For a memorable marriage proposal, “Seize the auspicious moment,” advises the 1903 book Etiquette of Engagement and Marriage, and “strike the responsive chord when the two minds are in harmony. A man who tries to propose when a servant is expected to arrive with a scuttle of coals...is not likely to meet with much favour….The tactful man will know when to speak, and how to turn dull prose into the sweetest rhythm.”
Or...you could just call Visitor Services at the National Air and Space Museum. It doesn’t happen often, but couples have been known to use the museum as a setting for proposals, according to visitor services coordinator Nick Partridge.
One Air Force Major hoped to pop the question under the Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird. “His fianceé-to-be,” says Partridge, “grew up in Okinawa watching SR-71s flying overhead, which inspired her to join the service, which is where she met her future husband.”
The most elaborate proposal took place in the Donald D. Engen Observation Tower. “The suitor sent flowers and photographs of them together ahead of time to the coordinators," says Partridge, “who then placed them in the tower.” The couple arrived precisely when the Museum opened. “If you proceed directly to the tower,” says Partridge, “the odds are that you will not encounter any other visitors on the first elevator trip up. At other times you run the risk of an audience, of course.”
Some folks don't mind an audience. One couple became engaged while sitting inside the Cessna in the How Things Fly gallery. “He was determined to propose to her inside of an airplane,”says Partridge, “and that's the only airplane you can get into and sit down in, in the entire Museum. It's in the 'interactive' exhibit, so it was quite an exuberant proposal.”
A smaller audience was on hand in the Exploring the Planets gallery. “I'm not sure what you call the lady in an engagement-to-be scenario,” says Partridge, “but the visitor had emailed us and asked that we assist her in proposing to her boyfriend. She specifically wanted help picking out a location that would be quiet but also in keeping with her thoughts of what he would enjoy. He is in the Coast Guard, and enjoys astronomy and exploration.
So we picked the Exploring the Planets gallery based on a map that I sent her, and she was able to look at each one and ask me about the typical traffic through each gallery. I led them up to the gallery and showed them around briefly, and then presented her with an extended quote by Galileo that she had sent ahead of time, and asked her to read it out loud."
The Museum can't accommodate every request. "People have asked if they could place rings inside the cockpit of an aircraft, for instance," says Partridge, "which is a very sweet idea, but obviously not possible with our collection. And this request is understandable—unless you've been specifically to our Museum, you don't know there isn't access inside of the aircraft."
"We're always happy to help out," says Partridge. "A lot of people remember their trip to the Museum, but some people make it particularly notable by making it a central moment in their lives. We recognize that the reason they want to propose at the Museum is because it holds a special place for them."