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Stately Oaks hosts vows renewals, Victorian valentines

By Joel Hall

jhall@news-daily.com

With the month of February fast approaching, love will be a central topic at the Stately Oaks Plantation in Jonesboro.

On Saturday, Feb. 13, the day before Valentine's Day, Stately Oaks will host its annual wedding-vows renewal ceremony. For $35, couples throughout the Southern Crescent will have a chance to reaffirm their love, inside the Bethel Schoolhouse located on the Stately Oaks property.

In addition, throughout the month of February, visitors taking tours of Stately Oaks will have a chance to view authentic Valentine's Day cards dating from 1860 to 1911. The cards will include ornate, Victorian-era Valentine's Day greetings, as well as "vinegar" Valentines -- sarcastic greetings from the same era that stray far from Victorian social decorum.

Admission fees to Stately Oaks during the month will also be reduced for Clayton County residents. Adults, with proof of residency, will be allowed to tour Stately Oaks for $6, and accompanying children will be admitted for $4.

Barbara Emert, director of Stately Oaks and president of Historical Jonesboro/Clayton County, Inc., said this year will be the fourth year Stately Oaks has hosted its wedding-vows renewal ceremony. She said in the past, couples from as far away as Macon have participated in the program, in which each couple receives its own 20-minute ceremony in the Bethel Schoolhouse.

"With the prevalence of divorce and separation today, for committed couples, it's important for them, sometimes, to take a day and say, 'If I had a choice, I would do this again,'" Emert said. "We were just thinking about Valentine's and romance, and we just thought that this would be a great way for them to do a renewal, in a unique way, in a unique setting. It's not a huge event, but for the couples and the families, it's a nice event."

Emert said each couple that renews their vows on Feb. 13 will have their ceremony officiated by an ordained minister. In addition, each couple will receive "a reception to go," filled with a small cake, sparkling cider, and other small gift items.

Ted Key, a local historian and a member of Historical Jonesboro/Clayton County, Inc., reaffirmed his wedding vows to his wife of 43 years, three years ago, during the event. He described the program as "special."

"Each year, it gets more popular as more people know about it," Key said. "It's open to the community, not just to the members of Historical Jonesboro. We have a misconception here that all we do is Civil War stuff ... We do so much more. The people who have gone through the ceremony have loved it."

During the month, Stately Oaks will also display examples of classic and "vinegar" Valentines greetings from the Victorian era. According to Emert, "vinegar" Valentines were also known as "penny dreadful" Valentines, due to their sarcastic, sometimes, rude messages.

"Most of them [Valentine greetings], the nice ones, were very ornate ... lots of cupids, lots of roses, cherubs, [with] fancy and flowery verse," Emert said. "They were either syrupy or the vinegar ones ... there wasn't anything in between. They [vinegar Valentines] were just really hateful and sarcastic. If a young man sent one [a regular Valentine] to a girl and she wasn't interested in him, she might send back one of these. It might be sent as a joke, but they had to know that person very well."

Emert said that everyone who visits Stately Oaks in February will receive a reproduction of a classic Victorian Valentine. Those participating in the wedding-vows ceremony must R.S.V.P. by Tuesday, Feb. 9. Stately Oaks Plantation is open for tours Monday through Saturday, from 10 a.m., to 4 p.m. For more information, call (770) 473-0197.