So I am one of those people who could not help but stay up for the wedding of Meghan Markle and Prince Harry.
I have always loved all things English. I watch all of the English shows on a local television station. I even break out the fancy tea cups and whip up a batch of scones to create the perfect atmosphere in my house. I didn’t do this at 3 a.m. last Saturday, but I sure thought about it. Watching all of the beauty of this wedding day, I couldn’t help but think of a wedding in 1888 that surely was considered a royal wedding of the time.
A faded wedding announcement from November of 1888 tells the story of this important wedding. The wedding was the biggest event this city has ever seen. It was the marriage of William B. Howard's daughter, Maria, to John R. Ranson of Kansas City whose family originally came from this area. The ceremony took place at St. Paul’s Methodist Episcopal Church South which was located on Douglas next to where the Vogue Theatre used to be. The church was demolished years ago.
The church, founded in the 1870’s, was one of those quaint white clapboard buildings that every country community had. The small congregation worshiped in a 1-room building, but not for long. (By the way, it was built on land donated by William B. Howard, the founder of our city and a church member.) It was said to have the first Sunday School in Lee’s Summit. The congregation grew to 220 — which was big compared to the other churches in Lee’s Summit.
I can imagine the little church draped in beautiful Victorian flowers for the wedding. Since it was a fall wedding, there were probably chrysanthemums and narcisssus used to decorate the alter and pews of the little church — a popular flower during that time. The bride would have carried a small nosegay of flowers. The article does not mention who the bridesmaids were, or what songs were song at the service. More than likely they were Southern spirituals.
The reception took place in Mr. Howard's home on Douglas. The large, stately 2-story home was built by William B. Howard in the late 1800’s. He was in ill health and wanted to live in town in his senior years. A pig bite had plagued him for years and caused his health to fail.
The Howards still had their large Colonial home, which was located between Strother and Woods Chapel roads. They still had a farming operation on the land.
One of the amazing aspects of this wedding is that folks rode a special train from Kansas City to attend the reception at the Howard home which lasted from 3 p.m. to 9 p.m. Talk about a “royal” touch”.
The wedding, and the day's events, passed into history. However, it is alive again in the Lee’s Summit History Museum. Maria Howard Ranson’s wedding dress and her trousseau are a featured exhibit in the Howard display in the museum.
A description of the wedding dress on a hand note written by May Howard, wife of William B. Howard's grandson, describes the dress and the wedding. The dress was hand sewn at Bullene’s, which later became Emery, Byrd, Thayer. The store was located on the Missouri River where Kansas City had it’s early businesses. The dress has many embellishments and the tiniest waist you have ever seen. Everyone who sees it marvels at the tiny waist and the beauty of the handwork. There is a lace parasol and Peau de soie (satin) wedding shoes. Also on display are a bed jacket and pantaloons that have hand sewn lace on the bottom.
The dress was almost lost to history. May Howard put it up for sale for $750 during the city’s Centennial celebration. Since the dress didn’t sell it was put away in the rafters of May’s home to be discovered by someone who rented the home after May’s death. Christine Chubb was the savior of the dress. You may remember she and her husband, Chuck, who got Music in the Park started for Downtown Lee’s Summit Main Street, donated the dress to the Historical Society when the museum was located in the south end of the Missouri Pacific Depot. There was no room to display it so it was it and the trousseau were placed in an archival box until the museum relocated to its current larger facility.
The dress is now on display along with the waist coat of Maria’s husband. When you come to the museum you can hear volunteers tell the story of the dress and our City's own “Royal” wedding.
Editor's Note: Kathy Smith writes about the people and histories of Lee's Summit, MO. A Lee's Summit resident and local historian, she serves as Executive Director of the Lee's Summit Historical Society and Lee's Summit History Museum as well as chair of the Lee's Summit Historic Preservation Commission. Views and opinions expressed in her columns do not necessarily reflect those of Link 2 Lee's Summit, it's employees, or any other guest contributors.