The weeks of waiting are almost over. The siege of Rhinebeck, New York will soon end. America’s most talked-about political wedding in memory is about to begin. Late this afternoon, some 500 guests will descend upon the grassy lawns of the gorgeous Astor Courts mansion (newly constructed helipads have been built to accommodate high-flying latecomers). The ceremony is scheduled to start at 6 p.m., the groom in black tie, the bride expected to wear Vera Wang. The hordes of reporters, cordoned off by a mass of Secret Service and local police, will scratch and claw deep into the night for a scrap of detail about what transpires during the magic hours to follow—a celebration fueled by the aptly named Clinton Vineyards wine, and food from three New York caterers. What will be the couple’s first dance? What will the father say, in toasting his only daughter on her wedding day? And where, pray tell, will Chelsea Clinton and Marc Mezvinsky honeymoon?
On Friday night, after the rehearsal dinner at the Stone Lodge at Grasmere, about 300 gawkers and press came to the historic Beekman Arms Inn, where George Washington once directed the war, for post-dinner drinks. Among the first to arrive were Bill and Hillary—he in a blue blazer, she wearing sea-foam green chiffon—stepping out of their SUV at 10:45 p.m. to greet the crowds of reporters and residents with wide smiles and waves.
View Our Gallery Of Who's Invited
“This was the biggest thing to hit Rhinebeck since George Washington was running the war from one of the rooms in there,” a local resident said of the hoopla.
The rustic inn was decorated simply, with modest flower arrangements and banners on the walls saying, “Welcome.” There were even toothpicks with sashes carrying the same message, for anyone in doubt.
Vernon Jordan and his wife, Ann Dibble Jordan, arrived with Madeleine Albright followed by Steve Bing, who showed up by himself in a gray T-shirt, faded jeans, and white sneakers – everyone else was dressed to the nines.
Then a long white party bus arrived and unloaded about 15 young blondes in strappy heels, many on the arms of handsome, curly-haired men.
“I worked at the Beek for four years, and I was dying to work this party, but they were very picky,” said one employee, standing with reporters outside.
The Clintons left at 11:35 p.m., followed half an hour later by a distinguished-looking couple. The best part of the party? “The conversation,” the silver-haired man told a reporter for The Daily Beast, and then begged off from answering any more questions about the rehearsal dinner itself.
Terry McAuliffe, former DNC chairman and Hillary friend, emerged from the Arms after midnight. "No one really was invited" to the rehearsal dinner, he told The Daily Beast. "Are you crazy? You think we made the list? Who do you think we are? That was just the Mezvinskys and the Clintons." The excitement had been building all day.
• View Our Full Coverage of Chelsea Clinton’s Wedding Bill Clinton was the first to be spotted on Friday afternoon as he rolled into downtown Rhinebeck, the quaint upstate New York town where Chelsea, 30, is supposed to marry her financier boyfriend, Marc, 32, at a black-tie event at the Beaux Arts mansion, Astor Courts.
Bill ducked into less grandiose surroundings—lunching with his brother Roger, at the local restaurant, Gigi’s, where he enjoyed gnochetti with spicy tomato sauce and Tuscan fries, according to Gigi’s chef, Wilson Costa. “It was an honor—it was awesome,” Costa told The Daily Beast. “He came in the kitchen and said thank you, then went around and shook people’s hands.”
When the former president emerged after lunch, he pumped his fist to the hundred-strong crowd of gawkers, camera crews and journalists, gathered outside the restaurant. People cheered and Bill wore a wide smile, seeming to enjoy his role as father of the bride. He recently told guests at a cocktail party that today will be the “ most important day of my life.”
In Rhinebeck, roads have been closed, secret service agents lurk in the woods, and sheriff’s deputies have been patrolling along the river. Nancy Shando, a librarian from nearby Hurley, New York, headed upriver on her jet ski Friday afternoon to take a closer look. “I just went up the river, right past Astor Courts, I heard the roads are gonna be blocked, and they put up no-fly zones, but on the river I just cruised right along,” she told The Daily Beast. “I saw SUVs on the property and people walking outside, tents set up.” At her closest, Shando was about 200 feet from the site of the still-rumored wedding. “I’m a big Clinton fan so I wanted to check it out. A sheriff’s deputy drove by [on the river bank] and waved at us.”
Two weeks ago, journalists were arrested trying to capture shots of the mansion where the wedding will take place and security is so tight there are even reports of a no-fly zone. The Federal Aviation Administration has closed-off local airspace for 12 hours starting at 3 p.m. today, according to the New York Daily News.
With Astor Courts and its tent-covered grounds completely locked down, reporters have instead flocked to the Beekman Arms Inn, where many wedding guests are reportedly staying. Unfortunately for the wedding scribes, the Beekman, too, has become something of an impenetrable fortress. (The Beekman is a short drive from Grasmere Estate, a refurbished stone barn; for Friday’s rehearsal dinner, the long gravel driveway was blocked by private security guards.)
Among the guests descending upon Rhinebeck: McAuliffe who also chaired Hillary’s presidential campaign; Democratic money man Alan Patricof, and Clinton advisers Huma Abedin, Capricia Marshall, Minyon Moore, and Doug Band.
Media mogul Ted Turner, former Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin, and Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, the former lieutenant governor of Maryland, however, have all made it known that they will not be attending.
And then there are those whose invitation must have been lost in the mail.
“I’m good enough to borrow a plane from, but not good enough to be invited to the wedding?’’ a friend of the Clintons groused—not surprisingly—under the cover of anonymity. ( Two guesses as to the identity of the griper: Ron Burkle or Frank Giustra, both friends of Bills who fly high, privately.)
Chelsea and Marc, of course, met at Stanford in 1996 but only began dating some years ago, when they were both living in Manhattan and working in finance.
View Our Gallery of Chelsea and Marc
Recently, they have been spinning like crazy to get into shape for the wedding, taking classes at Soul Cycle, a workout studio in New York City. “She’s in amazing shape cardio-wise,” one source told HollywoodLife.com. “She has incredible energy. And she’s unbelievably well-toned.”
All the better to fit into the wedding gown, believed to be a Vera Wang.
For those guests who make the trek to Rhinebeck, there will be party favors and gift bags. Spoiler alert—as Lynnley Browning reported, the gifts are decidedly understated. According to a resident insider, the co-owner of The Paper Trail, a chic local emporium of paper goods, jewelry and gifts, has assembled 310 gift bags that will hold, among other things, Rhinebeck Farmers’ Market paper calendars and orange tote bags with woodcut honeybee prints.
Guests will also be treated to Taj Mahal tents with custom-created glass walls and Presidential Series Luxury Washrooms, according to Donnie Brown, host of Style Network’s Whose Wedding Is It Anyway?
As for the food, caterers are reportedly going meatless.
That hasn’t stopped the Rhinebeck Deli, The Rhinecliff Hotel, and other area eateries from getting creative and naming dishes after the Clintons. The Rhinebeck Deli, for example, offers a six-ounce Angus sirloin called Hillary’s Secretary of Steak. The Rhinecliff Hotel, meanwhile, sells the Mezvinsky Melt. And a sign outside of Leonardo’s Italian Market offers reassurance: “Don’t worry Chelsea,” it says, “we’ll have the 500 sandwiches to you in plenty of time.”
Even before Bill’s appearance on Friday, the Clintons had made a sensational showing in Rhinebeck, but it wasn't exactly what the bored media hordes in this picturesque upstate hamlet were hoping for. Comedic false alarm: the former first couple being chased by photographers while blowing vuvuzela-like party horns was actually local deejay Gary Kiernan and his wife, Sandy, wearing rubber Bill and Hillary masks.
Kiernan was feeling bubbly after hitting a free Champagne-and-cake party outside the Rug Garden carpet shop in honor of the world's buzziest wedding, cruising the sidewalks and chewing on an Arturo Fuente cigar. "We're hoping the Secret Service picks us up by mistake and takes us to the wedding," said the cheeky Kiernan, who was hawking "Rhinebeck, N.Y." T-shirts for $15 (there were no takers).
But not everyone in the little town has been so happy with the plague of pesky reporters, picture-snapping tourists, and snarled traffic.
"If the Clintons wanted do something for us, they'd offer to offset the costs of the wedding to this municipality, instead of leaving it to the taxpayers," said Doug Warren, a highway supervisor from Red Hook, as he puffed on a Honduran Omar cigar. (It has been rumored that Bill has ordered hand-rolled Cuban cigars for the celebration, though not from the Rhinebeck Smoke Shoppe.)
Scott Dellamore, a schoolteacher from Rhinebeck, said the matrimonial madness has lately been haunting his dreams. "I had a dream last night that I ran into Chelsea on the street, and we had a sit-down. I said, 'Your wedding is infringing on our freedom.' She said, 'I can get married wherever I want.' So now this wedding has made it into my subconscious."
Local store owner Debbie Catalano, however, sees Chelsea's big day as a welcome respite from the sour national mood. "The country has been in such a funk, I really think we need something to lift our spirits again," she told The Daily Beast. "We're having fun!"