Niagara Falls was once known as the Honeymoon Capital of the World. Join us as we explore this unique phenomenon. Everything has a history, even honeymoons.

Listen, download, watch on YouTube, or scroll down for the transcript.

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Transcript for “Honeymoon in Niagara Falls: Heterosexuality and Place”

Averill: “They had agreed to make their wedding-journey in the simplest and quietest way, and as it did not take place at once after their marriage, but some weeks later, it had all the desired charm of privacy from the outset.

Elizabeth: ‘How much better,’ said Isabel, ‘to go now, when nobody cares whether you go or stay, than to have started off upon a wretched wedding-breakfast, all tears and trousseau, and had people wanting to see you aboard the cars. Now there will be not a suspicion of honey-moonshine about us; we shall go just like anybody else…’ and she took Basil’s cheeks between her hands. It was rather a girlish thing for Isabel, and she added, with a conscious blush, ‘We are past our first youth you know; and we shall not strike the public as bridal, shall we? My one horror in life is [to be] an evident bride.’

Averill:  “I don’t know,” [Basil] said presently, with as much gravity as a man can whose cheeks are clasped between a lady’s hands, ‘you don’t begin very well for a bride who wishes to keep her secret. If you behave in this way, they will put us into the ‘bridal chambers’ at all the hotels…’”[1]

Elizabeth: And so the marriage and honeymoon of the fictional Isabel and Basil, the protagonists in William Dean Howells’ 1883 novel entitled, Their Wedding Journey, began. Isabel was desperate not to be seen as a newlywed bride on her honeymoon, lamenting that to be seen as such was her “one horror in life.” But go on a grand honeymoon, the couple did. On the list of stops on their Northern Tour was the ubiquitous Niagara Falls, the honeymoon capital of the world.

Averill: Howells writes that “Isabel’s heart beat with a child-like exultation,” as they pulled into the train station. She was anxious to see the “Queen of the Cataracts” as the Falls were known. (A cataract being a large waterfall in this context, not the thing you get in your eyes.) However, Isabel’s hope to not be outed as a bride were dashed when they were “received at their hotel with a burst of minstrelsy from a whole band of music,” complete with trumpets and a crash of cymbals. Luckily, as soon as they were inside, the music started up again for another couple dismounting their carriage outside the hotel doors.

Elizabeth: During their first venture to the foot of the Falls, Isabel noticed “two hopelessly pretty brides, with parasols and impertinent little boots, whom their attendant husbands were helping over the sharp and slippery rocks…” In noticing how the Falls looked, Isabel “forgot them, as she looked on that dizzied sea, hurtling itself from the high summit in huge white knots, and breaks and masses, and plunging into the gulf beside her, while it sent continually up a strong voice of lamentation, and crawled away in vast eddies, with somehow a look of human terror, bewilderment, and pain.”[2]

Elizabeth: Howells continues that Isabel and Basil in Niagara Falls “were now …part of the great circle of newly wedded bliss, which, involving the whole land during the season of bridal tours, may be said to show richest and fairest at Niagara, like the costly jewel of a precious ring.” He goes on to describe the Falls as, “almost abandoned to bridal couples, and any one out of his honey-moon is in some degree an alien there, and must discern a certain immodesty in his intrusion. Is it for his profane eyes to look upon all that blushing and trembling joy? A man of any sensibility must desire to veil his face, and, bowing his excuses to the collective rapture, take the first train for the wicked outside world to which he belongs.”[3]

Averill: And thus, Isabel and Basil completed one part of the marriage ritual, for middle and upper-class nineteenth-century citizens – the honeymoon trip to Niagara Falls. But why was Isabel so horror stricken when faced with being “outed” as a bride? And why, in 1883 did this fictional couple travel to Niagara Falls on their honeymoon in the first place?

Elizabeth: Historian Karen Dubinsky, in her book The Second Greatest Dissapointment, which much of this episode is based on, labels the honeymoon as “the public declaration of heterosexual citizenship.” It is the point in which sexual intercourse between heterosexual partners is celebrated and endorsed. But like all things on this podcast, everything has a history, even this little vacation called the honeymoon, and its fascinating tie with Niagara Falls. So let’s take a look.

I’m Elizabeth

And I’m Averill

And we are your historians for this episode of Dig

Elizabeth: We began this episode with Basil and Isabel, a fictional newlywed couple who traveled to Niagara Falls for their honeymoon in 1883. Another fictional fan favorite couple is good ole’ Pam and Jim from The Office. The 2000s version of the “every” working to middle-class white couple, Pam and Jim were to the 00s what Rachel and Ross were to the 90s. Will they get together? Can they stay together? In 2009 Pam and Jim finally tied the knot, making the mistake, albeit hilarious mistake, to invite all of their office mates to Niagara Falls to celebrate their wedding.

Averill: While getting ready for the ceremony, Pam tears her wedding veil and in a panic, calls Jim in tears. He meets her in private and they lament over their choice to invite everyone to their wedding. To make Pam feel better about her torn veil, Jim cuts off half his tie and they hug and kiss. In the next scene we see them running away from the church together. While family and friends wait anxiously at the church, Pam and Jim have eloped on a Maid of the Mist tour boat and are married by the ship’s captain amidst the spray from the Falls above. Pam is wearing her wedding dress on the boat, and she is visibly pregnant. Clearly Pam does not feel Isabel’s trepidation about being outed as a bride. Even for Niagara Falls, it’s quite rare to see a woman in a bridal gown at the Falls.

Elizabeth: One hundred and twenty-six years passed between Isabel and Basil’s honeymoon and Pam and Jim’s nuptials. A lot changed, yet a lot stayed the same, particularly the connection between newlyweds and the Falls. Niagara Falls became a city synonomous with heterosexual sex. In the 1955 movie To Catch a Thief, Cary Grant says to Grace Kelly “What you need is ten mintues with a good man at Niagara Falls.” Watching this in 1955, everyone knew that Grant wasn’t talking about sightseeing, he was talking about sex. It’s gross because he’s saying that what she needs is a good f&*%#(@ – so she’ll shut up and relax a bit. It’s evidence of rape culture that’s ingrained in our vernacular. But besides the misogyny, the audience knew he was talking about sex –Niagara Falls and sex were synomous.

Averill: So how did Niagara Falls and heterosexuality become intertwined? A look at the history of tourism in Niagara Falls gives us some clues. The Niagara Falls honeymoon was always reserved for those with the cultural “right” to be there, namely married heterosexual couples. Yet some of the most famous gay men of the nineteenth century, including Oscar Wilde and Walt Witman, traveled their with their partners. Oscar Wilde said of the Falls very cheekily, “Every American bride is taken there, and the sight of the stupendous waterfall must be one of the earliest, if not the keenest, disappointments in American married life.”

Isaac Jewett Dyer and Flora Chapron Dyer in front of Niagara Falls backdrop
Isaac Jewett Dyer and Flora Chapron Dyer in front of Niagara Falls backdrop | Cecily Dyer / Flickr CC-BY-NC

Elizabeth: The modern honeymoon evolved from the eighteenth and early nineteenth-century upper-class custom of the wedding tour (also known as the bridal tour). This extended tour, or vacation, was for the bride and groom but they were often accompanied by relatives. The traveling party would also visit other relatives who were not able to attend the wedding. By the mid-nineteenth century the wedding tour became a regular feature of middle-class weddings but it was quite different from modern day honeymoons. It was not a private, romantic getaway for two people but instead a way to affirm the bonds between two people and their family and wider social network. The “private” bridal tour, what we would consider the honeymoon, didn’t become a regular occurance until around the 1870s.

Averill: Often the association of Niagara Falls as a honeymoon destination is attributed to Aaron Burr’s daughter Theodosia when she visited the Falls with her husband in 1801 after their wedding. It’s also attributed to Napoleon Bonaparte’s brother Jerome taking his new bride to Niagara Falls in 1803. However, historian Elizabeth McKinsey dates “the honeymoon” craze to the late 1830s as scattered references in travel writings from the 1830s and 1840s refer to honeymooners at the falls.

Elizabeth: However, the tourist industry started at the Falls right after the war of 1812. In 1822 a man from Buffalo built the first hotel there, the six story Pavilion on the Canadian side of the Falls. Immediately he fenced his property so that only paying hotel guests could view the Falls from his vantage point. The first hotel on the U.S. side was the Eagle Hotel. The opening of the Erie Canal in 1825 brought more visitors, as did the opening of the Welland Canal in 1832 followed by construction of railroads and bridges linking the two countries during the 1840s and 50s.

Averill: By the 1840s Niagara Falls had roughly 40 thousand visitors per year.  Before the Civil War, the Southern aristocracy liked to visit Niagara during “season” to escape the harsh summer months and see and be seen by the U.S. elite. During the mid nineteenth century, those that could afford it went to Niagara Falls. It was usually a stop on a “Northern Tour,” like the grand “European Tour” many elites took. Other stops on these Northern Tours included trips to Quebec City, New York City, and Boston.

Elizabeth: The upper and middle-classes felt that consuming nature, taking in with quiet contemplation the sublime essence of places like Niagara Falls demonstrated “good breeding.” For many, the main objective was quiet contemplation of the waterfalls. To really “do” Niagara, one must stay for a long period of time and watch the Falls in awed silence, from different vantage points and in different lights if possible. However, not everyone “consumed” the Falls in the same way and a kind of kitsch, or as upper class patrons would complain, a rabble, enjoyed the Falls in different ways.

Averill: The famous waterfalls jumper Sam Patch jumped the Falls in 1829. Charles Blondin, or “The Great Blondin,” one of the nineteenth century’s most popular daredevils, performed a high wire act over the falls in 1859 and again in 1860. In 1876 Maria Spelterini crossed the Falls on a high wire but she had her feet encased in peach baskets while she performed the stunt. It also didn’t hurt that she wore skin colored tights and a short tunic while she did it. Simply scandalous! The first person to go over the Falls in a barrel and survive was 63 year-old schoolteacher Annie Taylor in 1901. Niagara Falls was the subject of numerous plays and novels. P.T. Barnum’s American Museum exhibited a scale model of the Falls. In the 1850s a traveling panorama show featured a one thousand foot long canvas roll that depicted images of the falls. The show took 1.5 hours to unroll.

Elizabeth: Trips to Niagara Falls filled nineteenth century travel writings. Charles Dickens visiting the Falls and his travel journal was published in 1824 and then repackaged over and over in guidebooks. Writers often described the Falls as female– beautiful, dangerous, and alluring. The Falls were “Queen of the Cataracts” or “The Mother of all Cascades” or the “Water Bride of Time.” One visitor described the falls as a woman, “I never looked at it without fancying I could trace in the outlines the indistinct shape of a woman, with flowing hair and drooping arms, veiled in drapery.”[4]

Averill: There was no shortage of sexual imagery when describing the Falls. The mist from the falls was described as a “kiss.” The sound of water rushing was a “moan.” Islands rest on the “bosom” of the waterfall, and the “soft shales” of the cliff “gradually yield before the attack” of rushing water. The “clinging curves” of water “embrace” the islands, and water “writhes” and “gyrates” and “caresses the shore.” The whirlpool is “passionate.” Niagara was “seductively restless” and “tries to win your heart with her beauty.” George Holley wrote in 1872, Niagara was “Like a beautiful and true, an excellent and admirable mistress… the faithful lover may return to it with ever new delight, ever growing affection.” [5]

Elizabeth: One poem published in 1901 describes the “exquisite pleasures” of Niagara in no uncertain terms:

Nymph of Niagara! Sprite of the mist!

With a wild magic my brow thou hast kissed;

I am thy slave, and my mistress art thou,

For thy wild kiss of magic is still on my brow[6]

Averill: The Falls could invoke sexual feelings inside young lovers. In Agnes Machar’s 1894 book, Down the River to the Sea, the protagonist May joined a group of young Canadians on a holiday journey to Niagara Falls. May meets Hugh on this trip and is initially shy around him. However, after their first look at the falls together, described as a “curving, quivering sheet of thundering surge,” May feels much less shy around Hugh and notices his physicality for the first time. She is mesmerized by his “heightened colour” and the “absorbed expression of [his] dark blue eyes.” Hugh also feels a change and tells May “I never felt as if I had got so near the state of self-annihilation, the Nirvana we read about…” As the novel progresses, Hugh proposes marriage to May and asks her to “travel down the river of life together.”[7]

Elizabeth: Dubinsky maintains that Niagara Falls undoubtedly made visitors think about sex “but the creation of the place as a honeymoon mecca was a complex process that brought together several strands; its reputation as an elite tourist resort; its proximity to a large, concetrated population; changing mores about the honeymoon itself .. .cultural depictions of Niagara as an icon of beauty, which were more likely than not expressed in terms of gender and heterosexual attraction; and the forbidden pleasures of sexuality, romance, and danger that countless travellers experienced while gazing at, or playing with, the waterfalls.”[8]

Averill: The first North American hotel to feature a honeymoon suite for public viewing was New York City’s Irving Hotel in 1847. The New York Tribune described the suite as a “fairy boudoir,” decorated in lace and satin. Thus, the “private” honeymoon, even though not as in vogue as it would be in later years, was still an illusion. Dubinsky points out, that the “privacy” of a honeymoon suite was, like the honeymoon itself,  designated for the exclusive use of newlyweds was inconsistent with reality, as honeymooners like Isable and Basil found out when they were outed at their Niagara Falls hotel.

Averill: Even as early as 1841, a popular song called “Niagara Falls” first pokes fun at young lovers at the Falls:

            Oh the lovers come a thousand miles,

            They leave their home and mother

            Yet when they reach Niagara Falls,

            They only see each other[9]

Elizabeth: Foucault, that French theorist everyone loves to hate, contested the traditional notion of linear time. He argued spaces like the honeymoon exist as an alternate space in time, varying under different historical circumstances. This space is what he called a heterotopia, as opposed to a utopia, which is fundamentally an unreal or unobtainable space. Heterotopias are linked with a break in traditional time, identifying spaces that represent either a quasi-eternity, like museums, or are temporal, like fairgrounds. Heterotopias are not freely accessible, they are entered either by compulsory means, such as jail, or their entry is based on ritual or purification, like a wedding and then a honeymoon. We don’t want to get too deep into the theory here, but I think it is interesting to think of the honeymoon as this alternative space in time. The heterotopia of a space like the honeymoon, the space in time when a bride is theoretically “deflowered,” is simultaneously mythic and real. So if we follow Foucault and this thinking here, the honeymoon is a restricted or forbidden space that is set aside for two people, but the outside world has a strong desire to look inside.

Averill: In Victorian culture that considered sexual relations only permissible inside the bonds of marriage, the marriage ceremony provided couples with the ritual to then step into the space, the honeymoon space, of becoming full sexual adults. Dubinsky argues that for Victorian middle and upper-class couples, the private honeymoon was a way to harmonize the sheer embarrassment of having all of your friends and family know that you’re about to get it on, with this really important life event of stepping into full heterosexual adult citizenship within a culture that demanded sexual modesty.

Elizabeth: Since at least the 1880s, marital experts decried the “harassing” wedding tour, which was deemed both physically debilitating and immodest for the bride…. It exposed the couple, particularly the bride, to the gaze of the public. Therefore, taking in the sites of nature held out great promise as a honeymoon destination, as “nature” was inherently private. Thus romance, sex, and danger were incorporated into ideas about Niagara Falls during the nineteenth century. But the “naturalness” of the Falls did not mitigate lewd jokes. H.G. Wells joked in 1905 that the roaring of the Falls was a cover to the noisy “accessory to the artless love-making that fills the surrounding hotels.”[10]

Vintage Niagara Falls postcard | Flickr CC-BY-ND

Averill: Historian Jonathan Katz argues that the 1920s was when “the heterosexual came out,” so to speak. In the first years of the twentieth century, heterosexual and homosexual were still obscure medical terms, not yet standard English. In fact, it wasn’t even until 1923 that the word “heterosexuality” even made it into Webster’s dictionary. In a way, it was to differentiate hetero eroticism for the opposite sex, from homosexuality which had made it into Webster’s fourteen years earlier. Gradually, heterosexuality came to refer to “normal” sensuality, free of any essential ties to procreation.

Elizabeth: The twentieth century witnessed the increasing public acceptance of a new hetero pleasure principle. Eroticism was placed “at the core of modern personality.” Essentially, the value placed on sexuality in the formation of identity and personality, made sexual attraction much more central to male/female coupling. The increased importance of sexual expression reshaped the institution of marriage as couples began to expect that erotic fulfilment was an integral part of a successful alliance. The dominant image of the 1920s woman was that of youth and romance. Hollywood films and dime novels showed young women meeting their prince charming, while being his equal and friend. An emphasis on being attractive to men and marrying a “good” man was not a new standard imposed on women during the twentieth century. What was changing was the added, more overt sexuality, which put the heterosexual couple at center stage of the subjective existance.

Averill: The cultural emphasis on heterosexual romance and marriage –, the heterosexual imperative — particularly denigrated nonmarried women. Historian Carroll Smith-Rosenberg argues that sex reformers, doctors, and psychologists redefined the issue of female autonomy in sexual terms during this period. Meaning that women who competed with men for economic independence and political power were labeled “Mannish Lesbians.” The newly minted term lesbian began to be used to punish female autonomy.

Elizabeth: In 1926 an American travel writer marveled at all of the bride and grooms he saw in Niagara Falls and as Dubinsky characterizes it, went on to write “a long, upbeat story about the happy state of heterosexual romance in his day.” He determined that young people had supposedly lost the shame in advertising they were on their honeymoon, writing “young people nowadays ain’t ashamed of being married.” Of course, not all agreed and some were still moored in an older mentality of attempting to hide their newly married state. In 1918 the protagonists of the book, Some Honeymoon, discover to their chagrin, “a newness sticking to bridal couples that no amount of deception can hide..”[11]

Averill: A big change that took place during the early part of the 20th century was that the groom now seemed to be just as embarrassed by the scrutiny of well wishers as the bride. The nineteenth-century Victorian groom was a brute, apt to do harm to his new bride if he wasn’t careful. However, the 1920s male newlywed was the “bungeling” groom, almost as skittish as the bride and something to be laughed at.

Elizabeth: Nevertheless, the cultural shame associated with the honeymoon seemed to be changing into something more open. The transition decades of the 1920s through the 1950s really left the private wedding tour of the nineteenth century and moved into the more public, populist honeymoon of the post-World War II era. More than just the bride and groom and immediate families were interested in the honeymoon. Now tourist promoters, journalists, filmmakers, and especially doctors were intensely interested in peering inside the heteropia of the honeymoon.

Averill: The 1920s was a growth period for tourism. Vacations became a past time of the middle class, it was not solely reserved for the upper class anymore. This period saw a change in the “honeymoon,” as it became a cultural necessity for the middle-class as a prelude to marital life. The car made this possible and places like motor inns and drive-in diners started becoming common.

Elizabeth: Although the honeymoon was changing, we shouldn’t be that surprised. Historian Nancy Cott has demonstrated in her book Public Vows that marriage has always been a public institution. Since America’s founding, directives about the necessity of marriage and its proper form have been deeply embedded in national policy, law, and political rhetoric. Legislators and judges have enforced their preferred model of marriage – consensual, heterosexual monogamy — a model based on Christian teachings and English common law.

Averill: After WWII the sexual politics of the era were shaped by the enthusiatic public emergence of the ideal, white, happy heterosexual couple, just as much as they were by the demonization of the pathological homosexual, the wayward girl, or the Negroe, butch, Beat… insert scary person here. Katz argues, “ The term heterosexual manufactured a new sex-differentiated ideal of the erotically correct, a norm that worked to affirm the superiority of men over women and heterosexuals over homosexuals.”[12] In postwar America and Canada, the honeymoon became an extension of the wedding and like a car, a television set, or a set of china – the honeymoon trip became for many an affordable consumer good. This boom period during the 1940s and 50s spurred advertising, and publicity about honeymooning in Niagara Falls was everywhere.

Elizabeth: However, the more visible the honeymoon became, the more people wished to define what it was supposed to look like. First it involved travel. It involved privacy. And it involved plenty of sex. However, as more people participated and as the ritual attained wider cultural visibility, the meaning, purpose, and main features of the honeymoon came under serious scrutiny. Doctors, psychiatrists, and other marital “experts” led the debate. No longer were sex manuels written with chaste titles such as, What a Young Husband Ought to Know.  After the war these experts spread their wisdom far and wide in newspapers and magazines, how- to- films, and radio shows. Experts combined conservative gender roles with optomistic predictions of heterosexual pleasure in the marriage. Sexual compatibility was, as one columnist wrote, “the cement… that binds a home together.” This put a lot of pressure on performance during the honeymoon. Experts warned a “bad” honeymoon might cause lifelong impotence… or for females “honeymoon shock”. One Canadian sex expert warned “More physchological damage may be done on the honeymoon that the balance of life can correct.”[13]

A wedding party in the 1920s | Noah Jacquesmin / Flickr CC-BY-ND

Averill: At the same time that the honeymoon was being described in explicitly sexual terms, American Dr. Alfred Kinsey and his research team were finding that about 50 percent of women and up to 90 percent of men were going into their honeymoons as non-virgins, or at least less innocent than popular culture suggested. He also found that hetero and homo-sexuality were not dual, either/or polarites but existied on a spectrum. Nevertheless, advice givers continued to address honeymooning couples as sexually innocent, strictly heterosexual, and bound by conservative gender roles. Men were encouraged to take charge, although with restraint. Victorian advice discouraged men from being brutes and raping their uninitiated or timid wives on their wedding nights. During the postwar years, men were still advised to tread cautiously but women were often deemed just as responsible for a “bad” honeymoon experience as the husband was. Popular sex expert Lois Pemberton explained that “the bride’s reticence leads the husband to act overly aggressive. He feels that he must use force in order to assert his masculinity.” To bring the point home, that women should engage and enjoy sex, lest her husband be compelled to use brute force against her, she related the story of Barbara and Jimmy who had been separated since Jimmy had raped his new bride on their wedding night. Pemperton wasn’t sure which one of the couple she pitied more.[14]

Elizabeth: But experts also worried about male performance and argued a groom was under much more pressure than a bride on their wedding night, who they reasoned essentially just had to exist. Several experts cited “marital stage fright” or “honeymoon impotence” as a serious issue for newlywed men. As in other eras, conformity to gender roles was part of the script. The notion that women and men had vastly differing sexual appetites was still widely held and the consequences of toying with gender boundaries were severe. One psychiatrist related the sad tale of Ralph and Laura. It seems Ralph was seized with panic on his wedding night, causing Laura to take control and she “attempted to make a success of their nuptial night.” Disaster ensued causing Laura and Ralph to retreat to seperate sides of the bed. “Their brooding silence established an abyss between them. That abyss became a gulf they never really spanned” until ten years later Ralph visited a psychiatrist, for his apparent shock and decade-long distress at experiencing his new wifey trying to ride him cowgirl style ten years previous.

Averill: Thus, doctors inserted themselves into the honeymoon bedroom.  As early as the 1930s almost all sex experts were recommending the premarital exam to avoid things like venereal disease but also to avoid what some termed “marital maladjustment.” Assumptions about gender ultimately reproduced cultural stereotypes of passionless women (or her slutty doppelganger) and viral, passionate man. The new male ideal should be a man who gently initiated his bride into the pleasures of sex, while of course still being in charge. This also of course ignores the facts from the Kinsey study that a majority of couples were already initiated in the secrets of sexual pleasure well before their wedding night.

Elizabeth: In 1935 the New York Times asserted that “no other place in America attracts so many newly married couples as Niagara Falls.”[15] By the 1940s and 50s, post-World War II tourism to the Falls focused even more heavily on advertising to honeymooners, and the post-war increase in marriages certainly helped business. Hotel owners would scour marriage announcements in newspapers and send invitations to the bride-to-be to come to Niagara Falls for her honeymoon. Honeymooners in both the U.S. and Canada could get a “honeymoon certificate” when they arrived. Canada invested over a billion dollars post-war into Niagara Falls in order to attract American tourists and 13 million people visited the Falls in 1953.

Averill: Post-war pop culture helped establish the mass appeal of the honeymoon at Niagara Falls. As the honeymoon because a cultural metaphor for sex, so did Niagara Falls, as mentioned at the top of the episode with Cary Grant’s crude allusion to the city. In 1953 the movie Niagara, starring Marilyn Monroe, proved a huge boon to the Niagara Falls travel industry. The movie poster echoed the allusions to the Falls as a raging, dangerous, and enticing female. The poster shows Monroe arching over the waterfall, with the caption “Marilyn Monroe and Niagara – a raging torrent of emotion that even nature can’t control.” Journalists alluded that honeymooners in Niagara Falls as dazed, walking into traffic, forgetting to tip their waiters, and generally lackadazical because of all the sex they were having. The intense honeymoon promotions by Niagara Falls businesses were major players in the social construction of the post-war heterosexual couple.

The ad poster for Niagara, 1953 | Twentieth
Century Fox (Fair Use)

Elizabeth: However, the kitsch of the 40s and 50s became the cliche of the 1960s and Niagara Falls began to decline. Jet travel made it easier for couples to travel further distances, and places like the nearby Poconos in Pennsylvania became new destinations for newlyweds. Journalists and cultural commentators began discussing Niagara Falls as a has-been. Class and race also became issues, and more affluent honeymooners traveled to places like Hawaii and the Florida Keys, making Niagara Falls a destination the upper-classes thumbed their nose at.  Concurrently the area began a downward spiral as industry left. and environmental atrocities like those at Love Canal marred the region. What was once a thriving industrial hub, with electricity powered by the Falls, and staples like Nabisco shredded wheat were made by the ton, have become somewhat of a ghost town, at least on the American side.

Averill: For many, the thought of Niagara Falls is mundane, boring, cliche. Perhaps that’s why it was fitting for The Office’s Pam and Jim to be married on the Maid of the Mist steamboat under the falls. The Office is a show about the mundane, the everyday interactions of random people shoved together in a small office space and the interactions they have together. Jim and Pam represent the white every-couple. Middle of the road, good old fashioned Americans that still believe in marriage and family, even as they bucked the traditionalists and were pregnant before their wedding day. Opposite of Isabel’s mortification of being “outed” as a bride embarking on her sexula journey, Pam and Jim were the quientissential heterosexual couple performing their sexuality in the “Honeymoon Capital of the World.”

“Jim and Pam,” while recording their wedding in Niagara Falls | James P. McCoy / Buffalo News


Cott, Nancy. Public Vows: A History of Marriage and the Nation. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2009.

Breines, Wini. “The ‘Other’ Fifties: Beats and Bad Girls,” in Not June Cleaver: Women and Gender in Postwar America, 1945-1960. Ed. Joann Meyerowitz. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1994.

Dubinsky, Karen. The Second Greatest Disappointment: Honeymooning and Tourism at Niagara Falls. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1999.

Howells, William Dean. Their Wedding Journey. Edinburgh: David Douglas, 1883.

Johnson, Miriam M. Strong Mothers, Weak Wives: The Search for Gender Equality. Berkeley:  University of California Press, 1988.

Johnson, Paul. Sam Patch, the Famous Jumper. New York: Hill and Wang, 2004.

Katz, Jonathan. The Invention of Heterosexuality. New York: Dutton Publishing, 1995.

McKinsey, Elizabeth. Niagara Falls: Icon of the American Sublime. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985.

Smith-Rosenberg, Carroll. Disorderly Conduct: Visions of Gender in Victorian America. New York: Oxford University Press, 1986.


[1] William Dean Howells, Their Wedding Journey (Edinburgh: David Douglas, 1883), 7-9.

[2] Howells, 139.

[3] Howells, 151-152.

[4] Dublinksy, 42.

[5] Quotes from Dubinsky, 44.

[6] Quotes from Dubinsky, 44.

[7] Quoted in Dubinksy, 45.

[8] Dubinsky, 53.

[9] Quoted in Dubinsky, 29.

[10] Quoted in Dubinsky, 52.

[11] Dubinsky, 154-156.

[12] Johnathan Katz, The Invention of Heterosexuality (New York: Dutton, 1995), 83-112.

[13] Quoted in Dubinsky, 216.

[14] Quoted in Dubinksy, 219.

[15] Quoted in Dubinsky, 170.


Logan Tapscott · May 11, 2020 at 8:26 am

Congratulations on your 100 episode! While listening your episode in Stitcher, I noticed that Averill & Elizabeth are interrupting each other during the episode. When Averill is speaking, Elizabeth would start the analysis before Averill finishes her analysis. I think that it is a technical glitch that causing the overlapping analysis.

    Averill Earls · May 11, 2020 at 9:22 am

    Oh no! Thank you so much for bringing this to our attention, we will try to get it fixed up and republished asap! (Quarantine recording, what a pain!)

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