(Sarah Cordelia Mellon circa 1925)
(Alan Magee Scaife circa 1920)
Today we’re looking into one of the most expensive weddings to ever take place on American soil prior to 1927. While most of us would associate opulent and grandiose fairy tale nuptials with regency England, little did you know that in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, Pittsburgh had quite a social scene that rivaled anything coming out of London at the time.
The wedding I’m referring to is that between Sarah Cordelia Mellon and Alan Magee Scaife, who was not only a Yale Graduate, but also a military man.
Look at all those names. Mellon. Magee. Scaife.
First, background. Sarah Cordelia Mellon was the daughter of R.B. Mellon and the niece of Andrew Mellon, former Secretary of the Treasury for the United States. She grew up in this East End house that I was devastated to learn was razed.
And here’s something else, Sarah Cordelia Mellon would become the mother of Richard “Dick” Scaife, the current wealthy owner of the Tribune Review.
Now, prior to 1927, there was no mention of Sarah and Alan being romantically involved and you’re like, “Ginny. How can you know this. It’s not like there was a journal published that listed such things.” And to you I say, “Oh, but there was!”
Introducing the amazing weekly Pittsburgh Index, a journal that accounted the social happenings of the Pittsburgh wealthy. We’re talking who got engaged. Who traveled to Egypt to summer. Who was hosting what. Who entertained in their home and who they entertained. Who was seen dancing with whom. Who was in whose wedding party. And on and on.
So I hunted and found this in the January 10, 1925 edition that shows Alan and Sarah attended the same cotillion but were spotted dancing with other people, not each other:
On Tuesday, June 23, 1925 the Beatty Mellons had what sounds like the party of the year at their estate of the now-razed home. The guest list included 600 people and being the romantic I am, I assume Alan took one look at Sarah in her dress with tiny mirrors on it and lost his mind. YMMV.
But Sarah must have shunned his adoration because in December of 1926, he was still dancing with other women at cotillions:
But in June of 1927, they served as bridesmaid and usher in the wedding of Molly Miller and William Bacon Schiller and it was at the wedding reception for 500 guests at the University Club that I assume they fell passionately in love and stole away to an outdoor terrace for desperate embraces. YMMV.
Because not long after, on July 23, 1927, the Index had an announcement:
And then the Index waited with bated breath:
The day of the wedding, the newspapers revealed that the wedding gifts received had already totaled over $500,000, which adjusted for inflation is $6,222,000 in today’s dollars. Six million bucks in gifts filling three whole rooms! And that doesn’t include the mystery gifts from Andrew Mellon and the bride’s father, which I assume would be estates in England or their weight in gold bars or maybe the Ark of the Covenant. Who can know?
The events preceding the wedding proved that money can’t buy a wedding free from snags, as not only did the bride and father of the bride have trouble getting to the church due to traffic thanks to crowds hoping to catch a glimpse of the bride, as well as guests arriving late to the wedding:
But the groom was sent to the wrong entrance to the church and found himself standing in the pouring rain, locked out!
Why isn’t this a movie?! It’s brilliant! Frantically trying to get into a church while getting soaked by rain, and then having to crush your way through a throng of celebrity-hungry onlookers is just romantic-comedy gold. Here is the bride calmly arriving at the church, where she was greeted with flashbulbs and a throng of female onlookers:
At 5:30 p.m. on November 16, 1927, the wedding took place at East Liberty Presbyterian Church, joining 27-year-old Alan in marriage to 24-year-old Sarah. Here is how the Index described it:
One of the most elaborate weddings that ever took place in Pittsburgh was that of Miss Sarah Cordelia Mellon, daughter of Mr. and M
rs. Richard Beatty Mellon, and Mr. Alan Magee Scaife, son of Mr. and Mrs. James Verner Scaiffe, which was an event of Wednesday afternoon in the East Liberty Presbyterian Church.
A cloth of gold covered the prie dieu, before which the Rev. Dr. Stuart Nye Hutchison performed the ceremony, orchid velvet draperies formed the background for the altar and concealed the organ and reaching from the side balconies, over the altar, was an arch of magnolia blossoms. Outlining the path of the bridal party were tall gold standards filled with white chrysanthemums. The bride, who was given away by her father, wore a gown of white satin, built on straight lines with uneven hem, with the short skirt sloping toward the back, and having long, close fitting sleeves. Pearl embroidery followed the V-neck line and covered the bodice, extending down into a point on the skirt. Rose point lace edged both the satin court train and the tulle veil, which fell from a coronet of pearls, ending in long points on the train. Lilies of the valley, jasmin and white orchids formed the bouquet.
Now, because I still haven’t gotten down to the Carnegie Library to see if the microfilm is any better quality, this is the best I can do on the bride and groom exiting the church:
The ceremony is described as simple and quite brief. It’s the reception at the R.B. Mellon mansion, which was reportedly themed to resemble Arabian Nights, that will blow you away.
This pavilion cost $100,000, and adjusted for inflation, the pavilion alone would come to more than $1,300,000.
JUST FOR THE PAVILION. Now, it seems the pavilion had three separate terraces or something, and each had its own theme.
Where are the chandeliers now? What happened to them. Seven feet in diameter? Man. And when they say “birds” do they mean real birds? And when they say “gold cages” do they mean real gold? Considering Richard Scaife and Ritchie Scaife famously fought over a solid-gold bacon dish, I assume they mean real gold.
This is the best picture I could find of the tables and what appears to be one of the chandeliers:
I pretty much hate the world right now that there wasn’t hi-res digital color photography in 1927. WHERE IS THAT DAMN TIME MACHINE?!
It was a gusty, rainy night, so it’s a good thing they sprang for the elaborate fake moon, stars, and lake.
You know what houses don’t have enough of these days? Statuaries. We need more life-sized statuaries.
Following the reception, the couple sailed for Europe for a month-long honeymoon and lived happily ever after.
But not really.
First, Alan Magee Scaife? Veritable hottie.
Besides that, he and Sarah would have two children, Richard Scaife, who we all know, and Cordelia Scaife May, whose own wedding was much simpler than her parents’ famously ornate one. Here are Alan and Sarah arriving at their daughter’s wedding in 1949:
Alan Magee Scaife would die in 1958, at the age of 58.
Sarah, according to her daughter Cordelia, was a long-time alcoholic which resulted in a quite unhappy childhood for Cordelia and Richard.
Sarah Mellon Scaife was “just a gutter drunk,” in the words of her daughter, Cordelia. “So was Dick,” Cordelia Scaife May added of her brother in an interview. “So was I.”
If money was most important in shaping Richard Scaife’s life, alcohol may come second. In a household dominated by his mother’s drinking, Scaife’s childhood was pampered but sad, according to his sister. “I don’t remember any laughter in that house,” she said. The children were raised by nannies and nurses.
Sarah would die in 1965 at the age of 62.
Now I’m sad. Why can’t fairy tales really exist? Why does the reality have to be so sad?
No matter. In my mind, they lived happily ever after. In my mind, they may have had a falling out, but eventually Alan showed up one day at the palace all, “You complete me.”
And Sarah started sobbing all, “We forgot about the flowers.”
And then he hugged her and she said, “I don’t want sunbursts or marble halls. I just want you.”
And he said, “As you wish.”
I need help, people. I’ma write a movie.
Also, someone check the Scaife warehouses for the Ark of the Covenant.