‘For better or worse’
Most of the Lehigh Valley was intently watching the news and social media July 12 after word spread that a man climbed the blast furnaces at SteelStacks in Bethlehem and was refusing to come down. Emergency personnel were on the scene attempting to talk the man down. He stayed up on the structure for approximately 21 hours and came down just before 4:30 p.m. July 13, ending the standoff without major incident.
Devin Hallquist and Michael Steele had another reason to pay attention to the ordeal. They were scheduled to be married July 13 at the ArtsQuest Center at SteelStacks. All of the other events to happen on the campus, including Sangriafest, a concert and Cars and Coffee, were canceled. However, Hallquist and Steele’s wedding was permitted to go on – with some minor changes.
Hallquist grew up in Catasauqua and graduated from Catasauqua High School. She works as a special education teacher and was recently hired at Northampton Area MS.
Steele grew up in Slatington and graduated from Northern Lehigh HS. He works at his family business, Mr. Bill’s Poultry, in the Allentown Farmers Market. The couple lives in Allentown.
According to Hallquist, who is in the process of changing her last name to Steele, they had their wedding rehearsal 5:30 p.m. July 12 at ArtsQuest and went to ZEST Bar and Grille after for the rehearsal dinner. It was during dinner that they heard about the incident. She said Steele received a text message from their ArtsQuest wedding coordinator 6 a.m. July 13. This message informed them the man was still up there and all events were canceled – except for their wedding.
“We were really excited for our wedding day and just ready to be married,” Hallquist said. “We continued with our day and hoped that the situation would be resolved safely.”
She noted the employees at ArtsQuest kept in contact with them all day to maintain communication and inform them of the security changes. They were told the first responders did not want to give the man, later identified as Jonathan David Wallace, of Mertztown, an audience, so they and their guests had to enter the ArtsQuest building through a service entrance behind the building that could not be seen from the blast furnaces.
They alerted their guests the event was still happening. Hallquist noted many assumed it was canceled, like the other ArtsQuest events, so they used social media sites to spread the word. Upon arriving, the guests simply informed security personnel they were there for the wedding and were shown the way. There were 130 guests in attendance.
The Hallquist/Steele wedding ceremony was scheduled 3 p.m. in the Musikfest Cafe on the third floor, followed by a cocktail hour and reception in the Blast Furnace Room on the second floor. Hallquist noted the only real changes were the modified entrance, drawn shades in the rooms and the inability to take photos outside at the stacks until after the situation was resolved.
“The staff at ArtsQuest is amazing and handled everything,” Hallquist said.
She said they had been planning their wedding for six months and the staff at ArtsQuest helped make the event continue smoothly despite the emergency situation happening outside.
Hallquist noted that even though the shades were down, they could still see people moving around outside. She mentioned Wallace walked down one level during the vows then back up to the top.
“It was frightening for our guests to witness,” she said.
Looking back on the day, Hallquist said she is just thankful everything was resolved peacefully. She said she feels for the man, who was in crisis enough to risk climbing the stacks. After coming down, Wallace was sent to St. Luke’s Hospital, Fountain Hill, for treatment. He has since been charged with risking a catastrophe, reckless endangerment and defiant trespass, according to online court records.
“It is weird having the best day of your life when someone else is having the worst day of theirs,” Hallquist said.
She was thankful to the emergency crews and law enforcement personnel, who resolved the situation safely and allowed them to have their wedding.
“I think everyone prepares for a disaster to happen on their wedding day,” Hallquist said. “Typically, it is that the flowers aren’t perfect or people are running late. So, I was prepared for something to happen, but never would have imagined this. Mike and I were both calm and knew things were out of our control.”