After Decades of Legal Wrangling Elkton’s Marriage Mill Started Grinding a Little Slower

Life Magazine from the files of the Historical Society of Cecil County.

The marrying parsons of Elkton and their employers, “the taxi syndicate,” were miserable in the autumn of 1938.  These entrepreneurs fretted that Maryland voters might put a halt to “weddings without waiting.” 

The threat came just as things boomed for the cabbies, as their chief interest was the wedding business.  At one company, the Rev. C. M. Cope worked days while the Rev. J. T. Baker pulled overnights officiating at 1,118 marriages in Sept. 1938.  These two captured half the services.  But the Rev. Edward Minor, 81, whose church ordered him to cease uniting couples, arranged for the Rev. P. K. Lambert to do his work at the altar.  Mr. Lambert did 461.  A 48-hour waiting period had been passed by the legislature in 1937, but petitions opposing the delay brought the question to the voters.

The waiting period, “aimed squarely at the marriage racket in Elkton,” passed overwhelmingly.  When the Evening Sun visited town just before the “famous marriage mart” breathed its last in December 1938, the paper wrote that a “melancholy calm” had descended upon the border town of 3,600.  Ordinary residents were glad to see “Dan Cupid’s trade in the chute to oblivion.  Only the ministers and the business people who have profited from the marriage mill were sore.”

Having been briefly put out of business one of the “matrimonial magnates,” an operation with four autos for hire and Rev. Edward Minor officiating at the altar, moved to Alexandria, VA.  The Rev. Cope planned to retire to New Carolina, while Pastor Baker advised that this wasn’t his only job as he preached at churches.  “I’m going on and preach and bury the dead and visit the sick just the same as always.”

Although it would seem that the principal business of Elkton, elopements, was a thing of the past, the taxicompanies still found growth opportunities for cupid’s affairs in Elkton as couples continued dashing across the state line.  They found a number of legal or questionable ways to eliminate the wait.  With a court order, the restriction could be lifted, say in the case of “expectant motherhood.”  Such an aid to hasty marriages was credited with thirty percent of the licenses issued in 1940.  Another reason for getting rushed the ceremony was the call up for military service.

The year before the waiting period became effective (1937) there were 16,054 marriage licenses issued.  The total slumped in 1939 to 4,532, but once the “solicitors” hit upon “good and sufficient cause” it jumped up again to nearly double what it was in 1939.  There were 8,526, the Sun reported.  The volume started growing again and Elkton did about 14,000 marriages in 1942.

Once the war was over, another challenge emerged for the syndicate.  The State wanted to allow the Clerk of the Court to perform civil ceremonies but financial interests hired lobbyist to fight that effort in Annapolis.  They held things off or a while in Annapolis.  But finally in 1964, E. Day Moore, a retired postal worker and clerk of the court, started performing ceremonies in the courthouse.   The marriage mill was starting to grind a lot slower in Elkton as the waiting period was now being strictly enforced and while there was still marrying parlors in Elkton, couple had options.

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