Braving the Ruins for a Bourbon Street Wedding

Monty Hendrickson, center, presides over the wedding of Ben Brown and Jamie Fletcher i i

hide captionMonty Hendrickson, center, presides over the wedding of Ben Brown and Jamie Fletcher at Lafitte's Blacksmith Shop on Bourbon Street.

Amy Walters, NPR
Monty Hendrickson, center, presides over the wedding of Ben Brown and Jamie Fletcher

Monty Hendrickson, center, presides over the wedding of Ben Brown and Jamie Fletcher at Lafitte's Blacksmith Shop on Bourbon Street.

Amy Walters, NPR

A New Orleans couple that had postponed wedding plans because of Hurricane Katrina found themselves in a bar in the storm-dimmed French Quarter last Saturday night — and decided to tie the knot anyway. With military trucks rumbling by outside, and sweaty reporters and FEMA workers inside, the couple had an impromptu ceremony.

Copyright © 2005 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

NOAH ADAMS, host:

This is DAY TO DAY. I'm Noah Adams.

In a moment, British television star Ricky Gervais talks about playing an extra in Hollywood.

But first, it is raining today in New Orleans as Hurricane Rita edges that battered city. But between the chaos of Hurricane Katrina and preparations for this new storm, love still thrives in New Orleans. Last Saturday, a local couple, whose wedding plans had been scuttled by Katrina, got married in the French Quarter. NPR's John Burnett and audio engineer Josh Rogosin were there, and they sent this audio postcard.

JOHN BURNETT reporting:

The full moon hanging over Bourbon Street seems unusually luminous above the now-darkened metropolis. One of the few places to get a cold beer is Lafitte's Blacksmith Shop at the corner of Bourbon and St. Peter. The building, having survived fires and hurricanes, is more than 230 years old. A young couple here is giddy with the realization that five minutes ago they decided to go ahead with their wedding.

Mr. BEN BROWN (Groom): My name's Ben Brown. I'm originally from Jackson, Mississippi, and I moved down here about two years ago. And we lived together over in the Marigny area over there. And we left after the hurricane, and we had been planning this for--What?--probably since...

Ms. JAMIE FLETCHER(ph) (Bride): Since December.

Mr. BROWN: December, yeah--to have our wedding today in Jackson Square. And we ended up coming down to check on our place and all our stuff today, and so we're all here and so we're going to go ahead and do it.

BURNETT: The groom is a 34-year-old carpenter; the bride, Jamie Fletcher, is a 29-year-old bar manager. It was to be a formal wedding--dozens of guests, her mother had made the dress, there was a big reception planned--then the storm hit. On this night, they came into the city simply to check on their house and to hang out with their friend, Monty Hendrickson(ph). He's a car mechanic with a ponytail and a tongue stud who says he's also an ordained minister in the Universal Life Church. He was going to perform the original ceremony, and now they're back on track. They like the spontaneity; they say they plan to live their married life this way. First, Jamie needs to find a witness.

Ms. FLETCHER: Where's the other witness? Where's the other witness?

Unidentified Man #1: I think he's still tending bar.

Ms. FLETCHER: We need the other wit...

Unidentified Man #2: ...(Unintelligible).

Ms. FLETCHER: Oh, he's bartending. That's bad.

BURNETT: The bartender takes a break in order to act as a witness, an off-duty New Orleans cop who's honored to fill in as best man. He likes the spirit of this spontaneous wedding.

Unidentified Man #3: You know, it's a beautiful thing that you're doing. It kind of symbolizes hope. Poor little city needs a lot of hope.

BURNETT: The couple stands on the sidewalk across from the bar next to a piece of wrought-iron railing blown down in the storm. The scene is lit by a portable floodlight. Army National Guardsmen wearing night vision goggles rumble past on four-wheelers. A team from the Centers for Disease Control drinks longnecks and watches the ceremony begin.

Revered MONTY HENDRICKSON (Universal Life Church): With full understanding of this, Ben and Jamie have come here today to be joined as one in marriage.

BURNETT: Their friend, the mechanic-minister, puts their hands on top of one another.

Rev. HENDRICKSON: Please join hands with your betrothed and listen to what I am about to say. Above you are the stars, below you are the stones...

BURNETT: A small group of bar patrons and NPR people gather in a semicircle. It's hard to tell if anybody's actually crying because everyone is sweating so much from the humidity.

Rev. HENDRICKSON: Jamie, repeat after me--sorry, I'm getting broke up here--I, Jamie Duree(ph) Fletcher...

Ms. FLETCHER: I, Jamie Duree Fletcher...

Rev. HENDRICKSON: ...swear by the life that courses within my blood...

Ms. FLETCHER: ...swear by the life that courses within my blood...

Rev. HENDRICKSON: ...that I take thee, Benjamin Brown...

Ms. FLETCHER: ...that I take thee, Benjamin Brown...

Rev. HENDRICKSON: ...to my hand, my heart and my spirit...

Ms. FLETCHER: ...to my hand, my heart and my spirit...

Rev. HENDRICKSON: ...to be my chosen one...

Ms. FLETCHER: ...to be my chosen one...

BURNETT: Then Ben and Jamie give each other little roses hastily fashioned out of white cocktail napkins.

Rev. HENDRICKSON: So on this the 17th of September, 2005, in Orleans Parish, New Orleans, Louisiana, on Bourbon Street, by the laws of the state of Louisiana, it is now my great privilege and great pleasure to pronounce you man and wife. Embrace, kiss and turn to face the world.

(Soundbite of traffic; cheers and applause)

BURNETT: Jamie and Ben exchange a big wet kiss and gaze deeply at each other as though they're the only two people on Earth. They're deliriously happy. They decide that Hurricane Katrina, instead of ruining their wedding, has made it more memorable.

Ms. FLETCHER: We have to hop the broom.

Mr. BROWN: Hop the broom.

Rev. HENDRICKSON: Hop the broom ...(unintelligible).

Ms. FLETCHER: Ready?

Mr. BROWN: One...

Mr. BROWN and Mrs. FLETCHER: (In unison) ..two, three.

(Soundbite of cracking noise)

Rev. HENDRICKSON: Yes!

(Soundbite of cheers and laughter)

Ms. FLETCHER: Yea!

BURNETT: John Burnett, NPR News, New Orleans.

(Soundbite of "Moon Over Bourbon Street")

STING: (Singing) There's a moon over Bourbon Street tonight. I see faces as they pass beneath the pale lamplight. I've no choice...

ADAMS: More coming up on DAY TO DAY from NPR News.

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