Public invited into Ford family weddings through new exhibition

By: K. Michelle Moran | Grosse Pointe Times | Published June 22, 2016

 Edsel Ford poses with his daughter, Josephine, on her wedding day in 1943.

Edsel Ford poses with his daughter, Josephine, on her wedding day in 1943.

Photo provided by the Edsel and Eleanor Ford House

GROSSE POINTE SHORES — Just in time for summer wedding season, the Edsel and Eleanor Ford House is sharing mementos and memories from several generations of Ford family nuptials.

“Down the Aisle: 100 Years of Ford Family Weddings” is a new exhibition in the South Cottage that features a number of wedding gowns, personal photos and other wedding memorabilia. Running June 26 through Nov. 6, it was timed to coincide with the 100th anniversary of Edsel and Eleanor Ford’s November 1916 wedding.

“The story of Edsel and Eleanor was truly a love story,” said Ford House President Kathleen Mullins, pointing out that the two met as youths and were lifelong friends.

Visitors will get an intimate glimpse into the lives of Ford family members.

“We have a great short film of Edsel and Eleanor and their friends playing some games and doing a mock wedding (before the real one) at Fair Lane (Estate in Dearborn),” said Lisa Worley, director of material culture at the Ford House. “It’s a great little video to see them laughing and having fun with their friends.”

There are wedding video clips from some of the other family nuptials as well.

One of the major highlights of the exhibition is the display of wedding dresses that span the last century, from Eleanor Ford’s 1916 Russian-style gown, created by the famed House of Lucile, to the gown worn in 2015 for the wedding of Leela Mirafzail and Peter Hamp; Peter Hamp is the grandson of Martha Firestone Ford and the late William Clay Ford, and his parents are Sheila Ford Hamp and Steven Hamp. 

Eleanor Ford’s gown and veil feature actual silver thread, which has tarnished over time, giving the dress and veil gray accents; a bridesmaid’s dress that accompanies it features goose down accents on the jacket and ornate small pearl beading that mirrors the wedding gown’s details.

Other highlights include Eleanor Ford’s wedding gift to Edsel — a Cartier billfold with her personal note to him, which shows that she called him “Ned” — and an actual slice of their wedding cake.

Organizers have taken great care to protect the dresses, which, like all textiles, are sensitive to light. Worley said a conservator helped them mount the exhibition, and there are UV filters on the cottage windows. Visitors are encouraged to take photos of the dresses, but no flash photography will be allowed.

“It’s a very delicate process,” acknowledged Colin Bowyer, communications and community outreach specialist for the Ford House.

A number of wedding-related special programs — including teas in the garden, floral design and wedding dress preservation — will take place in the coming weeks. At press time, there was still space available in all of the programs, but early reservations are encouraged because enrollment in each is limited.

Worley said the dresses “are perfect little windows into the time period.” The same designer who created bonnets for the film “Gone with the Wind” designed the dresses and bonnets for the bridesmaids at Martha Firestone Ford’s 1947 wedding, for example, while Firestone Ford’s dress was created by famed 1940s and 1950s dress designer Carrie Munn.

“It’s really great to see this evolution of style and what are classical (Ford family wedding) elements and what each bride chose,” Worley said.

Worley said some of the dresses have been shown before, “but not to this extent.” There are also some that have never been exhibited. 

“Some of them are from our collection and some have been loaned by the Ford family,” Bowyer said.

As the exhibition opened in June, Worley said 13 dresses were on view. She said another six dresses were waiting in the wings to be rotated through the display on a regular basis throughout the run of the exhibition.

“Make this one of your regular summer stops,” Mullins said of the Ford House.

Admission to “Down the Aisle” is included with regular admission to the Ford House and is free for Ford House members. The Ford House is located at 1100 Lake Shore Road in Grosse Pointe Shores, between Vernier and Nine Mile roads. For reservations or more information, call (313) 884-4222 or visit www.fordhouse.org.