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Reasons vary for Sept. 11 weddings

When Sarah Schwinden and Tom Walters immersed themselves in wedding preparations last August, they thought they had a head start. The couple, who lives in the Twin Cities, wanted to get married the next fall in Fargo, Schwinden's hometown.

When Sarah Schwinden and Tom Walters immersed themselves in wedding preparations last August, they thought they had a head start.

The couple, who lives in the Twin Cities, wanted to get married the next fall in Fargo, Schwinden's hometown. They assumed that getting started more than a year ahead should easily land them their first choices for a church and reception hall.

So they picked about five possible weekends and started making calls, only to find quite a few couples had beat them to the reservations.

But on one date, they could have both Holy Spirit Church and the Radisson.

"Ironically, both places were available on 9/11," Schwinden says.

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This year, Sept. 11 falls on a Saturday for the first time since the 2001 terrorist attacks, and the anniversary presents couples with a dilemma: For their ceremonies, they can snatch a coveted September weekend that this year is more accessible than ever. But will they risk throwing a dark shadow on the festivities?

In the buildup to the third anniversary of the attacks, major newspapers across the country reported that couples were doggedly avoiding the date for their wedding ceremonies. The California-based Bridal Association of America estimates that the weekend of Sept. 4 boasted three times the number of weddings scheduled on Sept. 11.

Local evidence echoes national statistics. Over the past two months, The Forum ran almost twice as many wedding announcements for Sept. 4 as for Sept. 11 - 19 and 10, respectively.

The finding matches almost perfectly wedding dress statistics at Alan Evans Bridal in Fargo - 20 orders for Sept. 4 compared to 10 for Sept. 11.

"I was absolutely dumbfounded," says Judy Benson, owner of the Bridal Shop in Fargo, about her reaction when she compared Sept. 11 business to orders for the weekends before and after. The store, which provides gowns, tuxedos, invitations and more, will help three times as many brides on Sept. 4 and almost four times as many during the weekend of Sept. 18.

The slowdown on Sept. 11 is a jolt for wedding businesses because, according to national statistics, September is normally the second most popular month for weddings after June. "Traditionally every Saturday in September, weddings are huge," Benson says.

Of those who did settle for Sept. 11, few wholeheartedly selected that date. Sarah Larson of Fargo, for one, picked the date because in June 2003, her fiancé, Travis Renner, took her on a horse-and-buggy ride in New York's Central Park, then knelt, made an impassioned speech and proposed.

But generally, Fargo couples say, the 11th was just a date in September when wedding arrangements seemed to work out more smoothly than on other weekends. All the couples who wanted to steer clear of the anniversary's tragic overtones made it a little easier on the rest, some of whom felt they were seizing a chance to turn a sad day into a happy one.

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Couples report that booking everything - from the church to the DJ - was more stress-free for Sept. 11. Kristie Holler of Fargo says that, by picking that date, she could get away with tackling preparations as late as March. When she first tried to make reservations for a couple of weeks earlier, she couldn't make any headway.

"Things were nice and open," says Fargo resident Amy Scharmer, who will marry Kirk Kappes at First United Methodist Church in Fargo today.

But even couples who picked the date for purely practical reasons see a potential positive to their choice. "Their comments were that life had to go on," says Rand Allrich of Alan Evans Bridal. "They just want to give that day a new meaning."

"Why not make 9/11 a happy day, too?" Tom Walters says about the couple's reasoning.

Walters and Schwinden's friends and relatives would often make a double take when informed about the wedding. "At first, they'd say, 'Oh, that's nice,' " says Schwinden. "After about two seconds, it hits them."

No couple reported attempts to talk them out of their chosen date or rejected invitations. "We got gasps from some people, and others thought it was great," says Holler about her guests' reactions.

Some, like Holler, will acknowledge the tragic anniversary during their ceremonies today. She planned a patriotic sequence during the dollar dance at the reception, with classics such as Toby Keith's "American Soldier" and Lee Greenwood's "I'm Proud to Be an American."

Walters added that there is one more advantage of going for a Sept. 11 wedding. "I believe I won't forget my anniversary that way," he said.

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Forum readers can reach reporter Mila Koumpilova at (701) 241-5529.

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