Voyage de Noces: How Niagara Falls got its honeymoon rep

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Courtesy of Images of America: Niagara Falls 1850-–2000, Arcadia Publishing

 

 

When royals marry, it captures international attention and inspires wedding trends for years to follow. Much like the recent marriage of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, in the early 1800s, Jérôme Bonaparte—Napoleon’s cooler younger brother married a young American beauty. Her name was Elizabeth and she was the daughter of Baltimore merchant ship owner William Patterson.

 

Jérôme Bonaparte

 

The pair wed in Baltimore before venturing to New Orleans. The return carriage trip included a sightseeing foray to Niagara, as it was simply called then. Some documents suggest the couple may have abandoned the formal carriage in Utica, riding horseback and camping their way west to the Falls.

 

The Bonaparte union was a dramatic one from the start. His visit to the States was enough to raise the interest of reporters, and his young American bride’s manner of dress was considered risqué, so the Bonapartes’ every move was documented. Napoleon officially forbade the union and insisted his brother get an annulment. The groom refused, and from there the story grows only more entangled and tragic. Elizabeth became pregnant and the pair sailed to Europe to attend Napoleon’s coronation, but she was stopped at the border at Napoleon’s request. Jérôme left his young and pregnant wife behind so he could plead to his brother in person, begging for his approval of their marriage, or, at least, her entrance to the country. She never saw Jérôme again. He eventually remarried, leaving poor Elizabeth to raise her child in America alone. The unfolding of this tale provided a constant wave of news to scandalized newspaper readers on several continents. The lovers, ultimately ripped apart by cultural divide and royal obligation, lent their star-crossed energy to Niagara Falls forever more, earning the landmark a longstanding reputation as the most romantic place to honeymoon in America.

 

 

Niagara’s rise to Honeymoon Capital

 

1801

US Vice President Aaron Burr’s daughter, Theodosia, marries one-day governor of South Carolina Joseph Alston. The couple takes a post-wedding trip to Niagara Falls.

 

1804

Newlyweds Jérôme and Elizabeth Bonaparte celebrate their nuptials in Niagara.

 

1825

Erie Canal is completed, opening the floodgates to middle class tourism.

 

1841

A popular tune about honeymooning in the Falls is written:

To see the Falls they took a ride

On the steamship ‘Maid o’ the Mist,’

She forgot the Falls she was so busy

Being hugged and kissed

 

 

1871

Regarding Niagara Falls, Oscar Wilde, with his razor sharp employment of double entendre, quips, “Every American bride is taken there.”

 

1949

Niagara Falls’ Canadian mayor begins to issue signed “honeymoon certificates”—a practice alive and well today.

 

1952

Sexpot Marilyn Monroe films Niagara in Niagara. The movie is considered a classic by some, but it’s really her concurrent affair with baseball great Joe DiMaggio that thrills the country and further fuels “honeymoon fever.”

 

2009

Popular television couple Pam and Jim from The Office tie the knot after five seasons of longing and missed opportunities.

 

2011

New York State legalizes gay marriage and the Honeymoon Capital embraces same sex marriage.

 

2019

Over 50,000 couples make their vows (or celebrate them) in Niagara Falls each year—on both sides of the border.

 

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