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Boho Wedding: 1922

Boho Wedding: 1922

"Better 'Ole Wedding." Informal nuptials circa 1922 at the Better 'Ole, a Greenwich Villagey "bohemian" nightspot in Washington, D.C., that, while short-lived, made its mark. In 1935 the Washington Post called it "the first real night club of the so-called 'night club era.' " The article continues: "It was started by Charles W. Smith, now the noted black-and-white artist, had a membership charge of $1 and was located on the second floor of a three-story building at 1515 U Street. A hot colored dance orchestra held forth in a room decorated with drapes in a sort of cubist style." More here. National Photo Co. glass negative. View full size.


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Wedding of Dutch Whelan and Mary McCaffrey

The photo was taken on November 17, 1921 by the National Photo Co. news agency in Washington. They captioned it: "A Bohemian wedding in true Washington Square style was staged in Washington today when Frederick (Dutch) Whelan and Mary McCaffray were married at the “Better Ole” an Alley Coffee House much frequented by the intelligentsia, by the Rev. Dr. J. J. Simon of St. Andrews Church. The couple met a few weeks ago at the “Ole” and wooed to the music of the wild ukelala, hence the wedding at the unconventional place selected. The next day the DC paper ran the picture with the headline "Dutch Whalen, DC Tom-tom Beater Weds Artists Model" with the accompanying story:
“Who said romance lies unconscious in the hospital, disarmed and dehydrated? Dutch Whelan, popular tom-tom beater for Washington folks who shuffle was off the glazing floor, wasn’t worrying about proving romance was still showing a good pulse yesterday afternoon when his wedding xylophone sounded at the Better Ole. Though he proved it right, Dutch’s interest was centered in his bride, Miss Mary E. McCaffrey, whom he met one night two weeks ago as he was on the job playing ”The Rose of Washington Square.” Two weeks, a Greenwich Village background, music and a model’s platform for an altar – certainly romance is still deadly even if tucked away in an alley at the rear of the Burlington Hotel.

How it looks today

I work on U St. and had to go out and grab a few photos. Here's the composite:

1515 U Street


The lady behind the groom is wearing what, in a time with less elevated
sensitivities, were called "spit curls." Some ladies with longish bangs found it
convenient to moisten their hair with saliva before they curled the hair around
a finger. A bobby pin kept things in order until they dried.

At times my mother wore her bangs in a similar arrangement, although she
preferred a single curl over the left side of her forehead to the double style.

My congratulations to the photographer. There is a possibility he used the
new fangled photoflash bulbs that were just coming in, but this picture was
probably taken on a Graphic, or Graflex, with flash powder.

Special Guest Appearance

Featuring a special guest appearance by Woodrow Wilson, as the man in the frock.

Couple In the Booth

Her expression is most likely due to her being caught in mid-word and blinking her eyes just as the flash powder went off. Sort of like those photos of celebrities that make them look like blithering, drooling imbeciles that certain periodicals like to publish under screaming headlines such as "BRAD BEBOP GOES BERSERK!" Also, notice that she seems to have another one of those massive floral memorials growing from her midriff, so maybe she's a bridesmaid or maid of honor. Boyfriend, who I bet she's holding hands with under the table, has a big carnation, so maybe he was best man or other wedding functionary.

Bridal Bouquet

That's the bride's bouquet, composed of rosebuds and ferns, which she has tucked into her belt. Check out the wonderful cut-work on her sleeves. This is some boho bunch. I hope they had a long and happy life together.

Bride and Groom

This was no shotgun wedding. The couple appear to be in their 40s. That would put the parents in another world or in a distant place in this world. It would be interesting to find out who the couple were and what happened to them.

Shave and a haircut

The groom looks like he had a recent shave and haircut but he should have shined his shoes!

The Better 'Ole

Lines from the 1919 play based on the cartoons

"Let's get out of
this damn 'ole!"

"If you knows of a
better 'ole - go to it."

the IMDB entry for the 1926 film of the play


Are the bride's flowers a huge corsage, or a bouquet tucked into her belt? I've never seen such a large corsage and I just wondered if it was the style at the time.

Reefer Madness

The couple in the booth on the right look like they have already started their (no turning back) descent into the perils of the evil weed. Beware when two people are both keeping their hands under the table. There is a Walter Mondale lookalike, but taller, about third or fourth from the left of the photo (just to the right of the ceiling lantern) who may have been an ancestor to W.M. And last, but not least, notice there are no old people there, even the clergyman cannot be more than 55 or 60. Obviously these kids were smart Alec whippersnappers, as no parents were invited. Still, its a smart looking, well-dressed and very happy crowd, even though the bride and groom should be holding hands. All in all, F. Scott Fitzgerald would be proud.

Good Wood

Sorry for a 2nd comment, but I just noticed the wood that the booth seats and tables are made from. Another nice example of how cool wood was back then. The tabletop looks like one solid piece (which probably tried to warp up at each side as it dried out due to its position of the rings). The sides of the booth is what gets me. It's huge! Even if it's joined with another board at the centerline, it's still big compared to what we can get these days at a standard lumberyard. Hell, it's hard to even find plywood that straight any more.


This was 1922. The Great Experiment (Prohibition to us) had begun a couple of years before. No booze to be found here - nudge nudge, wink wink, say no more.

Hair Horns

Can someone tell me what the woman thats standing behind the groom is wearing on her forehead? Is that a hairstyle?

The Better 'Ole, Cont'd.

A 1923 Washington Post column ("After the Curfew") recalls that "the Bohemian atmosphere was first obtained by locating the club in an alley over a garage. Here one dined, and drank, with the smell of gasoline and the noise of cars. The popularity of the place was instantaneous, all of the younger set flocked there. They danced in a two by-four space with great delight, and endured the million and one other discomforts of the place for the sake of the so called Bohemian touch, which for some unknown reason is considered very romantic. The owners of the club seemed to thrive financially and they decided that the club should have better quarters, so they moved into a better building, and a better part of town. They attempted to take the Bohemian touch, which had been so successful, to the new place. To do this they had an elaborate decorative scheme carried out. Stripes, awnings, pictures and rough wooden tables, and all. The real atmosphere was lost, however, and while the young Washingtonians still frequent the place, it is now merely another place to go to dine and dance. There is not much of the Bohemian in the hours of opening or closing, both being the regular times. And there is nothing unusual about the conduct of the guests while there. That is, nothing unusual for this day and age. If some of the original Bohemians could really see what the modern youth does in their names they would probably be horribly shocked."

Wedding Party

Wow. This is one of the best photos ever. People gathered for a festive occasion in a rustic setting. I love the women's clothes and hats and jewelry. The men all look dashing. Everyone seems to be in a happy frame of mind.
On other posts people have commented on how "dressed up" people were for ordinary occasions in this era. Of course this is a special occasion, but it seems we have lost something in our clothing fashions of today. I have been to weddings where young people and not so young have attended in jeans with bare midriffs. In a church. It is nice to see photos of an era, where looking nice and acting nice was not considered putting on airs.

"Better 'Ole"

"The Better 'Ole" was a comedy about World War I (unlikely though that may seem) based on a British cartoon series. The 'Ole in the title is a Cockney-fied version of Hole, i.e., Trench.

But in this case, it's referring to a nightclub in DC that the Post described on 10/7/21: "the city's latest acquisition in the line of places for Bohemians to gather." The story story goes on to say that the dishwasher absconded with the opening night's take--65 bucks.

[Ooh. Fantastic. Thanks! - Dave]

What a beautiful group!

What is the bride wearing??

These people look marvelous and immediately reminded me of all the Krazy Kat Klub pictures seen here, here, and here.

An Odd Religion

It's an odd religion that will marry a man to a unicorn with a flower garden growing up her front.

The two in the booth at the right have already passed out, and they haven't even started serving the liquor yet!

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