Some of us don’t have many mementos from our childhood, let alone from our parents’ early years. But former media consultant Bob Cullinan, who splits his time these days between Marin County, California, and Lake Como in Italy, has some old photos of his parents’ wedding 70 years ago, and recently compared them to the real thing.
My parents came from two different worlds. Mom was raised in wealth and privilege in Copenhagen, Denmark. My father sold farm machinery in Lincoln, Nebraska. How they met and married is one of the world’s great love stories.
In 1946, my mother worked as a translator for the American Red Cross. My father was a captain in the US Army Corps of Engineers. They were both stationed in Salzburg, Austria, and one weekend, both just happened to be at a nearby lakeside resort called Mondsee. My father was there with an Army colonel … his commanding officer … and my mother was there with a girl friend.
The two men were sitting at an outdoor cafe when the colonel looked over my father’s shoulder and said, “You have to see this woman. She’s spectacular!” They switched places so my dad could take a look. He saw her from afar, and immediately said to the colonel, “If I can’t marry her, I’ll never marry anyone.”
Nine months later, they were married.
I knew very little about my parents’ wedding, other than my mother telling me it was in a castle in Salzburg. We had a handful of old black-and-white photos from that day, but very little detail. I really wanted to ask both of them for more information, but Dad died in 1976 and Mom passed five years ago.
I needed to know more. In May, I was planning to travel to Europe and shoot photos at the Giro d’Italia, the Tour of Italy bicycle race. Hmmm… Italy is close to Austria. That was all the impetus I needed to book a trip to Salzburg.
I did a little pre-trip research, and discovered that most of the post-war weddings in Salzburg were performed at the Mirabell Palace, in the heart of the city. On my first morning in Austria, I had coffee with a friend, and asked if he knew how far we were from the Mirabell Palace. “It’s right there,” he said. It turns out that we were having coffee just outside the gates of the palace.
I took the old black-and-white photos out of my backpack. As I walked up the path to the main entrance at the palace, it struck me: this is the exact spot where my mom and dad stood, along with their friends and witnesses, after their wedding ceremony. My dad in his Army captain’s uniform, my mom with her flowers and fur coat. The lines on the building were exactly the same as 70 years ago. But the people in the photos were long gone.
I sat in silence for a few moments, taking it all in. I heard a group of people speaking English near me, and as they walked past, I said, “You’re Americans, yes? Want to see something pretty cool?” And I showed them the photos of my parents’ wedding day. It turns out that they were all cadets from West Point, on a school trip. When they saw my father in his uniform, they were visibly moved. More than a few tears were shed, including mine.
That evening, before a classical music concert at the Mirabell Palace, I was allowed to spend a few minutes alone in the room where the wedding itself had taken place. It’s called (in English) the Marble Hall, and it looks nearly identical to what I could see in the old photos from 70 years ago. The walls are the same, many of the chairs are the same, and it’s easy to imagine how this all looked to my parents, all those years ago. I’ve spent most of my life in the communications business. But at that moment, I found myself at a total loss for words.
Paul Simon may have put it best: “Long ago, it must be, I have a photograph. Preserve your memories. They’re all that’s left you.”
This circle has now been closed. I am completely satisfied.
Bob Cullinan is a lifelong storyteller. A Nebraska native, Cullinan spent a dozen years working in television news and sports before beginning a 20-year career as a media consultant. His passion for the sport of cycling led Cullinan to Europe in 2007, where he reported from professional cycling races across the continent. He was seriously injured when a car struck his bicycle from behind, and drove away, in 2013. After recovering from his injuries, Cullinan joined the tiny house movement, selling his big California home, purging 75% of his possessions, and retiring to an 850-square-foot co-op. These days, he splits his time between his home in Marin County, California, and sub-let apartment in Como, Italy.