Why is a young man who has been jilted by his lady love like a publisher of small papers?
Because he makes trac(t)s.
Kingdom of Heaven May 1874
It is the month of weddings, of loves and doves and drone wedding photos and food stylists and signature cocktails and a host of essential wedding traditions so onerous to the bride (and possibly to the involved hipster groom) that psychologists have identified a new disorder: post-wedding depression. The modern wedding-industrial complex produces expectations stressful enough to make any bride- or groom-to-be want to bolt.
But this urge to abandon the Beloved and flee the altar or the destination beach is certainly not new. Despite a lack of Crate & Barrel registries and Our Wedding Story pages on The Knot, the fickle fiancées/fiancés of the past fled with the best of them. As someone who is interested in creative methods of revenge, I’ve been enjoying some vintage stories of how the jilted got their own back. Hold onto your little tulle bag of bird-seed; there’ll be no wedding today…
The jilted Philadelphia man who sent as a wedding present to his former sweetheart a miniature coffin full of old love-letters took a delicate means of demonstrating that his heart had not been broken. Le Meschacébé [Lucy, LA] 10 September 1904: p.3
In The Victorian Book of the Dead I told of a vindictive father who hung crape on the door for a daughter who married a suitor he disapproved of. This ex-suitor didn’t even have the decency to purchase his own crape; the bride-to-be was well-off without him.
From the Dead and Nailed It To the Door of the Bride Who Had Jilted Him.
Chicago, March 10. August Barth was fined $10 and costs for stealing crape from a house at Blackhawk and Mohawk streets, where a death had occurred. After stealing the crape, it is said, Barth nailed it to the door leading to the home of Mrs. Johanna Kleman, who was married recently.
Edward Muelhoeffer, an undertaker at 112 Claybourne avenue, found that some one had stolen the crape. By chance he passed the home of Mrs. Kleman, 85 Gardner street. Seeing his crape nailed on her door he investigated.
Barth had proposed marriage to Mrs. Kleman and was rejected. The Cincinnati [OH] Enquirer 11 March 1905: p. 9
There was a popular superstition that seeing a hearse or a mourning coach on one’s wedding day was an ill-omen for the marriage. Obviously this cabman worked with what he had, but possibly he had that folklore in mind.
Franz Minnichsdorfer, a Vienna cabman, loved Marie Singer, cashier in her mother’s restaurant in the Leopold Strasse, Vienna, but early last month she was married to another cabman. On the day of the marriage, Minnichsdorfer appeared before the Singer restaurant with his cab and decrepit nag trimmed with crape. When the wedding-party drove to the church, he circled around the procession with his funeral establishment and did fancy driving on each side of the bridal coach. When the party returned, he went with them in the same eccentric fashion. During the wedding-feast, at Restaurant Singer, he threw open the double doors and drove his crape-covered horse and coach into the room. After he and his had been ejected, he backed his cab up against the closed doors until they flew open again. He tried to back into the room, but the bridegroom and Mother-in-law Singer took him in charge and landed him and his mourning accouterments at a police station. The next day he pleaded guilty to six charges, and he is now in jail. The Argonaut [San Francisco, CA] 18 January 1892
As we see in the first of this next series of stories, crape could be used in another way to intimidate the faithless.
A JILTED WOMAN’S VENGEANCE.
Equally sweet, no doubt, was the revenge of another rejected lady who took a conspicuous and unwelcome part in the nuptials of her false lover. Dressed in deep mourning, and wearing the crape of a widow, she drove to the church in a mourning-coach in the wake of the bride, whom she followed up the aisle, to take her seat among the wedding guests. And there she remained through the service until the bride was led, half-fainting, from the church.
Of a very different character was the retaliation of a Devonshire farmer’s daughter on the man who had played her false. On the morning of his wedding to her supplanter, the bridegroom was waylaid by two of her stalwart brothers on his way to church; he was bound hand and foot, flung into a dogcart, and carried off to their home. Here the unhappy man was securely locked in a barn, after essential parts of his raiment had been removed and here he was kept until the following morning, when he was allowed to go on his way a sadder and, let us hope, a wiser man.
A short time ago the newspapers told an amusing of a Scottish lassie who turned the tables cleverly on her false fiancé. When the young man, who had been engaged to her for some years, deserted her in favour of a rival, she promptly brought her battery of charms to bear on his father; and with such success that within three months she was standing by his side at the altar. If the son had found her undesirable as a wife, she took such good care that he should find her less amiable as a step-mother that within a few weeks he had turned his back on his second love and was on his way to Canada.
That even time seems powerless to assuage the resentment of some women was proved by the recent will of a lady of Kent which contained this scathing clause: “To James of ___ to whom I was engaged to be married thirty years ago, and who deserted me on the very eve of our marriage, I bequeath the love letters I received from him, in the hope that he will read them and feel, in his old age, some shame for his cowardice in wrecking the life of a woman whose only crime was that she did not see how unworthy he was of any woman’s love.”
In another case the retaliation, though long delayed, was none the less crushing. Among the legacies of a maiden lady well-known in a Midland town was this: To ___ I bequeath the sum of £5, with which to buy a mourning ring in memory of my dead love for him, which he killed so many years ago; and also of my gratitude that by his conduct he saved me from the life of misery which I understand has been the lot of my successor in his false heart.”
Of revenges which combine subtlety with humour, it would be difficult to beat that of Miss Jessie Mclntyre, the eighteen-year-old daughter of a well-to-do Virginian family. A short time ago Miss Mclntyre’s fiancé, a prosperous young business man named Pendleton, suddenly informed her that he had fallen in love with another girl, whom he said he intended to marry.
Miss Jessie received the news with equanimity, and promptly set her wits to work to “get level” as she put it. Having discovered her rival, one Miss Aiken, in a neighbouring town, she had her hair cut short, donned a suit of her brother’s, and sallied forth to make love to her. This she did so effectually that before many weeks had passed Miss Aiken had promised her hand to the handsome stranger, and had given the fickle Mr. Pendleton his dismissal.
Two days later, Miss Aiken, while on a shopping expedition, met her “fiancé” in a gown of the latest fashion. Recognition was mutual heated words of recrimination had their sequel in a scratching match, and in the last scene of this drama of love and vengeance we see the two heroines led off to the police court, where, we are pleased to hear, the magistrate “dismissed them with a warning, amid the laughter of the spectators in the court.” Hastings Standard [Hawke’s Bay NZ] 25 April 1914: p. 4
A certain cold-bloodedness pervades stories of this next sort, where the bride or groom waits until the crucial moment to back out.
A BRIDE’S REVENGE
The other day, as a wedding party was ascending the steps which approach one of our Liverpool churches, the intended bride herself, owing to some obstruction, or to an inadvertent step, missed her footing and fell. The swain, unable, even at that joyful crisis of his existence, to conceal his vexation at this little contre-temps, exclaimed, pettishly, “Dear me, how very clumsy!” The lady said nothing, but she was observed to bite her lip, and a far darker and gloomier look than beseemed the Court of Hymen was seen to gather on her brow. She walked deliberately, however, into the church; the ceremony commenced; and everything proceeded in orthodox fashion, until the important question was put “Wilt thou have this man?” &c. Here, instead of whispering, blushingly, a soft affirmative to the communion cushions, the fair lady drew herself up, cast a withering glance upon her betrothed, and muttering the words, “Dear me, how very clumsy!” sailed down the aisle, and out of the church, with the port of an offended goddess. [Liverpool paper.] Boston [MA] Evening Transcript 26 October 1852: p. 1
“Dear me, how very clumsy:” not exactly l’esprit d’escalier, but sometimes the jilted one found exactly the right words.
A dashing Washington widow who had received marked attention from a very popular and gallant physician, found herself suddenly deserted. Her Aesculapius, aged 52, was completely enthralled by a beauty of 18, and on Christmas morning the wedding took place with all due pomp. Wormwood for the widow. She swallowed it bravely, wore an undaunted front, and was among the first to offer hurried congratulations to the happy pair. The conversation turned upon Christmas gifts, and the bride said, laughing gaily:
“All my wedding presents were sent just before Christmas, so on Christmas morning l had not a single gift.”
“Ah, my dear, that is cruel! You had me,” said the bridegroom reproachfully. Before the pretty bride could answer, the widow’s eyes grew dangerous, and, swinging slowly her large fan, she murmured: “Surely, my dear Mrs X., you should be more than satisfied, for you know antiquities are all the rage.” In the awful silence following the widow rose, carefully arranged her draperies, and bowed her adieu in stately serenity. Dr X. and his bride never returned her call. Otago [NZ] Witness, 13 February 1886: p. 27
And sometimes those words were the lost lover’s own….
HOW THEY “GOT LEVEL.”
DRAMAS OF LOVE AND REVENGE.
The modern girl whose love is spurned does not by any means always let disappointment, “feed on her damask cheek”; she finds more solace in revenge than in tears and sighs. And she is as ingenious in her vengeance as she is bold and remorseless in giving effect to it. When, for instance, a few months ago, a North Country lover deserted the girl who had worn his engagement ring for three years, to lay his disloyal heart at the feet of a lady whose money-bags compensated for her lack of youth and beauty, he could little foresee the price he would have to pay for his treachery. On the morning of her wedding day a parcel was placed in the bride’s hands, which, on being opened, revealed a handsomely bound volume, with the dedication, “To Mrs. __ in gratitude for rescuing Alice M__ from an unhappy fate. ‘Tis better to have loved and lost.”
The explanation of this strange dedication became painfully clear when the bride-to-be discovered that the volume contained all the ardent letters addressed by her lover to her predecessor in his affection and her indignation can be pictured when she read certain underlined passages of unflattering comment on herself. Hastings Standard [Hawkes Bay, NZ] 25 April 1914: p. 4
While there are plenty of stories of bride-on-bride cat-fights, it is rare that a jiltee raises a hand to the man in the case.
A YOUNG WOMAN’S REVENGE
On Saturday evening W. Trescott, a young dentist of Macedon [NY], received some ninety odd blows from a rawhide in the hands of a young lady he had jilted. The facts, as they are told us by respectable residents of Macedon, are as follows: The young dentist, some three years ago, opened an office in a building which already contained two sisters, who occupied rooms as dressmakers. An acquaintance followed, then the dentist began paying special attention to a pretty seamstress who worked for the sisters, and finally they were engaged. Christmas was to be their wedding day, and in making arrangements for that occasion, the lover went so far as to accompany his fiancée to this city, and assisted her in the selection of her trousseau. Soon after the dentist suddenly disappeared.
It seems he went to Wisconsin, where he married another. Last week he returned with his bride, apparently perfectly unconcerned about the broken engagement and the blighted affections of the young lady he had so basely deserted. He reappeared in his office, and there on Saturday noon he received a visit from the seamstress. She asked him for a reason for his conduct, and for a letter of hers in his possession. He made an insulting answer, when the young lady, growing indignant, seized a window shade rod and rushed toward him. He retreated into a closet, and thence through a window upon the roof of a shed, and so to the street. This slight encounter soon became known, and as everybody sympathized with the young lady, there were not wanting those who encouraged her in her purpose of chastising the heartless dentist.
In the evening he was seen on the street, and immediately pursued by the seamstress, who had armed herself with a rawhide. He entered a drug store, and retreating to a back room, held the door from the inside. Half the people of the village followed his pursuer into the store, all willing to see the beating duly inflicted; the door was pushed in, and a club, which the fugitive had grasped, was taken from him. The seamstress then beat him about the head and face with the rawhide till her strength failed and she fainted form exhaustion. The dentist contented himself with shielding his face with his arms as well as he was able, and then bore his punishment like a martyr. He is a little man, and probably thought it better to fall into the hands of the forsaken fair one than of the jeering crowd who looked on. The people of the village all speak of the good character of the young lady, and agree that the dentist was properly punished for his treachery. Rochester Democrat. National Aegis [Worcester, MA] 18 January 1873: p. 8
It is a pity that the GoPro, the latest trend in wedding videos, was not available at this exciting scene. Or for this next squib.
In revenge, a jilted Indiana girl ignited a dozen bunches of fire-crackers under a rival’s nuptial couch. St. Albans [VT] Daily Messenger 7 October 1871: p. 2
Sometimes a breach-of-promise case provided heart-balm for the broken-hearted.
A German Breach of Promise Case.
The tribunal of a large town in Lower Styria has just had to decide on a somewhat singular case of breach of promise. The young, pretty, and rich daughter of a baker became enamoured of a gallant Lieutenant in the army, and a marriage was soon agreed upon. The parents of the girl gave their consent, but on the express condition that their future son-in-law should give up his commission. This he agreed to, and hoped that the sacrifice would increase the affection of his betrothed; but, alas! With his glittering uniform departed all the love of the fickle fair one, who positively refused to ratify the engagement. The lover, having thus lost both his commission and his wife, brought an action for damages against the parents, and the Court condemned them to pay him a life annuity of 525 florins—the amount of his pay. Albany [NY] Evening Journal 19 September 1861: p. 2
And happy endings could arise from such proceedings:
Sequel to a Breach of Promise Case.
Seymour, Indiana, November 23. Last night, Mr. William Updike and Miss Mary Champion were married in this city, at the residence of the bride’s parents. Your readers will no doubt remember the particulars of the breach of promise, sent you on the 29th inst., when Mr. Pryor Dobkins and Miss Champion were to have been married, and how Dobkins backed out at the hour set for the marriage, and departed for Kentucky, leaving his sweetheart weeping, wailing and worrying over her woe. Mr. Updike sympathized with the young lady, and so comforted her that she is now his wife, having taken the wedding vows in the apparel in which she intended, five days ago, to become Mrs. Dobkins. We join in the wish of their friends that they may live long and happily together. Cincinnati [OH] Enquirer 26 November 1879: p. 1
An Iowa youth settled a breach of promise case by marrying the forlorn damsel and subsequently eloping with the girl who had been the cause of the breach and the suit. Daily Eastern Argus [Portland, ME] 19 February 1870: p. 4
The wedding-gift-as-revenge is a recurring theme.
SHE IS MODEST
Girl Wants Only $300 for Blighted Love
Presents Papers in Case to the Groom.
Paterson, N.J., Dec. 24. The most modest breach of promise suit on record has been instituted by Miss Cammie Baker, in the district court of Paterson, against William E. Flannigan. The diffident girl places the value of her blighted affections at $300.
When Miss Baker found, as she claims, that she had been jilted, she prepared a novel revenge and admits that she is content with little money. With grim humor she engaged a lawyer to prepare the papers in the case, and after tying them up neatly with pink ribbon and gold thread, presented them to the groom just after congratulating him at his marriage to another girl and admonished him to open them at once.
The newly married man was so overcome that he almost fainted and the friends of the bride drove the exultant Miss Baker from the room. She declares that she has had partial revenge and only wants $300 worth more. Jackson [MI] Citizen Patriot 24 December 1901: p. 1
Revenge is a dish best served cold, but this seems to fall in the liquid nitrogen category.
FOR SWEET REVENGE
Man, Jilted by Sweetheart Waits for Forty Years.
Des Moines, Ia., Oct. 3. Forty years ago Mrs. Jake Viers, then a maiden, jilted Nelson Fleming, her sweetheart upon his return from the war.
The other day he jilted her, saying: “It is my turn now.”
When the war broke out Fleming enlisted instead of marrying, his sweetheart saying that she would be true until his return.
Fighting for four years, he returned to claim his prize, but she declared that she no longer loved him, and a month later married Jacob Viers, Fleming’s old rival. For three years he suffered. Then he, too, married.
A year ago the husband of one and the wife of the other died.
Fleming, then 82, and Mrs. Viers, 71 years of age, renewed his suit.
The marriage was to have been performed in Colfax, Ia. The guests, preacher and bride-to-be waited at the latter’s home for two or three hours. It was not until a messenger arrived that the truth was known.
“Fleming has left for the Pacific Coast,” he said. “He said to tell you that he has had his revenge.”
The aged disappointed bride may not survive the shock. Bay City [MI] Times 3 October 1904: p. 5
In this case, a Vicar decided to administer divine justice with unhappy results.
There is an odd story told by a Norfolk vicar of one of his parishioners who was married by instalments. He had gone to church with his bride, and had expressed his readiness to forsake all others, and keep only to her as long as they both should live. When it came to the young woman’s turn, however, she was not so minded. No persuasion could make her agree to her share of the bargain. Pleading and storming were alike in vain, and at last the intended couple left the church, no more to each other than when they entered it. The village people stared to find that the would-be bridegroom was an even more ardent lover after this incident than before it. He laid steady siege to the heart of the fickle fair one, and at last induced her to go to the church with him again. His scheme was to get her there and leave her in the lurch, as she had left him. Unluckily for its success, he had taken a loose-tongued comrade into his confidence. The Vicar had got word of it, and was prepared. To the horror of the conspirator, he proposed to take up the marriage service where it was left off on the former occasion, and getting a ready assent from the young woman to fulfil the conditions she had previously declined, went on without hindrance to the end, and bound the disgusted bridegroom tightly to the expected object of his revenge. This was great sport for the Vicar but no laughing matter for the poor wretch who found the joke turned so completely against himself. The Vicar never moved a muscle, although inwardly he must have been exploding, his levity leaned to virtue’s side. Was he not indicting proper punishment on the man who would have made a fool of his parson and a mockery of the marriage service to pay off an old score? Was he not guarding the sanctity of the sacrament from vulgar ribaldry? Probably but, at the same time, he was punishing the young woman much more effectually than if he had let the rascal jilt her. Nelson [NZ] Evening Mail, 1 February 1893: p. 4
This last example, while it is not specifically bridal, is too good to pass up. If not (as is likely) just a tale, it stands alone in the annals of revenge.
A Frenchman, disappointed in love, determined to commit suicide. Previous to carrying his design into effect, he wrote a letter to the lady who had jilted him. In another document he noted his last wishes, which he desired should be scrupulously adhered to. His corpse was to be taken, boiled down, and the fat extracted. Out of this a candle was to be made and presented to the subject of his misplaced affections in order that she might read his communication by the light provided from his own body. The Cincinnati [OH] Enquirer 20 November 1880: p. 10
Other creative vengeance from those left at the altar? No balloon launches, please. Chriswoodyard8 AT gmail.com
Chris Woodyard is the author of The Victorian Book of the Dead, The Ghost Wore Black, The Headless Horror, The Face in the Window, and the 7-volume Haunted Ohio series. She is also the chronicler of the adventures of that amiable murderess Mrs Daffodil in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales. The books are available in paperback and for Kindle. Indexes and fact sheets for all of these books may be found by searching hauntedohiobooks.com. Join her on FB at Haunted Ohio by Chris Woodyard or The Victorian Book of the Dead.