While searching The Oklahoman’s online archive for information about Pershing, OK, an oil boomtown that went bust long ago, I came across a story from 1904, where then-Capt. John Joseph Pershing (he would become known as Gen. Black Jack Pershing), while serving as assistant chief of staff of the Southwest Army Division, was present in Oklahoma City at the wedding of Lt. Louis H. Kilbourne and Margaret Crittenden Laird.
It was the description of the cutting of the wedding cake that sent me off on a tangent.
From the society pages of The Oklahoman of Jan. 24, 1904, is the description:
“The reception held afterwards at the Laird home on North Robinson was a delightful crush. The cutting of the bride’s cake, containing the prophetic emblems, was attended by the most breathless interest by the four dainty bridesmaids and the other unwedded ones present. It contained a ring, a button and a thimble.
“Captain Pershing, one of the bachelors attached to General Sumner’s staff, who is causing a flutter among the girls, caused a deeper and more painful flutter by drawing the ring, which signifies that he will soon become a benedict; Miss Richardson, one of the bridesmaids, a petite, brown-haired lassie, drew the hateful thimble that used to mean that one would become a spinster, but now only signifies that she will be a bachelor maid. However the cruel fate was left undecided by her catching the bouquet, which the bride threw from the top of the stair to the maids lined up in the hall below expectantly. This contradiction will have to be unraveled by later events, but it seems that the omen of the bouquet, which means she will be the next to wed of the bridal party, seems the most likely solution to the tangle.
“Mr. Edgar Laird drew the button. This regulates him to single blessedness all his days, so it must be one of those buttons you sew on with a hammer or a hairbrush, and which are called ‘bachelor buttons,’ a name once signifying an innocent little yellow flower.”
Never having heard of putting things in cakes, except for Mardi Gras king’s cake, I had to do a little research.
The Oklahoman’s archives provided several more examples, one in 1911, in which the ring, the thimble, the darning needle, the button and the shell were put around the base of the cake and had ribbons attached for the participants to draw. The shell was for the promise of a sea voyage. I’m not sure about the darning needle. I did learn a “benedict” was a newly married man who was thought to be a confirmed bachelor.
I guess in Pershing’s case, it was true, because several years later he married. But in the case of Laird, the button didn’t take, because the next year, the society pages were mentioning Mr. and Mrs. Edgar Laird.
By 1939, Emily Post, who had a syndicated column, was suggesting that the favors be placed beside the cake.
The Oklahoman carried advertisements for a selection of favors, and my Aunt Grace Helms said when she married in 1941, her mother bought a set and slipped the pieces between the layers of her cake.
In 1960, the favors were recommended for Halloween or birthdays with these explanations: a button for bachelor, a ring for marriage, spoon for spoony (foolishness), a thimble for old maid, a dime for fortune, a penny for poverty, a dog for luck and an airplane for travel.
Other stories and ads mention a wishbone for luck.
A search of the Internet suggested that the ring, the thimble and the button were of Irish origin.
Now, when I married, I did wear something borrowed and something blue, and had a sixpence in my shoe. But my wedding cake was empty, but for the flowers that decorated its surface.