Couple wed in Wild West town of pioneering ancestors

When Aerial Gilbert and Larry Lobel wed last year in the small Arizona town of Solomonville, they also feted the bride's rather unusual family tree. After all, not many can claim relatives who were Jewish Wild West pioneers.

Specifically, Gilbert and Lobel honored Gilbert's great-great-grandparents, Anna and Isadore Solomon. The Solomons arrived in Arizona from Pennsylvania in 1872, having fended off sickness and Indian attacks on their way across the country.

From humble beginnings, the Solomons, who had three children and plenty of chutzpah, then founded a bank that grew to become Bank One, Arizona's largest financial institution. They also founded the town of Solomonville, which, in its boom years between 1880 and 1910, was home to some 1,000 residents.

The population now hovers around 250.

Gilbert and her fiancé, who are Bay Area residents, knew little about this until a few months before the wedding.

"My brother had come across a book about early Jewish pioneers, called `We Lived There Too,'" said Lobel. "He sent it to us, thinking that Aerial's mother might recognize some of her ancestors' names."

However, it was forebears on Gilbert's father's side who turned up in the book. Several were listed: not only Anna and Isadore Solomon but also Anna's brother, Phoebus Freudenthal.

Fascinated, Lobel and Gilbert set off for Arizona, where, in the historical section of Phoenix State Capital Library, they found Anna Solomon's journal of her cross-country trip. Lobel also unearthed other historical documents relating to the family.

Concurrently, Gilbert and Lobel were planning their wedding. One thing they knew was that they wanted it to be small.

"We'd both been married previously, and we felt that this time it was between the two of us," said Lobel. "But once we started talking about numbers, we got overwhelmed."

Their solution was to wed, quietly and simply, in Solomonville. They took their vows in a replica of the building where Gilbert's ancestors first set up for business: The original Solomon bank building, having been destroyed, was later reconstructed by Bank One.

The couple was married by Rabbi Joseph Weizenbaum of Tucson, with two witnesses in attendance: the rabbi's wife and a distant cousin of the bride.

"Standing on the spot where I knew that my ancestors had been was very exciting," said Gilbert.

Added Lobel, "We felt proud that we had unearthed this information that no one in the family knew about, and which would have been completely forgotten."

To highlight the occasion's historical significance, the couple wore formal period dress. Gilbert donned a reproduction frock from Jessica McClintock and a cameo brooch that had belonged to her grandmother.

Lobel sported a vintage suit with a high-collared shirt and a silk top hat.

Even the bride's guide dog, Deanne, was dressed for the occasion with a beautiful corsage.

Gilbert, who has been blind since 1988, is director of volunteers at Guide Dogs for the Blind, Inc. in San Rafael. The couple met in 1991 when Lobel, then working for Marin General Hospital, was assigned to train Gilbert in medical transcription.

Their wedding proceeded with only two small hitches. One occurred when Gilbert discovered that she had left her bridal shoes behind in Petaluma.

"We dashed over to the local Wal-Mart," said Lobel, "and found a pair of $10 vinyl shoes that were amazingly similar to the real ones."

"Wal-Mart came through for us," laughed Gilbert.

The second snag occurred when Elsa Altshool, Gilbert's Arizona cousin who attended the wedding, arrived at the bakery to pick up a cake she had ordered.

"The message on top read, `To Aerial and Mazel Tov,'" said Lobel. "We thought that was very funny. But she managed to get it changed in time."

After the wedding, Gilbert and Lobel sent a letter to relatives, relating the history of Solomonville and explaining why they'd chosen to have such a small wedding. The Solomonville post office hand-canceled each letter, and the missives helped smooth the feathers of relatives who'd felt slighted by the couple's decision.

"We got a really great response from family and friends," said Gilbert.

She added that it was wonderful to have discovered her family history — particularly, to know that her great-great-grandmother had been a strong and competent pioneer.

"When I studied history in school, it always felt arbitrary," she said. "But here was something I could relate to a real person. It made history come alive."