In Vegas, 07/07/07 has a lucky ring

Times Staff Writer

On a day when thousands were convinced the calendar made this gambling town the luckiest place to wed on the luckiest day of the century, this may have been the quintessential 7/7/7 wedding: The groom wore green flip-flops with a beer bottle opener built into the sole. The tattooed bride with blue toenails and smeared mascara arrived at 2 a.m., hyperventilating and crying, the rings forgotten somewhere.

At the end of a brisk ceremony at the Graceland Chapel, an Elvis impersonator crooned “Viva Las Vegas” while the couple smooched. And if all that wasn’t spectacle enough, a relative in a tuxedo T-shirt snapped pictures -- even when the newlyweds toppled from a bench to the ground, a mess of legs and tangled tulle and satin.

For the record:

12:00 a.m. July 11, 2007 For The Record
Los Angeles Times Wednesday July 11, 2007 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 0 inches; 30 words Type of Material: Correction
Weddings: An article in Section A on Sunday about 07/07/07 weddings in Las Vegas misspelled the first name of Charolette Richards, owner of the Little White Wedding Chapel, as Charlotte.

“It was either this or the Caribbean,” said groom Jon Andreano, 29, of Denver. “But there’s nothing cooler than getting married by Elvis. This is Vegas. It’s the way it should be.”


Whether it was romance or superstition or luck -- or that extra gimmick needed to drag their partner down the aisle -- many places around the world reported a record number of couples tying the knot Saturday. It was a once-in-acentury calendar convergence that gave couples an anniversary date impossible to forget: 07/07/07.

And nowhere were more couples lining up than in Las Vegas, where it was 104 at 1 a.m. and the day topped out at 112. The “I dos” began at the stroke of midnight and continued nonstop at virtually every casino, hotel and chapel in town. Every limo was booked, every Elvis on the job. Ministers stumbled over words and read from cue cards as if they were third-string pinch hitters. Mandalay Bay held a mass wedding for 33 couples on its beach in the scorching heat.

Vegas residents David Heilman and Charlene Jimenez literally took the plunge, getting married underwater in a Silverton Casino aquarium teeming with sharks, 4,000 tropical fish and two ring-bearing “mermaids.”

Heather Grant of Henderson married Wayne Gray on a pirate ship at Treasure Island. “Tacky,” she said, was the theme of their nuptials. “This is his third time being married, so I figured if I was going to rope him into it, I better do something fun.”

At the Little White Wedding Chapel, owner Charlotte Richards said that more than 500 weddings were scheduled Saturday, including some for couples who didn’t even have to exit their car.

“We are knee-deep in weddings,” Richards said. “I call it my magical, monumental, historical moment of love. It’s an awesome moment in time. Never in history have I experienced something like this.”

In Vegas, the triple-seven date is considered especially lucky because three sevens add up to 21, a winning hand in blackjack. Three sevens on a slot machine signals a jackpot.

Outside Vegas, there are the Seven Wonders of the World. In the Bible, God rested on the seventh day. Buddha walked seven steps at birth. And according to Islam, there are seven heavens.

Clerks at the Clark County Marriage Bureau called it their “busiest day ever.” On Friday, they issued 1,774 marriage licenses; previous records stood at about 1,000. By midday Saturday, they had issued more than 600. The queue snaked downstairs and around the block, with hot, tired couples waiting with the enthusiasm of people in line to pay parking tickets. Some toted suitcases direct off flights; others came dressed in wedding gowns.

“Look at them,” said Crystal Ballance, 35, of Virginia Beach, Va. “They’re like caged animals.” She and Nader Hedeshi, 37, took one look at the hours-long line and walked away. The couple had married June 6 but thought it would be fun to renew their vows and celebrate their wedding on 07/07/07. To do that, they decided, they didn’t need another license.

At the edge of the line, men handed out fliers for chapels: Heavenly Bliss, The Stained Glass Chapel, A Special Memory, Faithful Love. “We can get you in and out in 20 minutes!” one of the men promised. Another shouted: “We can do a nice wedding tonight and have a $45 ceremony at the Garden of Love Chapel!”

Despite the kitsch and extravaganza, there were also many tender moments.

Las Vegas residents Annie O’Gwin, 53, and Marc Higdon, 54, drove up to the Little White Wedding Chapel’s Tunnel of Love in a rented silver Prowler. After 20 years together, they decided to tie the knot. “This was one of those opportunities to seal it,” Higdon said. “We’ve both been married before. They failed. So we figured, lucky numbers.”

Dan Wern, 22, and Rebecca Nitschke, 25, of Jackson, Miss., shared a quiet moment without family and friends. They beamed at each other throughout the short ceremony, laughing, even shedding a few tears as they promised to be each other’s best friend despite Nitschke’s admission: “The first day I met him, I couldn’t stand him.”

The couple will have a reception when they get home, but wanted their own ceremony -- and a little added luck from an auspicious wedding date.

Others survived major treks to get to the church on time.

“The way here, it was crazy,” said Aaron Bauman, 18, who drove in a camper from Omak, Wash., with bride-to-be Elizabeth Zimmer, 20, and their families. “We got in the camper, 14 people in an RV that sleeps eight.”

And for some, the luck came early.

Heilman and Jimenez -- the couple who got married in the 117,000-gallon aquarium -- won their Vegas wedding, including the ceremony, reception and honeymoon.

The diving duo had been engaged for two years and together for a dozen, but their wedding never seemed to materialize because neither was all that interested in planning.

On Saturday, when it came time to say “I do,” they held up underwater signs as the audience giggled outside the tank. No cold feet, though Jimenez said she did get a chill swimming with the sharks.

But the luckiest couple in Vegas may very well have been Ashleigh LeAnne Recto, 22, and Wallace Van Scott, 36, who flew from Davenport, Fla.

Fifteen minutes away from McCarran International Airport, a yellow Mustang loaded with six people T-boned the couple’s rental car, which flipped and spun, coming to rest on its roof. The couple spent half the day in the emergency room but suffered only minor injuries. The bride, worried about her $5,000 designer gown, persuaded paramedics to load the beaded, Italian lace dress into the ambulance with them.

“First trials of marriage,” she said with a chuckle.

“There is nothing that is going to ruin our lives in any way, shape or form after what we went through,” Van Scott said. “After the car accident, as far as I’m concerned, every moment is precious. Every moment.”