Thursday, November 19, 2009

Prairie Wedding

In the novel, Sarah Plain and Tall, Sarah moves to the Great Plains in answer to a newspaper advertisement for a bride. In the mid-1800's when the plains were being settled, this was not nearly as unusual as it would seem today. When a man on the prairie lost his wife, he had to find a new one. The work that women did on the prairie was so essential, that a family could hardly manage without her. So, when a woman died or was killed, her husband needed to search for a new wife quickly. If no one was available where he lived, he may have advertised for a bride from farther away. Sometimes these wives were called mail order brides.

In the days of the westward movement, women, just like men and children, played an essential role in the survival of the family. Women took care of the children and took care of the house. They took part in the heavy farm labor too. Women also provided many of the services that would later on be provided by professionals, such as education and medical care.

In addition to “Sarah Plain and Tall”, another book that describes what life must have been like for mail order brides on The Great Plains is Hearts West: True Stories of Mail-Order Brides on the Frontier.

If you’d like to learn more about mail order brides, but find it difficult to find time to read, the most succinct way to get a feel of the mail order bride experience is to listen to Mark Knopfler’s “Prairie Wedding”, which was one of the songs on his 2000 album, Sailing To Philadelphia:

Prairie Wedding

We only knew each other by letter
I went to meet her off the train
When the smoke had cleared and the dust was still
She was standing there and speaking my name

I guarantee she looked like an angel
I couldn't think of what I should say
But when Adam saw Eve in the garden
I believe he felt the selfsame way

I handed her up on the wagon
And I loaded up her trunk behind
She was sitting up there with the gold in her hair
And I tried to get hold of my mind

Do you think that you could love me Mary
Do you think we got a chance of a life
Do you think that you could love me Mary
Now you are to be my wife

We finally headed out of the station
And we drove up to the home trail
And when we came to the farm she laid a hand on my arm
I thought my resolution would fail

And I froze as she stepped in the doorway
Stood there as still as could be
I said I know it ain't much, it needs a woman's touch
Lord she turned around and looked at me

Do you think that you could love me Mary
You think we got a chance of a life
Do you think that you could love me Mary
Now you are to be my wife

We had a prairie wedding
There was a preacher and a neighbour or two
I gave my golden thing a gold wedding ring
And the both of us said I do

And when the sun's going down on the prairie
And the gold in her hair is aflame
I say do you really love me Mary
And I hold her and I whisper her name

Do you think that you could love me Mary
You think we got a chance of a life
Do you think that you could love me Mary
Now you are to be my wife

Although social networking is considered to be a recent phenomenon by some people, the truth is that it’s really as old as the first society in the world. In America, the first Chamber of Commerce was the State of New York, which was founded in 1768, eight years before the United States became a country. By 1870 there were 40 throughout the United States.

Today, there are 7800 Chambers of Commerce in America. When I lived in the western suburbs, I belonged to the Naperville Chamber of Commerce, and I now attend the meetings of the Evanston Chamber of Commerce on a fairly regular basis.

By definition, one of the purposes of social networking has always been the promotion of one’s business.

In the America of the mid-1800’s, the business of the country was farming. Even as late as 1900, nearly half of the labor force in America worked on family farms. In a very real sense, mail order brides are a good early example of social networking, since they allowed the growth of the family business, which was farming.

100 + years later, both agriculture and social networking have changed dramatically in this country.

Agriculture’s contribution to America’s GDP continues to decline, but it’s still a HUGE business. Agriculture remains a very important sector in California's economy, which is the 8th largest economy in the entire world.

Farming-related sales have more than quadrupled over the past three decades, from $7.3 billion in 1974 to nearly $31 billion in 2004. This increase has occurred despite a 15 percent decline in acreage devoted to farming during the period, and water supply suffering from chronic instability. Factors contributing to the growth in sales-per-acre include more intensive use of active farmlands and technological improvements in crop production

Believe it or not, “mail order brides” still exist today. If you Googled “mail order brides”, you’d discover that the vast majority are from the former Soviet Union.

When I watched the 1963 James Bond film, “From Russia with Love” in 1963, and “The Russians are Coming” in 1966, I had no idea how aptly those terms would apply to today’s mail order brides.

As I mentioned in my November 14 post, the internet is actually a very recent addition to our lives, but it’s made a huge change in how social networking works.

MySpace and LinkedIn were both founded in 2003. Facebook was started by Mark Zuckerberg while he was a student at Harvard in 2004, which enabled him to become a billionaire before he was 25 years old.Twitter was started in 2006. Although I haven’t “tweeted” yet, I know people who get all the news they need on Twitter.

My friend (and customer) Brad Will participates in the Underground Social Media Society Networking group in order to promote his business, and he also uses Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

My friends the Kowalskis use the internet to promote their businesses, as well as their entrepreneurial leads group.

My employer, The Autobarn, has shipped vehicles to dozens of countries around the world because of internet ads.. I personally have arranged for three vehicles to be shipped to Africa, and I also arranged for a Nismo “Z” to be shipped to Poland.

Prairie weddings?

They still exist, but one recent one (in particular) was a lot different than most of them. Lee Klawans and Gry Haukland got married on the ledge of the Willis Tower Skydeck in August of 2009. The couple met over Neil Steinberg's page on Facebook and Lee proposed only days after meeting Gry in person. (Neil is a columnist for the Chicago Sun-Times.)

Apart from the fact that the wedding arrangements were made in record time (literally, in just a few days), the other amazing part of the tale is that Lee lives in Chicago, and Gry lives in Norway. The other little detail that you may find interesting is that they got married in a glass box that is suspended 1353 feet about the street below:

Lee and Gry’s wedding.

Prairie weddings definitely do still exist, but for Lee and Gry, the view from the “altar” was a lot different.


  1. What a fount of information. Interesting!

  2. Thank you for that well crafted and informative piece. I will be looking for more on that subject, as you have successfully whetted my appetite!!

  3. too bad both lee and gry's sham of a marriage wasn't told to lee's two sons before he went and tied the knot in so public a fashion. he has two children who are wondering why daddy married someone he barely knows after meeting her on a facebook page.
    apprently the new "bride" is still living in norway and the new "groom" is living in his mommy's basement in skokie, spending his days in child support court or criminal court for resisting arrest for not paying child support.
    very classy couple.
    i wish them nothing but the best!