After the war, the weddings Anniversary: When the servicemen came home from World War II, a flood of weddings taxed Baltimore's churches, reception halls and clothiers.

50 years ago

June 30, 1996|By Melody Simmons | Melody Simmons,SUN STAFF

They have pulled the long-stored dresses out of boxes, wrinkled perhaps, but glowing with memories. They've tried on their veils of aged cotton tuille crowned by tiny, delicate wax flowers, and some even tried to squeeze into stylish, white platform wedding sandals.

As the June brides of 1946 turn to golden girls, many have reflected back 50 years to their big moment in a postwar society that rushed to the altar as life started to return to normal.

They recall stories of churches so overwhelmed that weddings were being performed seven days a week.

Wedding clothes were so scarce at local stores that many brides went to New York and other cities to buy their gowns and the tuxedos and suits for their returning soldiers and sailors.

Bridesmaids wore mismatched formals; white dress gloves were almost nonexistent.

Even dinner rolls were in short supply.

"It was hard to find things back then because there were so many that got married," said Catherine Demos of Baltimore's Ednor Gardens, who celebrated her 50th anniversary with husband James on June 13.

"All different people were saying, 'I can't find this and that.' There were so many weddings going on that we got tired of going to weddings. Every time we turned around, there was a shower or a wedding."

Demos set her wedding date by the availability of the Alcazar, the old social hall on Cathedral Street -- now the Baltimore School for the Arts -- where she held her reception.

Other problems arose when she tried to find a tuxedo shirt for her fiance and then a wedding gown for herself.

The marriage rush continued well beyond the month of June.

The rest of the year was filled with the unions of returning warriors and their brides, according to church statistics and the recollections of several now-retired clergymen.

City and county offices that issue marriage licenses appear not to have kept an annual tally until recent times, but church registries tell the tale.

At the Basilica of the Assumption in Baltimore, for example, there were 764 weddings in 1946 -- by far the highest number in that decade, and triple the number of weddings there in 1940, the last year before the United States joined the global conflict.

At the Greek Orthodox Cathedral of the Annunciation, records show 45 weddings in 1946 -- compared with 27 in 1945, 21 in 1944 and 22 in 1943.

'We all grabbed 'em'

"I remember 1946 as the time when most of the men came home and that's when we all grabbed 'em," said Angela Krometis of Towson, who wrote daily to her intended, James Krometis, while he served in the intelligence corps in Australia and Japan.

"We got engaged in June and were married in October. There were a lot of brides. Everybody got married that year, it seemed."

Two other members of the Krometis family also got married in '46 -- the year after Germany and Japan surrendered.

"I had four bridesmaids -- two wearing chartreuse and two in a rose color -- because you couldn't find four gowns of one color," said Julia Krometis of Timonium, who married August "Dino" Krometis on July 28.

The Krometis brothers; their sister, Stella, who was wed in April 1946; and a handful of other friends are celebrating golden anniversaries together.

They attended each others' weddings at the Greek Orthodox Cathedral, had receptions at the Lord Baltimore Hotel, bought trousseaux at the old Schleisner's department store at Howard and Saratoga streets, and continue to share life's joys.

Other couples celebrating 50th anniversaries say they, too, feel fortunate to reach the marital milestone.

"It's been a happy life," said Lillian Franey of Southwest Baltimore, who met husband George when they worked on the eighth floor of the Montgomery Ward building on Monroe Street. "I used to tell my co-workers, 'See that guy over there? I'm going to marry him someday.' "

After a three-year wartime engagement, the couple wed on June HTC 29 -- 10 days after the groom's return from military service. They had to borrow $10 for the marriage license and spent their wedding night at her mother's house, she said.

Now, today's golden girls and guys look back on 1946 as the year that produced a huge wave of war brides and grooms -- a phenomenon soon followed by another American wonder, the postwar baby boom.

And the couples say they remember 1946 as the sweetest rush of wartime lovebirds to the altar, because peace had come and with it the end of long, anxious engagements.

Diamond engagement rings cost $250 and, with the bribe a case of whiskey, you could buy a car, a refrigerator or obtain the one thing in Baltimore that was more scarce than a wedding gown: an apartment.

"It seemed that things were returning to normal, and then all at once it got tough," said Chrysanthe Pappas, recalling the scarcities.

"I guess it was because it was June and everyone was getting married."

"Santhe" and Alexander Pappas celebrated their 50th anniversary on Thursday.

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