After a theft, a stranger offered the gown off her back

Strolling out of a Seattle hair salon four hours before her February 2000 nuptials, Amy Orr headed for her car—only to find it had disappeared. “It took me a couple of minutes to realize the car—and everything in it—was gone,” says Orr, 28. The purloined Camry contained her custom-made wedding dress, shoes, a bridesmaid’s dress, wedding rings and marriage license.

Stumbling into a neighborhood restaurant to call her groom, Orr walked in on the wedding reception of Ray and Emily Lewandowski. Emily, a total stranger, heard Orr’s story and offered up her own wedding dress. “It was the happiest day of my life,” says Emily, 30, who had already changed out of the gown and into a suit, “and I knew I had the power to help this woman.” Emily’s frock fit Amy perfectly. Pals hustled to replace most of the other items, and Amy’s wedding to salon owner Sean, 33, took place as scheduled. Since returning the gown, the Orrs have stayed in touch with the Lewandowskis. “I consider them friends,” says Amy, “the kind of friends we will probably be telling our children and grandchildren about.”

Lightning put the lights out, but guests lit up the party

What are the odds? Both Reid and Marshall Thompson’s parents have the same names (hers are Edward and Lynn, his are Edward and Lynne) and both grew up on streets named Selma (she in Missouri, he in Virginia). As likely, perhaps, as getting struck by lightning? They met in Colorado and planned, says bride Reid, 32, a real estate broker, an “outdoor, mountain wedding” at a 100-year-old castle in Redstone. Last September’s ceremony went off perfectly, but the reception was caught in a downpour. The party moved indoors, but then lightning hit a nearby power pole and “the transformer exploded in a shower of green fireworks,” says Reid. The band went acoustic, and the guests dined by candlelight. A few got into the spirit by wearing tablecloths and “haunting” the party. At 1:30 a.m. the lights suddenly came back on. Recalls Marshall, 32: “Everyone yelled, ‘Turn them off!’ It turned out better than we could have imagined.”

A too-small ring put the squeeze on her big day

Some brides are dead-set on squeezing into snug dresses; Buffy Williams was determined to jam on her too-tight ring. And so it was that at the couple’s 1999 reception near Mount Olive Baptist Church in Plant City, Fla., “I noticed that my finger was getting numb,” says Buffy, 33, a high school teacher. “It was swollen and turning purple.” Alarmed, her groom Michael, 34, an auditor at an energy-trading firm, and others tried to get the ring off using ice. And butter. And Vaseline. Says Buffy: “It didn’t budge.”

Panicked, the newlyweds ditched their reception and headed for the store where they’d ordered the ring. A jewelry-cutting machine sliced the $700 gold band from Buffy’s finger, which had ballooned to twice its usual size. By the time they returned, confused guests had already departed and the groom’s cake was gone. On the other hand, things could have been worse. Notes Michael: “Thank God we saved the finger.”

Sailing to paradise, the groom was nearly lost at sea

Last July, as he boarded his future father-in-law’s 30-ft. powerboat, Bill Murray, 26, and three of his groomsmen jokingly sang the Gilligan’s Island theme. Some joke. Murray, a food service manager, was headed from Lake Worth, Fla., to the Bahamas, where he would wed Jennifer Cooper, 28, a paralegal. (Cooper was flying in later that week.) But the seven-hour planned trip became a nightmare when, in a freak storm, the boat’s two engines and radio all went dead. “Bill is punctual to a fault,” says Jennifer of her husband, who was due in at 4 p.m. Sunday. “By midnight I’d heard nothing. My chest felt like it would collapse.” After 40 hours of failed searches, a cargo ship heard the boat’s SOS horn Monday night, and the men were rescued. Undaunted, the couple wed barefoot on the beach on Saturday. “We made the mistake of planning a wedding no one would forget,” says Bill. “Boy, was that ever true.”

It was a not so nice day for a white wedding

For her big day, “I wanted white, like a winter wonderland,” says Kathy Schneider Humbert, 35. Careful what you wish for. Four days before marrying Jeffrey Humbert, 40, a construction manager, in Charlotte, N.C., last December, a huge ice storm wiped out power lines in the region. “The city was dark,” says Kathy, a Realtor. Out-of-town guests found their hotel rooms had been given to locals forced out of their homes. The rehearsal was lit by floodlight in the freezing stone church. “You could see our breath,” says Kathy, “but nothing else.” The next day the couple frantically relocated to another church, and the baker iced the $1,000 cake by melting chocolate in a gas station’s microwave. Kathy spent much of the day in tears. But when she came up the aisle, “she was beautiful,” says Jeffrey. “It was all I could do not to cry, because I knew everything was going to be okay.”

Allison Adato and Michelle Tauber

Vickie Bane in Denver, Mary Boone in Seattle, Walter Dawkins and Natasha Stoynoff in N.Y.C., Julie Jordan in L.A., Linda Marx in North Palm Beach and Jill Westfall in Atlanta

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