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National Marriage Day

Elkton, a town located in Cecil County in the northeast corner of Maryland, was once known as the Wedding Capital of the East. In 1913, Delaware enacted a marriage waiting period law similar to laws in other states along the Atlantic seaboard. Many people began traveling to Maryland to get married, and especially to Elkton because it was the closest county seat to those traveling to the state from the north. Not only did Maryland not have a waiting period requirement, but they also did not require residency, blood tests, or witnesses.

Wedding chapels began popping up everywhere along Main Street, and at one point there were more than fifteen of them. During the town's wedding heyday, which lasted for a quarter century, about 12,000 people got married there each year. This was at a time when the town had a population of roughly 3,000. The train that brought people to town was known as the Honeymoon Express, and guests would take taxis from the train station to the courthouse or a chapel. Babe Ruth, Willie Mays, Billie Holiday, and Joan Fontaine all got married there. In more recent years, Charles Barkley tied the knot in Elkton.

But by the end of 1938, the glory years of Elkton's weddings had ended, after the state approved a 48-hour waiting period for getting married. Exacerbating the decline was the rise of Las Vegas as a wedding city, as well as a new traffic pattern that made people less likely to end up in Elkton. In October 1938, there were 2,344 wedding ceremonies in the town; in December, there were only 277.

Today, all the original chapels are gone. Closing in 2017, The Little Wedding Chapel was the last to go. A marker now stands beside it, designating the town as the Wedding Capital of the East. For decades, the Elkton Chamber of Commerce and Alliance held National Marriage Day on the second Friday in June. The day was dedicated to weddings and the renewing of vows. Usually between five and fifteen couples participated in the day. Sometimes spouses who had gotten married in Elkton years earlier would return to renew their vows. Wedding cake, champagne, and hors d'oeuvres were served, and a horse-drawn carriage was present for couples to ride around town in. In recent years, the day became of less importance, and in 2015, no couples came to get married. Still, National Marriage Day can be celebrated by anyone, whether they get married and renew their vows or not, or whether they travel to Elkton or stay in their own city.

How to Observe National Marriage Day

The best way to spend the day may be to get married or renew your vows in Elkton. As all the chapels are closed, you may need to get married in a church or at the Cecil County Courthouse. You could also stop at the marker that designates the town as the Wedding Capital of the East. If a trip to Elkton can't be made, you could get married or renew your vows at a more convenient location. At the very least, if you are married, you could spend the day with your spouse. If there is no one to share your vows with today, perhaps you could attend someone else's wedding, research how to become a wedding planner, or watch a movie about a wedding.

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