Pittsburgh History with Ginny: Suck it, Harlequin

(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.

See?

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.

(Alan Magee Scaife in 1938 at age 38)

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.





27 Comments

  1. Dana
    April 30, 2012 6:55 pm

    This is amazing. It’s like something straight out of a Fitzgerald novel. Where can I check out the Pittsburgh Index? I think I’ve caught your Rich Historical Pittsburgh People bug.



  2. Dayvoe
    April 30, 2012 7:50 pm

    Ginny!

    Very nice job on the Mellon Scaifes!

    Dayvoe



  3. joe
    April 30, 2012 8:19 pm

    Bravo!

    Who would play Alan Magee Scaife in your movie? Michael Keaton gets my vote.

    Really though, I’m just looking for an excuse to share this Michael Keaton, the Engineer Time Traveler. Hope that link works (what, no preview!?)

    Glad you’re sharing the rich history of Pittsburgh Ginny.



  4. Brandy
    April 30, 2012 9:05 pm

    An Anne of Green Gables AND Princess Bride quote? Ginny, you rock. Also, fascinating history, thanks for sharing! :)



  5. Emily
    April 30, 2012 9:35 pm

    Love this story. It’s like a Wharton novel with a Pittsburgh backdrop.



  6. Dr Kevlar
    May 1, 2012 7:43 am

    Ah yes, wasn’t life just grand?

    Average wage in 1927 in America: 50 cents per day.

    Child labor was still legal.

    Average life expectancy for males: 59 yrs For Females: 62 yrs

    Average teacher salary: $970 per year.

    Truly good times.



    • bucdaddy
      May 1, 2012 9:50 am

      … and with a megadepression just around the corner, even that was as good as times were going to get for another 10 years. And then — good thing! — along came World War II!



      • Dr Kevlar
        May 1, 2012 11:44 am

        Of course, the megadepression did not affect the Scaife’s and the Frick’s (thank God) as it did the folks who did all the working in order to make their fortunes for them.

        Now we can look wistfully back at a more genteel time when women didn’t vote, African Americans couldn’t drink from the same fountains or go to the same schools. A time when religious intolerance could get you killed (ask a Jehovah’s Witness what happened if you did not say the Pledge of Allegiance), when strikers could be shot in the back or have their tent cities burned (with them in it) or people like Mother Jones were reviled from the pulpit as “anarchists” and “radicals” for advocating the end of child labor.

        I think one of the most instructive displays of history is the series of homes that one can look into (or could, anyway) representing the lives of working-class Pittsburghers through the years. Particularly powerful is the one based on Thomas Bell’s masterpiece “Out of this Furnace.” That is how the majority lived so that the Scaifes and our betters could maintain such a lifestyle.



        • Dr Kevlar
          May 1, 2012 11:49 am

          Edit: The home display I am referring to is (or was) at the Heinz History Center.

          I apologize for my poor typing.

          Oh, for a real eye-opener about how lovely the Victorian Lifestyle was, I highly recommend the PBS special “1900 House” where a British family is taken into a home and given nothing but the appliances and supplies available then and to live there using nothing modern (and I mean nothing) for a month. Not only was the work backbreaking, but the rules by which one had to live were many and strictly enforced…



          • Butcher's Dog
            May 1, 2012 1:15 pm

            As I was reading I was thinking about going all grumpy and pointing out the social cost of all this elaborateness, but Doc and ‘daddy beat me to it. Sad face.

            And those writeups about the dresses and such? Good thing I wasn’t the reporter, it’d all be like “the blonde wore a blue dress that should have been a tent, the brunette wore a white dress (possibly her last chance to do so), and the redhead hottie can come visit me anytime.” Good thing I wasn’t a reporter back then.

            But Ginny…your passion for this stuff seems to grow hourly. A while back I said you’d make a great history teacher, and you’re proving me right. Keep up the good work.



            • MattDC
              May 1, 2012 1:44 pm

              Hey, you guys need to get back in the spirit of our correspondent’s fantasy, and help her write the screenplay. Maybe all that reality had something to do with why they ended up as a bunch of drunks.



          • bucdaddy
            May 1, 2012 2:38 pm

            I read the Alexander Hamilton bio that came out a few years ago and the thing that most struck me was that most of those people were sick, almost all the time, and there wasn’t so much as an aspirin to help ease the pain. The people who could afford to do so were regularly bolting “modern” cities such as Philadelphia for the countryside in the summer to wait for the cholera (yes, cholera) epidemics to (literally) die down. And this was little more than 200 years ago. There are people alive today who knew people who knew people who knew people who lived in the 1700s. We tend to forget how unimaginably far (to an 18th-century citizen) we’ve come in a relative eye-blink in human history.



            • Butcher's Dog
              May 1, 2012 3:49 pm

              I think that’s what’s most amazing when you think about all this in some kind of grand context. Many of us lined up for polio shots as tykes; I knew one person in an iron lung. Stuff doesn’t happen these days. We lose sight so quickly of how lucky we are and how safe our food and water supplies are compared to back just a short lifetime or two ago.



  7. Michelle B
    May 1, 2012 9:21 am

    Thanks for this, very interesting.
    I had a very nice wedding, but not super lavish, and there were lots of goof-ups. Definitely not the picture-perfect day most people dream about. Nine years later, I’m still happily married. I’ll take that over a lavish, fairy tale wedding any day! That’s what I always try to remember when I see over-the-top weddings in the news or on Pinterest.



  8. macool
    May 1, 2012 10:34 am

    Good work assembling this post. The link to the WaPo article about Richard Scaife was almost as interesting as the stuff you posted. A dim, megalomaniac with substance abuse problems, who knew?



  9. jennviolet
    May 1, 2012 10:52 am

    Great job Ginny! Love, love, LOVE these posts.
    One of my favorite movies is Grey Gardens (the original documentary circa 1970) about Jackie Kennedy’s Aunt and Cousin. Nothing to do with Pittsburgh of course but it’s a candid peek into their fascinating lives, lavish early days of riches to their current (at the time) blight and bankruptcy.

    BTW-Awesome meeting you Saturday! xo



  10. Caitlin
    May 1, 2012 11:29 am

    That building isn’t razed (just changed around a little), it’s the main Administration building for Chatham University now…

    http://www.chatham.edu/about/photogallery/photooftheday/viewimage.cfm?ID=1251

    Go visit it sometime- it’s so beautiful!!!



    • Rachel
      May 2, 2012 9:05 am

      No, the mansion on Chatham’s campus was the home of Andrew W. Mellon. The Fifth Avenue mansion was the home of his brother, Richard Beatty Mellon, and it was razed in 1941.



      • Caitlin
        May 3, 2012 10:38 pm

        Ah, my bad! I did not read the full caption of the above postcard picture.

        I must say, though, these buildings are almost identical!



  11. Joe K.
    May 1, 2012 12:42 pm

    Is the East Liberty Presbyterian Church still there, is it the large one near what was Borders east side store?

    Interesting stuff. So the Pittsburgh Index was a pre-cursor to facebook, ha.



    • Amy Mac
      May 1, 2012 1:16 pm

      Joe, it is indeed still there, right at the corner of Penn and Highland.



  12. Melissa
    May 1, 2012 12:56 pm

    Great research and great story, except for that sad ending….yikes. Also the fact that you just threw out an Anne of Green Gables quote just MADE MY DAY!



  13. hello haha narf
    May 1, 2012 3:35 pm

    i grew up minutes from where there house was and spent countless hours in those gardens. i had no idea such things happened on those grounds. reading this makes me want to stop by there this weekend. thanks for the history lesson!



  14. ketchup is a veggie
    May 1, 2012 5:24 pm

    I am with you Ginny, their eyes locked, they fell madly in love, had a spectacular wedding, and lived happily ever after.

    I just feel bad for the reporter who had to keep track of who was dancing with whom, and wearing what.



  15. NewBurgher
    May 1, 2012 8:07 pm

    Awesome story Ginny, thanks for digging around in the history of my favorite city. MORE please MORE!



  16. Marlene
    May 3, 2012 12:10 am

    More, more, more