Amber & Dylan's Roaring '20s prison wedding

March 2 |

We've seen this historic prison venue before and it is awesome! Check out this wedding that takes full advantage of the venue with a 1920s gangster vibe.

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Photos by Natural Element

The offbeat bride: Amber

Her offbeat partner: Dylan

Date and location of wedding: Mansfield Reformatory, Mansfield, Ohio — April 4, 2009

Our offbeat wedding at a glance: At first I wanted only 50 people in a small ceremony because I liked the idea that I knew all of those people well and that they would be there for us throughout our marriage. But as the guest list grew, so did the budget, and I decided that if we are going to spend all this money, we are going to make it something memorable and all about our guests having fun.

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We love black and white and the '20s. One day my mother-in-law called and said she'd found a prison that had just started hosting weddings. The first thing I thought was, "I do not want 'prison' written on my wedding invitation!" But I promised to tour it and we booked it the same day. It was really fun combing the internet for fun little favor and decor ideas, and we immersed ourselves in everything Roaring '20s.

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My mother-in-law is a genius graphic designer. She helped me design wedding invitations that would have probably costs thousands from a high-end designer, and she printed them all for us. She made signs to show our guests where things were. She was a great resource for us and I honestly cried when I saw the invites. I also stuffed a single peacock feather into each invite as peacocks and other birds were very popular in the '20s.

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I asked all the bridesmaids to pic a flapper-style dress in black. There were lots of popular styles, even in plain retail stores. They dressed them up with feather hairpieces and pearls. As gifts, I got each girl a flask with her intials and a garter to hold it in under her dress! Instead of bouquets, they carried fans made of white and peacock feathers.

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The guys rented mobster-style suits with hats and chains. As their gift, we gave each one a set of Chuck Taylors in their size and some argyle socks.

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In the central guard room, there were two very large cell blocks on either side. On the guests' way into the cell blocks, we had a "booking station" set up. Instead of a guest book, there was a huge table full of props such as boas, '20s wigs, cigarette holders, and bowler hats for people to wear in the photo booth. The backdrop was an actual caging area that was once used to hold inmates. We had a little sign they each held up to look like their inmate number but it started with 04042009___ and then they signed the guest book and entered the number next to the entry on the card. Later we got to print everyone's shots and paste them next to their words in our book.

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Our cake was built with octagons with a '20s art deco feel. The groom's cake was a small chocolate cake with chocolate wafers crumbled on top to look like rubble and King Kong stood in the middle. They must have been good because the only piece we got was the one we shoved in each others' faces which then fell into my dress.

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For the bouquet toss, I knew there would be three specific ladies who wanted it. So I made three mini bouquets. Each of the girls got their own! I also created six information sheets as placemats: Al Capone, Louis Armstrong, Ladies of Film, etc. But the most popular card was "'20s slang" with 30 phrases I heard getting belted across the room all night.

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Our first dance was to Bjork's "It's Oh So Quiet."

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Our gifts to the guests were large stemless wine glasses with our wedding emblem on them. Our emblem, created again by my awesome mother-in-law, said D & A in an art deco style like it was a marquee. We used the emblem on everything we had printed.

0089Tell us about the ceremony: I did get my small ceremony with about 50 people in the Warden's Dining Room at the Mansfield Reformatory where we booked. We asked those invited to the ceremony to sign an agreement that my mother-in-law created for us in '20s style. It spoke of supporting us in our new marriage and also of our promise to love and support them as well. We had a sand ceremony and an Irish Bell Ceremony, as I am Irish on both sides and love that heritage. Here were our vows:

Our officiant, Nick, to Dylan:
Dylan, do you promise to support Amber's dreams, share her burdens, and bring her joy? To pick her up when she is down, and shelter her in your arms? To share times of prosperity and endure times of need?

Do you chose to support Amber through her many illnesses, her need to over-organize, plan-ahead, and still show up late? And do you further promise to always press pause for her?

Do you promise to choose Amber every morning as you wake, and choose her every night before you sleep?

Nick to Amber:
Amber, do you promise to support Dylan's dreams, share his burdens, and bring him joy? To pick him up when he is down, and shelter him in your arms? To share times of prosperity and endure times of need?

Do you chose to love him through his snoring, Warcrafting, and poor dancing? Do you promise to always work the DVR for him and believe him when he says "it will be ok?"

Do you promise to choose Dylan every morning as you wake, and choose him every night before you sleep?

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Bell ringing ceremony:
Soon I will announce Amber and Dylan as husband and wife. But there is one last tradition in which they would like to partake. In Ireland, it is traditional to present the newly married couple with a bell that was ringing as they kissed for the first time as husband and wife. It not only brings them good fortune and luck for the future, but it also symbolizes the sound of their marriage. Should there be a quarrel or tiff, the old Irish remedy is to ring the wedding bell and renew the feelings of love that they felt on this day.

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Our biggest challenge: My biggest challenge was to stay calm. I did not do this well before the big day. I was worried that things weren't in order or something wasn't going to go well, or I had forgotten some detail. But once I met Dylan in that grand hallway before the ceremony to take pictures, it all went away. Someone could have set off the fire alarm and I wouldn't have noticed.

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My favorite moment: I always thought of the ceremony as the boring part. But I loved the words we chose to bind ourselves together. We both love literature and we each chose things that went into the ceremony. I love that people laughed at our quirkiness.

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And I love that Dylan knew me so well. He knew I was incredibly nervous and hate standing in front of crowds, so he played two little jokes on me. First, when he went to hand me my ring, he pulled from his pocket a bright blue plastic butterfly ring he had won on a little excursion to Chuck E. Cheese that morning. He placed it on my finger and then laughed and took the real one from his best man and put that one on my finger too. To this day he considers that plastic blue butterfly my wedding ring! When our buddy and officiant Nick said "you may now kiss the bride," he paused and put his hand up, pulled chapstick out, and glossed up his lips before the kiss!

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My funniest moment: The most surprising was when a ghost locked us into a room as our wedding was starting! We had gone with our two photographers before the ceremony to take some pics in the unrestored part of the reformatory. We honestly didn't quite know where we were, but the chipping paint and gorgeous old architecture was just such an opportunity. At some point we heard a loud noise. We found our way back to the entrance room of the unrestored wing and saw the giant heavy wooden door had closed, and there was no doorknob! Just a hole where a doorknob should be. By this time we were supposed to be walking down the aisle. We started calling people's cell phones for help, but they were all turned off. Finally, someone answered and the groomsman came looking for the mysterious door, and shouldered it open so we could RUN to our ceremony!

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My advice for offbeat brides: Write your own vows! That was the most meaningful part of the day and one of the most fun parts of planning.

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Care to share a few vendor/shopping links?

Enough talk — show me the wedding porn!

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  1. OMG this wedding is epic, I dont even have the words…..

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  2. This wedding is absolutely freaking amazing! I love all the art deco touches and the venue is spectacular. I also think the groom's cake is really adorable. Congratulations!

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  3. You had me at 20's themed. But in an old (and haunted!!) prison?? *squeal* How insanely, bitchin'-awes-tabulous is THAT?!?!

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  4. I LOVE your venue! but I think that bitchin'-awes-tabulous is my new favorite word! Lol!

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  5. Ok. Totally bizarre. I'm having a vintage (not quite 20's, though my dress is 20's-ish) inpsired wedding in a historic haunted prison. Crazy!

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  6. great venue and love the old cars! way to go to the nth degree with your art deco – it's gorgeous! for me, the best part is the vows and bell ceremony.
    please PLEASE share the list of 20's slang

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    • Having trouble finding the original… but here were the words…
      And How – I strongly agree!
      Baby: sweetheart. Also denotes something of high value or respect.
      Baby vamp: an attractive or popular female, student
      Bearcat – a hot-blooded or fiery girl
      Beat it – scam or get lost
      Bee's Knees – An extraordinary person, thing, idea; the ultimate
      Big Cheese – The most important or influential person; boss. Same as big shot
      Bird – general term for a man or woman, sometimes meaning "odd," i.e. "What a funny old bird."
      Bootleg – illegal liquor
      Bull Session – Male talkfest, gossip, stories of sexual exploits
      Bump Off – To murder, To kill
      Caper – a criminal act or robbery
      Carry a Torch – To have a crush on someone
      Cat's Meow – Something splendid or stylish; similar to bee's knees; The best or greatest, wonderful. Cat's Pajamas – Same as cat's meow
      Clam – a dollar
      Copacetic – Wonderful, fine, all right
      Dame – a female
      Dogs – feet
      Doll – an attractive woman
      Dolled up – dressed up
      Don't take any wooden nickels – Don't do anything stupid
      Dough – money
      Drugstore Cowboy – a guy that hangs around on a street corner trying to pick up girls
      Dry up – shut up, get lost
      Ducky – very good
      Fire extinguisher – a chaperone
      Flapper – A stylish, brash, hedonistic young woman with short skirts & shorter hair
      Fly boy – a glamorous term for an aviator
      Frame – To give false evidence , to set up someone
      Get a wiggle on – get a move on, get going
      Goofy – in love
      Handcuff – an engagement ring
      Heebie-Jeebies – The jitters
      High-Hat – To snub
      Hooch – Bootleg liquor
      Horsefeathers – an expletive ; same usage as applesauce
      Hotsy – Totsy – Pleasing
      Jalopy – Old car
      Java – coffee
      Keen – Attractive or appealing
      Neck – Kissing with passion
      On the lam – fleeing from police
      On the level – legitimate, honest
      Ossified – a drunk person
      Pill – (1) a teacher (2) an unlikable person
      Pinch – To arrest
      Pipe down – stop talking
      Pushover – A person easily convinced or seduced
      Putting on the Ritz – after the Ritz hotel in Paris; doing something in high style
      Rag-a-muffin – a dirty or disheveled individual
      Razz- to make fun of
      Real McCoy – The genuine article
      Ritzy – Elegant (from the hotel)
      Says you – a reaction of disbelief
      Scram – Ask someone to leave immediately
      Sheba – A woman with sex appeal (from the move Queen of Sheba) or (e.g. Clara Bow)
      Sheik – A man with sex appeal (from the Valentino movies)
      Shiv – a knife
      Speakeasy – An illicit bar selling bootleg liquor
      Spiffy – An elegant appearance
      Tin Pan Alley – the music industry in New York, located between 48th and 52nd street
      Wet Blanket – a solemn person, a killjoy
      Whoopee – To have a good time

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      • Thanks for sharing I never realized how popular this theme is. We our having ours next year in a building that was built in the early 1920's prohibition style… gambling and all. Thank you for sharing again.

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  7. This is so cool! For a prison their location is BEAUTIFUL!

    I LOVE the feathers too!

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  8. This is truly amazing. Gorgeous details! Congratulations, you guys! High-fiving at the alter? You're my kind of people. :)

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  9. Hi all… thanks so much for all the fun comments. The wedding was much bigger than I set out to be… but I love, love, love remembering everything down to the candy cigarettes on the tables. Also need to give a big shout out to my mom who did the amazing centerpieces full of white flowers, pearls and ostrich feathers. They were so great, about 4 got stolen! You can see more pics of the wedding, and more pics of everything 20's on our website as well.

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    • I think it's tradition for people to take home the centerpieces, so maybe they're not 'stolen'?

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  10. I never comment on here… but i just had to say this wedding looked amazing. congrats to all who pulled it off. i love the whole art deco style of it all.. and the venue looks so awesome. seriously amazing!

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  11. Oh holy canoles, I am so loving this! Your dress is beautiful! The whole thing was put together so well that my brain wants to comment on all of it, but let's just say it was fantastical!

    Most of all, I love you location! Shawshank Redemption is probably one of my fave movies and I lust after the old prison it was filmed at (can you lust after a building?) and I wish there was something like that here in So Cal, but reality check, there is nothing like that in So Cal…seeing your location just made me swoon!

    Congrats on pulling together an amazing day! Good luck in your new life together :)

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    • Hi Little Nikki,
      Thanks so much. The prison definitely made the wedding. I'm sure you'll find a cool and unique spot in SoCal too!
      It's funny, I actually wanted to knock off 2 designer dresses (I hated the idea of a rack dress)… Commissioned someone to make them, and they said "sure, I can do that"… It was a disaster! So one day I gave up, walked into a David's Bridal and there it was fitting my theme. My MOH made me try it on since I didn't like it on the rack. But it was PERFECT.

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  12. The whole day looks amazing! And I want to live in that prison!

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  13. OMFG. THIS WEDDING. so much this wedding. I was drooling from start to finish on everything you did, because it's everything I've dreamed about, right down to the antique cars waiting out front!

    Speaking of which: HOW DID YOU GET THOSE CARS? I want them so hard, even though I'm in NY.

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    • Happy coincidence… Friend of the family had one and the other was a buddies car. BUT a great place to start is an antique car show… Those guys love showing off their cars so they may even offer to come for free if you send them some pictures after.

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  14. PS… totally forgot to mention how I broke my leg 6 weeks before the wedding and almost had to walk down the aisle with a boot!

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  15. OH MY GOD! I love love love that you put a theme into it and that you played with it. The venue is sooooo amazing! And your vows so perfect. Congrat's!!!!

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