At precisely 4 p.m. on June 30, 1915, an orchestra played the familiar wedding march from Richard Wagner’s 1850 opera “Lohengrin,” commonly called “Here Comes the Bride” today.

Editor’s note: Pike County celebrates its bicentennial in 2018. Following is the sixth in a series of monthly articles by Louisiana historian Brent Engel that will examine 200 years of local history. It is the final of four parts.

Torrential rains hit Bowling Green on the morning of Genevieve Clark’s wedding, but sunshine returned just in time.

At precisely 4 p.m. on June 30, 1915, an orchestra played the familiar wedding march from Richard Wagner’s 1850 opera “Lohengrin,” commonly called “Here Comes the Bride” today.

Genevieve’s bridesmaids were her brother’s betrothed, Helen Morton Robnett; two of beau James Thomson’s sisters, Imogen and Dorothy; two of her cousins, Anne and Susan Bennett; Murray Sanderson and Vera Holcomb of Bowling Green; and Agnes Wilson, daughter of Labor Secretary William Wilson. The maid of honor was a former classmate at Friend’s School in Washington, Jean Roberts of Alexandria, Va.

The women wore Dresden shepherdess dresses and carried crooks topped with bouquets. Genevieve’s gown was hand-embroidered white satin with lace. Every stitch was made in America, a “movement to which Miss Clark has lent her enthusiastic aid since its inception,” reported the Central Record of Lancaster, Ky.

In keeping with tradition, Genevieve wore something old (a hand-embroidered underskirt used by her mother on her wedding day), something new (a veil), something borrowed (old lace provided by a St. Louis matron) and something blue (a bluebird pin).

“The wedding presented a scene of sylvan beauty, the likes of which has never been seen in the West before,” wrote the Bowling Green Times. “On the east lawn a path of white columns decorated with roses led to a Gothic temple open to the sky, stretching for 100 feet across the lawn.”

Genevieve chose the location because the hollyhocks would be in bloom. House Speaker Champ Clark walked his daughter down the flower-boarded sidewalk to the altar, where she met her groom. Paul Thomson served as his brother’s best man, with eight attendants.

The double-ring Episcopalian ceremony was performed by the Rev. Robert S. Boyd, pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Louisville, Ky., and a Clark family member by marriage. The ring bearer was his daughter, four-year-old Mary Herndon Boyd.

The Speaker apparently made arrangements to have the wedding filmed for viewing by family members, but as Genevieve said, he “put his foot down” at the possibility of showing it publicly. It is unclear if such footage was shot or still exists.

Various accounts put the number who attended at anywhere from 5,000 to 12,000. The Washington Herald reported that “every man, woman and child” from Bowling Green and many surrounding towns came.

Food and gifts galore

The reception that followed featured no booze.

Not, as Clark put it, because he was against it. Bowling Green just happened to be a dry town at the time. Not to worry. There was plenty to eat.

Guests dined on fried chicken and all the fixings that filled an entire train car brought in from St. Louis and 500 cakes offered by the women of Bowling Green, where “every mother prepared for the wedding as though Genevieve was her own child,” said the Breckenridge News of Cloverport, Ken.

Gifts filled “every available nook of Honey Shuck” and then some, one Chicago paper reported. Detectives had to be brought in from St. Louis to guard the bounty, some of which was stored in the vaults of local banks.

President Woodrow Wilson, apparently pleased with the elaborate wedding gift Genevieve had picked out for his daughter earlier in the year, sent two gold-lined, 10-inch-tall hand-wrought bowls.

Members of the House of Representatives chipped in for a necklace that featured 85 diamonds and addressed their congratulations to “The Daughter of Democracy.”

Not to be outdone, residents of Buffalo Township at Louisiana gave the couple a chest with 179 silver pieces. Bowling Green residents presented an oil painting of a rural Missouri scene. The St. Louis Republic went on and on about the stacks.

“For magnificence, it has never been approached,” the paper mused. “For uniqueness, the display is beyond description. The catacombs of ancient Rome, the lava-shrouded grave of famed Pompeii, the tangled canebrakes of the Philippines and the hidden cities of China have been ransacked with the burdened shelves of America’s greatest silversmiths, till the display is bewildering in its comprehensiveness.”

One reporter tried to sum up the momentous occasion.

“This usually quiet town has just passed through the most exciting period of its history,” said the Potosi Journal.

With the vows spoken, attention turned to the honeymoon. Everyone tried to keep the destination a secret.

“The location was not announced,” the Butler Weekly Times drolled.

However, the Warren Sheaf speculated the couple planned to relax at a property owned by one of Thomson’s attendants along the Rainy River near International Falls, Minn.

Citing the location’s proximity to Canada, the newspaper couldn’t help but take a friendly jab at Speaker Clark, who several years earlier had jokingly talked that America should annex the Land of the Maple Leaf.

“If the pretty daughter had been sent to the boundary before her marriage, the plan would have succeeded better, perhaps,” the newspaper teased.

In February 1917, Genevieve delivered the couple’s only child, Champ Clark Thomson. The boy died of pneumonia in 1919, devastating the family. “My father quit living,” Genevieve said afterward. She, too, had trouble, eventually pouring herself into charity work, especially if children were involved.

“It won’t be a bad Christmas,” she said one year. “I want to have a Christmas tree for some little poor children who won’t have a Christmas unless we give it to them. It will give me pleasure to think that other little children are happy because my little boy was once on this earth.”

Sorrow returned on March 2, 1921, when Speaker Clark died in Washington five days shy of his 71st birthday and two days before Republican Warren Harding succeeded Wilson.

Throngs came to Bowling Green for his funeral, but Genevieve was unable to attend due to illness.

“It seems simply impossible to me that he is gone,” she wrote. “I can’t seem to realize it at all.”

In 1924, Genevieve tried to become only the second woman in Congress when she sought the Democrat nomination for the Louisiana Congressional seat that opened upon the death of H. Garland Dupree.

Her campaign theme: “Help the hand that rocks the cradle. Remember, the greatest thing God created is woman.”

The Quincy Daily Journal couldn’t help but editorialize that the Speaker would be proud.

“From that Valhalla where the spirits of ‘gentlemen unafraid’ gaze over the battlements back to the scones of their earthly struggles and triumph, the soul of a statesman who helped to ‘make America’ is gazing today,” began the piece by Mary S. Lewis.

Genevieve fell to James Spearing by fewer than 2,500 votes out of more than 25,000 cast, but never lost her taste for politics. In 1932, she moved from New Orleans for a while to the Park Plaza Hotel in St. Louis to oversee brother Bennett’s successful campaign for U.S. Senate.

“Whenever and wherever my brother has a fight, it is my fight, too,” she said.

Five years later, their mother died at age 81. She and Champ are buried in Bowling Green City Cemetery. Shortly before she passed, Mrs. Clark told her son, with usual candor and humor, that she had become so interested in family history because “I may croak any day and the lesson will be lost.”

Bennett served as a lawmaker until 1945, citing among his accomplishments the first Senate introduction of the G.I. Bill, which helped more than five million military veterans with a variety of benefits. President Harry Truman appointed him as a U.S. Court of Appeals Judge in Washington, a position he held until his death on July 13, 1954, at age 64. He is buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

After James Thomson retired from the newspaper business, he and Genevieve moved to Virginia. He died at age 81 on Sept. 25, 1959. Genevieve passed at age 86 on Feb. 16, 1981. They are buried with their son at Old Chapel Cemetery in Millwood, Va.

One more thing

Having a newspaper man for a husband made privacy virtually impossible.

Genevieve, a journalist in her own right, didn’t seem to mind the attention as the couple window-shopped on their honeymoon July 6, 1915, along Michigan Avenue’s Magnificent Mile in Chicago.

The news people had been “occupying a large amount of time Mr. Thomson and his bride think could be devoted to something more useful,” the Grand Forks Daily Herald hintingly observed.

The Thomsons tried in vain to avoid cameras at the famous Blackstone Hotel, named for the president of the Chicago and Alton Railroad and still welcoming guests to the Loop in 2018. Finally, the editor came up with a quote.

“There is nothing we can say or do,” Thomson said. “We’ve talked and posed until our repertoire is exhausted. We’re just ordinary folks on our honeymoon.”

So, with Genevieve on his arm, Thomson walked up Michigan Avenue to ogle a multi-colored dress that had caught his wife’s eyes.

“Was it purchased?” the Daily Herald asked. “No one knows, but Mrs. Thomson is a bride and Mr. Thomson a bridegroom. Guess.”