Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Cumberland Shares Tragedy's Fallout

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Cumberland Shares Tragedy's Fallout

Article excerpt

CUMBERLAND ISLAND -- The latest tragedy to affect the Kennedy family has renewed interest in Georgia's largest barrier island and a tiny church on its north end.

Park Service officials shuttled television camera crews and print media to the island yesterday to get a look at a small white church with red trim where John F. Kennedy Jr. was married.

Things were even busier at park headquarters in St. Marys.

Julie Meeks, acting superintendent, said she was busy arranging more requests for media tours and answering questions about the relationship between Kennedy and the island.

"That's all I've done all day is deal with media questions," Meeks said.

But she said the number of calls yesterday didn't compare with the frenzy created after Kennedy wed Caroline Bessette in a secret ceremony on the island in 1996.

It was a more somber group of reporters that returned to the First African Baptist Church yesterday to learn more about the life of Kennedy and his relationship with Cumberland Island.

Most people who visit the church the first time express surprise that a man from one of the nation's most prominent families would say his wedding vows in an eight-pew structure, with peeling paint, a sagging ceiling and no electricity, said Brian Peters, chief ranger for the National Park Service on the island.

"I think peoples' expectations are it would have some of the features modern churches do," Peters said. "They expect the church to be more decorative."

The Park Service fields many requests for weddings at the church but only about 10 ceremonies a year are held there, Peters told the first of two media tours he conducted on the island yesterday.

The main reason more weddings aren't held at the church, Peters said, is there is no way to get there other than by walking 14 miles from Sea Camp Campground at the south end of the island. …

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