Our opening story about a radio wedding in this edition of Wavescan took place during the year 1920, more than one hundred years ago. It was a long distance novelty proxy wedding, it was conducted over the air by wireless operators, and it was conducted in Morse Code, probably the only Morse Code wedding in the history of wireless and radio.
But first we go back to the year 1908, and that was when the American navy vessel Alabama was taken into service in the Atlantic Ocean as a cruiser. During the following year (1909), a series of wireless tests was conducted, between the Alabama at sea and the well known American naval wireless station NAA at Arlington in Virginia.
Back then NAA was a quite new wireless station with a 100 kW Fessenden spark transmitter, and the series of test transmissions was made to determine the possibility of using higher frequencies over longer distances. At that time well more than one hundred years ago, wireless was very young and communication transmissions were usually conducted on what we now call the longwave band.
Interestingly during the following year (1910), another pioneer test was made from the Alabama, and that was the first launching of an airplane from a ship at sea. The aircraft was a primitive Curtiss Pusher Biplane Model D with the propeller behind the pilot, and the pilot for this now historic event was an American civilian, Eugene Ely.
Pilot Eugene Ely loved fast driving in equally primitive motor cars, and in the afternoon of Monday November 14, 1910, he made his now historic flight from a temporary wooden platform on the bow of the US naval light cruiser Alabama. The airplane plunged downward as soon as it cleared the 83-foot long platform and the wheels dipped into the ocean before rising. Ely’s goggles were covered with spray, and he promptly landed on the nearby beach, rather than circling the harbor and then heading for the Norfolk Navy Yard as planned.
Ten years later the wireless wedding was celebrated, with the bride Miss Mabel Ebert in the First Presbyterian Church at 2930 Woodward Avenue in Detroit and the groom Seaman John R. Wakeman aboard the Alabama, a thousand miles from shore now in the wide Pacific Ocean. The officiating minister in Detroit was Pastor C. E. Mieeras, and the event took place in July 1920, apparently simultaneously on both sides of the international date line.
As the officiating clergyman began his part in the religious service, his voice was conveyed over a telephone line to the telegraph office in the same city, Detroit. A telegraph operator then sent the information in Morse Code over a telegraph line to the wireless operator at station NAJ in the Great Lakes Naval Training Station on Sheridan Road, north of the city of Chicago. The operator at station NAJ then resent the same information in Morse Code to the cruiser Alabama way out there somewhere in the Pacific.
Promptly at 8:30 am, the radio operator aboard the Alabama called Seaman Wakeman to the radio receiver, and the Chaplain called the ship’s crew to attention for the seaboard ceremony. As he received the information by Morse Code, the radio operator then repeated the information verbally to John Wakeman and to the attentive crew members.
The radio operator then turned the words of acceptance from Wakeman into Morse Code which he transmitted back to station NAJ near Chicago, and station NAJ in Chicago then resent the same message in Morse Code along a telegraph line to the telegraph office in Detroit. As soon as the message was written down on the telegraph form in Detroit, a messenger took it, and rode on a bicycle back to the nearby Presbyterian church, and delivered it to the officiating pastor, who then read it aloud to the bride and to the attending congregation. And then the jubilant festivities began!
As one news reporter stated: The bride does not know when she will next see her new husband, nor does she know where he is. As another news reporter stated: This is not the first wedding where the groom was “all at sea”, and the bride was “radiant”.
This feature was written by Adrian Peterson and originally aired on Adventist World Radio’s “Wavescan” DX program of June 26, 2022