King Corn and Queen Alfalfa were married nearly 105 years ago.
An official marriage certificate dated Sept. 23, 1913, is on file at the Eastern Washington Regional Archives in Cheney, making legal the marriage not of two quirky people with names honoring agricultural products, but the actual products themselves – corn and alfalfa.
Staff at the Archives were engaged in a project in 2006, digitizing marriage certificates from Spokane County’s early days when the document was discovered.
“We thought, ‘What the heck is this?’ when we found it,” Lee Pierce, archivist at the Archives, said of the document. “It must have been a joke, but no, it’s real.”
A graduate student intern archivist at the time, Michael Kratzer, did a deep dive into researching the document and wrote a story about it for Out of the Archives, a one-time collection of articles the Archives put out that year illustrating how archival records could be used to tell stories from the region’s past. And what a story this one turned out to be.
The groom was King Corn, whose parents were listed on the certificate as Old King and Mother Corn, and their race was given as white dent (which means field corn). The bride, Queen Alfalfa, had for parents Father and Mama Alfalfa, with a given race as green. The document was signed by Justice of the Peace G.W. Stocker and certified by R.W. Butler, county auditor.
Kratzer dug out, so to speak, the background. As the Spokane Interstate Fair was taking place in September 1913, a group described as alfalfa enthusiasts also came to town as part of a Pacific Northwest tour promoting the benefits of growing alfalfa. They maintained that planting just a single crop of anything depletes the soil, but by introducing alfalfa, a nutrient-rich legume that replenishes the soil, in a six-year rotation with, for example, wheat, “wheat production per acre in the Inland Empire can be doubled.” They also encouraged using alfalfa in animal feed.
The group’s arrival in town generated a lot of interest and news media coverage. One story in the Spokane Daily Chronicle declared the crop rotation philosophy was “not only the secret of saving the soil, but of success for the farmer.” Two local ministers praised alfalfa in their sermons as well.
The alfalfa promotion began with a banquet at the Chamber of Commerce on Sept. 23, 1913, which Spokane Mayor W.J. Hindley declared as Alfalfa Day. And it was there that the union between King Corn and Queen Alfalfa occurred, with Stocker as officiant.
Earlier in the day, $3.50 had been paid to the county auditor for the marriage license, the very one now housed at the Eastern Washington Regional Archives. But because neither the bride nor the groom had apparently reached a mature age, it was determined that consent for their union would first have to be given. And it was given, by probation officer W.M.V. Winans.
At the wedding the justice of the peace was quoted as saying to those assembled that King Corn “has been a cruel king, and has reached down into the soil of the Middle West Corn Belt states and robbed them of half their fertility. … It is said a good woman can reform a bad man, and Queen Alfalfa has the virtues and the powers to refertilize and rehabilitate the soil and to assist King Corn to be more productive.”
As was noted in the Archives’ story chronicling the union, “the marriage was legal, despite the fact that neither the bride nor the groom ever existed.”
Another question was posed in the recap: Did baby corn result from this union?
No matter any questions about how this union got to be “official,” its occurrence is indeed a formal document on file at the Archives.
“We’ve seen some strange documents come through here,” archivist Pierce said, “but this is no doubt the weirdest official record I’ve ever come across.”
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