Prospect Park’s Scandalous First Wedding

February 20, 2019

It probably wouldn’t surprise you to know that Prospect Park is a popular destination for weddings. Couples who love the park and want a slice of nature in their Brooklyn nuptials choose the Prospect Park Picnic House and Boathouse as the place to tie the knot every year. But this was not always the case. The first Prospect Park wedding, which took place in the park’s former Rose Garden in 1923, caused quite a stir.

Let’s go back to the 1870s, the early days of Prospect Park when famed designers Olmsted and Vaux were first plotting out the features of the park. The area, known now as the Rose Garden, was first conceived as a children’s playground, with a carousel powered by a real horse, seesaws and swings. Despite the attractions, the playground was not a popular destination. The area’s geographic features made it too hot and exposed to be a playground. It was, however, an excellent climate for growing roses. And so the park’s Rose Garden came to be.

In the 1890s, the landscape was transformed into a botanical destination. Three water basins—reconstructions of which are still visible at the site—filled with aquatic plants and fish were installed by the design firm of McKim, Mead and White. The landscape was planted with an assortment of exotic flowers and roses, and in 1901, the Brooklyn Daily Eagle exclaimed, “some of the roses are larger than teacups,” adding, “there can be no finer sight in the domain of floriculture in the United States.”

In 1923, local residents Elizabeth Hoyt Senarens and Owen Morton Gunderson applied for a permit to be married in Prospect Park. The Park Commissioner issued the first permit of its kind for a wedding to be held at 7:45 am, “so that there might be no interruption from a crowd of romping children or unsympathetic grownups.” The wedding was considered a novelty and a scandal, and was widely covered in the press by publications such as Brooklyn Life, Brooklyn Standard Union, the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, and even The New York Times.

The bride, Elizabeth Senarens, explained to the Brooklyn Daily Eagle that, “she had always yearned for roses and even as a little girl had thought the Prospect Park rose gardens the most romantic place for a wedding in the world.” But the media attention surrounding the nuptials took its toll when the couple’s pastor decided at the last minute that he would not officiate the wedding. In an interview with the Times, the reverend was quoted saying, “I never did consent to perform the ceremony in the park,” and that when he learned the details he, “refused at once.”

Rose Garden postcard_Bob-Levine.jpg

The Rose Garden in a vintage postcard, c. Prospect Park Archives/Bob Levine Collection

The couple had difficulty finding another pastor to perform their ceremony, until finally Rev. Ernest J. Marvin of the Fenimore Street M.E. Church agreed on the condition of anonymity. The press did not honor this request, publishing his name as the minister who presided over this historic first wedding in Prospect Park.

The morning of the wedding came, according to the Standard Union, “blowing a chilly breeze… not at all conducive to romance.” Police were on hand to contain the throngs of curious onlookers, and the wedding proceeded, attended by the family and friends of the wedding party, newspaper reporters and photographers, and a “few stragglers on their way to work,” as per a report from the Times.

Today, the former Rose Garden is entering a new phase, as Prospect Park Alliance begins plans to reimagine this northeastern area of the park that has seen little use in past decades. In recent years, the Alliance has invited the community to help shape the future of this area through community visioning and feedback surveys. Thanks to the input of the local community, Alliance architects are now in the process of designing a space that will serve the entire community, and encourage many more memorable occasions for years to come.

This story comes to us from Turnstile Tours: learn about this and other amazing tales of park history on a tour of the Prospect Park presented by the Alliance in partnership with Turnstile Tours. Tours for families and park lovers of all ages explore the parks’ little known treasures, architectural and cultural history.

Learn more and take a park tour this spring!