Hundreds of romance movies have been screened at the Greenwood Auto Drive-In over the years, but none of them included a plot twist like the one seen on Saturday.
Fifty years to the day when Joseph and Kathleen O’Rourke scrambled across the Georgia-South Carolina line to get legally married in the parking lot of a drive-in before he shipped off the basic training, the couple renewed their vows at the landmark Greenwood business for their golden anniversary.
“I’ve seen people get engaged here, but I’ve never seen a wedding,” Drive-In owner Carolyn McCutcheon said.
It was a matter of timing and weather. The pair met at the 1965 World’s Fair in New York. Joseph was from the city and Kathleen was a New Jersey native. Joseph was soon after drafted into the Army and stationed at Fort Gordon, Georgia.
At the time, Georgia law required a three-day waiting period to get a marriage license, and a blizzard was coming from up north.
“My mother and a friend of mine were coming down to see me married. We were going to married on Saturday, and they had a flight to come in on Sunday, so we couldn’t get a license there,” Kathleen recalled. “So the chaplain said, ‘That’s OK,’ he knew a judge in Aiken, Georgia so we got a license there and the next morning he married us in the parking lot of a drive-in movie theater.”
Now legally wed, the O’Rourkes went back to Fort Gordon and had a formal marriage ceremony at the base’s chapel, with a full church blessing.
“I said, ‘Being married twice? That has to be illegal,’ but we went with it,” Joseph said.
Although forced by circumstance to take their vows in the unorthodox setting, the O’Rourkes said they appreciated the unique American flavor of a drive-in wedding.
“I think it’s the freedom people have. They’re in their own little secure area, their own space. You have the pressures of society off of you, you can feel it in the air,” McCutcheon said.
The O’Rourkes said they don’t remember which drive-in bore witness to their marriage, but their son Kevin found the Greenwood theater online and went about organizing a re-enactment with his two brothers.
Family came from as far as Virginia and Louisiana to watch the brief ceremony, presided over by John Sullivan, a minister based in Greenville.
The O’Rourkes’ five grandchildren were in attendance as well.
Sullivan – who was presiding over his first drive-in wedding – played to the occasion, using quotes from John Wayne and an excerpt from the 2004 movie “Shall We Dance” in his remarks.
“When you first joined hands and hearts 50 years ago, you didn’t know where life was going to take you,” Sullivan said. “But as The Duke one said, ‘Courage is being scared to death but saddling up anyway.’ So you’ve both saddled up and promised to love and to honor and to cherish one another through all things that you’d face together and here you are, all those years later.”
Kathleen said the story of her wedding has provided an anecdote over the last half century that she never tires of sharing.
“It was original, I think. I’ve never heard of anybody else getting married at a drive-in,” she said.
Contact staff writer Adam Benson at 864-943-5650 or on Twitter@ABensonIJ.