Laura & Jason's tattooed and belly-dancing historical wedding

Updated Oct 12 2015
 
Photos by: Amanda and Jordan Photography
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Photos by Amanda and Jordan Photography

The Offbeat Bride: Laura, tattooer

Her offbeat partner: Jason, DevOps Engineer

Date and location of wedding: Gunn-Bellenger House, Gadsden, AL — October 26, 2013

Our offbeat wedding at a glance: In 1886, my great-grandfather built a beautiful two-story home for his wife, but around 1900 sold it to move west. In the early 1990s, the last member of that family passed away and left the house to the city of Gadsden, AL in the hopes that it would be restored. It was restored, and is absolutely gorgeous. At 10 years old, I wished that one day I would have an important event in that house. When Jason and I got engaged, I immediately knew where we should have the wedding. The house had been sitting unused for several years, and I feared that I would not be allowed to use it. However, after tracking down the right people, the city generously agreed to let us use the house. We were so happy that the wedding was able to breathe new life into it.

Gunn-Bellenger House in Gadsden AL

We are a couple of many interests: tattoos, dancing, history, costuming, Civil War reenactment, books, video games, and more. We wanted to make sure our wedding reflected us as a couple as much as possible, while still incorporating everything and everyone that we fill our lives with. We had always discussed historical dress for the wedding, and decided fairly quickly to go with the 1880s, to match the era of the house.

These people are awesome, we had such a good time all day :)

We ended up with a wedding party of 16, 18 including the two of us. In addition to the 1880s theme for the wedding party, we asked all of our friends to dress to fit the way they know us, if they felt comfortable doing so. We had a group dressed in belly dance regalia, some re-enactors in civilian Civil War-era clothes, and of course, some in contemporary clothing.

52nd Regimental String Band

A bow and a curtsy

I love dancing so much, especially Victorian dancing, that I wanted to make that a part of our wedding. The great thing about Victorian dance, and similar styles of dance, is that it is designed with the idea that not everyone is a natural dancer. The dances are repetitive, with simple steps, and fairly simple structure. I hired a Victorian era band, the 52nd Regimental String Band, who plays songs of the Victorian era and have a dance caller, who teaches everyone the steps as you go.

Around and around we go

Someone is having a good time ;)

Reel the line!

The Patty Cake Polka

My wedding jewelry

My only grandparent still alive is my Granny (who just turned 90!) who I treasure dearly. She was not feeling up to attending our wedding, and though I was slightly heartbroken, she did ask me to wear something of hers. She gave me a beautiful diamond cocktail ring, that had been a gift some years ago from my grandfather. I paired this with my Victorian wedding bracelets, which belonged to my great grandfather's first wife (the one for whom the wedding venue was built), my engagement ring (which was made in 1889), and a pair of garnet earrings that were gifted to me by my mother-in-law. I also wore a tiara made up of waxed orange blossoms. Orange blossoms have been worn in weddings for many hundreds of years, but it was Queen Victoria who made it extremely popular when she wore them in her wedding in 1840.

Jason performs on the drum for the first time

And I dance while he drums :)

Jason loves musical instruments and is quite adept at playing them, whereas I can not seem to play an instrument to save my life. In turn, I have always loved to dance and he is not so great at dancing. We found a way to bring these two interests together in the form of bellydance. I've been bellydancing for about four years now, and not long after Jason and I got engaged, he decided he wanted to learn how to play the drum. We decided that instead of doing a first dance, we'd close out the reception with me dancing to Jason playing the drum. This being his first performance, he received backup from the drum teacher, and I danced improv while they played.

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Headed downstairs for our first look, I was so excited :)

We were all smiles :)

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Tell us about the ceremony:
I found a pamphlet online from the Victorian era that contained everything one would need to say and do in a wedding of the era (it was intended for ministers of the time). We made a few changes to the ceremony to better suit our personalities, which included the replacing of some words and the addition of a couple of readings. We asked my sister-in-law to read Shakespeare's Sonnet #116, which speaks of marriage. We also decided that instead of doing personal vows to each other, as we had previously discussed, that we would read something together. We chose to read "The Ent and the Ent-wife" which is a song recited in the Lord of the Rings. It's a song about the longing of the Ents for their lost Ent-wives. It reads thus:

The kiss!

Ent:
When spring unfolds the beechen-leaf and sap is in the bough,
When light is on the wild-wood stream, and wind is on the brow,
When stride is long, and breath is deep, and keen the mountain air,
Come back to me! Come back to me, and say my land is fair!

Ent-wife:
When Spring is come to garth and field, and corn is in the blade,
When blossom like a shining snow is on the orchard laid,
When sun and shower upon the earth with fragrance fill the air,
I'll linger here, and will not come, because my land is fair!

Ent:
When Summer lies upon the world, and in a noon of gold
Beneath the roof of sleeping leaves the dreams of trees unfold,
When woodland halls are green and cool, and wind is in the West,
Come back to me! Come back to me, and say my land is best!

Ent-wife:
When Summer warms the hanging fruit and burns the berry brown;
When straw is gold, and ear is white, and harvest comes to town;
When honey spills, and apple swells, though wind be in the West,
I'll linger here beneath the Sun, because my land is best!

Ent:
When Winter comes, the winter wild that hill and wood shall slay;
When trees shall fall and starless night devour the sunless day;
When wind is in the deadly East, then in the bitter rain
I'll look for thee, and call to thee; I'll come to thee again!

Ent-wife:
When Winter comes, and singing ends; when darkness falls at last;
When broken is the barren bough, and light and labour past;
I'll look for thee, and wait for thee, until we meet again:
Together we will take the road beneath the bitter rain!

Both:
Together we will take the road that leads into the West,
And far away will find a land where both our hearts may rest.
It was near the end of this beautiful reading that I almost lost control of my emotions, but managed to swallow back the tears and finish the reading.

We did it!

Woo!

Our biggest challenge:
I tend to have a lot of ideas, and am just stubborn enough to make sure that I accomplish them all. I insisted on making almost everything myself, partly due to money, but also because I wanted to make sure it was done right. I made my own dress, and six of the bridesmaids dresses, and my sister made her own dress and corset, and six of the tournures. Each dress includes a bodice, underskirt, and overskirt; I also made 7 corsets, and my own tournure (bustle cage). In four months, my sister and I completed eight Victorian outfits. Jason and all of his groomsmen ordered suits online, and I really enjoyed how diverse their outfits ended up. In addition to the clothing, we did all of the flowers ourselves, the cupcake toppers, and table and mantlepiece decorations.

So cute :)

The only way to overcome this challenge was to embrace it and work like crazy when I wasn't at my normal job. I kept a notebook with me at all times, to keep track of ideas, what needed to be done or had been done, and to keep track of budget. I won't say that everything turned out exactly as I had planned, but we loved it. This was made possible by our amazing family and wedding party, who helped me complete a lot of my ideas as late as the day-of.

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A favorite quote from a favorite author

Our cupcakes and bottled drinks were Alice in Wonderland themed, as the book was published well before the 1880s :)

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My funniest moment:
The funniest moment from our ceremony would be when Jason's sister got up to do a reading. We asked her to read a Shakespearean sonnet which she read with a very loud English accent (hint, she's not English!). This moment was actually a lifesaver, as I had been terrified that I would bawl throughout the entire ceremony, and this ensured that I did not.

The necklace I had made for my sister

My favorite moment:
The most meaningful moments happened during our toasts. For over an hour, our friends and family raised their glasses to us, as they recounted funny stories and beautiful memories. I would say the most meaningful part of the toasts for me was when I made a special presentation to my family. When I was 19, I was given a large cocktail ring that belonged to my grandmother, who had just passed away. The circumstances were odd, and my family had no idea that I had this ring and most of them didn't even know it existed. It was a rather large ring, that contained quite a lot of diamonds, and was not something that I would have considered wearing, partly due to the style of it and also because of it's extremely tiny size. From the moment I received it, I knew that I wanted to have it broken down somehow, and share it with my family.

To honor my father

When we got engaged, I thought to myself, what better time could there ever be than in this moment when I'm celebrating with my family, to give them this gift. I had the ring taken apart and made into three necklaces and two tie tacks. A necklace for me, my mother, and my sister, and the two tie tacks for my two brothers. In addition, I had a gold tie tack made with our family crest for my father. This was a very emotional moment for me.

We played nice

The Broom Waltz

One last Virginia Reel

Care to share a few vendor/shopping links?

Enough talk — show me the wedding porn!

  1. The house! The clothing! The love! I absolutely love this wedding. Congrats and here's to a life filled with adventures galore.

  2. I wish I could have been a guest at this wedding! The house is gorgeous and it looks like you guys had such a great time. I love everything about this wedding…the theme, location, outfits (you looked beautiful), belly dancing while he plays drums…AMAZING!!! Congrats and best of luck in your future together.

  3. I can't even contain myself with this wedding. The incredible house and the mismatched clothes and the unbelievable LOVE. Oh my gosh. And the HISTORY. Sweet mother of all that is righteous, the HISTORY.

    I actually "GUH"ed out loud. This is beyond gorgeous. <3

    May I mention that I also really love the "first (belly) dance"? I love how it could be symbolic of using your individual strengths to create something new and beautiful together. Like marriage!

    • I so agree. That's exactly what I was thinking. I love the history in the family and the history of love?… check!

    • Thank you so much, I feel like it all couldn't have come together any better..I just wish I could do it again πŸ™‚

  4. Oh my goodness, you look so beautiful in the period dress! I can't believe you made those amazing dresses yourself! And I am bookmarking this Ent reading, so lovely!

  5. The Ent and the Ent-Wife gave me such chills and tears in my eyes, reading it just now, it's perfect. Now I remember why I don't read much Tolkien; my feelings can't handle it! Your emotional connection to your choices, especially to the Victorian era, shows so strongly, it's stunning. Thanks so much for sharing this with us.

    • Thank you so much, I'm glad that I was able to share it! πŸ™‚ and it is lovely isn't it? I get tears in my eyes every time I read it πŸ˜›

  6. I think this wedding really empathises Ariel's 'have an authentic wedding for you' policy. It's all so romantic an meaningful yet (from the description) so much of the essence of the couple being joined. The first 'dance' sounded awesome!

  7. The clothes! Victorian dancing! Tolkien references! This has to be one of my favourite weddings on here to date. Everything came out beautifully.

  8. This was a really great read. Lots of wonderful elements here. Other than the beautiful historical pieces, which speak for themselves, I loved the first bellydance and the way you split the ring among all your family members!

  9. This wedding blew my mind! Looking at the pictures and reading this article brought tears to my eyes! Truly stellar by the looks of it! Best wishes to the bride and groom.

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