Bride-and-Seek (The Missing Bride)

An Urban Legend and the Origins of a Ghost Bride

Mysterious trunk

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After a lavish wedding in a stately mansion, members of the wedding party play a game of hide-and-seek. It isn't long before everyone is found. Everyone, that is, except the bride. This urban legend is also known as "The Lost Bride," "Bride-and-Go-Seek," "Ginevra," "The Mistletoe Bough," "The Mistletoe Bride," "The Bride in the Oak Chest," "The Bride in the Trunk."

Bride-and-Seek Tale - Example 1

As told by a reader:

A young woman was about to get married, and she decided she wanted to hold the wedding in the backyard of the large farmhouse where she grew up. It was a beautiful wedding, and everything went perfectly.

Afterward, the guests played some casual party games, and someone suggested hide-and-seek so they could get the children to play too. It wouldn't be hard to find a place to hide around the house.

The groom was "it," and the bride wanted to make sure that she won the game. When no one was looking, she slipped inside the house. She ran up to the attic, found an old trunk and hid in it. No one could find her. Her new husband wasn't worried, though, he figured she must have just gotten tired and went inside to rest. So everyone went home.

The groom looked around the house, but he couldn't find her anywhere. He and her parents filed a missing person case, but she was never found.

A few years later when her mother died, the woman's father went to go through his late wife's things that were collecting dust in the attic. He came to an old chest. The lid was closed, and the old lock was rusted over and holding it closed. He opened the lid and was terrified to see his daughter's decaying body in the chest. When she hid there, the lid had closed, and the rusty parts of the lock had latched together, trapping her there.

The Missing Bride Tale - Example 2

As told by a reader:

Back in '75 a young couple, both 18, decided to get married right after high school. The father of the bride lived in Palm Beach in a mansion and was able to afford a big wedding for them. To make a long story short, they got married, and the wedding was beautiful.

After the wedding, they had a big reception in an old building, and everyone got pretty drunk. When there were only about 20 people left, the groom decided that they should play hide-and-seek. Everyone agreed, and the groom was "it." They all went and hid, and the game went on.

After about 20 minutes everyone had been found except the bride. Everyone looked everywhere and tore the whole place apart looking for her. After a few hours, the groom was furious, thinking the bride was playing a terrible trick. Eventually, everyone went home.

A few weeks later the groom, having placed a missing person report, gave up looking for her. Heartbroken, he tried to go on with his life.

Three years later a little old woman was cleaning the place up. She happened to be in the attic and saw an old trunk. She dusted it off, and, out of curiosity, opened it. She screamed at the top of her lungs, ran out of the building and called the police.

Apparently, the bride had decided to hide in the trunk for the game of hide-and-seek. When she sat down, the lid fell, knocking her unconscious and locking her inside. She suffocated after a day or so. When the woman found her, she was rotting, her mouth in the shape of a scream.

The Missing Bride Tale - Example #3

As told by a reader:

A bride and a groom were both very young, around 16, but decided to get married anyway, as was the way in those days. It was a huge, elaborate wedding and the reception was held at an old mansion, an heirloom of the family, of sorts.

After most people had left and all were drunk of wedding champagne, the bride whined she was getting bored. When asked what she'd like to do, she grinned and said she always loved a good game of hide-and-seek. Though reluctant to play such a childish game, all agreed and the maid of honor was "it."

It took only about 30 minutes for all to be found... all but the bride, that is. Everyone began searching the entire house, but no one found her. The groom, thinking maybe she had second thoughts about the marriage, grew angry and sent everyone home. After two or three days, he put out a missing persons report but no luck. Eventually, he moved on with his life.

After the girl's father had died, the mansion was being cleaned, the family taking what they would before the auction came around. The mother of the long-gone bride ​was up in the storage attic, cleaning out the old clothes and junk when she saw an old trunk with a lock on it. After breaking the lock, she peered inside... and began to scream. All ran upstairs to see what was happening.

Inside the trunk was the bride, dead after the lid fell on her head and crushed part of her skull... though she was still grinning at her little game of hide-and-seek.

Analysis of the Missing Bride Urban Legend

Even though one of the variants above takes place in modern-day Palm Beach, Florida, its Gothic flavor betrays the true longevity of this legend, which is at least 200 years old, probably more.

The earliest version I've found in print is an anonymous newspaper article published in 1809 entitled "A Melancholy Occurrence." It opens with the announcement of a "singular and calamitous event" in Germany, an incident "long involved in the deepest mystery." It ends, as above, with the discovery of a crumbling skeleton in an old, forgotten trunk — a trunk in which a newlywed bride had inadvertently locked herself and "miserably perished" years before.

The best-known version is an English ballad still sung at Christmastime on both sides of the Atlantic, "The Mistletoe Bough," written by Thomas Haynes Bayly and set to music by Sir Henry Thomas around 1830.

Bayly, it's said, took his inspiration from "Ginevra," a rendition set in the palace of an Italian nobleman by the British poet Samuel Rogers, who included it in his volume Italy, a Poem in 1822. Rogers made an interesting admission in the endnotes of that book, namely that while he believed the tale to be based on fact, "the time and place are uncertain. Many old houses in England lay claim to it."

Among those old houses are Minster Lovell Hall in Oxfordshire, Marwell Hall, Hampshire, Bramshill House, also in Hampshire, Tiverton Castle in Devon, and Exton Hall, Rutland (the list goes on). Each of the locales boasts a ghost story based on the legend. The ruins of Minster Lovell Hall have long been reputed to be haunted by a "White Lady," for example, identified by locals as the restless spirit of "the mistletoe bride." The phantom was mentioned in a New York Times article dated Dec. 28, 1924:

The neighbors believe that a wailing figure carrying a light which is said to flit in and out of the castle is the ghost of the bride of one of the Lords Lovel, who was suffocated on her wedding night. As the story goes, she hid in an old oak chest during the festival in a game of hide-and-seek, and the lid shut, her young Lord finding her body some hours [sic ] later.

Some 70 miles away, the halls of Bramshill House (now a Police College) have been said for at least 150 years to be haunted by an identical apparition, as noted by George Edward Jeans in Memorials of Old Hampshire, 1906:

Bramshill has indeed a ghost, the "White Lady," who haunts the "Flower-de-luce" chamber immediately adjoining the gallery, and she may have been concerned with the tragedy of the "Mistletoe Bough," which tradition attaches to Bramshill.

Despite the persistence of the legend in so many locales over so long a period, there's no historical evidence that any such event ever took place. A thorough discussion of the historicity of the tale (or lack thereof) may be found in Shafto Justin Adair Fitz-Gerald's 1898 book, Stories of Famous Songs.