The Real Story Behind JFK Jr. And Carolyn Bessette's Secret Wedding

The United States does not have any official royalty. Well, that is until Prince Harry and Meghan Markle moved to California. Long before that couple made their move, however, the Kennedy family was pretty much the closest thing that America had to a royal family. The prestigious family was a political powerhouse, and former First Lady Jackie Kennedy has referred to President John F. Kennedy's time in The White House as "Camelot."

The Kennedys undeniably had star power, and the family fascinated the public, which meant the paparazzi often pursued members of the political dynasty — and one of the most popular targets was John F. Kennedy Jr. He'd grown up around the cameras and seemed to take the interest that people had in his life in stride. Still, on occasion, Kennedy Jr. would don a go-to disguise to escape prying paparazzi eyes

Once Kennedy Jr. started dating Carolyn Bessette in 1994, paparazzi began following and harassing her as well. So it was pretty much a miracle that Kennedy Jr. managed to marry Bessette in 1996 without the world knowing about it. The couple pulled off their intimate, secret wedding on a remote barrier island off the coast of Georgia using a combination of subterfuge and careful planning.

Remote destination helped keep Kennedy-Bessette wedding secret

John F. Kennedy Jr. and Carolyn Bessette tied the knot on Sept. 21, 1996, and managed to keep it out of the press until days later. The ceremony took place on Cumberland Island in the First African Baptist Church, a small one-room church that was founded in 1893. The Kennedys bought out the Greyfield Inn for the weekend; it was where they held the reception and where their guests stayed. Greyfield Inn, the four-star, all-inclusive hotel, is still in operation. It's still the only hotel on Cumberland Island, off the coast of Georgia, and was first built as a private home for the Carnegie family. The remote location played a huge role in keeping the wedding under wraps. Cumberland Island is just 18 miles long, the only way on or off the island is by boat, and it's mostly undeveloped and protected by the National Park Service.

And forget save the dates — guests not involved in the planning only found out they were invited to an event on the island five days before it happened, per The New York Times. They didn't even know it was for the wedding until they arrived. The guest list was narrowed down in part by not inviting any friends or family whom Kennedy Jr. and Bessette weren't 100% sure could be trusted with this secret, via InStyle. Those guests who did make the cut were given Buffalo nickels to carry with them to show security.

Confidentiality agreements and fake itineraries helped ensure secrecy

When the wedding of John F. Kennedy Jr. and Carolyn Bessette was in the planning stages, the organizers wouldn't even discuss preparations via cell phone to help keep things on a need-to-know basis. As a red herring, RoseMarie Terenzio, Kennedy Jr's chief of staff at his magazine, developed a fake itinerary for an Ireland trip for Kennedy Jr. and Bessette on the weekend of their wedding. There were, of course, some people who knew beforehand what would be happening, like the court clerk who helped sort out the marriage license. But she respected Bessette's request to keep quiet. The employees at Greyfield Inn and others helping with the event had to sign confidentiality agreements.

After the highly anticipated wedding went off without any uninvited guests crashing the party, there were some well-earned self-congratulations for having pulled it off. The privacy was definitely a relief for the couple. Liz McComis, who helped with the event, told The New York Times that, "It was nice to see them relax once they realized it was going to be O.K. and that they would not be hounded."

If you want to have your own Kennedy-style wedding, you can get a special use permit through the National Park Service to hold your wedding at the First African Baptist Church. If you want a larger wedding — the church is tiny! — Greyfield Inn can provide food and seating for up to 50 guests for your special day.