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After exchanging vows, they're in it for life
Teresa-Catherine Antoinette Deleski, right, who was among five couples who were married at the Burlington County Prison Museum in Mount Holly, N.J., on Oct. 31, 2019. Deleski and her fiancé, Gabriel Peguero, had signed up immediately after learning about the prison weddings. Victor Llorente/The New York Times.

by Tammy La Gorce



NEW YORK (NYT NEWS SERVICE).- The Halloween wedding of Teresa-Catherine Antoinette Deleski and Gabriel Peguero, of Magnolia, New Jersey, was attended by a dozen guests. Or maybe more.

“One of the things that makes this fun is you never know how many uninvited guests are going to show up,” said Joanne Schwartz, who married five couples Oct. 31 at the Burlington County Prison Museum in Mount Holly, New Jersey.

Schwartz, the Burlington County clerk, says the building, where murderers, bigamists and horse thieves once languished, is haunted. “A number of people have heard strange noises,” she said. “Many have had the feeling they’re being followed.”

In previous years, the county has offered free Halloween wedding services at the prison museum, which was built in 1811 and closed in 1965, but Schwartz said this was the first year anyone signed up.

The setting, perhaps, accounts for why. Signage about public hangings in the yard — there were six from 1863 to 1906 — and famous inmates like Albert DeSalvo, later known as the Boston Strangler, informs visitors outside thick-walled cells whose iron bars still clang heavily.

But for Deleski, 23, and Peguero, 27, who met in August 2018, when she was working at a Dunkin’ Donuts and he was a clerk at a Family Dollar store across the street, a Halloween wedding was a dream come true.

“Gabriel was friends with one of my co-workers, and he’d come over and talk,” Deleski said. “We were always laughing.”

As she got to know him, she also got to know his drink order — a caramel iced latte with no whipped cream and extra caramel — and started making it for him free of charge. “Then I started finding reasons to go to the dollar store to see him,” she said. Within weeks, they were a couple.

“Basically, we fell in love with each other because our personalities match and she’s my soul mate,” Peguero said.

On July 21, at her baby shower — their son, Lukas Avery, was born in August — Peguero proposed, and Deleski said yes.

Being Deleski’s soul mate means knowing how much she loves Halloween, Peguero said. So when the couple went to get a marriage license in August and learned about the prison weddings, they signed up immediately.

On Oct. 31, Deleski and Peguero and their dozen wedding guests, including Lukas Avery, who was napping in his infant carrier, met Schwartz on the prison steps. Deleski wore a champagne-colored gown and held a feathered mask over her eyes. Peguero was dressed in a white button-down shirt and black chinos with a gold face mask. They were Belle and the Beast, from “Beauty and the Beast.”

“That’s my favorite Disney movie,” Deleski said. “In the beginning, there’s a masquerade ball.” This explained the masks. The opportunity to be wed as Belle was the realization of a childhood fantasy for Deleski.

“She’s so much like me: She’s odd, she’s a little different. And she loves to read,” Deleski said. Mostly, though, it was the Halloween aspect that had drawn her to the prison steps.

“I’m a superstitious person and I’ve always loved dressing up,” she said, after exchanging handwritten vows with Peguero and handing off her bouquet of fall-colored mums to her sister and maid of honor, Kelisey Paige Deleski. “For us, this was perfect.”

Perfection was not the goal of every couple Schwartz married on Halloween.

Karen Riggins, 58, and Jeffrey Weisinger, 54, of Beverly, New Jersey, didn’t plan to combine a Halloween celebration with their wedding. “We just chose the day,” said Riggins, who is a career coach. Weisinger is a youth therapist. “All of this was a surprise,” she said of the handful of costumed spectators who watched as Schwartz, in a witch costume, married them outside the museum.

Still, the trappings of the holiday came in handy. Riggins and Weisinger wanted to partake in the African-American tradition of jumping over a broom to symbolize sweeping away their single lives and leaping into the new, but they hadn’t remembered to bring a broom. So, using Schwartz’s witch costume prop, they jumped hand-in-hand toward the prison entryway, where the warden once sat.

No one, including the couple’s three wedding guests, Riggins’ parents and son, cared to speculate on the symbolism of starting a marriage steps outside a prison cell.

Samuel Yohannan and Mindy Miller of Bordentown, New Jersey, were more interested in having a quick, free wedding. Their marriage was also a way for Yohannan to get on Miller’s health insurance plan.

“Halloween is an easy day for us to remember, but we’re really doing it for the insurance,” said Miller, 45, who wore a banana costume — “So I would look appealing,” she said — and carried the couple’s rescue dog, Frazzle, for her ceremony inside the prison. Yohannan, 42, wore a white T-shirt and brown jeans.

Miller, an investigator with the state, and Yohannan, a pharmaceutical automator, plan to have a more formal wedding celebration next year, for which they might write vows and offer wedding cake.

For now, the Halloween wedding was a way to obtain a signed marriage certificate and a couple of laughs. “That’s why they call it wedlock,” said Yohannan, walking out of the prison.

© 2019 The New York Times Company










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