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Flash Pictures

Mock weddings — folk dramas featuring gender-bending, cross-dressing, and general hilarity — became fixtures at bridal showers on the prairies in early twentieth century. By the 1950s, the girls who had staged these parodies of married life had become, we hope, mature women enjoying late middle age with their partners. The mock wedding then was reinvented as a fixture in wedding anniversary celebrations staged for popular couples, particularly in small towns, where people were accustomed to homegrown entertainment.

This was the variety of mock wedding described by the folklorist who first described them, Michael Taft of Saskatchewan, in the 1970s. Notably, I think, the relative age of participants in the post-World War II period licensed them to engage in a sort of bawdy irreverence that would have been inappropriate for unmarried women a generation earlier. Maturity also gave participants in the new generation of mock weddings a great store of experience to be deployed as plot motifs and inside jokes in such affectionate community, theatrical expressions.

The country correspondent in Pillsbury captured the sense of a mock wedding along these lines in early 1951. The production figured in a silver anniversary celebration for Mr. and Mrs. Sig Lee. The correspondent names names for the participants, a mixed-gender cast, although of course, mostly dressed as the other gender. Presumably they were honored to be included in such public notice. “Those not present,” the reporter says, “don’t know what they missed, some are still laughing about the affair.”

In succeeding years mock weddings were such expected rituals in anniversary celebrations that they received only casual mention: “The program included a mock wedding,” “a mock wedding was given,” or perhaps, “Highlight of the evening was a mock wedding.” Readers understood what was being talked about.

The mock wedding was popular enough and acceptable enough to be offered as a program feature for general community celebrations. In 1953, for instance, the Farmers Union of Colgate enjoyed a mock wedding enactment scripted by their program chair, Mrs. Wes Reisenburg. The cast of the elaborate production included a bride, a groom, a minister, a mother and father of the bride, a best man, a bridesmaid, a flower girl, and a ringbearer, all named in the news report, most of them cross-dressing. This is not to be construed as any sort of gender-type rebellion. All the women involved were reported with their husbands’ name — ”Mrs. Ken Erickson,” for instance — or in the case of unmarried participants, “Miss Gladys Erickson.”

At this time music was emerging as a popular and parodic element in mock weddings. The ambivalence was obvious when a soloist sang “I Love You Truly” for the Colgate gathering. We can guess the inside joke when a second soloist rendered, “Yes Sir, That’s My Baby.” The closing number was a rendition of the traditional folksong, “I Wish I Were Single Again.”

Speaking of music and gender-bending, we note that for a 1954 mock wedding over in that crazy town, Bismarck, the flower girl, Mr. Neal Snow, tossed cabbage leaves before the bride while singing “I Love You Truly” in a falsetto voice.

Another common musical element of the day was to get out an old Victor phonograph and play wax-cylinder recordings of songs that were popular at the time of the original marriage of the couple being honored through mockery. As if to say, this is how old these folks are. Oh, and that 1951 mock wedding I mentioned in Pillsbury in 1951 — we are told, “Glen Plaisted took flash pictures.” Do these photographs survive in a family album somewhere? Do descendants know what they are looking at? I hope so.

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