Updated: Aug 24, 2020
If you’re reading this and you’re not a complete sociopath, you probably have people you love and care about. And if any of these people went missing, you’d be upset and want to find them. Now imagine that person is your spouse, and you haven’t seen them since your wedding day, years earlier. Everyone tells you they ran off and left you, but the truth turns out to be even darker. Let’s talk about an old urban legend commonly called “Bride and Seek.”
Like with a lot of these legends, there are multiple different versions of it going around. So I’ll try to summarize the story as best I can with all the contradicting accounts.
In most versions, as you would expect, there’s just been a wedding. The wedding and/or reception is usually being held at a house that belongs to someone in the bride’s family — often her father or grandmother. In some versions, the bride and groom are exceptionally young — maybe 18 or even as young as 16. After the wedding, the bride and groom take part in an old family tradition — a game of hide and seek.
Because the house (or sometimes mansion) is in the bride’s family, she knows all the best hiding spots. When the game begins, she goes up to the attic and finds an old steamer trunk — sometimes belonging to one of her parents or grandparents. Knowing she’s found the perfect spot, she climbs in and waits.
But something goes wrong. Maybe she hits her head, maybe the lock is just rusty and she can’t get it back open. Either way, it doesn’t take long for members of the wedding party to notice something is wrong. They look for her everywhere — well, except in the trunk — but can’t find her. In one version, the bridesmaids say the bride was having second thoughts and everyone comes to believe she got cold feet and left her new husband. They all eventually go home and years go by with no word from the missing bride.
What happens next depends largely on the version. Generally a family member of the bride will go up to the attic, maybe to clean it out, maybe to find something specific. Either way, they find the old steamer trunk and open it up, but are horrified to find the bride’s skeleton inside. Sometimes she’s not fully decomposed yet and her mouth is frozen in a scream. In another version, dried blood is found on the trunk from the bride trying to claw her way out.
Even though at least one version of this legend takes place in 1975, its origins stretch back at least 200 years. The folks at liveabout.com traced it back to an 1809 article in a German newspaper. In this story, the bride was missing for thirty years after her disappearance, and she was only found during house repairs. Since this account came from a newspaper, there might be a decent chance it’s true…then again, maybe not.
There are two other early version of this story. One is the poem Ginevra by Samuel Rogers, published in 1822. In the poem, Ginevra is a young bride who goes missing at some point after her wedding. When she isn’t there for the wedding feast, everyone gets concerned but, of course, they can’t find her. Her body is found fifty years later among “old lumber in the Gallery.” The person who finds her is unidentified, but the reader knows it’s her because she’s wearing a necklace with her name on it. Rogers reportedly claimed the story was true, but there’s not really any evidence of that.
But a more well known version is in the poem The Mistletoe Bough by Thomas Haynes Bayly. Also known as The Fatal Chest, the poem takes place during the Christmas season and follows a bride who hides because she’s tired of dancing after her wedding. She thinks her new husband will find her, but he never does. Years later, her skeleton is found in a trunk at the castle the wedding was held in — it had “long lain hid” and nobody could figure out what happened to her.
So, did something like this happen? Probably not, but there has to be a reason the story continues to be told over two centuries later. For starters, several versions feature a bride who hits her head or a wedding party that has trouble finding her because they’ve had too much to drink. I’ve seen speculation in a few places that this is a cautionary tale about drinking. Interestingly, in at least one of these versions, the bride and groom are teenagers— so maybe it’s also supposed to warn against underage drinking. The story also speaks to other fears like the fear of being buried alive, which I’ve talked all about in a separate video. Even though this isn’t technically what happens to the bride, being locked in a trunk like that has got to make you feel extremely claustrophobic, just like being buried alive would.
But there’s another big fear this story speaks to: The fear of marriage. I’ve never been married but, from everything I hear, it’s not easy, and can be pretty terrifying. You’re making a promise to stay with the same person for the rest of your life — sometimes when you’re very young. I wonder if this is why the bride and groom are teenagers in some versions — maybe it’s also a cautionary tale about jumping into big, life changing decisions at such a young age.
In a slightly different vein, the juxtaposition here is pretty shocking. A wedding is supposed to be the happiest day of a woman’s life — and presumably a man’s too. This story flips that idea on its head and turns what should be a wonderful day for the woman into her last.
And there are plenty of other bridal urban legends that play on similar fears. In one, a couple is taking wedding photos in a botanical garden when the woman is bitten by a rattlesnake and dies. In another, a newlywed woman goes missing on her honeymoon. Years later, she’s spotted by a friend of her husband’s in a “freak show” in the Philippines — some versions say this freak show has a sexual element to it. This one could touch on fears like traveling in foreign countries as well as kidnapping and sex trafficking, the latter of which is not something that I see talked about a lot.
In another urban legend, a bride starts visiting a tanning bed regularly because she doesn’t want to look pale for her big day. But she goes so much that she dies because she’s literally cooked her insides. This one is obviously about the dangers of vanity, though I’m pretty sure something like this isn’t possible.
Another story isn’t quite as dark but a lot more amusing. A bride and groom get married as usual. After the ceremony, the groom makes a speech, saying everyone has a wedding gift taped to the bottom of their chairs. When the guests look under the chairs, they find manila envelopes that contain pictures of the new bride and the best man in…compromising positions. The groom leaves shortly after this announcement, presumably just long enough to see the shock on everyone’s faces. Sometimes in this story the genders are reversed and the bride gives out photos of her new husband and the maid of honor. Occasionally it takes place at various universities. Why the groom decides to go through with the wedding when he knows his fiancée is cheating on him is beyond me — but like I always say, I’m just the messenger here.
So that’s all I have for you today on Bride and Seek, and other wedding related urban legends. I love urban legends, and I love researching them and telling you guys what I come up with. I find this one especially interesting because it takes what’s supposed to be a happy occasion and turns it into something terrifying.