The winding tale of a 72-year-old wedding cake from WWII
By William Smith | The Hawk Eye, Burlington, Iowa | Published: February 14, 2016
FORT MADISON (Tribune News Service) — For as long as Dana Mueller can remember, the 72-year-old wedding cake on display in her living room has been a part of family lore — a symbol of the great love shared by her late parents.
"Once they met each other, they never dated anyone else. That was it for them," she said.
The story of the long petrified cake dates all the way back to 1942, when Mueller's father Fred Morris, a 22-year-old chief yeoman in the U.S. Navy, docked in Brisbane, Australia for some rest and recovery. It was there he met and fell in love with a 19-year-old Australian girl by the name of Mary Emily Josephine Solomon -- better known to her friends as Marie.
The two decided to get married in 1943, but Fred had to get approval from his commander. The commander denied the request in order to make sure the marriage wasn't a whim, and Morris had to wait a year before he could reapply.
The second request was successful, and the two lovebirds married on May 3, 1944.
"When dad was in Australia, he was scheduled to go out — he was in the submarines — and at the last minute, his orders changed and one of his best friends went in his place. The sub was never heard from," Mueller said.
While still in Brisbane waiting for her husband to be discharged from the Navy, Marie got pregnant and gave birth to a little girl they named Carol. When Fred finally got his discharge, arrangements were made for Marie and baby Carol to move to the United States via ocean liner. Marie, who was 24-years-old at the time, boarded the ship with hundreds of other war brides moving to America.
Leaving behind her mother, seven brothers and her country was a big life moment for Marie -- a moment further amplified when she stepped off a train in her new husband's hometown of Marceline, Mo.
"It was quite a culture shock for her, going from a city of over a half million people, to rural small town America with a population of less than 3,500 people," Mueller said.
Like so many other newlyweds, Fred and Marie saved the top tier of their wedding cake to be cut on their first anniversary, hauling it all the way from Australia to America. Fred was working for the Santa Fe Railroad by the time that anniversary rolled around, and the happy new couple was making their home in Fort Madison.
Bucking an old tradition by starting one of her own, Marie decided not to cut the cake on their first anniversary and saved it for the memories it held. The cakes' frosting was rock hard by the time Fred and Marie celebrated their second anniversary a year later, and the cake proved impossible to cut.
"These days they use royal icing that hardens and solidifies, but this was just regular icing," Mueller said.
Mueller likes to think the cake petrified itself, perhaps to continually give the young Australian bride memories of her homeland. Fred and Marie took the cake to Australia when they moved back to Brisbane in 1966, but work at the railroad brought Fred and his family back to the states a year later.
Mueller, who was 13 at the time, remembers that year in Australia with the fondest of memories.
"I didn't want to move back to the states," Mueller said with a grin. "It was an absolutely awesome experience."
Despite crossing the ocean three times, the cake still remains as rock hard as it was seven decades ago. Fred even built a display case for the cake, so he and Marie could proudly display it alongside their wedding pictures. Their three children (including Mueller) always knew the story behind the cake, but didn't give it much thought until years later. It was always a part of family tradition.
Fred died in 1985 at the age of 63, and Marie died a decade later when she 72. The cake lives on, however, and since Mueller has no children of her own, she plans on passing it on to one of her nieces or her nephew.
Until then, Mueller proudly will display the cake in her Fort Madison home, all while reliving the memories of a young Navy man and his Australian bride.
(c)2016 The Hawk Eye (Burlington, Iowa)
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