It was a traditional June wedding, up to a point. But then came the moment when they actually took the plunge.
The groom shrieked. The bride shouted. The minister made a guttural noise.
So it was that Kym Kirby and Warren Elliott, with the Rev. Cliffert Herring presiding, celebrated nuptials Saturday morning while riding the Wild One roller coaster at Wild World Amusement Park in Prince George's County.
"OUTSTANDING!" said the teary-eyed groom, 22, a Navy petty officer/payroll clerk who works in Crystal City, after the double-ring, 3/4-mile-long ceremony that featured a 98-foot sideways drop angled at endcol52 degrees and a helix of spinning circles banked at 60 mph.
"AHHHHHHHHH!" ventured his bride, 22, a secretary/receptionist in Arlington.
"Congratulations," said the minister with clerical reserve, maneuvering around in his seat restraint to clasp hands with the newlyweds behind him.
They were the first of three couples Herring joined together in holy wedlock Saturday on the roller coaster. It was a pageant of festive foolery, solemn ceremony and rampant commercialism.
Also married on the Wild One, in dizzying succession, were Katherine Biddinger and Mark Kesner, both 21, of Mount Airy, she an accounts receivable clerk, he an appliance repair technician; and MariAnne DiMarzio, 35, and Tony Pittore, 40, of Rockville, she a civilian Army employe, he a D.C. police officer.
Wild World marketing director Lyle Wolinsky dreamed up the extravaganza and plucked the lucky three from more than 100 candidate-couples. His idea was to hype the amusement park's summer season and its most spectacular ride: an 80-year-old white wooden coaster that was transported to Maryland last year from Paragon Park in Nantasket Beach, Mass., where it was known as the Giant and rated sixth best in the country by the American Coaster Enthusiasts.
His eyes glinting like carnival lights, Wolinsky was frantic with glee at the presence of 10 television stations, not to mention "PM Magazine" and "Entertainment Tonight," and a dozen radio and print outlets to record the event for posterity.
"These couples have been so nice!" he said, his volume control stuck on high. "Not that everybody isn't nice -- it's just that this is the cream of Average America here!"
Herring, pastor of St. John's United Church of Christ in Northampton, Pa., as well as a charter member of the Coaster Enthusiasts, conducted all three couplings, which probably makes him the nation's preeminent roller coaster reverend.
"This is not being done as a joke," said Herring, who managed his first coaster wedding last year at Carowinds amusement park near Charlotte, N.C. "This is a very serious ceremony. We're not going to make a circus out of it. For me, a marriage on a roller coaster is a natural extension of one's love for the ride and for amusement parks."
*Ceremony No. 1 began as Elliott, in his Navy whites, and Kirby, wearing an outfit she described as "a J.C. Penney cocktail-type wedding dress with a pearl-brimmed riding hat," climbed into the second car to the accompaniment of Huey Lewis and the News' "The Power of Love" blaring from the Wild One's sound system.
In the lead car sat Herring, in religious raiment and wireless microphones -- "that means I can't make any more snide comments, and that's going to kill me," he said -- and a reporter clutching a notebook with white-knuckled ferocity. Camera crews and sound technicians filed in behind at Wolinsky's direction, and the wedding party scrambled for whatever seats remained.
"It certainly is going to be memorable," said the bride's grandmother Jean De Pawlis, who planned to watch in safety from the platform. "I myself got married in an automobile."
A cheer went up from the nonriding guests as the wedding train began its ascent. It climbed heavenward, toward the first "drop hill," and its silent passengers seemed lost in thought. Near the summit, the train stopped -- and, for a troubling moment, fell backward. It halted with a click.
"Hang on to these, please," Herring said to his seatmate, handing over two red velvet ring boxes, each containing a band of two-toned gold and diamond chips.
Up there in the sky, the minister spoke with authority.
" . . . The marriage obligations therefore should not be entered into unadvisedly or lightly but reverently, discreetly and in the fear of God . . . I now ask you, Warren, do you take Kym, here present, to be your wedded wife? . . . I now ask you, Kym . . . "
The rings were produced and exchanged.
"You may now kiss the bride."
The cheer from the crowd below sounded faint and far away.
With a mild lurch, the wedding train edged upward. Then over. Then down, down into the realm of the "negative G" and helpless abandon. Then up, with a wrench and a clatter and a rush of blood. Then down. Then up. And so on.
In the end there were a few bruised appendages and stiffened necks, and one TV station's equipment went all to pieces.
"This camera's history," said the lensman in a tone of awe, struggling not to lose his grip on its various detached parts.
Ceremony No. 2 went off without a hitch. As Kesner and Biddinger, she in a long lacy gown, ascended to the altar the sound system pounded out "Faithful" by Journey. Earlier Kesner had explained why he jumped at the chance for a roller coaster wedding, describing the ride as groom therapy. "As soon as I get on the roller coaster I'll know I don't have long to go, and it will help take my mind off being so nervous."
Wolinsky was nervous himself about Ceremony No. 3. On a dry run the day before, DiMarzio hadn't cottoned to the Wild One -- "in fact, she was a mess," Wolinsky explained with delicacy -- and now the wedding party was an hour late.
"How could they do this to me?" he asked. "They wouldn't just not show up, would they?"
No. The couple eventually arrived, the bride's face frozen in resignation.
"I am a little afraid of it," DiMarzio said, strangling her bouquet. "But this roller coaster is a link to my past. I used to work at Paragon Park when they had it there. I never rode it then. I never rode any roller coaster."
This was confirmed by Catherine DiMarzio, MariAnne's mother -- and the mother of 13 other children.
"I had a rule that none of them could ride the roller coaster until they were 18," she said, eyeing the thing from a safe distance. "I rode it when I was 16. And I was so scared I threw my hat out, I threw my pocketbook out, and I was thinking about jumping. I still have nightmares about it. The horror of it."
The bride took her assigned seat with admirable courage. When things started going downhill, she grabbed her new husband by the neck and hung there until the ordeal was over.
Pittore helped her out of the car. "I hope this was as exciting as it will be tonight, MariAnne," he quipped for the benefit of the microphones thrust in his face.
The Rev. Herring, for his part, waxed philosophical.
"Occasionally I might mention roller coasters in my sermons," he said. "Just like you can't describe your first experience with God, you can't describe your first ride on a coaster. They're moral and they're legal and they're not specifically prohibited in the Bible, so they can't be all bad. But I'm not going to push it into a major spiritual experience -- 'The Church of Roller Coasterology,' or something like that. Roller coasters as a component of the religious aspect? It could become too offbeat, if you know what I mean."
After their rides, all three couples were feted with wedding cake from Safeway. And Dart Drug gave each, as Wolinsky put it, "a gorgeous microwave oven!"