If for some reason you don’t have a white folding chair awaiting you somewhere in this month of weddings, do not despair. For a nuptial fix, you can always revisit some of the greatest ceremonies that have taken place—in both history and fiction. After six years of researching marriage with my husband for the new anthology, The Marriage Book: Centuries of Advice, Inspiration, and Cautionary Tales, from Adam & Eve to Zoloft, I’m happy to report these ceremonies rise above all the rest.
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In 2009, a bride named Jill Peterson and a groom named Kevin Heinz decided to replace the traditional Mendelssohn wedding march with “Forever” by Chris Brown. The result was the surprising, exuberant, wish-you-could-have-been there wedding-party romp down the aisle that’s become known in its video form as the JK Wedding Entrance Dance. With an estimated 3.5 million views in its first 48 hours, and another 80 million or so since then, the video was one of the first to go viral, and along the way it raised not only spirits but $50,000 in contributions to end domestic violence through the Sheila Wellstone Institute. And yes, Jill and Kevin are still married.
Best Double Wedding
Chang and Eng Bunker were the conjoined brothers who gave the world the term “Siamese Twins.” Born near Bangkok, they emigrated to the United States in 1829 and, after touring as a lucrative attraction, settled down on a North Carolina farm. Their 1843 wedding—to the sisters Adelaide and Sarah Anne Yates—was widely decried as unnatural, but, despite the sisters’ growing antipathy toward one another, they stayed married to the twins. Prompting decades of prurient speculation, Chang and Adelaide had 11 children, and Eng and Sarah had 10.
In 1855, suffragist Lucy Stone insisted on keeping her name when she married abolitionist Henry Blackwell, and in the marriage contract that was read at their wedding, they gave voice both to their mutual devotion and to their shared rejection of the marital laws that deprived women of so much freedom and financial equality. Unitarian minister Thomas Wentworth Higginson presided over the ceremony, later calling traditional marriage “a system by which man and wife are one, and that one is the husband.”
There have always been odd people, and there have always been publicity stunts. They combined in 1969—with an audience of 40 million viewers—when Herbert Khaury, a 37-year-old, frizzy-haired, falsetto-voiced ukulele player who called himself Tiny Tim married the 17-year-old “Miss Vicki” on the highest rated episode of Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show. Thousands of tulips, celebrating the singer’s signature rendition of “Tiptoe Through the Tulips,” adorned the stage.
According to the White House historical association, the mansion has hosted 17 weddings. Boomers will recall those of Lynda Bird Johnson and Tricia Nixon, but the only president to be married there was Grover Cleveland. In 1886, the 49-year-old bachelor wed Frances Folsom, the beautiful 21-year-old daughter of his late law partner. The ceremony took place in the Blue Room. Music was provided by the Marine Band and the March King, John Philip Sousa, himself.
Sun Myung Moon founded the Unification Church in South Korea in 1954. Accounts of its controversial traits and its leadership’s corruption were frequent. Among its most eccentric practices have been mass marriage ceremonies, in which many of the participants were matched by Moon himself. (Moon died in 2012.) In 1982 a “Moonie” wedding of some 4,000 adherents attracted enormous attention when it was held in Madison Square Garden. In subsequent years, tens of thousands of couples would take part in such ceremonies, one of which was held as recently as March of this year, led by Moon’s widow.
Connecticut-born Charles Sherwood Stratton stopped growing at the age of six months. Stratton was “discovered” at four by circus impresario P. T. Barnum, who promptly renamed him “General Tom Thumb,” claimed the boy was eleven, devised an act of dance, dramatic readings, and impersonation, and toured for years with him. Already world-famous, Tom Thumb became an unrivaled sensation when in 1863 he married Lavinia Warren, another Barnum find who was a few inches shorter. The wedding, which was staged by the showman, took place in Manhattan’s Grace Church and was followed by a reception attended by several thousand people, including the highest of New York’s high society.
The idea was to raise awareness for the Humane Society of New York. The 2011 wedding, organized by author/reality star/animal activist Wendy Diamond, cost $270,000 in donations. Presided over by Triumph the Insult Comedy Dog, the ceremony married Diamond’s tiny dog, a Coton de Tulear (wearing a $4,000 dress) to a tie-dyed poodle named Chilly Pasternak, who had won an online contest.
In the stage directions for the shooting script of The Princess Bride, the character called “The Impressive Clergyman” is described as having “[a speech] impediment that would stop a clock.” Peter Cook’s pronouncements about “mawidge” and “wuv, twuuue wuv” during the wedding of Prince Humperdinck and “Pwincess Buttwercup” create a high point in a film that has no lows.
Fifty-eight years after Superman met Lois Lane, they finally married in DC Comics’ December 1996 Superman: The Wedding Album. Though there had been dream-sequence and hoax weddings in the comic books before (as well as marriages in movies and TV shows), this wedding was billed as “The Event of the Century” and featured a ceremony in which the priest was drawn to resemble Jerry Siegel, one of Superman’s co-creators, and the pews were filled with the many artists and writers who had brought the Man of Steel to life over the years.
The film is Love Actually. The bride is played by Keira Knightley, the groom by Chiwetel Ejiofor. They’ve just gotten married in a small London church but somehow have failed to notice that among their guests are three trumpet players, two flutists, three trombonists, and two saxophonists, all of whom pop up from the pews to join a string section, a choir, and the late Lynden David Hall singing “All You Need Is Love.” How is that possible? Screenwriter and director Richard Curtis, actually.
If you were alive and awake on July 29, 1981, you were probably one of the 750 million viewers who watched the wedding of Lady Diana Spencer and Prince Charles. Over the next decades, there would be countless images of the couple—together and separately; in the classiest fashions; in the cheesiest tabloids. But arguably no image is more indelible than that of their departure from St. Paul’s Cathedral in a fairy-tale carriage and a puff of white taffeta.
Second Most Expensive
Charles and Di take the cake, so to speak, for most expensive wedding. But right behind them are Vanisha Mittal (daughter of a steel magnate) and Amit Bhatia (British banker), who are said to have spent $60 million in 2005 on Paris nuptials that included invitations mailed in silver boxes, a pre-wedding dinner in the Tuileries, the ceremony itself in a 17th-century chateau, and fireworks over the Eiffel Tower.
Least Expensive Clothing Budget
The bride wore a veil. The groom wore a grin. In 2013, nude activists Gypsy Taub and Jaymz Smith were married, then fined, at San Francisco’s City Hall. Joining in the protest of the city’s anti-nudity law, some of the guests followed (non)suit and took their tops off. A mariachi band provided some dancing music until police ticketed the newlyweds and handed them some blankets.
It had everything: clothes by Armani and De La Renta; backdrop by Venice; transportation by taxi boat; additional star power from Matt Damon, Bill Murray, Emily Blunt, and Bono; gift bags featuring iPods with a playlist selected by the happy couple. Everything was tasteful, smart, and beautiful, not least the bride (international lawyer Amal Alamuddin) and groom (actor/director George Clooney), who seemed equally radiant.
So far, six couples have been chosen to participate in the sur-reality series Married at First Sight, in which four professional advisors match up sets of total strangers, who then meet and marry at the altar. Similar shows have taken place in Denmark and Australia. But nothing has topped, for sheer awkwardness, the spectacle of a former Bachelor and Bachelor Pad contestant named Jamie Otis freaking out at the mole-flecked appearance of Doug Hehner, the man she would nonetheless marry and—in the show’s spin-off sequel—remarry.
Granted, they are fictional characters, and granted, they come from different fictional universes. But that didn’t stop author J. K. Rowling from suggesting Hogwarts’ headmaster Dumbledore and Lord of the Rings’ Gandalf as possible wedding partners after Ireland legalized same-sex marriage. A tweet from the Westboro Baptist Church that promised picketing ensued. Next, an answer from Rowling: “Alas, the sheer awesomeness of such a union in such a place would blow your tiny bigoted minds out of your thick sloping skulls.” And finally, in a triumph of theatricality, two actors playing the great wizards were pronounced “husband and husband” in a ceremony at the Equality House in Topeka, Kansas—directly across the street from the church.