On Jenna Bush's Wedding Day, The Whole Ranch Wears a Veil

In the public eye, the first daughter has been painted as both dutiful and rebellious. Has the one-time party girl grown up?
By Amy Argetsinger
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, May 10, 2008

CRAWFORD, Tex. -- So, there's a wedding here Saturday night. Maybe you've heard?

The bride is Jenna Welch Bush, 26, a schoolteacher, writer and graduate of the University of Texas. At 7:30 p.m. Central time, she will stand before a crowd of 200 friends and relatives in an Oscar de la Renta gown to meet her 30-year-old groom, Henry Hager, an MBA candidate at the University of Virginia business school.

It is the first marriage for both. After a honeymoon in Europe, the couple will reside in Baltimore.

What, you want more? Of course you do! We're talking about the president's daughter here, and media organizations as varied as "Access Hollywood" and Agence France-Presse have poured into this tiny community -- home to George and Laura Bush's 1,600-acre ranch -- to cover what some consider the celebrity wedding of the year.

But despite the widespread interest -- and despite the blond First Twin's increasingly public profile as a published author and do-gooder -- the White House has repeatedly made clear that this is a private event. No live broadcast of the vows, a la Charles and Diana. No wedding procession through town. No reporters allowed within miles of the Bush ranch. And no promise that we'll ever be told the guest list, the menu, the first-dance song, or whether the bride promised "to obey."

What we do know are the little details that the First Family has already doled out sparingly in interviews over the past few weeks. The "simple but elegant" wedding gown with embroidery and matte beading. The giant limestone cross that the president had erected as an altar near a lake on the ranch. The one official bridesmaid -- twin sister Barbara -- and the 14 "house party" attendants, in short chiffon dresses by designer Lela Rose. There's a rehearsal dinner, but no one's saying where.

Other than that? "There's going to be bands and good food, I hope," the president told Fox News.

At the Red Bull souvenir stand in Crawford -- where they'd sold out of Jenna and Henry mouse pads but were still doing a brisk business in Jenna and Henry hand-tooled leather coasters shaped like the Lone Star State -- the salesclerks were critiquing their own appearance on yesterday's "Good Morning America" while clearing a path for yet another network news camera guy.

Down the street, Bill Johnson, owner of the rival Yellow Rose shop -- Jenna and Henry mugs, Jenna and Henry magnets, etc. -- was giving yet another interview, this time to a Fox News crew ("We expect a tidal wave tomorrow"). And somewhere out on the plains, a team from NBC's "Today" was focusing its telephoto lenses on a distant horizon, in hopes of catching a glimpse of the nuptial preparations.

You'd think, from all the saturation coverage, that there hadn't been a good old-fashioned First Family wedding in ages. You would be wrong.

Both of Ronald Reagan's daughters were married during their father's first term in office, in the early 1980s. Jenna Bush's own aunt, Doro, wed Bobby Koch in 1992 while her father, the first President Bush, was still in office.

But that was a different era -- before the growth of the wedding-industrial complex and the 24-hour news cycle. And they were different brides, well into adulthood by the time their parents entered the White House and well past 30 at the altar. In Jenna Bush, we have the first White House bride in decades whom the public truly watched grow up -- and one who has trod a fascinating tightrope between private citizen and public celebrity.

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