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Nearly 3,500 people have watched Corey Scherrer go down on one knee and propose marriage to Ashleigh Gravel.
That's in addition to the zoo employees, videographer and the 8,945-pound elephant named Surapa who were present when Scherrer popped the question last summer. Scherrer's unusual surprise proposal inside the elephant house at the Buffalo Zoo has been a hit on YouTube, and it's not the only one. Several other couples from the region can be found popping the question on the video-sharing website, including one video in which the Cheektowaga Community Chorus materializes from the crowd in the baggage claim area at Buffalo Niagara International Airport in April and serenades Sarah Candelora as Carm Saieva kneels and proposes.
The local videos are among the hundreds posted online, recording proposals ranging from simple and sweet to elaborately arranged and even choreographed.
While couples' willingness to share this intimate, life-changing event with the world might surprise their grandparents, it has become accepted among their peers.
"There are a lot of things that previous generations would have considered to be very private events. ... This generation that has grown up with Facebook and online sharing is much more comfortable with sharing publicly," says Gregory R. Wood, associate dean of the Richard J. Wehle School of Business at Canisius College.
In his classes as a professor of marketing and information systems, Wood often discusses social media use with his students. "This generation is learning to create performances," he says.
Smartphone and tablet technology put cameras in the hands of people nearly everywhere, and an avid market has developed on YouTube and TV entertainment magazine shows for such heartwarming videos as a military parent's surprise return from deployment or a romantic marriage proposal,
Wood says, "This is very clearly an extension of the reality TV phenomenon," but he points out that posting videos online goes beyond reality TV. "People are empowered to publish the contents themselves," he says. "There's no barrier at all, you take your video camera and film yourself, friends and family, and upload it."

The big question

Scherrer, the groom, admits that he is "the type of person who likes to go over the top with everything, so I was trying to think of something large scale" for his proposal. Because he knew that Gravel always had loved elephants, he told her that they had an opportunity to take a special tour of the elephant house, where they would watch Surapa paint.
It took him three months to arrange the details, Scherrer says, with a lot of help from zoo staff. "They gave my friend Emily, who was the videographer, a zoo T-shirt, and fake tickets were made up for this elephant encounter," he says.
Adding to his stress, he said, was the fact that "Ashleigh is extremely intelligent, she will catch onto any little thing, and I was having anxiety attacks. It was horrible," says Scherrer.
"I am quite the detective," she admits. "I still can't believe he kept this secret from me."
Inside the elephant house, they watched as Surapa daubed paint on a poster. When a keeper turned it around, it said "Ashleigh, will you marry me?"
"She told me later that she saw the sign and read it six times before she saw me on my knee, and she kept thinking, 'Hey, that's my name. What's going on here?'" says Scherrer.
The video includes some editing after the proposal, says Scherrer, "to give it a little more of a romantic tone. People have said that she didn't seem that excited, but she was, she was freaking out. She was saying, 'How did you get this past me?' "
Since the proposal was posted on YouTube, Scherrer says, "I can't even describe to you how many messages on Facebook, how many emails, how many phone calls, how many conversations I have had about this. It's unreal the interest there has been for this." The video can be seen on YouTube with the title "Buffalo Zoo Elephant Proposal."
Gravel says, "I am a more private person than Corey, and it took me a minute when he said [the videographer] wanted to post it on YouTube. But then I thought, 'Why not share something that's this happy with everybody?'"
Scherrer and Gravel married Aug. 25, a year, a month and a day after the elephant house proposal. "He did a wonderful, wonderful job and I couldn't be happier," says the new bride.

Sharing the moment

Not one but two YouTube videos - neither arranged by the couple involved - document the moment when, with the Cheektowaga Community Chorus singing along, Carm Saieva asked Sarah Candelora to marry him in baggage claim. Together, the videos, each titled "Endless Love Proposal," have drawn more than 1,700 views.
Saieva arranged for the serenade by email and phone calls with chorus president Chris Kotowski. Since they had never met, he sent Kotowski a photo of himself in the distinctive blazer he would wear at the airport, where Candelora was picking him up. As far as she knew, the two would then hit the road for Hamilton, Ont., where they live.
"I had no idea that the videotaping was going to be happening," Saieva said. As the couple's friends and relatives hid among the people in baggage claim, Saieva's sister found a friend who taped the event.
Candelora and Saieva descend the escalator and walk past the chorus as the singers begin. It isn't until Saieva turns to face her and the singers surround them that she realizes what is happening, dropping her bag, gasping and putting both hands over her face.
Although the original plan was for the chorus to sing a full verse before Saieva proposed, he says, "I did it quick. I was getting nervous because when I came down the escalator, I could see everybody hiding."
His fiance was "completely shocked," says Saieva. "She was teary-eyed and almost couldn't comprehend what was going on."
But she did say yes.
Like Scherrer, Saieva says he sometimes has a difficult time keeping a secret. "I am terrible at surprises, I sometimes let the cat out of the bag," he says. "So I thought, I have to do something that will catch her completely off guard and she'll never know - and it worked."
The husband of a woman in the chorus also taped the event, and Saieva gave the group permission to post it. The baggage area was full as he proposed, says Saieva. "I wish somebody had caught all the expressions of the people around us - and they were videotaping it too."

When things go wrong

Every proposal ends with a question, and no matter how long the couple has been together there is always a chance that her answer might be no. Whether shocked by the surprise, harboring unspoken doubts or asked by a man who has totally misread the relationship, some women reject proposals. YouTube provides plenty of humiliating evidence, although some of the rejection films seem fake.
Some doubt still hovers around an awkward moment on the Ellen DeGeneres show last December, when a man popped the question to his girlfriend, who was in the audience. She burst into tears, saying, "I can't! I'm sorry!" There was plenty of online buzz about whether the incident was staged or real; an official comment was ambiguous.
Sometimes the answer is yes but things go awry anyway. In late July, a woman missed her boyfriend's Jumbotron proposal at Wrigley Field in Chicago. A man named Greg asked his girlfriend, Erica, to go for beer so he could alert the people around them to the planned event. But the beer line was long, the inning was short and cameras caught the man sitting forlornly alone when the Jumbotron message flashed, "Erica, will you marry me?" She later returned and Greg was filmed on one knee, slipping the ring on her finger.
Some elaborate surprise proposal videos have become viral hits. "Isaac's Live Lip-Dub Proposal," posted in May, has 15.6 million views. The proposal featured a good-natured crowd, including a uniformed marching band, dancing and singing to Bruno Mars' "Marry You."
The proposal videos can cause some grumbling, too. Saieva says when friends hear about his romantic proposal, the women are impressed, but, he says, "To this very day, I get a lot of men saying, 'You set the bar really high!'"

email: aneville@buffnews.com