A popular Atlantic City winter event is going away - or at least moving away to a new home in town.
The annual Valentine's Day group wedding, civil union and vow renewal, which has drawn crowds to Boardwalk Hall every year since 2008, won't be renewed itself at the hall this year, a spokeswoman said.
But the nondenominational minister who officiated at most of the mass weddings (and more)said she will keep part of that romantic tradition going at a new location. She is Jean Muchanic, who's also the executive director of Absecon Lighthouse, and she hopes to host a vow-renewal ceremony for 25 or so couples in the keeper's cottage at the foot of the Atlantic City landmark.
The lighthouse is home to about 20 individual weddings a year and has had crowds as big as 175 people at one couple's nuptials, Muchanic said.
But that was on the lawn of the 2-acre property, under a tent, and the cottage's size limits how many people it can fit on Valentine's Day.
Muchanic also won't perform any actual actual wedding ceremonies at her evening event. But she's happy to open the lighthouse to a group of happy couples, and calls the mass-romance tradition she led five times "one of my favorite things of the year. ... Everyone is in a good mood, and there's lots of happiness in the room."
Boardwalk Hall's Adrian Phillips Ballroom attracted a crowd last year reported at more than 150 couples. Still, Elaine Zamansky, a spokeswoman for the Atlantic City Convention & Visitors Authority, said in an interview that the agency won't host another group wedding and renewal ceremony this Feb. 14.
"We originally designed and started (the ceremony) to get the image out about Atlantic City being a romantic destination, and to spur some interest around Valentine's Day," Zamansky said. "And as we did it, it kind of served its purpose and did its job."
She mentioned similar Valentine's events at the lighthouse - which promoted "an evening of romance and renewal" of vows for several years before the ACCVA started its event - and other romance-related activities at casinos and more venues around the city.
"We just didn't feel we needed to do it anymore, and we didn't want to compete with our partners," Zamansky said, adding that "even last year, we noticed how much more seemed be going on for Valentine's Day in town."
Plus that unofficial romantic holiday often touches on the legal Presidents Day holiday weekend, traditionally the busiest winter weekend around Atlantic City. This year, Valentine's Day is the Friday starting that long holiday weekend.
Still, the news that Boardwalk Hall won't be hosting 100-plus happy couples was bad news to people who have come to enjoy being part of the day.
Take Elmer and Miriam McNamara, who got married Feb. 14, 1953, and came to Atlantic City from Cherry Hill for all six wedding-and-more ceremonies in Boardwalk Hall to renew their vows - after going to a similar event in 2007 at Tropicana Casino and Resort.
"Oh, I'm so disappointed to hear that," said Miriam, whose 80th birthday is four days after her 61st wedding anniversary. "We saw it in the paper the first time and thought that sounded like a real nice thing to do. So we did. Then they had it at Boardwalk Hall, and each year it just got better and better."
Several family members visited Atlantic City with them over the years. And while she wasn't sure about what she and her husband plan to do for this year's Valentine's Day and anniversary, Miriam - a committed noncomputer-user - was happy Sunday when a reporter gave her a phone number for a local landmark that's still doing a vow-renewal service.
For more details on the lighthouse's event, see abseconlighthouse.org or call 609-449-1360.
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