Missing pages found (KCB to Katie Carson, December 18, 1894)

Letter to “My dear Katie” from KCB dated December 18, 1894 St Petersburg, Container 862, Breckinridge Family Papers, Library of Congress

On December 18, 1894, KCB wrote a letter to her niece Miss Katie Carson. The letter was addressed to Knoxville, Tennessee so Katie must be William Waller Carson’s daughter. At the top of the first pages the word COPY with a line above and below is written. When I made the photocopy and transcribed the letter 15 years ago, I noted that it “was not in KCB’s hand.” And there was a missing page or pages.

Looking at it anew (in 2021), I thought – “this is in KCB’s hand!” So maybe it is not a copy after all. So I erased my note and moved on to double checking my transcription. But then on Page 5 in parentheses is the statement “(I think she must have forgotten to describe the carriage – F. C.).” Maybe it is a copy? The mystery remains.

Then I got to my next note that said “MISSING PAGE.” I double checked the page numbers and there was page 4 (the supposed missing page).

I may have mention this before… But KCB wrote her letters on onion paper. She wrote on the front and back of each page. She took a full sheet of paper, turned it horzontal (think landscape) and folded it in half. Like a little book…


Page 1 was that first half page. Page 2 and 3 were the inside and then Page 4 was on the back of page 1. As she added more pages, she’d take a new page and start Page 5 on the front fold, Page 6 and 7 on the inside, and Page 8 on the back.

Now when I photocopied a letter, the pages weren’t always in the right order. And to make the most out of my quarters, I unfolded the letter pages so they are flat on the photocopier glass and photocopy the whole page. And I wasn’t always careful to keep the pages in order as they came out of the copy machine.

Now to the contents of this letter…

KCB understood the honor it was to witness the events she was witnessing. She wrote her niece

In fact I would have written to you any way for I had been thinking, “Katie would like me to write and tell her about the Emperor’s wedding,” because you don’t see an Emperor married every day, do we?

As with Letter to Fanny from KCB dated November 29th 1894 from St. Petersburg, this letter to her niece Katie Carson is filled with details of the imperial wedding but unlike the letter to Fanny, this letter provides more detail about the actual Russian Orthodox service.

Of the Winter Palace, KCB writes

The building is enormous and I couldn’t begin to tell you how many rooms and corridors we passed through. We passed conservatories and through files of soldiers.

And at short intervals all the way up there were lackeys in scarlet liveries, heavily braided in gold. Knee breeches, white silk stockings and pumps. One of these showed us the way.

The Russian Orthodox tradition differs in striking ways to the Roman Catholic tradition and even more so from the Protestant tradition of Presbyterian and Methodist. KCB was a raised Presbyterian and she might have attended a Catholic wedding. But to attend a royal wedding?

I have seen another Russian wedding here, it was just like the Emperor’s, only of course, not so gorgeous and magnificent, and all the other big adjectives you can think of. Not so many priests, singers, etc.

She wrote of the chapel at the Winter Palace

It was small but very beautiful. Elaborately decorated many beautiful pictures and lighted by candles as all the churches here are. We were given places right by the rail, so that we could see the ceremony perfectly and also all the royal persons inside.

KCB describes the ritual and pageantry of the Russian service. The reading of the Gospel.

Then a large book bound in gold was brought to the priest. He read from it, I suppose it was the Bible. Then he kissed the inside of it, closed it, made the sign of the cross with it over [Nicholas and Alexandra] and hand it to them, and they kissed the outside of it.

Then there was a goblet brought, containing wine, I suppose, then each tasted it.

Here KCB describes the ceremonial walk taken by the bride and groom (lead by the priest). The couple walk around the alter/lectern which holds the Gospel. The ceremonial walk symbolizes the pilgrimage of their marriage life together.

[The priest took Nicholas and Alexandra’s hands and wrapped a robe end around] and the priest going first, the bride and groom next with the five train bearers and the two crown bearers. After going around the alter each time they would stop long enough to change the crown bearers.

In addition the service was in Russian including the songs so she could only observe with her eyes.

Nearly the entire Russian church services are singing and they have only male voices and no instruments.

…it was mostly in singing and of course I did not understand anything, so I can’t tell you what things meant.

And with all the candles and all the jewels, the chapel must have sparkled. She wrote of the Grand Duchesses’ court dress at the wedding

[one wore] a dress of cloth of silver… [one] of ermine… [one] trimmed with sable… [and] all ablaze with jewels…

The number and magnificence of the jewels of Russian ladies would be hard to describe. It would sound like something from “Arabian Nights.”

KCB was in the presence of royalty and not just Nicholas, Alexandra, and the Dowager Empress. The King of Denmark was Nicholas’s grandfather and he was in attendance. As was Alexandra, Princess of Wales. She was there to represent the British royal family (Queen Victoria was Alix’s maternal grandmother) as well as support her own sister the Dowager Empress (formerly Dagmar of Denmark).

[The Princess of Wales wore] white satin with a diamond crown and necklace.

KCB thought she’d meet the young couple after the wedding (as is the tradition in American weddings) but that was not the custom in Russia or more to the point the Imperial Court.

Then the Court Chamberlain, Master of Ceremonies, requested us to form in line in the hall of the Diplomats to received the salutations of the bridal party. We thought this meant a personal presentation but were doomed to disappointment. After we were disposed in proper order, the “August” company came by. Preceded by all the gorgeous uniforms in the Palace. Then the Bride and Groom. They gave each of us a bow as they passed, to which we responded by a deep courtesy.

After the ceremony was over (it took about an hour), KCB thought there would be a wedding reception and cake like in America. But she was doomed to be disappointed.

…after it was all over, we went home. And they never gave us a mouthful to eat, nor even a bit of wedding cake! I counted on the latter and had even made up my mind how I would divide it up, and you all would have a piece.

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