ELMIRA, N.Y. (WETM) – For many people, the 1972 flood brings back images of destruction and devastation. But one Elmira couple remembers that weekend for another, more joyous, reason, as they prepare to celebrate properly 50 years later.
Sally and Doug Davis were married on June 24, 1972, one day after the worst of the Hurricane Agnes flood waters washed through Elmira. They met three years prior and spent 18 months preparing for their big day.
They didn’t think twice about the forecast for that weekend. “Somebody showed us the Farmers Almanac, and it said on the 24th of June, 1972, ‘It rains, it pours until the river roars.’ And we just said okay”, Doug recalled. The soon-to-be-newlyweds assumed the hurricane would come and go by the time of their wedding.
But when the waters left Elmira in pieces, washing out their wedding venue of Grace Episcopal Church on West Church Street, Sally said their reaction was just “Stress”. So they planned to cancel.
The community was suffering. Doug’s parents hadn’t yet arrived from Westchester, N.Y. Many friends weren’t able to drive into Elmira. And any guests from Elmira’s southside were effectively stranded, with only one lane of traffic open on the Main Street Bridge.
But the minister put a stop to the couple’s doubts.
“Father Hale said, ‘Not doing that. We need a bright light in all of this darkness’,” Sally said.
So in less than 48 hours, the wedding party improvised a new ceremony at a funeral home a few blocks north which had avoided the flood waters. “It was gorgeous,” Sally recalled. “I really think my father, in his heart, was quite happy that it ended up that way.”
Sally’s father walked her down a staircase instead of the aisle. The ceremony took place in front of a marble fireplace instead of an altar. But the day was no less special.
“The beginning part of it was a blur to me,” Doug said. “I was just ‘Okay, you know, here we go.’ But when I saw her come down, I could relax.”
Unable to reach their planned reception at Hilltop Inn, the food was donated to evacuees in the area. Their five-tier cake was replaced by one in a foil pan, and guests drank out of small paper cups. And their friends who couldn’t make it from Binghamton still had “one heck of good party” of their own, Doug said.
“We were standing in front of the marble fireplace, and when Father Hale pronounced us husband and wife, all of a sudden the sun came through the stained glass window and hit our heads,” Sally said. “My mother said it was just beautiful and unbelievable and a sign. And then she also said, ‘Don’t ever try to get married again anywhere because we can’t top this one.”
The story of their wedding amid the destruction of the flood made it into newspapers across New York and across the country. And later that summer, after helping with cleanup for a few months, the couple moved to Georgia. But they vividly recalled the devastation left behind after the flood waters receded.
They didn’t move back to Elmira until 2007. And on June 24, 2022, they’ll celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary at Hilltop Inn with “the reception it should’ve been” and as many friends and family as possible.
“I still can’t believe it’s been 50 years. But we’ve had some incredible luck, happiness, travels,” Doug said. “We have three beautiful kids; we have seven beautiful grandkids. And they’re all converging up here on the 24th.”
However, there are changes. Members of the original wedding party have scattered around the world. Doug’s best man passed away 10 years ago.
“But we’re going to party,” he said, not letting the devastating memories dampen the mood. The Davis’ son will renew their vows with their daughters by their side and Sally’s mother, who is 97 and a half years old.
“It’s a way to celebrate. 50 doesn’t happen to everybody anymore. And I’m so glad we’re celebrating,” Doug said, grabbing his wife’s hand.
“Me too,” she responded.