RICHLAND - In the minutes before the hands on the clock moved toward her official wedding time, Megan Barnes calmed her nerves by watching other people get married Friday.
One bride marched toward her groom. Then another. And another.
Each in their own unique wedding attire. Each with their own ceremony. All interconnecting Friday in a free mega-matrimonial event designed for 111 couples on 11/11/11. Getting a peek at the other ceremonies helped Barnes prepare for her own, she said.
Taking her father's arm she walked past the double doors at Memories at Sunset into a giant room illuminated by strands of lights shining through white draperies serving as a backdrop. Eric Clapton's unimposing "Wonderful Tonight" played through the speakers as Barnes marched past another couple exchanging vows at a separate station on the way to her groom, Chris Giesen.
Within 10 minutes or so the Walla Walla couple was married.
Nov. 11 had already been a day of historical significance as Veterans Day and the anniversary of Washington's statehood. But this year's date was particularly special for those into numerology. Not only is it a numerical palindrome that comes around just once every 100 years, it's the lone double-figure palindromic date.
Barnes, 21, and Giesen, 28, said the number 11 held no other personal meaning, apart from being the birthday of an uncle of Giesen's. But for more than 100 pairs that joined them, the once-in-a-century date will now be entwined with the commitment of a lifetime.
The Rev. Stacey Miles said she knew she wanted to do something special as soon as she realized the sequential date was coming. An inter-faith, nondenominational wedding officiant as the owner of Uniquely, I Do, Miles expected to be flooded with wedding requests leading up to the day. So with help from other officiants, she decided instead to organize one big wedding event and have the brides and grooms go to them.
She spread the word on Facebook and Craigslist. Anyone could participate as long as they had a time reserved and a marriage license in hand on arrival.
The 10- to 15-minute ceremonies began at 9 a.m. and were scheduled through about 9:15 p.m. The initial number of couples scheduled happened to be 111, but some couples didn't show.
Miles and the other officiants who assisted her left spared no detail as they planned the event. Wedding vendors from Tri-City Wedding Professionals Network, a group Miles founded this year, were tapped for their services and products. That included everything from decorations and cupcakes to photography and music. At the top of every hour, all of the newly married couples were invited to have their first dance. A reception area provided a spot for them to feed each other cupcakes.
Couples were given a choice of two different ceremonies. One was a traditional civil ceremony. The other was more spiritual. Guests were limited to a maximum of eight per wedding. Brides and grooms were invited to make the event as elegant and formal or simple and casual as they desired. Their stories and backgrounds ran the gamut.
"I have young couples and older couples. A couple that was married before. Some are bringing their children. Some are grandmothers," Miles explained. "It's all ages, all backgrounds - the whole nine yards."
For Barnes and Giesen, parents to 2-year-old son, Daved, the event was a welcome alternative to the seemingly monstrous task of planning it themselves.
"I was going to do a small wedding either way," Barnes said.
This way though, she feels confident her new husband will have no problem when it comes to planning for anniversaries.
"There's no way he can say, ‘Oh, I forgot,'" she said of the special date.
"I'll always remember that way we got married. That's for sure."
Vicki Hillhouse can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 526-8321.