The beautiful Church of the Ascension, on Fifth Avenue and 10th Street, has a long history in New York. It started in 1829 in a Canal Street building, where the city’s growing Evangelical population gathered.
After the original church was destroyed by fire a decade later, the parish moved to a Gothic Revival cathedral designed by Richard Upjohn in 1841 in what was then the outskirts of town.
In 1844, it earned fame as the site of a small wedding for a very prominent groom: United States President John Tyler.
And amazingly, the entire ceremony was pulled off without the press or public finding out until after the couple said their vows.
After meeting her at a Washington reception, Tyler fell hard for Julia Gardiner, a beautiful 24-year-old from a wealthy New York family.
Following the death of Tyler’s first wife in 1842, the president was determined to win Julia’s hand.
The independent-minded Julia (who shocked society when she posed on the arm of a man who was not related to her in a store ad) eventually accepted.
The wedding was set for June 26, and the goal was to keep the press from finding out—and making a big to-do about the short time between Tyler’s first wife’s death and his second marriage, as well as the couple’s 30-year age difference.
“Tyler was so concerned about secrecy that he did not discuss his plans with his other children until after the wedding,” stated one source.
Tyler, 54, did tell his son John Tyler, Jr., who arrived in New York for the wedding with his father. They stayed at Howard’s Hotel on Lower Broadway, where the staff were kept on lockdown so no one would find about about the famous guest.
The secret ceremony was pulled off successfully, with only one newspaper reporting the nuptials. “The bride is a very beautiful and elegantly formed woman of apparently 20 years of age,” wrote The New York Morning Express.
“She was robed simply in white, with a gauze veil depending from a circlet of white flowers wreathed in her hair.” Less than 10 people attended, and afterward “the party departed for the residence of the bride in Lafayette Place (below)…the wedding cortege consisted of five carriages.”
After a wedding dinner, the couple boarded a steamer. Apparently Tyler was recognized, because people on passing ships “cheered most heartily” and presidential salutes were fired from “various ships of war.”
Julia was only First Lady for a short time. After Tyler’s term ended, he moved back to his Virginia plantation.
On another note, incredibly, two of Tyler’s grandchildren—children born of a son Tyler had with Julia—are still alive today.
[Top photo: Wikipedia; fourth image: Church of the Ascension; fifth image: NYPL Digital Gallery]