Will You Marry Me?

While most men ask women to marry them in simple, romantic ways--say, on bended knee or during a candlelight dinner--some go to dramatic lengths to entice her to say yes.

By: Sherri Dalphonse

We asked readers to send in engagement tales. Many involved limousines, surprise trips to tropical islands, beds covered with rose petals, re-creations of first dates, and the Jefferson Memorial --apparently a very romantic monument.

Here are some of the more creative proposals--all of which made women swoon and make life harder for other men. You'll find more engagement stories on our Web site, www.washingtonian.com.

NEARLY SUNK

Richard Marshall and Jennifer Stone were heading to Grand Bahama Island for a vacation in December 1999, and Rich decided it was there that he would propose.

He concocted a scheme to slip a message in a bottle and plant the bottle where Jenny would find it. He wrote a poem in which the first letter in each line spelled out "Jenny will you marry me? Rich." Then he printed the poem on parchment paper.

On the island, they went for a hike in a national park where they could explore limestone caves. When they reached the first cave, Rich went down the spiral staircase. The sun was streaming through the entrance, reflecting in a lagoon. He realized it was the perfect spot. So while Jenny was on a wooden walkway on one side of the cave, he placed the bottle among the rocks along the water's edge.

When Jenny wandered over, Rich pointed out the bottle. "She said it was just litter," he recalls. "When I climbed down to get it, she told me to leave it there."

He "noticed" the note, extracted it, and read the poem aloud. "She said, 'That's nice. Now put it back,' " Rich remembers. "I was practically shoving the paper in her face trying to get her to look more closely at it. I read the last four lines: 'Read the first/Initial in line/Can I/ Hope you'll be mine?' "

As Jenny began to read the first letters in each line, Rich was too anxious. "So I got down on my knee, held out the ring, and sputtered, 'Be my wife.' "

Jenny finally got the message.

Rich and Jenny are to be married on March 10.

 ARTFUL PLANNING

Eric Lemer's proposal to his Fiancee, Sabrina Golfman, was a work of art.

Eric told Sabrina that there was to be a party honoring his grandmother on November 30 at the Corcoran Gallery of Art. He even printed fake invitations.

When the day arrived, Eric suggested they go to the museum early, to see an Andy Warhol exhibit. The two had just bought a signed lithograph of Warhol's Campbell's soup can.

At the end of the exhibit, Eric ducked around a corner and motioned for Sabrina to follow. There, on the wall, was a three-by-three-foot photograph of them standing in front of their Warhol print. Under the photo was a romantic tableau: a round table with another picture of them, a candle, and a dozen red roses.

Eric had been carrying his briefcase. He reached into it.

"Sabrina said, 'What's going on here?' " Eric recalls. "I pulled out this Andy Warhol book we had bought. That morning, my mother had gone to a hardware store and had had them cut out an area for the ring box. So I told Sabrina to open the book, and there's the ring box.

"I got down on my knees to propose," Eric says. "She's down on her knees, too. We're both crying."

How did Eric get the Corcoran to go along? "I talked to Kathryn Keane, in special events, and she said, 'It sounds exciting; let's do it.' It was ten feet of dead space where the exhibit ended--nobody would go back there. And it was a Thursday, so it wasn't crowded."

But they forgot to clue in the security guard, who stopped Eric at the door, insisting he check the briefcase. "I went to the coat check and said, 'Look, I'm about to get engaged here in 20 minutes, and the ring is in the bag. I need the bag!' "

When everything was out of the bag, Eric told Sabrina that his grandmother's party was really at an aunt and uncle's apartment at Washington Harbour. When they arrived, Sabrina opened the door to see her mother, sister, and best friend, who had all flown in from Montréal, and about 20 other friends and relatives. The cocktail party was in honor of the engaged couple.

Eric and Sabrina are to be married in September. >

THE ENVELOPE, PLEASE

Russell Wodiska and Joan Urbaniak met while working together, and despite their best efforts to suppress the attraction, flirted with one another.

After the two had worked on a project together, Joan e-mailed Russ and asked him what he was doing that weekend. "I said, 'I have two plane tickets to Boston, and I've made dinner reservations,' " Joan recalls. "It was the boldest thing I'd ever done."

For that first date in November 1997, the couple flew first-class to Boston, where they explored the city, ate a memorable Italian meal at Davio's, and stayed at the luxurious Sheraton Boston, where Joan had booked two rooms.

When it came time to propose some two years later, Russ decided to re-create that first date. But how to get Joan to Boston?

On the morning of February 4, 2000, he went by Joan's office in Alexandria before she arrived. With the help of one of her colleagues, Russ left four envelopes in Joan's office. E-mails would later direct her to each of the hidden envelopes, which contained various messages.

Russ then rushed back to their Arlington apartment, where he packed clothes and toiletries for both of them--including a tuxedo and an evening dress--then hopped a shuttle to Boston.

Meanwhile, Joan began opening the envelopes. The first was a love letter with a suggestion of more to come; meanwhile, an e-mail told her to leave her office at 2:30 sharp. (Russ had cleared this with her boss.) The second letter told her she was flying to Boston. The third instructed her to check in at the Sheraton. The fourth included the menu at Davio's.

At 2:30, a limo pulled up in front of Joan's office. At the airport, a ticket was waiting.

In Boston, Russ checked into the hotel, laid out Joan's clothes, and confirmed the limo he had arranged to pick her up at Logan Airport. At a florist, he bought calla lilies, Joan's favorite. Then he disappeared, so she would have the room to herself to get ready.

At 8:30, Joan arrived at the restaurant.

"It was the most surreal feeling when I was stepping out of the car, because my life was about to change," Joan says. The reservation was under Joan Wodiska, "and that's when I lost it. Tears were rolling down my face. I walked over to the table, and there was Russ in his tuxedo."

Russ, recalls Joan, said, " 'We have a lot of important things to discuss. Do you want to talk about them now or after dinner?' I'm thinking, 'Well, you flew me all the way to Boston, now would be a good time.' He got down on his knee, whipped out a calla lily, and the ring was on the stem. All the ladies in the restaurant started clapping."

Russ and Joan were married on January 6.

NO STONE UNTURNED

On Thanksgiving Day 1997, Simon Dixon suggested to his girlfriend, Ericka Koed, that they go for a hike. Simon remembered an abandoned gold mine off a trail near the Old Angler's Inn, in Maryland, and he wanted to find it again.

After a few hours of walking through the brisk autumn air, leaves crackling underfoot, Simon spotted some ramshackle buildings--the old mine. He suggested they leave the main trail and go explore. Moments after veering off the path, he tripped and fell.

A piece of curved black metal was sticking out of the ground. Simon dug it up. When he shook the cylinder, it rattled. Something was inside. One end unscrewed, and he fished out the contents--two Civil War-era bullets and a folded piece of paper.

The paper turned out to be a yellowed, crinkled map. It said: "Follow this map at your pleasure, and you will find bejeweled treasure." Ericka and Simon heeded all of the map's instructions--clever lines of verse such as "Place your back against the tree, turn to the right and come find me."

The directions eventually led to an old V-shaped tree. The last line said: "Hearts and minds and lives entwined, now the future's yours to find, on the stone under the heart, now together and ne'er apart."

"I said to her, 'Maybe we're looking for a stone of some sort. You go one way around the tree and I'll go around the other way,' " Simon recalls. They brushed away leaves, looking for an unusual rock. At the base of the tree, Ericka noticed a weathered, flat stone embedded in the soil.

"See what's under it," Simon urged. She got her fingers under the edge and flipped it. On the other side was an engraved heart and the words, "Ericka, will you marry me?"

Ericka jumped up, threw her arms around him, and said yes. Simon's planning had paid off: He had had the map drawn and aged by calligrapher Rose Folsom; the rock was the handiwork of the late Vincent Palumbo, master stone carver at the Washington National Cathedral. One part Simon hadn't thought through: When he planted the rock, the day before, he had driven close to the site via a road on the other side of the mine. Now he had to hike the 30-pound rock four miles through the woods, back to the car.

Simon and Ericka were married on June 28, 1998. The map hangs, framed, in the living room of their condo, and the stone lies on the floor under the map. They hope to build the stone into a future home.

PERFECT TIMING

The night before getting engaged, while Cheri Wallace slept, her then-boyfriend, Michael Meadows, set the clocks ahead an hour.

At 5 AM--the clocks said 6--Cheri's alarm went off. Michael suggested they go out for breakfast before work.

When they walked outside, a limo was waiting. Michael explained that when his restaurant-management company had gone public, he got use of a limo to escort clients. He had asked to borrow it that morning.

"I really thought nothing of it and just enjoyed the ride," Cheri now says. "He was always surprising me with little things."

From the couple's apartment in Largo, the limo drove to the Jefferson Memorial, where Cheri was surprised to see a table for two dressed with linen and silver and a catered breakfast of her favorites: French toast, sausage links, fruit, Danish, juice, and hot coffee. The caterer stood at the ready, while a CD player provided jazzy background music.

"At this point, I know something is up and can't eat a bite because my stomach is turning flips," Cheri says. By the Tidal Basin, Michael proposed.

"Well, I'm engaged and happy and think it is all over," Cheri recalls. "We are driving to my place of work and I doze off--getting up at 5 AM and the excitement had taken a toll." When she woke, she realized they were not in DC anymore. In fact, the limo was pulling into BWI Airport.

Michael had packed their bags and arranged for time off for a trip to Puerto Rico. That was April 1995, and Cheri and Michael were married on September 28, 1996.

 EVERYONE WINS AT THE GAME OF LIFE

Angela Charland And Jason Cramer had each done some Christmas shopping one day this past December, then met for dinner at the Melting Pot in Reston.

Jason mentioned that he had gone to Toys 'R' Us in search of a gift and while there had bought himself the game of Life. It was a game they had both loved to play at college.

After dinner, the two decided to go home and break open the game. On Jason's second turn, he reached the point where a player must get married. Angela turned around to get Jason the little pink peg-woman to put in his car game piece. When she turned back, Jason was holding a white ring box and reaching for her hand.

"I suddenly realize what's happening," Angela says. "Jason takes my hand, and starts telling me how much he loves me and wants to spend the rest of his life with me, as he slips this gorgeous ring on my finger. Of course, I said yes!"

Angela and Jason are to be married on October 14.

WILD RID

When John Harper's mother owned The Kent Manor Inn, a restaurant on the Eastern Shore, John dined there often with his then-girlfriend, Ann McGarity. Another familiar face at the restaurant was Mike, a helicopter pilot who flew "fly and dine" runs for Washington and Annapolis clients. One night in October 1992, Mike strolled into the restaurant and asked if anyone wanted a free ride, since he was between charters. Ann jumped at the chance. "It was not unusual for him to walk in and say, 'Would anyone like to go for a ride?' " recalls John.

John and Ann lifted off, and while the helicopter was over the Severn River and the US Naval Academy, John started fishing in his pocket. He mumbled something about needing to get out money to tip the pilot. John had rolled up a $50 bill and slipped it through the ring. When he pulled out the $50, that's all Ann could see.

Actually, even that was hard for Ann to pick out. The lights were off in the cabin. As John asked her to marry him and presented the ring, she didn't believe him.

"It was so dark, she couldn't see the ring," John says. "She said, 'You wish you were good enough to have planned to get engaged in a helicopter.' "

After the pilot switched on the lights, she believed. But John was good enough to plan more of a surprise. While the couple flew around for half an hour, drinking Champagne, 60 friends and relatives assembled below for a party.

John and Ann Harper were married on September 11, 1993.

TRUE BLUE

AMY THOMAS LOVED THREE THINGS in life: Her dog, Molly, a pound mutt. University of North Carolina basketball. And her boyfriend, Glenn Petty. Not necessarily in that order.

So when Glenn popped the question in December 1999, he worked into the proposal the Carolina Tar Heels, Molly, and his dog, Poe, a Cardigan corgi.

To Molly's collar he tied a little blue note that said: "Look on. See Poe's collar." On Poe's collar was the end of the clue: "The Tar Heel flag. See Molly's collar."

Unfortunately, Amy reversed the notes. "I thought, what in the world is he doing?" she says. She finally pieced together the two notes, then got up off the living-room sofa and onto her crutches--she had just had a bone graft on her ankle--to go look at the Carolina flag hanging outside Glenn's Virginia house.

Glenn had tied an emerald-cut engagement ring to the bottom of the flag along with this note: "Would you, a true-blue Tar Heel, marry me, a common man from the Commonwealth?"