Shivarees meant different things to different people. To the kids it meant running around the house beating on pots and buckets and dishpans, having a wonderful time making the biggest and worst racket possible. To the women it meant preparing and toting a mountain of food and doing a lot of gabbing and staying busy in the kitchen. To the young man getting married, well, the shivaree was something to be real glad when it was over.
[In Tennessee they made the bridegroom ride around on a rail.] “When I was just a kid I thought it was fun, watching the poor guy bouncing around on that rail, with all his pals whooping it up. But when I got a little older I began to feel for the victim.
The Ozark Shivaree
Reading this, I was reminded of the shivaree in which I took part in 1952 or 53, when I was 5 or 6 years old. That event is one of the memories I can dredge up from a young age, and I am sure it stuck in my memory because –- as Professor Ford described –- I got to creep around in the dark and make an awesome noise to scare some adults. Now, more than 60 years later, it is a bit painful to think that I am probably among the few people still breathing who took part in a genuine shivaree.
“It requires backbone to get married out this way”
|A Groom Riding a Rail from Ford,|
This is My Story, This is my Song
He wrote, “[The celebrants] would eventually simmer down and just start teasing the boy with talk. Man, they’d give him a rough time. But somehow he’d survive. Somehow they always did.” He said he was glad that he gotten married in California, “so I didn’t have to spend the night before my wedding getting ridden around on a rail.”
A few days after the couple got settled, the community held a shivaree. The shivaree was a post-wedding noisy party for the community where the newlyweds were pressed into service as hosts. In short, the shivaree was a mock serenade and a roast of the newlyweds. People brought all sorts of noisemakers and pots and pans to bang on, and they sang songs and enjoyed refreshments, compliments of the newlyweds. Adding to the atmosphere of friendly ribbing and polite mockery, nobody bothered to dress up…. Newlyweds looked forward to the noisy event as well, and they would have been insulted at not being forced to host the shivaree. At the torture end of the spectrum, here is what a couple suffered through in a farm house south of Perryton, Texas in 1951, as remembered by the groom:
Just after dark the abuse began with the largest crowd ever gathered at a shivaree in our community. This was probably because I had been a very active participant in many previous community shivarees. One cousin drove 200 miles to exact his revenge after waiting years for the opportunity.
I hoped for the best, but as my glasses and billfold were removed, I knew it was going to be bad. The small house filled to capacity as the shenanigans began. All labels were removed from kitchen foods, cans and supplies. Toilet paper was dunked, food canisters switched, rice and crackers dumped into the short-sheeted bed. Bed slats were fixed to fall out and cans of rocks were tied to the bedsprings. Shoelaces and socks were tied into hard knots and all underwear placed in a pillowcase and tossed up on the rooftop.
During the evening I washed my wife’s feet, reenacted my proposal of marriage and pushed her up and down the driveway in a wheelbarrow with everyone singing “There’ll be a hot time in the old house tonight.” As I passed my car, I could hear air hissing as the valve cores had been removed and tossed into the weeds. My work pickup had been mired axle-deep in a nearby mud hole.
The women gathered our keys, money and extra light fuses, then dropped them into a gallon jar of honey we had received as a wedding present. When my city-raised bride began to cry, they let up on her but increased their efforts on me without mercy....
Finally, only one car was left as the cousin from afar unscrewed the light fuses from our fuse box and tossed them as far as he could into the darkness. I consoled my poor bride, lying in cracker crumbs in our bed, and apologized to her for having to share in my punishment. My shivaree was now over and, I might add, I have not been to another since. Apparently during frontier times, shivarees had often been, like this Texas shivaree, pretty rough. Here is a description of shivarees in frontier Kansas.
[W]eddings were made most memorable by the "charivari," or "shivaree," that neighbors exacted on the newlyweds on their wedding night. The closest modern equivalent of the shivaree would be a combination of trick-or-treating, fraternity hazing, and Christmas caroling.
Shivaree participants would gather at a neighbors' home to "warm-up" and sometimes have a few drinks. As darkness descended, the shivaree party would converge on the home of the newly wed couple, hoping to catch them shortly after they got into bed. Shortly after arrival, the shivaree party would begin banging pots and pans, singing, and yelling to get the attention of the couple. If the couple refused to come out, the shivaree leader would bang on the door, demanding admittance, so that the party could come inside and to celebrate the wedding and toast the bride and groom's good health.
If the groom appeared at the door and gave the party some money or another treat, the party might be convinced to go and celebrate elsewhere. If the party's noisemaking was ignored, it was not uncommon for them to break into the house, abduct the groom, and carry him miles away on horseback, leaving him -- in varying stages of undress -- to find his way home in the dark. One Kansas newspaper provides the following description of a shivaree party: "They performed such tricks as shooting bullets through the windows, breaking down the door, dragging the couple out of bed and tumbling them about on the floor, and indulging in other equally innocent tricks." The editor added, "It requires backbone to get married out this way." 
"An Idiotic Survival of Semicivilized Times" or "Just Plain Fun"?
According to several newspaper accounts of shivarees before WWII, celebrants not only made noise by banging pots and using noise makers, but also by firing their guns and rifles. The combination of unholy noise, weapons, booze, and reluctant newlyweds sometimes yielded regrettable results. For example, during an Ohio “Shivaree” in 1882, a team of horses belonging to T. Wichershim in Hicksville, Ohio, that been hitched in front of the Blacksmith shop, “became frightened and broke loose, wrecked a nice new carriage and went towards home at break neck speed.” 
A party of farm folks gathered early this morning under the windows of J. Walter Force, a young bridegroom in Livingston, to give the bridal couple “Shivaree” were welcomed with loads of buck-shot. Walter Livingith, a serenader, fell mortally wounded. Hugh Porter is seriously hurt. It seems that the wounding and killing people with guns at shivarees was common enough that a notice was published in a 1906 newspaper that the organizer of a shivaree was not shot:
Friends of Mr. and Mrs. Nicholas Longworth who …were married last week gave them a “shivaree” at 2.a.m. We regret to report that Mr. Leiter, who organized it, was not shot in the leg.” 
It consists in gathering a crowd of country free loaders and toughs before a house occupied by a new married couple and making night hideous with tin pans, cow bells, “horse fiddles,” shotguns and other noise-producing instruction. The object is to compel the bridegroom to donate money wherewith the loaders and toughs may buy whisky…. It is to be hoped that the hoodlums who get up “shivarees” may continue killing one another until the tribe is extinct.” The Gazette Globe (Kansas City, KS) in 1911 described shivaree as “a crude social condition”. The Corvallis (OR) Gazette-Times in 1929 said shivarees are the “most asinine of our American traits, the indulgence of in which ought to be sufficient evidence that the culprits are fit for the insane asylum instead of the penitentiary. Shivarees come under the head of disorderly conduct and unnecessary nuisances.” 
You said the wedin passed off quietly. Who told you it passed off quietly?...I’m the gal’s father! I’m Peter Crumpet! The weddin passed off, sir, with the golwhoppinest shivaree ever got up in our neighborhood, and if you don’t put it that way next week an do the gal justice I’ll come back and break every darned bone in yer body!” Marilyn Wright described the good aspects on shivarees in an article in the Encyclopedia of North Carolina:
The merits of a shivaree were numerous. Everyone in the community participated -- young and old, male and female. The newlyweds certainly met their neighbors in a friendly if raucous manner and were, in turn, properly initiated into the community. Another important feature of the custom was the collective good cheer and feeling of community everyone shared. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, shivarees were an old-fashioned diversion that was just plain fun. 
Actually this whole shivaree business was just another way that poor country folks managed to have themselves a good time. Entertainment wasn’t an easy thing to come by in those days. There wasn’t any television to stay home and watch. So whenever there was an excuse for some doings everyone jumped right in.
See http://stillmagnolias.blogspot.com/2010/06/do-you-know-what-pounding-is.html and http://www.effinghamherald.net/archives/18279/
 The Osage City (KS) Free Press, Nov. 2, 1893, p. 2
 The Times (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania), June 26, 1896 p. 1
 Vernon (TX) Record, Jan. 15, 1924.
 The Causasian (Clinton, N.C.), June 22, 1911, p1)
 The Minneapolis Journal, Feb. 19, 1906 p. 4
 Ottawa (KS) Daily Republic, December 2, 1893
 The Osage City (KS) Free Press, Nov. 2, 1893, p. 2
 The Gazette Globe (Kansas City KS), Jan 11, 1917, p. 4
 Corvallis Gazette-Times quoted in The Oregon Statesman, Aug 1, 1929, p. 4
 Arkansas City [KS] Daily Traveler, August 1, 1899, p. 7
 From Denver Tribune, posted in The Newark (Ohio) Advocate, Nov. 12, 1893, p. 5
Note: all newspaper articles were accessed through Newspaper.com.