Well-manicured, spacious grounds. A 65-room Tudor Revival-style mansion that evokes the reign of Queen Elizabeth I four centuries earlier. And those greenhouses, lush with flowers.
What a place for a wedding!
And that's just what happened, once upon a time. On May 19, 1934, in a display of Gold Coast glamour and Gatsby-esque opulence, Natalie Mai Coe, the only daughter of the owner of what is now Planting Fields Arboretum State Historic Park in Oyster Bay, married an Italian diplomat in the flower-bedecked ballroom at her family home, Coe Hall. The fairy-tale wedding was followed by a reception on the adjacent patio.
Planting Fields' new exhibit, "Gold Coast Weddings 1890-1940," not only celebrates Coe's marriage to Leonardo Vitetti with memorabilia and re-creations, but also examines bridal traditions and trends through the years, and takes a look at high-society customs, contemporary historical events and the businesses that grew up around these opulent nuptials.
Much of the exhibit comes from Planting Fields' archives, says director Henry Joyce. That treasure trove includes newsreel footage of the wedding, family letters (Marianne Howard, who curated the exhibit, points to one where the bride writes about getting her gown at Bergdorf's), actual wedding invitations, photographs of the bridal party, the ivory satin gown and military uniform the couple were married in, and a hefty ledger book where the wedding expenses were recorded (the catering bill for the 350 guests was $2,102, there's a bridal gown payment of $800 and music set them back $798).
Visitors can play interactive games as they explore the exhibits, says Howard. As you enter, you'll receive a wedding invitation with the name of one of the wedding guests on the back. Scan a table laden with replicas of the pair's wedding gifts to see if you can spot the present "you" gave the happy couple. A scavenger hunt that makes use of cell-phone text-message clues will help visitors find their way around, too.
Other wedding gowns worn at Gold Coast weddings will be on display, including a breathtaking ball-gown-style dress bedecked with blossoms on its skirt, which is on loan from Old Westbury Gardens. You'll find a silver tea service from Tiffany's that recalls one wedding gift; the Coes got their stationery and invitations from Tiffany's, too. A mock-up of a multitiered wedding cake looks almost good enough to eat. And the flowers that are so much a part of Planting Fields - then and now - and which are described in a New York Times article about the wedding, will be brought back to life in the form of a 16-foot archway of silk hydrangeas, orchids, roses and lilies, and in a re-creation of the bridesmaids' long, cascading bouquets of yellow roses and daisies.
SOMETHING THAT'S THROUGH
The exhibit explores fashions and trends in wedding traditions, but here's one blast from the past that might make today's brides cry, says Howard: Once, the wedding dress was considered good luck for all the single ladies, and they would chase the bride around and rip off pieces of her gown as keepsakes. Brides began tossing other things - like garters and bouquets - to distract them, traditions we still see today.
When | Where: May 15-Sept. 30, Coe Hall, Planting Fields Arboretum State Historic Park, 1395 Planting Fields Rd., Oyster Bay, 516-922-8682, plantingfields.org
Admission: $3.50 (under 12 free), plus $8 parking
More wedding events that take the cake
Coe Hall will host events during the exhibit's run that celebrate flowers, weddings and music. Among them:
Wedding Cake Demo & Lecture: 6-9 p.m. May 26, $75
Learn tricks like working with fondant and carving the cake, and leave with a set of cake-decorating tools.
Chamber Players International Concert: 2:30 p.m. May 30, $35
Listen to wedding music from the 19th and 20th centuries and enjoy a wine and cheese reception. Reservations are required, contact Michelle Benes at 516-922-8682 or firstname.lastname@example.org to reserve a spot.