Tim's Turn: Take the Plunge with the Roller Coaster Reverend
It’s summer wedding season and like many other households across the country, the O’Brien family is getting ready for a June wedding. My youngest daughter, Molly, is getting married.
The biggest challenge she had was finding the right venue in which to have the ceremony. After searching all sorts of locations and comparing costs for everything from food to photography, she and her fiancé, Vince, are now all set.
Getting married in an amusement park would have made things a lot simpler and probably way less expensive. In parks, beautiful and magical settings are abundant and can provide great backdrops for nuptials. However, getting married on a carousel, bumper cars, or roller coaster is the ultimate setting for a park wedding. And I am actually surprised more parkies and coaster fans don’t take advantage of this unique venue.
Parks are always looking for an event on which to hang a good news story, and a wedding is a nice feel-good occasion that gets attention, especially if it is at the top of a 200-foot-tall roller coaster. Parks can get a lot of great publicity out of such an event. The hardest part of this kind of event is usually finding a minister to officiate. And that’s not hard if you are in the know: just call Cliff.
“You bet I will,” was Rev. Cliff Herring’s response when he received a request out of the blue one day in early 1984 asking if he would officiate a wedding on the “Thunder Road” racing coasters at Carowinds in Charlotte, North Carolina. Cliff is one of the earliest members (member No. 18) of the American Coaster Enthusiasts (ACE) and never misses a chance to ride.
To date, Cliff, ordained in the United Church of Christ, has performed more than 200 amusement park weddings, many of which were on coasters. Some of the time he sits in the front seat and the couple sits in the second and the bridal party behind them. They are “mic’d” so the wedding attendees on the ground can hear the ceremony. The coaster train is stopped at the top of the lift. Cliff turns around in his seat and conducts the ceremony. He turns back around and they all take the plunge together.
Sometimes the ceremony is conducted in the station, and then they all climb on board the coaster and take a ride together. He loves the requisite wedding rehearsal.
“I make sure we don’t get it right until we’ve ridden at least three or four times,” Cliff jokes with me, noting the obvious that “a coaster wedding isn’t for every couple.”
Tim and Christina, now Mr. and Mrs. DeHaven, wanted Cliff to marry them on the “Phoenix” coaster at Knoebels Amusement Resort in Elysburg, Pennsylvania, but the coaster was not available on their wedding day, so they decided on the park’s historic Lusse Scooters instead. “That bumper car wedding turned out to be a lot of fun,” Cliff says. “They said ‘I Do,’ pushed on the accelerator and started bashing each other around.”
The 71-year-old, never-married minister had ridden hundreds of different coasters by the time he performed his first wedding 90 feet in the air, earning him the unofficial title of the Roller Coaster Reverend. The best vow he has heard during his ceremonies? “Jerry looked lovingly at his bride and asked, ‘Debbie, will you be my riding partner for life?’” Sweet.
Tim O’Brien is a veteran outdoor entertainment journalist and is a longtime Funworld contributor. He has authored many books chronicling the industry’s attractions and personalities and is the only journalist in the IAAPA Hall of Fame.