Summers in Milwaukee are made for weddings, with blue skies, light lake breezes and sunshine peering through drifting white, fluffy clouds. Any picturesque historic locale books up far in advance, even in a mid-size city like Milwaukee. There’s a lot of competition options for weddings in this town: Villa Terrace Decorative Art Museum, Lake Park, The Grain Exchange, Renaissance Place, Milwaukee Art Museum, and I’ve been lucky to attend weddings at several of these gorgeous places. One place where I’ve seen numerous weddings, but haven’t known a single person getting married, is here at the Pfister. Boasting over 6,000 weddings throughout its 115-year history, that’s over 12,000 people celebrating their new life together with nearly 3,000,000 guests.
One recent Saturday, in less than two hours and preceded by guests stopping at the concierge desk to inquire after their intended reception’s location, no less than four brides passed through the lobby. Swimming through formally dressed guests are brass luggage carts, pushed and pulled by the bellhops, loaded with packages from Crate & Barrel and lavishly beribboned gifts. From the bright sapphire blue to deeper shades of royal, and even the whimsical teal, there is an abundance of blue with the dresses of the ladies attending the receptions, possibly inspired by summer skies.
The first bride, in her strapless gown, train draped over an arm, bends down to pet the head of a very happy dog passing through the lobby. A second bride and groom arrive to a much emptier lobby as guests have made their way to the ballrooms on the seventh floor, many with drinks in hand. A photographer trails behind them, documenting each pause, every point of the finger to the ornate ceiling as they keep the fingers of their other hands intertwined.
A mother rushes by, coaxing along two little flower girls in matching dresses of ballerina-tulled skirts, with lavender ties around their waist, ending in a bright, big bow at the back. Shortly after, comes the arrival of an entire wedding party. The bride is in a full, white lace skirt with a ribbon around her waist as well; her bridesmaids sport purple dresses that complement the lavender of the flowergirls.
As this group gathers for photos on the second floor, a fourth bride and her wedding party stream through the front doors. Her strapless, beaded gown is reminiscent of a prima ballerina. Her hair curled into a bun at the crown of her head, the veil streaming down behind. When brides at the Pfister, dressed in such lavish gowns, pose on the marble steps of the grand staircase, flanked by colorful bridesmaids, it’s clear how such an ornate place could inspire the desire for a little girl’s wedding dreams to be brought to life.
Beyond the romantic images and celebratory color, there’s a quieter, more necessary life that goes undocumented. The bride that must borrow a cell phone from the photographer in order to reach her betrothed for coordination of photos upstairs in Blu. Or, the young lady that comes up from the salon with her hair done, veil set perfectly in place, but is dressed in jeans and a zippered sweater and is accompanied by just one woman – one “of a certain age” who is likely mom, aunt or future mother-in-law. And, meanwhile, on the seventh floor: The ballroom doors are flung open, chairs covered and tied, tables arrayed with wedding favors, namecards awaiting their inevitable plucking and replacing, flowers adorning and complementing every available surface, crystals on chandeliers and votives appear especially bright, sparkling and white: everything waiting, silently, in utter anticipation…