When Sarah Altman smiles on her way down the aisle of Heinz Memorial Chapel tonight, the personable, doe-eyed woman will follow in the footsteps of her late maternal grandmother, Jean Richmond Eddy Succop, the first woman wed in Heinz Chapel on Jan. 11, 1946.
Up until that time, for reasons that are unclear, the University of Pittsburgh did not allow weddings at Heinz Chapel, which was completed in 1938.
Jean Richmond Eddy Succop thought she would be married in Shadyside Presbyterian Church, where her family attended services. But her fiance was a Lutheran and the couple could not decide on where to hold their ceremony, said Elizabeth Altman, of Oakland, Mrs. Succop's daughter.
So, the bride-to-be asked her friend, Vira Heinz, if the couple could be married in the nondenominational Heinz Chapel. Ms. Heinz made the request to fellow board members at the University of Pittsburgh, who approved it.
The wedding was a big social event, and local newspapers covered the ceremony with detailed accounts, even describing the uncles and aunts who came from out of town.
The story of the first wedding is news to people who choreograph between 170 to 190 weddings each year at the chapel. That's because the building's archives are sparse until the 1960s, said Ron Klebick, assistant director of the chapel.
"This gives us a starting point," Mr. Klebick said, adding that the first pamphlet with guidelines for Heinz Chapel weddings was published in 1965. Today, weddings at Heinz Chapel are restricted to people affiliated with the University of Pittsburgh -- students, alumni, faculty, staff, boards, etc. and immediate family -- as well as H. J. Heinz Co. employees.
In that first ceremony, Miss Eddy was 21, and her fiance, John Charles Succop, a first lieutenant in the Army Air Force, had returned home from serving as a co-pilot in B-17 bomber missions over Germany. It was a cold day and photos show many women's fur coats draped over pews.
Sarah Altman was looking forward to having her grandmother at tonight's ceremony, but she died Sept. 12 at age 83.
"It's so sad to think she won't be here to celebrate with us," she said, adding that her grandmother had met her fiance, Bryan Bumsted, and his family. "She saw the centerpieces. She was going to wear a silver suit. I feel grateful that the idea of the wedding brought her so much joy."
At the reception for 175 guests, Klondike bars will be served to honor the memory of her grandmother, whose determination to find common sacred ground with her future husband set the stage for countless weddings.
Ms. Altman, a 1995 graduate of The Ellis School who grew up in Shadyside, is an educator living and working in Bermuda. She met her fiance while living earlier in New York City, and they began dating in 2005. They became engaged on March 2 of this year.
At the ceremony, Ms. Altman will wear a 102-year-old Irish lace dress that has adorned five other brides in her family, starting with her great-grandmother in 1905. Her mother wore it last when she walked down the chapel's 90-foot aisle in 1976.
"Everybody who's worn it has had a happy and lasting marriage," she said.
Post-Gazette staff writer Marylynne Pitz may be reached at 412-263-1648 or email@example.com .