Thursday, June 5, 2008

1833 veil

This column was published in the Danvers Herald June 5, 2008.

A Wedding Veil from 1833 Survives Today
By Sandy Nichols Ward

"What Nichols veil?," asked my mother just days before my wedding. A great aunt had mentioned the "Nichols veil" and wondered if I wanted to wear it. I had been attempting, without much success, to sew my own veil, so I was eager for a solution. Borrowing an old veil seemed worth a try, though my mother fretted that its color might not match my gown. She need not have worried; the antique veil turned out to be remarkably white, and a perfect complement to my dress. 

I learned that four brides on my father's side of the family had worn this veil before me, starting in 1833! I was thrilled to be wearing it in June 1965. The beautiful patterns woven into the silk looked especially nice against my long brown hair and simple gown, and I enjoyed the fact that I was wearing a family heirloom. I didn't at the time investigate the history of the veil or the brides before me, other than to note the interesting coincidence that the first bride was a Ward marrying into the Nichols family, while I was a Nichols marrying a Ward!

After the wedding, my mother intended to return the veil to Aunt May's bureau drawer, but Aunt May, then in her 90's, preferred that we keep it. My mother took care of storing it, and later lent it to another Nichols bride, my cousin Emily. She married Tom Haggerty on June 6, 1971; they are celebrating their 37th anniversary this week. 

Emily's older sister Nancy had worn the veil in 1955. Nancy and Emily's aunt, Florence Ballou Nichols, had worn it in 1931. Florence's aunt, Nellie Chapman Nichols, had worn it in 1903 as she married Charles Henry Preston. According to a newspaper account,  "The bride … wore white silk and a veil of lace which had been worn 70 years ago by her grandmother." That grandmother was Mary Holyoke Ward (1800-1880) of Salem who married Dr. Andrew Nichols (1785-1853) on October 3, 1833. Their son Andrew built a cottage in Danvers in 1861. Thus began "Pine Knoll", the Nichols family homestead at 198 Preston Street where Nellie and her many siblings – including my great aunt May, my grandfather William, and Emily and Nancy's grandfather Joshua – were raised.  The veil was kept in that home for years.  

Today this veil from 1833 rests safely in an acid-free box at the Danvers Historical Society. Emily and I donated it in January 2000. We had become convinced that it was too fragile to withstand further wear and tear. That it survived this long is quite surprising, given the many more substantial objects that have vanished since 1833. Aunt May died in 1966 and the wonderful old Pine Knoll house, full of antiques, burned to the ground in 1975. The knoll has been flattened and covered with condominiums. Nichols Street, on which I lived from birth 'til marriage, was cut apart by Route 95 and most of Nichols Hill, including the old barn built in 1856, was destroyed in that highway construction. Since 1965, I have moved many times. The veil remained with my parents in Danvers for some years (in a house that no longer exists), but later it was stored, rolled on a tube, in a closet in my California home. It moved back to New England with me in 1992, but was ignored until 1998, when my daughter began planning her wedding. I consulted experts and had the veil carefully cleaned before taking it to California for her to examine. The airlines even lost the package for a while! My daughter chose not to wear it in 1999, so I brought it back to New England. I was quite delighted to return this special wedding veil to Danvers for safe-keeping.

Click on the image to enlarge it.

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