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When a Hurricane Approached, a World War II Bunker Saved The Day

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The moment it became clear that Hurricane Lee was headed for the coast of Maine this month, over a year’s worth of wedding planning went out the window for Jackie Anne Brew and Robert James Hayes.

The setting for their wedding was Cushing’s Island, a privately owned 266-acre island off the coast of Portland. Ms. Brew, 31, had grown up visiting her family’s summer home on the island every year. Mr. Hayes, 29, began coming with her in 2018.

On the Monday before the backyard wedding on Sept. 16, a forecast for dangerous wind and rain conditions dropped. The next day, all three boat companies that would have ferried over the guests and vendors canceled all of the bookings. The live band as well as the hair and makeup team also bailed.

But Ms. Brew and Mr. Hayes didn’t turn back to port. They were “not willing to accept the wedding might not happen,” she said. “We started going into problem-solving mode.”

In 2017, the two met in San Francisco while working in different departments at an office for Shell, the global energy and petrochemical company. They started out as friends who bonded as “nerd engineers,” Mr. Hayes said. He earned a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from Pennsylvania State University, and she received a bachelor’s in chemical engineering from M.I.T. They now both live in Lower Manhattan and work for business consulting firms: Mr. Hayes is an associate at McKinsey & Company, and Ms. Brew is a senior manager at ENGIE Impact.

While their chemistry was instantaneous, Ms. Brew was not looking to jump into a relationship at the time. But Mr. Hayes still made up excuses to visit her cubicle, asking work-related questions that he already knew the answers to.

For several months, they hung out with groups of friends, who could all tell the two were destined to date. A few days before they were both slated to attend SantaCon San Francisco, Ms. Brew brought up her “secret” feelings for Mr. Hayes with her roommate.

“Oh my gosh, I think I like Robert,” Ms. Brew recalled saying. “And she was like, ‘Well, duh.’” And although it wasn’t the most intimate setting, Ms. Brew and Mr. Hayes shared their first kiss at a SantaCon party.

The two began dating and eventually wanted to move back to the East Coast — Ms. Brew is from New Hampshire, and Mr. Hayes is from New Jersey. In 2019, she moved to New York, and their relationship became long distance. A year later, Mr. Hayes followed her to the city, and they moved in together in May 2021.

By early 2022, Mr. Hayes knew he wanted to propose on Cushing’s Island. After telling Ms. Brew that he couldn’t be with her on the island for Memorial Day weekend, he arrived later in secret for a surprise proposal. Her family members took her on a walk to a gazebo under the pretense of a photo shoot. Mr. Hayes had been picked up from a water taxi by Ms. Brew’s brother, Thomas, and was already hiding at the gazebo.

When Ms. Brew and the family arrived, Mr. Hayes sprung up and popped the question in front of everyone.

[Click here to binge read this week’s featured couples.]

As the hurricane approached, the tight-knit community on the island pitched in to help the couple find a new location for the ceremony and reception, one that was more protected from the elements. The result was an abandoned bunker last used by the U.S. Army in World War II.

In the 1880s, the island’s owner at the time, Francis Cushing, commissioned Frederick Law Olmsted — known for designing Central Park — to develop a residential layout and a summer resort for the island. Then in the late 19th century, the Army also bought property on the island and constructed Fort Levett.

The bunker is a short walk from Ms. Brew’s family house and has a large opening with a view of forest greenery. It could easily protect against heavy winds and was free of charge. After the couple secured permission to use it from the island’s year-round caretaker, they spent days power-washing decades’ worth of caked dirt out of it.

The islanders contributed many elements: flowers from their gardens, yellow Chinese lanterns, a speaker system as well as housing for a catering team and a photographer.

The governor of Maine declared a state of emergency, but there was no rain — just blustery winds — on Sept. 16. The ceremony was officiated in front of 115 guests by Ms. Brew’s friend Ella Koeze, a reporter at The New York Times who was ordained by the Universal Life Church.

At one point late in the night, Mr. Hayes looked into the bunker from afar. “I just saw this ball of light emanate, coming out of the bunker, and just everybody having a great time partying in this old World War II bunker,” he recalled. “To see everybody that helped out throughout the whole weekend and the setup, seeing them able to relax and party, that was a huge highlight for me.”

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