Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Wed before 5,000 of their closest friends ....

I came across the following little story about the very public marriage of two Lucas County young people back in 1881 while searching for references to the county in a year that's kind of a black hole otherwise --- very few editions of local newspapers published that year survive. But the following was published in The Waterloo Courier of Sept. 21, 1881:

"The managers of the State Fair at Des Moines offered a premium of $20 to any couple who would be married under the mammoth floral bell in the art hall on the exhibition grounds. The premium and publicity brought out a youthful pair of spoonies, who were willing to make a show of themselves along side of the big squashes, fancy stock, etc. The groom was a young preacher by the name of Curtis and the bride was a Miss Wilkins, both of Lucas county. They were duly hitched up by a Des Moines presiding elder, in the presence of five thousand curious and gaping spectators."

The story struck a familiar cord --- I remembered that the Norwood neighborhood had produced a United Brethren preacher named Curtis, but had forgotten his given names.

So I turned to Polk County marriage records and found the entry for E.W. (Emory Wilson) Curtis, 29, and Loretta A. Wilkins, 19, both of Norwood. Curtis was identified as a son of Moses H. and Sarah A. (Spence) Curtis and Loretta, as a daughter of Charles and Rebecca Wilkins. His occupation was given as "minister." That's a portion of the marriage record above showing the location, names of the witnesses and the officiant, George Miller.

How well did this marital knot tied in such a public setting endure? Well, it endured for 56 years and two days --- until the Rev. Mr. Curtis died at his retirement home in Des Moines on Sept. 9, 1937, at the age of 84.

In the intervening years, he completed 50 years in the United Brethren ministry --- the last eight years in service to the Chariton congregation. That congregation's former building, a half block north of the library, was torn down recently but the parsonage next door, built during the years Emory and Loretta Curtis were the pastoral couple there, survives.

The couple had four children, three daughters and a son who died at age 13 while his father was serving the Van Meter United Brethren congregation and was buried there. As a result, Emory's remains were taken from Des Moines to Van Meter for burial beside him. Loretta lived for 18 more years, then completed the family circle when her remains were buried in 1955 with those of her husband and son (Find a Grave photo).

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