From a New York College to British Television: The Evolution of ‘The Groom’s Revenge’

Years before surprises at the marriage altar became reality television fodder — and even before the internet — word-of-mouth and radio stations helped spread the urban legend of a vengeful groom.

Known as “Wedding Revenge,” “The Bridegroom’s Revenge,” or any number of similar names, the basics of the story — which later spread online — are nearly the same in every iteration:

The setting is a large, expensive wedding reception. The groom thanks everybody for coming, thanks the father of the bride for the nice wedding, then says he’s got a special gift for everyone who came. He tells the guests the gift is in an envelope taped underneath the bottoms of their chairs. The guests open the envelopes to find 8 x 10 pictures of the bride having sex with the best man. The groom says a couple of expletives to the bride and the best man, walks out of the reception, and gets the marriage annulled the next day. The email congratulates the groom for exacting such perfect revenge on the bride.

As the Washington Post reported in October 1995, running down the legend’s origins turned into a game of “telephone” that covered several states:

One source said a friend heard this story at a hotel in New Hampshire while checking in to attend another wedding.

“I’ve heard that, said Gene Bryant, director of sales at the Clarion-Somerset Hotel in Nashua. “Just when you think you’ve heard everything … I’ll ask someone on the banquet staff and call you back.”

He called back. “It did not happen here,” said Bryant. “But it did happen in New Hampshire. Someone on our staff heard it on the radio. I think it was KISS 108.”

That would be WXKS in Medford, Mass. Seems it has a morning show with a feature about weird weddings. Listeners call in to share.

The Post also noted that the story was also linked to the Glen Sanders Mansion, an upscale venue near Schenectady, New York.

“It did not happen,” a staff member told the newspaper before offering up her own theory. “We’ve had over 300 calls about this. Five to ten calls a day. Some people even say they were there! It came out of a project in a marketing class at Schenectady County Community College. They were doing an experiment in how word of mouth travels. It sure does!”

The college wasn’t actually offering any marketing classes at the time. But Anthony “Toby” Strianese — a longtime instructor and head of the college’s hotel, culinary and tourism department — did admit to using the story for educational purposes.

According to the newspaper:

He had heard the story from his wife, who heard it on the radio. Then he heard it again from the dean’s secretary, who heard it at a cocktail party. So he told the story in his class while his students were working on a marketing plan, to illustrate how rumors get started and can hurt a business. There were two students who work at the Glen Sanders Mansion, and he asked them if the story was true. They said it wasn’t.

Another student said he had a cousin who was actually at the wedding. Strianese asked him to find out from the cousin what day the wedding was and the name of the groom, but the student never reported back.

Strianese, who died in 2015 after a 40-year educational career, told reporters at the time that the story was “clearly” impossible.

“Most people, if they think there will be a favor at the wedding, pick up the plate first thing to see if it’s underneath,” he said. “Also, who would have put the pictures under the plates? It would have to be the staff, because the groom would have been at the ceremony at the time the plates are being put out. And a staff person would not have been able to resist looking at the picture and talking about it.”

In writing about the spread of the story for the Los Angeles Times in 1995, journalist and author Neal Gabler argued that like other urban legends, the tale of the “Groom’s Revenge” keyed on the insecurities of its era:

It may address the greatest terror of all: that love and commitment are chimerical and even friendship is meaningless. These are timeless issues, but the sudden promulgation of the tale suggests its special relevance in the age of AIDS, when commitment means even more than it used to, and in the age of feminism, when some men are feeling increasingly threatened by women’s freedom. Thus, the groom not only suffers betrayal and humiliation; his plight carries the hint of danger and emasculation, too. Surely, a legend for our time.

Regardless of its veracity, the story has continued to evolve. For example, another online variation on the story frames it as “a recent wedding that took place at Clemson University” and ends with a new passage:

Do you think we might get a MasterCard “priceless” commercial out of this?

Elegant wedding reception for 300 family members and friends: $32,000.

Wedding photographs commemorating the Occasion: $3,000.

Deluxe two-week honeymoon accommodations in Maui : $8,500.

The look on everyone’s face when they see the 8×10 glossy of the bride humping the best man: Priceless.

There are some things money can’t buy, for everything else there’s MASTERCARD

Meanwhile, a video dramatization of “Groom’s Revenge” is still available on Facebook. And an even more ornate version spread thanks to comedian Graham Norton’s talk show in 2016, when a guest identifying himself as “Sean McInerney” retold the tale, saying it happened at a friend’s wedding. In this version, however, the photographs were replaced. As the Mirror reported:

Sean recounted how the groom got up to make his speech and suddenly asked all guests to stand up.

He then asked all of his guests to turn over their dinner plates, and asked all those without a red dot at the bottom of the plate to sit back down.

Eight curious men were left standing.

The groom then shocked guests by revealing how he knew his new bride had slept with the eight men during their engagement.

Sean revealed how the groom then demanded an annulment before walking out of the wedding.

The “red dot” version of the story generated not just coverage in Irish news outlets (the country that “Sean” said he was from), but YouTube channels treating it as legitimate, rather than just yet another iteration of the long-standing legend — illustrating still further the cultural power of certain narratives, particularly those that involve sexual insecurities such as fidelity.

Update 2/18/2022, 5 p.m. PST: This article has been revamped and updated. You can review the original here. -ag