Chelsea Clinton wedding has Rhinebeck in the spotlight


As far as this village is concerned, this weekend is a chance to celebrate what may be as close to a royal wedding as it gets in a country that lacks an aristocracy of its own.

Sometime Saturday, Chelsea Clinton, the only child of former President Bill Clinton and his wife, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, is expected to marry investment banker Marc Mezvinsky at a 50-acre estate along the Hudson River with the mountains a distant backdrop.

For many here, words like historic and euphoric only begin to describe the event expected to pull in celebrities and politicians from around the world to tiny Rhinebeck, a village of 4,000 located about 100 miles north of Manhattan.

“This is a big, big thing for Rhinebeck,” Glen Markle, 60, a lumber salesman, said as he clutched a cup of coffee on Market Street. It’s amazing they picked Rhinebeck …Thank you very much, Chelsea.”

Downtown Rhinebeck is barely more than a few hundred yards long, from the historic Beekman Arms, which bills itself as the oldest inn in the United States (in its current location since 1766), to the one-story town hall. Vehicles rarely go faster than 25 mph.

“You want to talk about what a small town should be, this is a small town,” Town Supervisor Thomas J. Traudt said.

There is an air of secrecy around the wedding that the CIA can only hope to emulate. Local merchants have been asked to sign confidentiality agreements that seem more effective in imposing secrecy that top secret labels on some war documents.

There has yet to be even an official confirmation that the wedding will take place, prompting some very quiet mumbling among local conspiracy buffs that the hoopla is a ruse so that the real wedding can take place elsewhere. But local officials, who have been negotiating with the wedding planners, quietly say they think they know some details.

The wedding will take place at Astor Courts, a mansion built a century ago on 50 acres of grassy rolling hillside by multimillionaire John Jacob Astor IV and his wife, Ava. The architect was Stanford White, responsible for an early version of Madison Square Garden, among other landmarks.

Astor eventually divorced Ava so he could marry a much younger woman, causing a scandal. The echoes of that ancient media feeding frenzy can be felt in the media circus that the Clinton nuptials have brought to the village.

Some of the roads have already been ordered closed. The New York State Police are handling the bulk of security matters along with the 15-person, mainly part-time village police department and the Secret Service.

Security is expected to cost more than $200,000, to be paid by the Clintons. Estimates of the wedding’s total cost range from $2 million to $5 million.

Buses are expected to bring some guests from the Beekman Arms; more buses have been ordered to bring guests from Poughkeepsie, about 15 miles away. There is no guest list but the single-name crowd, led by Oprah, is at the top of the list along with politicians and officials.

About 500 guests are expected, but the real issue is not just the famous who are coming, but also those who were rejected.

To help ease any hard feelings among uninvited family contributors and supporters, Hillary Clinton told NBC News: “We love you all, but this is her wedding,”

Rhinebeck is no stranger to the extravagant and celebrated. Last year, Nicole Kidman and the cream of Australian cinema came to town for a colleague’s wedding, which went off without a hitch, Traudt said.

There is some hope of a long-term economic improvement that could come from adding the Clinton wedding site to such tourist attractions as the FDR estate in nearby Hyde Park, said Ira J. Gutner, proprietor of Samuel’s, a coffee shop on Market Street.

“We were on the map before, but this puts on the map in a different way,” he said.” Not just for this weekend, but going forward, it means more than just our 15 minutes of fame.”

But for many residents here, the real happiness just comes from being chosen in the first place.

“They could have gone anywhere,” resident Amelia Flavin said of the soon-to-be-married couple. “This is usually a quiet town, and she decided to make it a place of memory.”