Cape May is well-known for weddings and family reunions. Antoinette’s Apartments & Suites Innkeeper Deanna Brown decided this year to host both. It seemed an ideal time, considering it coincided with her 30th year of business.
Growing up as one of 13 grandchildren of Antoinette, my memories centers around family events. Over the past 30 years of running Antoinette’s as a guest house, I witnessed many families enjoying family time at the jersey shore and Cape May. Earlier this year, I thought it time to bring my childhood memories back to life with three generations of our family gathering in Cape May.
Hosting anniversaries for guests
Over 30 years, we’ve welcomed many couples to celebrate their honeymoon, first anniversary all the way to 50th anniversaries.
Cape May has always been a wonderful destination for couples, especially for both proposals and weddings. Whether the bride and groom want to show off their favorite vacation spot or treat their friends and family to a destination wedding, Cape May sees a lot of weddings. There are many venues perfect for weddings, not just nuptials on the beach. Cape May’s abundant Victorian homes, hotels, wineries, and restaurants all make great choices.
One anniversary that stands out is the 50th anniversary for Charles and Patty Gallagher from Pennsylvania. They started coming to Antoinette’s over many years and came with their youngest son. After their first stay, they came back each year just by themselves. They left their 11 children home to carry on without them. Patty would get 60 calls a day from her children since she is a retired nurse. In Cape May, she turned off her cell phone for peace and quiet. I loved watching them head to the Washington Inn down the street, hand-in-hand.
In October 2018, we welcomed back Patty and Charlie to celebrate fifty years together. I felt very honored that they decided to stay at Antoinette’s for this special event. We were able to capture a video of their 50th anniversary horse and buggy ride. How to share these moments? Mom and Dad were not Facebook fans. So, with my help we posted pictures on Facebook. The children were thrilled with the post!
Antoinette’s Family Anniversaries
Turning back time to 1991, five months after we opened Antoinette’s, we had our first family anniversary event in October. My parents Fred and Phyllis Brown were celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary on November 1, 1991. We gathered our family and friends to celebrate. They were picked up by our local carriage company and enjoyed a lovely horse and buggy ride. We invited their priest to our front porch to have our parents renew their vows. It was quite a special day for them. It was the first time my parents came down from Pennsylvania to see our new guest house. Sadly, my mother became ill and was unable to travel back to Cape May and she passed three years later.
Our next family anniversary was on March 25th, 1995. Our local newspaper, The Cape May Star and Wave, wrote an article about a 75-year diamond anniversary – but not a typical one. Three couples, each celebrating their 25thanniversary would gather at Antoinette’s. Judi and John Anderson, Capt. Gregory and Alice Brown, and Bonnie and Tom Herd. Greg and I planned the surprise to invite everyone to a special event.
Judi and John thought they were coming down to help me move furniture, while Greg and Alice believed it was an anniversary party for Judi and John. And Bonnie and Tom thought they were finally getting a regular day at Antoinette’s. Cape May is also a great place to plan a surprise, if your friends can keep a secret!
The “I do’s” almost went off without a hitch. Judi and John, and Greg and Alice were able to enjoy their mass at Our Lady Star of the Sea, the Herds missed it. Both couples enjoyed a horse and buggy ride around the town.
2021: 30 Years of Antoinette’s and 76 years of marriage
June is a very popular month for weddings in Cape May. Just about every weekend I see a tent being erected across the street at the Southern Mansion for another wedding. I took advantage of the upcoming 25th anniversary of my niece, Renee Frechette and her husband Todd, to make an excuse for a wonderful family gathering. Additionally, my sister Judi Anderson and her husband John celebrated their 50th anniversary in 2020 but due to COVID-19, there was no family gathering. Why not have a combined mother-daughter event celebrating 76 years, together?
The gathering happened at Antoinette’s on June 29. I closed all five of my suites, for my family to spend nine nights at Antoinette’s. Renee had an open invitation to invite anyone she wanted including brothers, cousins, children, parents, and friends. Happily, relatives came from California, the Carolinas, Maryland, Florida, Pennsylvania, and her home town in Connecticut. Since it would be midweek, it was a lot easier to get the local priest to officiate a renewal of vows ceremony, and find a restaurant to host the celebration.
On the day of the anniversary, the family gathered at Our Star of the Sea in downtown Cape May, one block from Antoinette’s. Our local priest, Father James T. Dever, OSFS, agreed to conduct the renewals of vows following the daily mass. To add to the celebration, I invited my friend and local photographer, Michael Walsh, to take photos of this happy event.
At the end of the mass, Father Dever announced the two couples’ anniversaries and then ended the mass. I was quite surprised and expected more. Gee, no special ceremony. Well, it didn’t end there. To my surprise, Father Dever returned with his white vestment and gathered the couples to renew their vows.
As Father went thought this celebration, he mentioned several times, “That no sermon of his could replace the important words used to say prior to becoming husband and wife.” Father began with Judith and John Anderson, who celebrated 51 years on June 27, 1970.
Father then proceeded to Renee and Todd who were renewing their vows for 25 years. They were originally married at the same church (Our Lady Star of the Sea) and traveled by buggy from Antoinette’s, 25 years ago on June 15, 1996.
It brought tears especially to Renee, who tried to compose herself saying “I Do” once again after 25 years. I chuckled at the end when Father Dever found the wedding march music on his iPhone and allowed the newly renewed couples to march down the aisle. Their four children, Patrick, Ayden, Elizabeth and Sariah watched proudly.
Following this event, we all walked down the block to Alethea’s to enjoy a family luncheon for these happy couples. My only disappointment was the lack of a horse and buggy to pick them up from Antoinette’s and bring them to the church as they experienced 25 years ago!
I learned earlier that week that the Carriage Company stopped offering pickups at houses and inns due to a severe increase in insurance requirements. Thus, the only way you could hire this service was going to the booth and hire the buggy the same day (no reservations). We learned the night before that no horse and buggies are running that morning since a 90-degree heat wave was expected and the horses would not start their rides till 4 p.m. We were very sad, but were happy that the health and wellbeing of our local horses were key to this decision.
As my niece Renee shared on Facebook the next day,
“What a beautiful day in Cape May. Thank you to Father Dever at Our Lady Star of the Sea Catholic Church for the special ceremony and Heartfelt blessing for Todd and I and my parents as we renewed our wedding vows. A collective 75 years! We are so very blessed!”
The remainder of the week, the families gathered together, ate and drank together, enjoyed the beach together and created new memories for all especially the young children to remember this family event and gathering.
On Sunday, July 4, we began saying goodbye to family and friends and welcoming back my guests of Antoinette’s for their summer vacations. Antoinette would surely be smiling down on her three generations together during these happy times in Cape May, her hometown for many years.
The story doesn’t end there. Once Michael Walsh completed editing the anniversary photos he shared them with Deanna. After her review, she sent the google drive photos to Renee, her niece back home in Connecticut. Deanna was touched by her reaction:
“They are all wonderful! Thank you thank you thank you! I love the one of you and your 30th anniversary sign! Happy anniversary to you too Aunt Diane!”
(Diane is family nickname for Deanna).
Gee I almost forgot Antoinette’s had an anniversary too!