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As often as Jessica Heaven had pictured walking down the aisle, the Old City resident had never imagined her father on a totally separate pathway, an early spring bed of flowers and brush keeping their processions a safe distance apart.
Flower petals tossed from six feet away. A mask on the photographer hired to document the occasion. A cake handed over on a fishing rod-like stick.
“It was a very resourceful wedding,” said the 34-year-old physician assistant, who got hitched to longtime beau Adam Kraspak on April 17, near the height of the coronavirus pandemic in Philadelphia.
“It’s really what you make of it,” added the 31-year-old groom, a data analyst for Rothman Orthopedics who helped build out a new telehealth system for remote visits.
Jess usually works in the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania’s oncology department, but right now she’s deployed in the COVID-19 wing, tending to the surge of patients fighting for their lives. When more hands were needed there, a lottery system was instituted, she said, “and I drew No. 2.”
Knowing she’s be called on to help treat coronavirus patients was one reason she and Adam put together the ceremony.
“It was kind of a perfect opportunity,” Jess said, “to take advantage of everyone still being healthy.”
From a historic mansion to a historic garden
In planning for seven months, the special event was supposed to happen at the elegant Knowlton Mansion in Fox Chase, a Frank Furness-designed residence on a lush miniature estate. Invites for the 245 guests had just come back, and bachelor and bachelorette parties were on tap for the weekend, when the situation suddenly took a drastic turn.
“That was right around when everything started to crumble,” Adam recalled. On March 15, when the CDC put out guidance to avoid gatherings of more than 50 people, the venue they’d booked reached out to discuss options.
“I was in a tizzy with how much was changing at work, so overwhelmed with the thought of replanning a wedding in the midst of replanning my job,” Jess said.
The couple agreed to tentatively reschedule for early fall. The pandemic turned other parts of their lives upside-down, too: a new house purchase fell through, and they had to scramble to extend their apartment lease.
After making it through a rough week, they decided they wanted something to look forward to — and the socially distant wedding planning began.
Adam scouted locations and stumbled on the 18th Century Garden, a small enclave at 4th and Walnut that’s part of Independence National Historical Park. “It had planters that are spaced out really well!” Jess talked to their officiant, a good friend, who was into the plan, and the photographer was also game.
Realizing they wouldn’t want to just go back home afterwards, they called around to a bunch of hotels, and found the Ritz-Carlton across from City Hall would let them book a room.
Jess’s parents said they’d drive down from her native Glenside, while Adam, whose mother in Abington was scheduled for a heart procedure and couldn’t make it, got an affirmative answer from his brother in Collingswood.
500 guests on Zoom, 200 on Instagram Live
On the wedding website, they announced their intention, and laid out a few options. Friends and family were welcome to come to the site, provided they wore masks and stood with plenty of space between them. But guests could also attend virtually; a friend donated a tripod so the event could be streamed on multiple platforms.
“We apparently pulled it off,” Jess said, laughing. “We had over 500 people watching on Zoom and 200 more on Instagram Live.”
To go with her dress, a borrowed bridesmaid gown, Jess scavenged dried blossoms and stems from existing arrangements around the house and turned them into a bouquet and boutonniere. The provisional flowers didn’t end up getting used, because some friends surprised them with a last-minute delivery of a bounty of fresh blooms.
That was just the first of several surprises the newlyweds would get on their extremely unique special day.
One friend brought a pinata in the shape of a cake, and delivered it to the couple on the end of a long pole. Another friend’s daughter, Bowie, showed up as a last-minute flower girl. “Right before driving over, we filled up three large TupperWare containers with fallen cherry blossom leaves,” Bowie’s parents explained, which were then strewn on the sidewalk as Jess walked past.
Old City residents poking their heads out of condo windows became an alternative audience, clapping and cheering as the couple took their first kiss. In the middle of the ceremony, they noticed one neighbor had come down and was recording the whole thing.
“At first we were kind of put off,” Adam said. “LIke, who is this guy? Then he introduced himself — he was as excited as anyone there.”
The “guy” turned out to be Jeff Guaracino, CEO of city tourism agency Visit Philadelphia, which has pivoted many of its resources to helping spread important PSAs and keeping spirits up through positive messaging and art.
Filled with anxiety — over the food lines he’d seen earlier in the day, over the layoffs proliferating throughout the region, over the state of the travel industry in general — when Guaracino saw the small garden wedding, it struck a nerve.
“Love wins,” he thought to himself, cheering up as he grabbed his phone to capture the moment. “Love will get us through all of it.”
Adam and Jess are hoping they’ll get to host a follow-up ceremony at Knowlton at some point, and even get to go on a honeymoon, too. But for now, they’re just glad to be together.
“That’s what our vows were about,” Jess said. “How eager we were to start our marriage and our love.”