(Note: This column ran in the June 10, 2014 edition of The News-Gazette.)
Every wedding has those unforgettable moments — the walk down the aisle, the first dance, the low-speed car chase.
Twenty years ago this month, as my husband and I prepared to pledge our lifetime vows, our wedding party was riveted by a fugitive in a white Bronco.
O.J. crashed our rehearsal dinner.
We’d gathered at my sister’s house near St. Louis after the rehearsal on June 17, 1994, for a relaxing night of barbecue and swimming. Walking into the family room after visiting with friends outside, I noticed a crowd gathered around the television.
This was not an unusual scene. Two of the groomsmen — and the groom — were sports writers. The rest were sports fans. And half the family bled Husker red. (My sister-in-law had the nerve to schedule her wedding during a Nebraska football game. I believe a television was brought in to the reception so no one missed a snap.)
But the viewers at our party weren’t watching a football game or golf tournament (though I guess there was a sports tie-in). They were riveted by Simpson’s drive down Interstate 405, trailed by 20 police cruisers.
And they weren’t alone. An estimated 95 million viewers watched worldwide as the three major networks and CNN covered the chase live.
Among them were other guests at our wedding, reporters who were in St. Louis for an investigative reporting conference. None of them thought it would end well.
Two hours or so into the chase, Simpson surrendered after being allowed to go into his house briefly (and drink a glass of orange juice). The saga would last another 15 months, until O.J.’s trial of the century ended with a stunning acquittal in October 1995.
Thankfully, there were no police chases or arrests on June 18, our actual wedding day. And the ceremony went off without a hitch. Sort of.
It was our priest’s first wedding — ever — and he skipped a couple of things but eventually found his way back. It was very charming, and personal.
We did have some interesting signatures in our guest book: O.J. Simpson, L.A. (He later signed in with his date for the evening, Bronco driver Al Cowling). Sirajul and Mujibur (the souvenir shop salesmen who enjoyed fame as guests on David Letterman). University of Illinois President Stan Ikenberry. Gov. Jim Edgar, Springfield.
Aren’t reporters funny?
Apparently, several baseball greats also showed up, some from the great beyond: Hammerin’ Hank Aaron, Atlanta. George Brett, Kansas City (with a personal note urging us to root for the Royals). George Herman “Babe” Ruth and Ted Williams (no addresses listed).
It fit the theme for the evening, with our Braves groom’s cake and a spontaneous round of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” sung before the first dance.
The wedding would have been memorable even without all the murder-chase hoopla. Ikenberry, in fact, had made things interesting by announcing his (first) resignation the week before the wedding. Not that I was busy or anything.
And when I arrived in St. Louis a few days before the ceremony, I discovered that (a) one of my bridesmaids could no longer be in the wedding (b) it was 95 and humid (c) my mom’s air-conditioning was broken and (d) the church air-conditioning was suspect as well.
Fixed in my mind is the image of our red-faced best man mopping his brow during the ceremony. At midnight, when we left the reception, it was 97 and raining. At least I think it was. It could have been steam rising from the sidewalks.
Whenever anyone mentions our wedding, they always say, “Your wedding was fun.” Pause. “It was really HOT.”
On the bright side: We’ll never forget our anniversary.
Julie Wurth blogs about kids and families and covers the University of Illinois for The News-Gazette. Leave a comment below, or contact her at (217) 351-5226, email@example.com or twitter.com/jawurth.
Top: Members of the news media watch live television coverage of O.J. Simpson driving on Los Angeles freeways during game five of the NBA finals on June 17, 1994, at New York's Madison Square Garden. AP Photo/Ron Frehm
Bottom: The groomsmen sport their baseball finery, gifts from my husband. Cedarleaf Photography