Timelessly wedded

Something old, something new: Paca House comes alive with wedding

October 25, 2006|By Jamie Stiehm | Jamie Stiehm,Sun reporter

Alexandra Deutsch said her groom looked "hot" on their wedding day, a compliment unlikely to be heard in the halls of the William Paca House 250 years ago.

At the historic Annapolis home Saturday, Kyle Cunningham indeed looked dashing as he dramatically appeared from behind the shrubbery and escorted her down the garden lane wearing a beaver felt hat, a sea-blue silk jacket and black breeches.

While every bride plans her wedding day down to the last pin in her hair, Deutsch, the curator of the Paca House, reached back to its liveliest days to create her period wedding, with perfect attention to the dress, customs and manners of the day.

But their union was infused with 21st-century touches. Cunningham, a 43-year-old biology professor at the Johns Hopkins University, and Deutsch, 35, met in the most modern way: an online dating service. Without their extensive e-mail correspondence between his Bolton Hill home in Baltimore and her Annapolis house, the Vassar alumna might never have met a professor who captured her fancy.

He proposed in February, declaring, "Life is a dance," as he asked for her hand. And that declaration was engraved on the October wedding invitation.

It was the second time for each of them to enter the gates of marriage. Samuel Johnson, the 18th-century English wit, poet and lexicographer, once observed such unions are "the triumph of hope over experience."

This time, Deutsch didn't have to look far for inspiration. As the curator for all of the Historic Annapolis Foundation properties, the watchword for the costumes, music, even the undergarments, was "authentic."

Ballet designer Gail Deutsch, the bride's mother, was a co-conspirator in making sure that William Paca would have felt at home in own house and "pleasure garden."

The stays and hand stitches that kept Deutsch's ivory silk striped gown in the proper shape - with an hourglass flare around the hips - were done with age-old techniques.

"I should dress like this every day," she said only half-jokingly.

Deutsch pointed to her 18th-century "paste button" earrings with pride, and then to her necklace, which she found at a mall last week.

"Nordstrom," she said. "It gives new meaning to `something old, something new.'"

Cunningham did not comply with Deutsch's every wish in planning the wedding, being a bit "willful," she said fondly. But he did volunteer to wear the resplendent frock coat, made to match Paca's best suit. It was sent by FedEx from Williamsburg, Va., days before the date.

That happy day, he seemed to be the guy who gets the girl in Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice, handsome Mr. Darcy, revived.

"When I saw her coming by in the garden, I had to meet my match," Cunningham said at the celebration afterward. "My wife has exquisite taste."

A few students who work in his research lab stared at him in period costume, achieving an effect that was, as one put it, "surprisingly good."

Paca, a lawyer and a signer of the Declaration of Independence, built one of the Colonial capital's most elegant townhouses, enlivened with pre-Revolutionary table talk.

That vanished social stage was writ large at the wedding, the bride said, with period touches such as peacock feathers and pineapples placed at banquet tables. The Episcopal priest who officiated, the Rev. Gid Montjoy, came from nearby St. Anne's Church.

Austen's "characters live even today," said Deborah B. Coons, a friend. "It could have been 1765, a step back in time."

She also compared Deutsch to Elizabeth Bennet, the heroine of Pride and Prejudice, whose wit, sparkle and sense of fun color the novel.

Most arresting was the minuet bride and groom danced to the fiddle and mandolin. Of course, a 21st-century couple had to take lessons to unlearn a few habits and pick up some old-fashioned graces.

"During the minuet, I had to lower my eyes, defer to Kyle and wait for him to release my hand," Deutsch said, laughing at the concept.

Her ex-husband was among the 125 guests. Their daughter Jane, 5, was in charge of scattering rose petals at the ceremony and then danced in shoes made by a cobbler.

"This is really her," John McKee, 36, said of Deutsch as he moved among friends at the festivities. "I'm very relieved that she's found a good man. I like Kyle very much."

Tricia Herban, who co-chairs the William Paca Society, said the curator and the professor made an old house seem young again.

"It brought the house to life," she said. "Tonight we can visualize this as a social setting of elegance."

jamie.stiehm@baltsun.com

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