Saturday, May 7, 2011

Why do some traditions die out?

In going through my stack of stuff to file, I came across a very humorous story (though I didn't realize that's what it was at first). My great-grandfather Jim Harris had six older brothers (though one died as an infant) and though I have a few census and other records on them and their families, I don't really know too much about them yet. Mostly they're one branch of the family I still have yet to do real research on.

However, today I found a newspaper article about the second-oldest son in the family, William Harris, and his marriage to his second wife, Mary Mazza. The article begins with the normal details - they were married in the rectory of a Catholic church, in a ceremony officiated by Father John P. O'Malley (a good Irish Catholic name if I've heard one). It even gives some details on the bride's gown.

The funny part is what happened after the honeymoon was over. After spending a few days in Butte, they came home to "a charivari ride through the business section of the city on an improvised sulkey made on the back springs of a cart hitched to an automobile, after which a reception was given at their new home in
Parker's addition by their friends."
European sulkies, courtesy of Wikipedia

Being the modern city boy that I am, I had no idea what a "charivari ride" or "sulkey" were. A quick trip to and Wikipedia helped fill me in though. According to, a charivari, or shivaree/chivaree, is a "discordant mock serenade to newlyweds, made with pans, kettles, etc." And Wikipedia had a really good article showing just what a sulky is (the newspaper mispelled it apparently). It's a little carriage usually pulled by a horse, often in races, having only a seat and wheels, but no body.

So, if you reread the article, it sounds like William and Mary came back from their honeymoon, and sat on a little mini-carriage hooked up to a 1930s car, and were pulled through the business district of Philipsburg, while all their friends and neighbors followed banging on pots and pans and singing loudly and purposefully out-of-tune. Which leads me to my question - how do traditions like this ever die out? I think it's an absolutely hilarious way to welcome back a newly-married couple, and would love to be in on a revival of the tradition should one come about. It just goes to show you - people back then sure knew how to have a good time.

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