- Historic Sites
The Bliss Business
Institutionalizing the American Honeymoon
June/July 1978 | Volume 29, Issue 4
On the theory, perhaps, that there is safety in numbers, it is possible to have a honeymoon in the company of five hundred couples doing exactly the same thing. In the Poconos of eastern Pennsylvania, a hilly region some thirty miles west of the Delaware Water Gap, there are eight hotels with names like Cove Haven and Paradise Stream, which have the appearance and facilities of regular resorts but which cater exclusively to honeymooners.
The efficient categorization of people today isolates single people in bars and apartments, puts old people out to feed in the sun, and now is segregating young newlyweds in easy-to-process groups. As with much of American life, the governing principle behind these eight Pocono resorts is the division of labor, the same idea that is responsible for auto shops which install only mufflers and surgeons who extract only wisdom teeth. These hotels are the culmination of the honeymoon’s long and peculiar history in this country.
We are not, by and large, a nation which likes sentiment or sex. What we really do like, of course, is business, which has meant to us as much as romantic love has meant to the French. The Pocono honeymoon package constitutes a uniquely American effort to coordinate the three pleasures.
The idea of the honeymoon existed long before it became an institution and later an industry. The word appeared first in English in the sixteenth century, referring to the ecstatic state of mind that precedes the normal conflicts of marriage. In colonial America, the honeymoon was not an actual trip. Newly wedded couples usually stayed at home, holding open house or visiting their in-laws. Weddings were exuberant affairs culminating in long, often alcoholic banquets.
Times were rougher and bawdier than they soon would become, and the bride and groom were hustled to bed with much publicity and commotion. An 1850 etiquette book noted that “the chamber frolics such as the whole company visiting the bride and bridegroom after they were in bed, which was done some years ago … are almost universally laid aside.”
After the cheerful colonial welcome given to marriage and sexual maturity, the furtive nineteenth century comes as something of a shock. Victorian doctors tended to justify sexual repression. Sylvester Graham, the famous nineteenth-century nutritionist for whom the cracker was named, wrote that an ounce of semen was the equivalent of forty ounces of blood. At that rate it was not hard to draw the obvious conclusion. William Andrus Alcott, doctor and author of chatty books of advice to young married couples wrote, “I am, however, quite sure that one indulgence to each lunar month, is all that the best health of the parties can possibly require.…It is, moreover, worthy of notice that the pleasures of love, no less than the strength of the orgasm, are enhanced by their infrequency.”
As sex was siphoned off from married life, the honeymoon took on quite a different aspect. Money and privacy became two important elements.
In 1830, for example, businessman William Wood took his bride Harriet Kane on a wedding trip through upper New York State. He recorded their journey in some detail in his autobiography. Drake’s Hotel in Albany cost three dollars for a room, plus tea, coffee, beefsteak, chicken, and peaches. For thirty-two dollars, Wood hired a coach-and-four to take him and Harriet on to Utica. At Amsterdam he celebrated, spending seventy-five cents “for both for roastbeef, pork steaks, chicken, apple pie, pound cake, etc.” At Caughnawaga it cost one dollar and seventy-five cents for tea, breakfast, and a room. On the way back, Wood complained that “We left Utica Tuesday, September 21, at 8 a.m., rather troubled in mind at being charged $8 for two days’ board and lodging.”
Perhaps even more than money, privacy was a Victorian concern. Ralph Waldo Emerson’s summation of his first honeymoon is a poignant object lesson. In his journal, otherwise written entirely in English, the wedding entry reads, “ Mon amie à Concord .”
Richard Henry Dana, Jr., and his bride spent their wedding trip in the front half of a house in Rockport, Massachusetts. The rear was occupied by a quiet widow and her son. “The sea and rocks are before us,” he wrote, “and a wide wood behind us. There is a cool sea-breese, no noise but that of the woods and waters. Sat. we roamed about upon the rocks and in the pastures. Sunday we walked to Church in the afternoon. Monday alone all day, as before.”
Henry Adams made a similar arrangement. He and his bride had a private wedding, after which they left for Cotuit on Cape Cod, where a relative had offered them a house. “Of course nothing could be quieter than all this,” Adams wrote his friend Charles M. Gaskell.