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After 50 years, Newport couple’s love is frozen in time — and so is their wedding cake

After 50 years, Newport couple’s love is frozen in time — and so is their wedding cake
Alan and Mary Caldwell are pictured on their wedding day, June 8, 1968. The Newport Beach couple's wedding cake, at left, is still frozen after 50 years. (Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

Marriage is forever. So, apparently, is the wedding cake.

In 1969, Mary and Alan Caldwell followed a tradition of many newlyweds. They pulled a piece of their wedding cake out of the freezer to eat on their first anniversary.

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The confection, a simple white round slab with white frosting, looked good. But after the first bite, the couple decided it didn’t taste good.

“But we just didn’t have the heart to throw it out,” Mary said.

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So she tucked it back into its plastic wrap, put foil around the plastic, slid it into a plastic bag and placed it back in the freezer. And there it has stayed — not just preserved, but incorruptible.

The Caldwells, self-admitted pack rats who have lived in Newport Beach on and off since 1983, never threw out the cake, nor did they disturb its shroud until this month — the 50th anniversary of their wedding June 8, 1968. They decided the milestone was a good time to take another look.

Mary Caldwell unwraps what's left of her wedding cake from June 8, 1968, which is still frozen in her Newport Beach home.
Mary Caldwell unwraps what's left of her wedding cake from June 8, 1968, which is still frozen in her Newport Beach home. (Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

They found the humble cake still spongy and bright, its icing still squishy.

But they did not hazard another bite.

The cake has long been a family joke, a quirky testament to love, strength and sentimentality. It has been in the kitchen freezer of eight homes over the decades — always unmarked because it needed no introduction. It survived the rolling blackouts of the early 2000s. Once, when the family was on vacation and the neighborhood lost power, a neighbor with a key fetched the cake and kept it frozen until the power returned.

“We’ve always been very protective of it,” Mary said.

Mary, 72, a retired elementary school teacher, and Alan, 77, who worked in sales, were married at First Baptist Church in Glen Ellyn, Ill. Mary’s mother, who lived in California, said she would make only one trip to Illinois, either to see Mary graduate from Wheaton College a few miles from the church or to see her marry. So the couple scheduled their wedding for the weekend before commencement.

On a $1,000 budget — about $7,200 in today’s money — the Caldwells threw a modest wedding. Their small-town church had no air conditioning. Mary, in her veil and borrowed dress, thought she would pass out from the smothering heat. A photo of her walking down the aisle shows a taper candle in the background melted into a 90-degree angle.

Their reception was in the much cooler church basement.

“There were mints and nuts and punch,” Mary said. “And cake.”

Alan said a wedding is really about the bride, and for the Caldwells, it still is.

“I enjoy seeing how happy she is with the whole thing,” he said.

Mary Caldwell laughs as her husband, Alan, smells their wedding cake, still frozen since they got married 50 years ago.
Mary Caldwell laughs as her husband, Alan, smells their wedding cake, still frozen since they got married 50 years ago. (Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

Their son Marcum, 37, said the cake was always handled in an “Ark of the Covenant-style way.” He never thought to threaten the “cryogenically frozen cake” as a boy, but he did laugh about it often, and still does.

“It really endured,” he said.

The cake isn’t the only surviving wedding souvenir. Mary stowed away the cake topper, Alan’s stephanotis boutonniere, small mesh bags of rice and mints, a napkin, a flower applique from the curtains and a matchbook and soap from their honeymoon hotel, Chicago’s Drake.

Marcum, who now lives in Denver, said he isn’t the saver his parents are. When they die, he may throw out the cake, he said. Or donate it to science.

But first it has to make it that long.

“We’re going to give it another 50 years,” Alan said. “Then we’ll eat it.”

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