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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]
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