The Marine Band performed weekend summer concerts on the south grounds of the White House from June to September for many years. In 1886, Grover Cleveland and his new bride Frances Folsom made an appearance on the South Portico at a Fourth of July concert. The crowd rushed to get a view of the new, very young first lady. As the president saw the huge crowd approaching, he waved to them with his straw hat and hurried Mrs. Cleveland indoors. The crowd then flocked back to the concert.
The early Cleveland White House had been a bachelor’s household; the president worked long hours and rarely entertained. Rose Cleveland, the president’s sister, acted as first lady, managed the affairs of the residence, and spent much of her time studying.
No sooner did the public become accustomed to the image of a lonely White House, than did the picture change. President Cleveland had been secretly courting Frances “Frank” Folsom, the daughter of Oscar Folsom, his late law partner. When Folsom was killed in a carriage accident, Cleveland became the administrator of his estate and the ward of then 12-year old Frances, devoting himself to the welfare of the girl and her mother.
Intimates of the Clevelands and Folsoms knew that the attachment between the president and Frank was more than friendship. A year before he went to the White House, he obtained permission from Mrs. Folsom to correspond with her daughter.
A graduate of Wells College at Aurora, New York, Frances was bright, had an animated wit, unaffected nature, and natural beauty that left the president smitten. Their courtship was conducted largely by mail and the president included his proposal of marriage in a letter.
On May 28, 1886, after Frances and her mother returned from a nine-month tour of Europe, the formal announcement of the engagement was made; five days later, the 49-year old bachelor married 21-year old Frances Folsom in a small White House ceremony. The public was captivated.
On Wednesday, June 2, 1886, at 6:30 in the evening, cabinet members and their wives, selected government officials and close family friends were ushered into the Blue Room. The state floor was decorated with a profusion of palms, ferns, and flowers from the White House greenhouses. At the east end of the grand Cross Hall, the Marine Band, led by John Philip Sousa, played the Wedding March.
Cleveland and his bride, with no attendants, descended the stairs, crossed the hall and stood beneath the flower-laden chandelier in the Blue Room. Presbyterian minister, Reverend Byron Sunderlund performed a specially written rite of marriage. The couple then led their guests through the Green Room into the East Room, where they promenaded in the shimmering light of the gas chandeliers.
The new Mrs. Cleveland wore an elegant wedding gown of heavy corded satin draped in frail, pearl white, India silk, edged in real orange blossoms. A pair of silk scarves criss-crossed the front of the dress covering the low Parisian neckline. Her long silk veil was held in place with orange blossoms and seed pearls; attached to the bodice was a 15-foot silk train.
After about a half an hour had passed in promenade, the doors of the Cross Hall were opened and the bride and groom led the guests to the State Dining Room for a seated, candlelit dinner. A three-masted ship made of flowers and christened the Hymen dominated the table.
After dinner the bride and groom disappeared to change into street clothes for traveling and left the White House by way of the Blue Room where a coach awaited at the foot of the South Portico stairs. Canvas screens blocked the public’s view.
Escorted by mounted police, coachman Albert Hawkins drove the carriage through a cheering crowd down Pennsylvania Avenue. The Clevelands traveled by private railroad car to Deer Park Resort in the mountains of western Maryland for their honeymoon.
See The White House Historical Association's website for more information.