The bartender poured champagne under a sign that said "Register Here for Library Card."
Piles of old books ("The Scarlet Letter," among them) and literary quotations on cards served as centerpieces.
The cake was a trompe l'oeil masterpiece, a haphazard tower of six classic tomes, including "Lust for Life" and "Love in the Time of Cholera," which, from a distance, passed for the real thing.
Newlyweds Linda Drury -- in 40 yards of creamy tulle and Chantilly lace -- and David McBride -- in a tux and gold vest -- radiantly greeted 160 friends and relatives Saturday night in the grand, pillared lobby of the Enoch Pratt Central Library on Cathedral Street.
For Drury, a physician assistant in pediatric oncology at Johns Hopkins Hospital, and McBride, an international studies student at Goucher College, the public library's place as a source for learning and thought and diversity was a metaphor for their wedding party, an eclectic gathering that included friends straight and gay, black and white, doctors, nurses, artists, retired military brass and former associates who traveled from as far away as Korea.
Since the Pratt was scrubbed of decades of grime, and the coinciding arrival in 1993 of director Carla D. Hayden, a small but growing number of couples have chosen to celebrate their marriage at the library. This year so far, four couples have booked the library for their wedding parties.
They cite the comparatively reasonable price ($2,500 for an event of four hours or more), its ability to accommodate hundreds, a helpful staff and an abiding belief that the library is a sacred space that gives their union extra, read-between-the-lines significance. Love for one another and an open mind lead couples to the Pratt.
"I was attracted to the romantic notion of getting married in place where people were welcome, no matter what color, size or shape, to read and to learn," says Shahla Rahbar Adam, a clinical social worker at Kennedy Krieger Institute.
She and her husband, Larry Adam, a financial analyst at BT Alex. Brown Inc., had a lavish wedding at the Pratt on Sept. 21, 1996. They had met as students at Loyola College and often spent evenings studying in the Loyola/Notre Dame library. At graduation in 1991, Adam was given the tongue-in-cheek honor for having logged more hours in the library than any member of his class.
"My husband was very studious and when he and I would go to the library, [our friends would say,] 'Oh, you guys are going to get married in the library,'" Shahla Adam says. "Little did we know or did they know."
"When we told people we were having our party at the Pratt, it came as absolutely no surprise," Larry Adam says.
Best of all, it was a transcendent evening, one of those rare wedding parties remembered for its magical, not its farcical, elements. "It was the best night," he says. "We still have people raving. It was such a unique place to have it."
Attorney Robert S. Hillman, a former chairman of the Pratt board and still a trustee, is pleased that his daughter Allison will celebrate her marriage to David Buckhalter at the library in November.
"I'm actually very excited about it," Hillman says. "Our oldest daughter got married at the Baltimore Museum when I was a trustee there ... [the Pratt is] a wonderful public space and certainly has a lot more character than a hotel or something."
Gordon Krabbe, director of administrative services at the Pratt, views wedding parties and other functions as a way to publicize the library's wealth of resources and to encourage those who might otherwise avoid the downtown facility. Guests "come here and see it in a different light. Perhaps they'll come back and make use of the services here. Sometimes we obtain donors that way and make lifelong friends."
The rental fee for the Pratt space basically covers set-up costs, security and utilities, Krabbe says. "If there's anything left over we use it toward purchasing book materials."
Nearly 300 guests came to dine and dance at the Adams' party. "It was unbelievable," Larry Adam says. The library's immediate neighborhood "is not necessarily the best place in the world, but [that day] you would have thought the president was there. One or two people were helping guests out of their cars and the Downtown Partnership's Clean Sweep Ambassadors [who discourage littering and panhandling] were there."
On a more modest, impromptu scale, one couple got married in the library's peaceful courtyard, a few weekends ago. About 10 guests were present, according to the library security guard.
Books, and a love of books, naturally, figure in the decision to revel in holy matrimony at the Pratt. And so books are often a recurring theme in celebrations there. Larry and Shahla Adam gave out homemade bookmarks decorated with a love poem as a party favor. Their cake came from Louie's Bookstore Cafe.
Linda Drury and David McBride were also big on books at their party Saturday night. The incredible cake (from Patisserie Poupon) represented a selection of the couple's favorite works, including that odd 19th Century classic "Flatland," by Edmund Abbott. The centerpiece books were found at the city's salvage depot, where dusty old Pratt-system discards can be had for cheap.
Centerpiece quotations came from Drury's journals, in which she has recorded thousands of tidbits from her voracious reading. "Einstein called us nuclear giants and ethical infants," read a line from "A Path with Heart," by Jack Kornfield.
"I seen more trouble than you can-heat bindle stiffs ever seen," read another from John Steinbeck's "In Dubious Battle."
Guests in vintage satin, summery frocks and chic black filled their plates along the checkout line. A deejay spun Otis Redding, Paul Simon and other artists before accordionist Judith Meyers took to the stage to play mournful Eastern European ballads. Later Dr. Daniel Drubach, a Baltimore physician, was to entertain with flamenco and classical guitar.
To their guests, newlyweds Drury and McBride gave books embossed inside with their first names.
It was an occasion as eclectic and as rich as the Pratt's (now computerized) card catalog. An offbeat fairy tale with a happily-ever-after ending.
Pub Date: 6/24/98