Jenna Bush couldn't see herself getting married at the White House surrounded by antique furniture and oil portraits of presidents. She and Henry Hager opted to say "I do" Saturday at President Bush's ranch in Crawford where the corn is thigh-high, roads are named Cattle Drive and the Texas flag is painted on the rooftops of barns.
Away from the glare of television cameras that have beamed other first family weddings into American living rooms, Jenna's outdoor wedding at the ranch reflects her family's penchant for privacy and her preference for the casual over grandiose.
Even without the prying eyes of strangers, Jenna's marriage to her longtime boyfriend Henry Hager will make presidential history. It will be remembered as an upbeat moment of Bush's two-term presidency beset by terrorism, war and the nation's current limp economy.
"This is a joyous occasion for our family, as we celebrate the happy life ahead of her and her husband, Henry," Bush said in his Saturday radio address. "It's also a special time for Laura who this Mother's Day weekend will watch a young woman we raised together walk down the aisle."
Jenna, 26, is the 22nd child of a president to get married while their father was in the Oval Office. Their ceremonies have ranged from Tricia Nixon's extravagant wedding broadcast live from the Rose Garden in 1971 to the 1992 Camp David wedding of Jenna's aunt, Dorothy Koch. That one was kept so secret that the press didn't find out about it until it was over.
"All of them are different. This one really reflects the personality of both Jenna and the George W. Bush family," said Doug Wead, a former aide to President George H.W. Bush and author of a book on presidents' kin.
"If they'd have gone on TV, the wedding would have been shown all over the world and Jenna Bush would have been an international celebrity - and she would have been a target. They're preparing the transition to private life and they're not particularly interested in seeing Jenna Bush become a huge celebrity."
It's unlikely that paparazzi will be hanging out of helicopters to capture Hollywood-style aerial shots of the wedding. Airspace in a 30-mile radius of the property is restricted when the Bushes are there. Despite the lack of media coverage, however, Jenna's wedding will be closely scrutinized - down to the matte beading and embroidery on her white Oscar de la Renta gown.
"The wedding details will be reported on for generations, influencing both present-day and future brides-to-be," says Millie Martin Bratten, editor-in-chief of BRIDES magazine and student of first family weddings.
Jenna's twin sister, Barbara, is maid of honor and 14 other women are part of the "house party." Barbara Bush is wearing wear a long, moonstone blue dress with a low-cut back. The women in the "house party" are in seven different styles of knee-length dresses in seven different colors that match the palette of Texas wildflowers - blues, greens, lavenders and pinky reds.
The best man is the groom's brother, John "Jack" Hager. The groom also has 14 ushers in the "house party," which will walk down the aisle to their seats, but not participate in the ceremony.
More than 200 family and friends are converging here for the nuptials on the 1,600-acre ranch that was hit by a brief storm that packed winds up to 50 mph and dropped nickel-sized hail on the area. The White House said the storm did not cause any damage at the ranch where a tent has been erected for post-ceremony dinner and dancing.
Festivities began Friday with a bridal lunch, rehearsal dinner and post-rehearsal dinner celebration in Salado, a tiny tourist village, which used to be a stagecoach stop. Jenna, her sister and the first lady were in Salado, more than an hour's drive south of Crawford, all day Friday and the president arrived in the evening by motorcade.
The rehearsal dinner for about 100 people was hosted by the parents of the groom, who turned 30 on Friday. Hager's father, John Hager, is the chairman of the Virginia Republican Party and is former lieutenant governor of Virginia and former U.S. assistant secretary of education.
The rehearsal dinner crowd, including the president, then walked down a street in Salado with the Belton High School Marching Band from Belton, Texas, to a "Texas-sized celebration" at another establishment. All the wedding guests were invited to this event. They were entertained by the five-member Duke Merrick Band from Charlottesville, Va., which performed classic Texas songs and original pieces by Merrick, a relative of the Hager family.
The groom's family also is hosting a barbecue lunch Saturday in Salado ahead of the wedding.
Henry Hager met Jenna during her father's 2004 re-election campaign. He graduated from Wake Forest University and worked as an aide to Bush's former top political adviser Karl Rove. He is set to receive a master's degree in business administration later this month from the University of Virginia's Darden School of Business.
Between February 2005 and January 2006, he was an economic policy aide in the office of Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez and regularly briefed the secretary on economic data. "He was widely regarded as a super star," said Ann Marie Hauser, press secretary at Commerce.
After the wedding, the couple is rumored to be honeymooning in Europe, although the White House would not comment. After that, they plan to live in a two-bedroom, two-bath town house on the south side of Baltimore. She plans to return to teaching and he will work for Constellation Energy, a power supplier based in Maryland.
The ceremony begins about a half hour or so before sunset. The couple will marry at a cross, made of beige colored Texas limestone, that was erected near the ranch's man-made lake. The cross and altar, made of the same stone used to construct the Bush's ranch house, will serve as the altar and a landmark at the ranch for years to come. The Rev. Kirbyjon Caldwell of Windsor Village United Methodist Church in Houston is officiating.
This is big doings for Crawford, home to about 700 central Texans. They likely will not get a glimpse of the bride and groom, but the couple's photo is plastered across coffee mugs, mouse pads, key rings and other Western White House trinkets for sale at a few stores along the main drag.
A rusty, metal sculpture of an angel, a gift to Crawford after Bush's re-election, is adorned with a veil and a bouquet of white flowers for the occasion. The sign at the Coffee Station in Crawford, where Jenna orders fried jalapenos, says "Congrats Jenna and Henry." The Peace House, home away from home for anti-war protesters when they're in Crawford, set up a red sign that says "Peace to the Newlyweds."
Dick and Kathy Karmy drove 70 miles from their home in Cleburne, Texas, to visit Crawford on wedding day. "I have a girlfriend in Washington state and she said `You've got to go and get me a mug,'" Kathy Karmy said.
Mary Wood of San Antonio, about a 90-minute drive from Crawford, stopped at a table the Crawford Chamber of Commerce and Waco Convention and Visitors Bureau set up outside a bank to welcome visitors to town. Since so many people wanted to know how to drive to Bush's Prairie Chapel Ranch, they offered a homemade map, even though the ranch property is barricaded far from the entrance.
"I almost came during the week, but then I said it would mean more to be here on the wedding day," said Wood, who had a camera hanging from her neck so she could take a photo of the "Prairie Chapel Road" sign. "It's just a big kick to say I was here."