Silver Weddings

A West Indian wedding party in Panama, circ 1915.

Silver Weddings of the 30’s and 40’s
Images thanks to Mr. G
eorge W. Westerman


The year 1935 was a year of firsts on the American home front. The first broadcast of “Fibber McGee and Molly” occurred on April 16, and the pop icon Elvis Presley was also born that year. It was also the year that the U.S. Congress accepted FDR’s “New Deal” package.

In Panama, 1935 was the year my parents decided to formalize their romance and get married. It turned out to be quite a shindig, one that many friends and family members would remember for years to come since my father, Cobert did not stint in so far as paying for the best of preparations, attire, food and vehicle transport and church arrangements. In fact, the “Silver” weddings of the 30’s and 40’s were usually elaborate- one might say ostentatious- affairs.

They were a far cry from the weddings of their immigrant parents which were usually hurriedly prepared affairs between the couple often involving only the application for a marriage license with the Zone authorities and then a simple, sparsely attended ceremony at the local Christian church. This was the case of my grandparents, Fanny and Joshua Reid, who applied for their marriage license in Empire in 1912. Empire was one of the original administrative sites for all the Canal Zone offices including the office that issued marriage licenses and birth and death records.

From there they proceeded to take the train that traversed the “big ditch” since it was still a large excavation scene and the two oceans had not, as yet, been allowed to enter and flood the Canal. It was a pleasant ride and something that gave my grandmother many fond memories to remember how the Westindian people had greatly contributed to the building of this Wonder of the Modern World.

They arrived in Paraiso in February of 1912, the same town where my grandfather had shortly before worked directing the Medical Dispensary, and went to the First Wesleyan Church of Paraiso to exchange marriage vows. Their simple ceremony was attended by only the witnesses at the church. They then went to stay at a close friend’s place for a day or two and Joshua had to return to his job. Since the men’s barracks were tiny and stifling hot and not at all suited for a couple or a growing family’s needs, Joshua had to begin in earnest to search for new living arrangements.

Not all Silver weddings of the construction era were this Spartan as you can see by the first image above which attests to more sumptuous arrangements. Most all of them, however, had something in common- after the wedding the couple would have to return to living quarters that were wholly unsuited to a healthy family development. Good housing arrangements, for the most part, just didn’t exist and they had to make do with tiny, hot, uncomfortable one room barracks-like habitations that often lacked sanitation facilities and sewage.

Twenty to thirty years later, as we will see in my next post, the weddings would be much more costly and well attended but, overall, the housing problem still posed a great stumbling block to a healthier way of life for Silver families.

This story continues.

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