress of the purest, cream-colored, silk, and her great grandmothers’ veil. They were married at Grace Episcopal Church in The Plains Va. It was a perfect September day, neither too hot nor too cool. They were driven in an open carriage from the church to the house ‘Heathfield’, 2 miles away. There, a country reception was held outside and all around the pool.
Helen Dow Matheson (named for her great grandmother) wed David Hilliard in January 1990. Her white velvet wedding gown trimmed in white mink to fulfill a childhood fantasy of wearing a gown of velvet. They were also married in the beautiful stone church in The Plains, Va, where we lived. The reception was held inside the house ‘Heathfield.’ It was expanded with tenting on two sides. The tent was furnished with paintings, rugs and some furniture to make it difficult to distinguish where the house stopped, and the tent began.
In 2018 my granddaughter Delilah Ruth Ohrstrom, who is the great-great-granddaughter of Helen Dow Hale, donned the veil for her wedding. She wore it in a shortened version for her rustic marriage in a glen on her parents’ farm in Virginia. After 100 years, the veil had sustained some rips and rough places. So Lilla trimmed the vast length of it to be only long enough to touch the ground in back. Not a church service, but in a beautiful spiritual spot in a dell, they stood in front of a flower decorated arch constructed of windfall branches. They recited their vows while the spectators sat under and china blue sky, on wooden benches set up just for this occasion. The reception under a magnificent tent went on into the night. They provided such a happy memory for all who participated.
These weddings span the century since Helen Dow first wore the elegant veil 101 years before Delilah’s big day. Two World Wars, the Great Depression, Viet Nam, 9/11, and lately, more recent meltdowns. (The COVID -19 Pandemic was not yet on the horizon.) It is my hope that more of my granddaughters may choose to wear the symbolic and revered veil that has graced so many happy brides for two centuries.
Copyright©. 2020 Bonnie B. Matheson