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The “Chrysanthemum Wedding” of 1906


Walter and Bessie Bellingrath's engagement photo from 1906.
Walter and Bessie Bellingrath, circa 1906. It is possible that this portrait is their official engagement photo; it also may have been taken on their wedding day.

By Tom McGehee, Museum Director of the Bellingrath Home

Bellingrath Gardens and Home has been known for its spectacular November chrysanthemum shows for decades. That celebration of autumn would have a special meaning to Walter and Bessie Bellingrath, who were married on November 14, 1906, in what the Mobile Register termed “A Chrysanthemum Wedding.”

The event did not take place in a grand church or even one of the downtown hotels in Mobile. The two were married in the parlor of 56 North Lafayette Street, the Morse family home. According to the city directory, the house stood on the east side of the block between Old Shell Road and Spring Hill Avenue, probably in view of St. Mary’s Catholic Church.

The future Mrs. Bellingrath had lost her mother, Alice Morrow Morse, earlier that year. The wedding was therefore a quiet one, witnessed only by “the relatives and a few close friends.”

Walter Bellingrath had written his mother earlier that week: “So far I have not become nervous but suppose when the time comes I will not prove an exception to the rule. Bess doesn’t seem to be nervous either, but I am quite sure she will join me in the shakes on our wedding day.” Whether either of them had “the shakes” has gone unrecorded.

Mr. and Mrs. Bellingrath are shown at their home at 60 South Ann Street in Mobile, Alabama, circa 1912.
Mr. and Mrs. Bellingrath are shown at their home at 60 South Ann Street in Mobile, Alabama, circa 1912.

White chrysanthemums with white ribbons were placed among palms to decorate the parlor, dining room and hall. It was reported that “the bright oblong parlor was the room chosen for the exchanging of the love vows.” There were two ushers: Clay King Morse, Bessie’s brother, and a neighbor, Mannie Hanlon. The best man was Pope Foster of Montgomery, Alabama.

Sewell Morse walked his daughter up an aisle, preceded by two young flower girls in “frocks of lace with white satin sashes carrying bouquets of white chrysanthemums tied with white tule.” The minister was Otis V. Calhoun of the Spring Hill Avenue Methodist Church.

The newspaper account makes no mention of Mrs. Bellingrath having attendants or a reception. The small group undoubtedly celebrated the event, and the new Mrs. Bellingrath left wearing “her modest traveling gown of pearl grey chiffon … her face framed with a becoming hat of gray, trimmed with a long white plume.”

The couple traveled on their honeymoon to St. Louis, Chicago, Niagara Falls, New York, Boston, Washington, Atlanta and Montgomery. The newspaper account noted that on their return to Mobile, they planned to “stop at the St. Andrew Hotel.” This hotel had been built just south of the ruins of the Battle House Hotel, and lasted until the late 1940s.

Just how long the couple resided at the St. Andrew is unknown. They eventually rented a raised cottage on St. Anthony Street near the Coca-Cola plant until moving to 60 South Ann Street in 1911.

Sadly, none of the houses the newlyweds knew have survived progress, but the Gardens that the Bellingraths created continue to delight guests, and each November, chrysanthemums are celebrated in all their glory in the Fall Outdoor Cascading Chrysanthemums display.

The Bellingraths pose in the Gardens with the plaque donated in their honor, circa 1938.
The Bellingraths pose in the Gardens with a plaque donated in their honor on July 18, 1938. The inscription thanks them for opening their estate to the public and “their untiring effort for the up-building of the City of Mobile and this ‘Charm Spot of the Deep South.’”