David Lauderdale

Marriage advice for Justin Bieber and Hailey Baldwin from beautiful Palmetto Bluff, SC

Justin Bieber snapped a picture of his watch right before his wedding at Palmetto Bluff in Bluffton Monday evening.

His Instagram post (“Got myself a lil wedding gift ... “) got 1.5 million likes.

It seemed that the whole world was watching when the young Canadian singer married model and television personality Hailey Baldwin.

The weekend-long buzz of the pop-star wedding in our quiet town had People and TMZ spinning out golden nuggets, and locals taking blurry photos after a day at the May River sand bar.

Justin Bieber and Hailey Baldwin may have known that many other dashing couples have strolled to the altar at the high-end Montage Palmetto Bluff.

Sons of American icons Magic Johnson and Johnny and June Carter Cash beat them to the aisle.

But nothing beats the time when that blessed spot of earth was owned by “The Marrying Wilsons.”

Richard T. Wilson Sr. wasn’t born with a silver spoon in his mouth. He came from a poor farm near Gainesville, Georgia. But his salesmanship and lust for life made him one of the richest people in America as part of the Gilded Age. He bought Palmetto Bluff for hunting in 1902.

“According to a grandson, the rumor long persisted that Margaret Mitchell based the character Rhett Butler in ‘Gone With The Wind’ on the legend of Richard T. Wilson’s swashbuckling charm and good looks,” writes Patricia Richards Kennedy in “A History of Palmetto Bluff, South Carolina.”

The Wilsons were tight with European royalty, and their venture into the Lowcountry was a sign of their national status. The wealthiest of America’s wealthy had “cottages” at Jekyll Island or entire plantations all over the South Carolina Lowcountry, used for hunting, wintering and entertaining.

Patty Kennedy’s wonderful book tells us that “as they reached young adulthood, the handsome, socially poised, and widely traveled Wilson children were an immediate success in New York, London and Paris society, and began to marry so well that they became known as the ‘marrying Wilsons.’ ”

Their mother was called “the greatest matchmaker in America.”

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Patty Kennedy tells that May Wilson married Ogden Goelet, who inherited $50 million (about $1 billion today) in real estate; Marshall Orme Wilson married Caroline Astor; Leila Wilson, known as Belle, married Michael Henry Herbert, who would become British Ambassador to the United States; and Richard T. Wilson Jr., who built a fabulous mansion at Palmetto Bluff, married Marion S. Mason, the daughter of a prominent Boston doctor.

And then there was Grace, the baby.

Grace Wilson married Cornelius Vanderbilt III, but his parents were so much against the marriage that there was not a Vanderbilt to be seen when they wed in New York City. The press in 1896 called it the “romance of the decade,” but it cost “Neily” Vanderbilt $50 million in old money because he was disinherited.

When Grace and Neily Vanderbilt came to Palmetto Bluff, they stayed in the lodge her father had built, which was thereafter called the Vanderbilt House.

Justin and Hailey Bieber, and all the stylish couples who have said “I do” in the little chapel on the bluff, could learn a lesson or two from the marriage of Grace and Neily.

Her focus was on social standing, and she reached the pinnacle, at all costs. The history books say she succeeded Caroline Astor as the queen of high society in New York.

But her husband came to call her “Her Grace.” She pretended to have more money than she actually had. And Neily didn’t even enjoy her endless dinner parties and luncheons. They became a husband and wife who were virtual strangers. The searing, costly love seemed gone.

On Monday, the world again turned its eyes to the rich and famous on Palmetto Bluff.

I hope Justin can look at that fancy new watch and realize that magical moments come and go like the tides in the May River. It will be up to him and Hailey — not their 1.5 million friends — to make it last.

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Senior editor David Lauderdale has been a Lowcountry journalist for more than 40 years. He oversees the editorial page, writes opinion, and tells the stories of our community. His columns have twice won McClatchy’s President’s Award. He grew up in Atlanta, but Hilton Head Island is home.
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