Since Victorian-era ladies could not in all decency approach men, they used their fans to broadcast coded messages. According to the Museum on Main Street's Weddings of Yore exhibit, frenzied fanning meant that one was single, whereas slow meant "engaged." Held in the appropriate position, a fan might communicate "Leave me," "Come on," "Love," "Friendship," "Hate," or "Kiss me."
Lace, paper, gauze, and milky mother-of-pearl fans show the signals. Nearby are local wedding artifacts dating from 1803 to 1945, including seventeen gowns.
Over half of the gowns show now unconventional colors, such as burgundy, golden brown, apricot, and black. One (right) was worn by Eunice Fitea at her 1906 marriage to U-M football coach Fielding H. Yost. "The football team sent him a silver service," notes a sign.
A nearby case displays marriage documents. One tiny paper with a couple of handwritten sentences serves as a marriage license, far simpler than the modern-day version available downtown that resembles the IRS's form 1040 .
A booklet from Minnie Frederick's 1908 bridal shower shows wedding-related thoughts and responses. Responses to "articles needed for a housekeeping beginner" include the invaluable "cuspidor" and "lemon squeezer" as well as "pancake turner and girdle" (presumably for lumpy pancakes).
Gowns from the Hiscock family, for whom nearby Hiscock Street is named, appear near the 1876 gown of Anna Botsford, third wife of local businessman and onetime mayor Philip Bach. (Bach Elementary School and the Philip Bach Building at 126 Main Street are named for him, and the Anna Botsford Bach Residence for her.) There's also the gown Dama Godfrey wore when she married future Ann Arbor mayor Cecil Creal in 1925.
Local resident Winifred Martin remembers the ceremony, which was held in a house on Kingsley that's visible from the museum. "She was my idol," says Martin of Godfrey. "She was ten years older than I, and I was over there all the time — I looked up to her." Creal carried the twelve-year-old Martin to the wedding from her house — the present-day Kerrytown Concert House, where Martin lived from her birth in 1913 until she sold it in the late 1940s — because she'd skinned her knee. He never let her forget the incident. "He'd remind me, 'Do you remember I carried you?' — no matter where we were — for years afterwards."
Martin, who turns eighty-nine this month and lives in Lurie Terrace, now attends her grandchildren's weddings. She notes that modern-day weddings are much bigger and more expensive, and that they rarely occur in homes or backyards, as was once common. In general, communities were much closer — Martin knew all the families in her neighborhood, and people dropped by today's concert house to visit all the time.
"It was fun to live back then," notes Martin. "I wouldn't have missed it."