Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Gov. Claude Kirk set bar for Florida nuptial drama in 1967

TALLAHASSEE — When it comes to wedding stories, no governor is likely to top former Florida Gov. Claude R. Kirk Jr.

Days before his Inaugural Ball in January 1967, Kirk announced that a mystery woman would be attending and that he would introduce her to the world as his beloved. Reports are that at least three recent flames of the new governor arrived that night, dressed to kill, expecting to be revealed as The One.

Instead, Kirk appeared with a tall, blond, German-born Brazilian beauty at his side. He introduced the woman who spoke with a slight foreign accent only as "Madam X,'' starting a near riot and all sorts of speculation among reporters and his fellow politicians.

It was classic Claude Kirk. He loved to stir things up and obviously enjoyed the spotlight as he walked through the crowd with a beautiful, mysterious woman.

At the ball, Kirk and Madam X danced to Kirk's favorite song, I Left my Heart in San Francisco.

Two days later Kirk, 41, announced plans to marry Erika Mattfeld, 32, on Feb. 18. The event was at the posh Breakers Hotel in Palm Beach. The ceremony was conducted amid heavy security because several threats had been made on the governor's life. (Some suspected the legislators.)

News reports indicate that reporters outnumbered guests.

The most unusual guest was fellow Republican Richard Nixon, then a former vice president who had run for president and lost. Nixon declined to kiss the bride at the request of photographers, but she reached up and gave him a kiss.

Kirk, now 82, said Wednesday from his home in Palm Beach that Nixon had not been invited and "kind of crashed the party.'' At the time Kirk was hoping to run in 1968 as Nixon's vice president, but that was not to be.

"Nixon forgot all the good times we had together and picked Spiro Agnew,'' Kirk recalled this week. "Had he picked me, he would have never been forced to leave the White House.''

Kirk had been previously married twice to the same woman and had four children. His new bride had also been married before to a Brazilian playboy and had a 4-year-old daughter.

The Kirks had two additional children while he was governor, but never managed to charm old Tallahassee residents who did not warm to a first lady with a German accent.

"In those days a Republican wasn't welcome in Tallahassee politically or socially. I had to put flags on my car to let everyone know I was in town,'' Kirk recalled. "And Erika confronted the old Democratic biddies who were hostile. She did a great job, and we were the most productive public servants in history — we had two children on company time, paid for by the state.''

The Kirks are still together, but he said he has no advice on "how to get married and stay married."

Staff researcher Mary Mellstrom contributed to this report. Information for this story came from the Florida Handbook, 1969-70 and St. Petersburg Times files.

Gov. Claude Kirk set bar for Florida nuptial drama in 1967 12/11/08 [Last modified: Sunday, December 14, 2008 1:32pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Kriseman invites Steph Curry to St. Pete on Twitter


    Mayor Rick Kriseman is no stranger to tweaking President Donald Trump on social media.

    Mayor Rick Kriseman took to Twitter Saturday evening to wade into President Donald Trump's latest social media scuffle
  2. Death toll, humanitarian crisis grow in Puerto Rico


    SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — A humanitarian crisis grew Saturday in Puerto Rico as towns were left without fresh water, fuel, power or phone service following Hurricane Maria's devastating passage across the island.

    Crew members assess electrical lines in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria on Friday in Puerto Rico. Mobile communications systems are being flown in but “it’s going to take a while.”
  3. N. Korea says strike against U.S. mainland is 'inevitable'


    North Korea's foreign minister warned Saturday that a strike against the U.S. mainland is "inevitable" because President Donald Trump mocked leader Kim Jong Un with the belittling nickname "little rocketman."

  4. All-eyes photo gallery: Florida State Seminoles loss to the N.C. State Wolfpack


    View a gallery of images from the Florida State Seminoles 27-21 loss to the N.C. State Wolfpack Saturday in Tallahassee. The Seminoles will face Wake Forest on Saturday, Sept. 30 in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.

    Florida State Seminoles fans sing the fight song during the Florida State Seminoles game against the North Carolina State Wolfpack on September 23, 2017, at Doak Campbell Stadium in Tallahassee, Fla.  At the half, North Carolina State Wolfpack 17, Florida State Seminoles 10.
  5. Helicopter, small aircraft collide at Clearwater Air Park


    CLEARWATER — Two people suffered minor injuries after a helicopter and a small aircraft collided late Saturday afternoon at Clearwater Air Park, 1000 N Hercules Ave.

    Clearwater Fire Department emergency personal douse a plane with fire retardant after the plane crashed into a helicopter at Clearwater Air Park 1000 N Hercules Ave. Saturday, Sept. 23, 2017. According to Clearwater Fire two people sustained minor injuries. [Photo by Clearwater Fire Department]