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Surprise wedding proposal with an unexpected crowd is where the heart is


ALEXANDRIA BAY — The video shows a young girl being escorted to the overlook at Heart Island. She has only a few seconds to take in the scenery before rock music blares out of two well-hidden, high-powered speakers, jarring her and the bucolic summer scene.

From out of the shadows and shrubbery of Boldt Castle, a crowd of about 40 people come dancing down a hill directly at her.

They sing along and clap hands to the music:

“See first of all

I know these so-called playas wouldn’t tell you this

But I’m gonna be real and say what’s heart...

Didn’t you know I loved you from the start?”

The young woman seems confused at first.

“It kind of felt like I was dreaming because I’ve had dreams like that before,” she said.

But the woman, Ciara T. Shaw, knew the song. She had talked about it with her boyfriend. It was then that she realized what this was all about.

“For years, when we listened to that song, we joked around, saying, ‘It would be cool for a proposal.’”

The song is “Let’s Get Married” by Jagged Edge and the creator of this marriage proposal —which was recorded and is piling up the hits on YouTube — was her boyfriend, Joseph Gilchrist.

It took him months to plan the video.

“I realized I had the perfect, qualified friends for the job,” he said.

Today, on Valentine’s Day, Mr. Gilchrist, 22, will leave for a two-week church mission trip to China. Miss Shaw turns 19 on Saturday. When they celebrated her birthday and Valentine’s Day earlier this week, they had lots to talk about, such as their scheduled June 22 wedding at Trinity Episcopal Church on Sherman Street; exactly 16 years to the month when they first met.

But the wedding proposal will always be a topic of conversation for the couple and others. Several tourists stopped to take photos of the performance.

“What Joe Gilchrist did with his fiancee is all keeping with our story,” said Shane K. Sanford, director of Boldt facilities and spokesman for the Thousand Islands Bridge Authority.

The castle’s story, well known to north country residents, began in 1900 at the bidding of millionaire hotel magnate George C. Boldt as a tribute to his wife, Louise. Boldt Castle, on Heart Island, was to be their summer dream home on the St. Lawrence River. However, Mrs. Boldt died months before the castle could be completed. Mr. Boldt was inconsolable and immediately stopped construction on the island, leaving the property vacant for more than 70 years.

Mr. Gilchrist and Miss Shaw’s relationship was built beginning on Depauville Road, also called Eliza Street, in Depauville. Miss Shaw was 3 when Mr. Gilchrist moved to the neighborhood in 1997 when he was 7 years old. He came from Detroit when his father, the Rev. Kirk S. Gilchrist, was hired to be pastor at New Life Christian Church, Depauville. That church has since moved to Watertown’s Stateway Plaza. Kirk Gilchrist is senior pastor at the church and Joseph Gilchrist is the church’s youth pastor. Kirk is married to Carolyn Gilchrist.

Miss Shaw is the daughter of New Life members James and Candy Shaw.

Miss Shaw and Mr. Gilchrist started dating when she turned 17, after Mr. Gilchrist returned from a 10-month mission trip to China hosted by the Rochester-based missions organization Campus Target — the same organization hosting his current trip to China.

Miss Shaw is a June graduate of Thousand Islands Central School. Mr. Gilchrist attended Faith Fellowship Christian School for most of his high school years, graduating in 2007.

The pair had talked about marriage but Miss Shaw thought it would be a couple of years down the road.

“I never thought our parents would agree to it this soon,” Miss Shaw said. She attends Jefferson Community College where she is pursuing a liberal arts degree. She hopes to transfer to a nursing program after graduating.

From the onset, Mr. Gilchrist wanted to make his proposal special. He favored a St. Lawrence River theme. His brother, Ben, showed him popular online videos of proposals.

“At first, I thought, ‘That’s a lot of work. I can’t do that,’” Mr. Gilchrist said. “But the more I thought of it the more I realized I had guys like Christopher around me.”

Christopher Hopper is associate pastor at New Life Christian Church and an accomplished musician, producer and worship leader with 11 music albums. He’s an executive producer for Sprig Records, based at the church.

Mr. Hopper recruited several couples who attend the church for the video. Choreographer Tabitha Rodgers of Watertown volunteered her services. Mr. Hopper’s father, Peter Hopper, a recording engineer, volunteered his talents for the audio. The two camera operators were Brendon Campbell and Zachary Yelle — members of 33 Live — New Life’s teen and college ministry.

To get the moves right, a rehearsal was held in the lobby of New Life church before the day of the proposal, which was on Aug. 24. Mr. Hopper and others made a few trips to Heart Island to scout out locations and settled on the overlook.

“It was the largest flat piece of land we could find,” Mr. Hopper said. “And we needed a place to hide everybody. That was key.”

The crew arrived on Heart Island for final runthroughs approximately 2˝ hours before Miss Shaw’s arrival.

Getting Miss Shaw on the island took a little cajoling.

“I was hanging out with his family — his mom and his dad and his (Joseph’s) sister,” Miss Shaw said. “We were kind of just driving around on the river.”

It was suggested they head to Heart Island. Mr. Gilchrist piloted the small party over to the island in his boat and to the pre-arranged site of the ambush video.

“It’s been a great video to have,” Mr. Gilchrist said. “The footage is perfect because my whole memory of the moment isn’t what the video is. It was being focused on each other and getting lost in the moment.”

There is a solo rap routine in the “Let’s Get Married” song. Mr. Gilchrist nailed it in rehearsals and was looking forward to walking up to Miss Shaw and boldly showing her his moves.

“I did that so much better in the practice videos,” he said. “When I saw her crying and the way she was, it melted me. I was done.”

Now, in their wedding planning, Mr. Gilchrist said he may have the better role.

“I’ve been told the guy’s job is the proposal and the girl takes over from there,” he said, laughing. “I feel like the ball is in her court.”

If Heart Island is the future destination for similar courtings, Mr. Sanford said he would like advance warning. He had none for the Gilchrist/Shaw proposal video and he wasn’t there to witness it.

He said the video crew was lucky because there was nothing else scheduled at the overlook site that day. He said Heart Island hosts between 55 and 70 weddings a year, with 50 already scheduled for this year.

“We’re taking bookings for 2014,” he said.

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The video can be seen on YouTube by typing in “Gilchrist/Shaw proposal” or by clicking on this link:

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