A Double Wedding

Left to right: Mollie Garfield Stanley-Brown (Western Reserve Historical Society), Joseph Stanley-Brown (WRHS), Belle Mason Garfield, Harry Garfield (images from Lucretia Garfield Comer’s 1965 book Harry Garfield’s First Forty Years

            In the spring of 1888 Lucretia Garfield announced the upcoming double wedding of two of her five children to be held on June 14, 1888. The first marriage was that of Harry Garfield, the eldest son, and Belle Mason, the daughter of Lucretia’s cousin James Mason and neighbors to the family. Mollie, the President’s only daughter, was to marry Joseph Stanley-Brown, Garfield’s personal secretary in the White House and the person Lucretia tasked with organizing the President’s papers after his death. At the age of fifteen, Mollie wrote in her diary: “I don’t believe I will ever, [sic] in my life love any man, as I do Mr. Brown.” (December 14, 1882) The two ceremonies were to take place at the Garfield family’s Mentor residence in the Memorial Library, a room built by Lucretia to preserve her husband’s legacy. 

Lucretia Garfield’s announcement of her daughter’s marriage. Image courtesy of Western Reserve Historical Society.

          Enclosed in Lucretia’s Garfield’s invitation announcing her daughter’s wedding was a card admitting the guests to a special train running from Cleveland to Mentor and back again: “A special train for Mentor will leave the Cleveland Union Station at 3:15 P.M, Railroad Time, and returning, will arrive at Cleveland about 9:00 o’clock. The accompanying ticket must be presented to the Conductor of the train.”

Hand-colored illustration of wedding altar in the Memorial Library bay window. The original was accompanied by a wedding poem. Photo courtesy of Western Reserve Historical Society.

As the wedding date approached, the Mentor Farm was transformed into an inside garden, decorated with palms, potted plants, and cut flowers. Festoons and pendants of intertwined daisies filled the house. In the Memorial Library, the mantels were adorned with roses, white carnations, and maidenhair fern, and the large bay window, where the wedding parties stood during the ceremonies, was canopied with roses and smilax and lined with palms and semi-tropical plants. Here and there on the low bookcases stood large vases filled with red or white peonies and spikes of dark blue lupine. The Cleveland Leader reported that 6,000 rosebuds, 3000 carnations, 2000 daisies, and 200 yards of smilax were used in the ornamentation of the house. The bust of President Garfield that sits in the northeastern corner of the library was draped with the flag of the Williams College class of 1856 (Garfield’s alma mater).       

         At five o’clock P.M., the first ceremony began between Harry and Belle. The bride’s younger sister May was the maid of honor and Harry’s brother James was the best man. Belle walked down the aisle unaccompanied to the Wedding March from “Lohengrin.” Once the vows were made, May changed bouquets for the second ceremony, where she was maid of honor to her best friend Mollie. May had provided much comforted to Mollie after the death of President Garfield, prompting Mollie to write in her diary, “How nice it is to have one person to talk freely, as I do to Puggy [Mollie's nickname for May]. It always does me so much good to tell my little secrets & things to her. I wonder if she knows how much I love her.” (December 15, 1882)

Brides Mollie Garfield Stanley-Brown (left) and Belle Mason Garfield. Mollie wore a gown made of delicate india silk crepe, with an overdress gracefully draped above a long-trained white underrobe in a princess shape. Joseph objected to a veil because he thought his bride would look “unnatural.” In her white-gloved hands Mollie carried June roses.
Photo courtesy of Western Reserve Historical Society.

        Following the two ceremonies was a wedding supper on the main floor, where curtains of daisy chains decorated the doorways of the parlor, dining room, and entry hall. Guests were seated at a table beautifully adorned with flowers and lights where they enjoyed a meal of bouillon, supreme of sweetbreads, Italian salad, personal ice cream, café, and two wedding cakes, one for each couple. Among the wedding guests who enjoyed the supper were ex-President Rutherford B. Hayes and Mrs. Hayes, and ex-Postmaster General Thomas L. James.

        At nine o’clock p.m., a return train carrying most of the joyful and well-fed guests departed for Cleveland. The two couples had their own departure plans. Hal and Belle left that evening for their honeymoon in northern New York, while Joseph and Mollie embarked on a trip to Kansas to visit Joseph’s mother and then onward to Europe where Joseph could continue his studies in geology at the University of Heidelberg in Germany.

Joseph and Mollie Stanley-Brown (left) and Belle and Harry Garfield reading congratulatory notes from President Franklin D. Roosevelt at their 50th wedding anniversary. The Charlotte Observer, June 16, 1938.

        On June 14, 1938, the two couples celebrated a momentous milestone – their 50th wedding anniversary – by recreating their 1888 double wedding. Mollie, Joseph, Harry, and Belle hosted a luncheon for fifty guests followed by a tea and reception for two hundred guests. Friends and families gathered at Harry’s summer home in Duxbury, Massachusetts for the joyful occasion. President Franklin D. Roosevelt and his wife were invited, but sent their regrets and congratulatory notes to both of the couples that they read at the reception.

-Stephanie Gray, Park Guide