I Got Married at the Society Hill Sheraton

Happy memories mix with a viral video.

In the past couple of years, a significant number of local crime stories here in Philly have found themselves in the national news, from various Phillies fan incidents to last summer’s flash mobs to the saga of that lady in Upper Darby last week who found a very creative way of transporting vials of crack cocaine.

The latest one is the post-wedding brawl last weekend at the Sheraton Society Hill that led to multiple arrests and even the death of one guest. According to multiple media reports, the fight involved parties from two different weddings, and at one point had as many as 100 participants. Not much is known about the origin of the dispute, although media accounts are nearly unanimous in describing the events as “alcohol-fueled.”

The deceased man was the uncle of one of the brides, who had ducked out onto the street during the fracas and then reportedly suffered a heart attack. A cell phone video of the incident, posted to YouTube by a 15-year-old hotel guest, garnered close to a million pageviews in the first few days.


But the incident hit especially home for me—because five and a half years ago, my wife and I were married at the same hotel.

Our wedding and reception were both on the premises; the photograph of my wife and I seeing each other for the first time on our wedding day was taken right in the now-infamous lobby, just steps away from the spot where the policeman is swinging his baton in the footage above.

I must say it was surreal enough, watching a viral video pop up in the Facebook feed of friend after friend throughout the early part of this week, featuring brawling guests, baton-twirling cops, and someone asking “did they just deck the bride?” But even weirder for me was that this took place in a hotel lobby instantly recognizable as the site of one of my family’s most joyous occasions.

Our wedding had no fisticuffs, at least none that made the local or national news. There was another wedding party at the hotel the same day as ours, but all I remember is going up to the groom and shaking his hand.

When you get married at a venue in the city where you live, but it’s not a place of worship or somewhere else you go to regularly, you develop a certain kinship with the place. I always get a warm feeling when I stop into the Sheraton, which has been impressively remodeled in the last five years.

In my capacity as a film critic, I attend movie screenings at the nearby Ritz theaters on a nearly weekly basis, and I’ve occasionally stopped into the hotel for a post-flick drink or bathroom break. Friends and family members of mine have stayed there on visits to the city.

Throughout the week, the incident grew far beyond Philly, even getting coverage on NBC Nightly News—although not, interestingly, on the Drudge Report; that site doesn’t appear so interested in covering urban brawls when they’re instigated by white people. Meanwhile, 97.5 radio host Tony Bruno wrote on Twitter that the donnybrook is “reason 1 why I am anti-marriage or don’t even go to weddings”—this from a guy who’s spoken extensively about his own brutal divorce.

I can understand why the incident got so much attention; it’s not every day that a major melee centered around a wedding at a nice hotel gets caught on tape. Similar incidents at that time of night on a Saturday are considerably less rare—just a few blocks away.

My sympathies are with the family of the gentleman who passed away, as well as with the people who got married and had to have this event sully their special day.

But I also feel for the staff at the hotel. The people who work there, especially the employees who specifically handle weddings, do a difficult job in a uniformly professional manner, and it would be extremely unfair if this incident reflected poorly on any of them or the venue itself.