Elkton, Marry-land

By Marshall S. Berdan (The Washington Post, 2/13/2002)

Photo by William Pfingsten, July 30, 2007

Like most first-time brides-to-be, Roberta Ford is optimistic, nervously optimistic. A diminutive 45-year-old schoolteacher who became engaged on Christmas Eve, she wants “a proper wedding, but not a big one.”

She’s in the right place. Elkton, Md., an otherwise unassuming little town on the northern tip of the Chesapeake Bay, is a place that knows small weddings, that indeed used to be famous for them. Barbara Smith, owner of Elkton’s well-worn Little Wedding Chapel, assures Ford with smooth practice. She is used to brides. “Intimate like a French restaurant,” she purrs, going on to describe the standard $400 package: flowers, 24 photos and a videotape recording.

Photo by William Pfingsten, July 30, 2007

If $400 sounds like a lot for a 15-minute ceremony at a high-volume marriage mill, Ford can always go across the street for a real Elkton quickie, $60 for a license and ceremony in the basement of the Cecil County Courthouse. These days, the Elkton marriage market is split between those who want it done quickly and quietly at the courthouse and those who want it done quickly and with a modicum of pomp at Smith’s chapel. The courthouse gets more than two-thirds of the trade.

There used to be many more choices. The competition for brides and grooms was intense here during its heyday in the ’20s and ’30s, when the Little Wedding Chapel was just one of 15 private chapels and Elkton was the elopement capital of the East Coast. Today, however, the chapel, housed in its two-story, 200-year-old stone building, is the only one left. Its neighbors are all law offices and bail bondsmen.

“They used to line up down the street,” says Smith, an affable, loquacious 71-year-old former dancer. “We used to do as many as 1,000 a year until just a couple of years ago.”

Continue reading “Elkton, Marry-land” at The Washington Post.

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