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Elkton, Maryland






By Michael E. Long Photographs by David Alan Harvey



Where no-wait marriages once drew movie stars, thousands of couples still come each year to say “I do.”



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Today is Valentine’s Day, and despite a weeping drizzle, Cupid is back in town. Thirty couples, drawn here by Elkton’s reputation as the marrying place, will plight troth, 21 in the courthouse and nine in the one remaining wedding chapel. Cooling in the chapel parlor while his bride, Linda Whitman, primps upstairs, John Reading displays socks with hearts and a brave red tie, chosen by Linda, he says. John is reluctant to reveal another item Linda picked for him—silk boxer shorts emblazoned with red hearts on a field of black. “He’s a Harley man,” says Linda. “He can deal with it.”

Later, Sheppard McHenry and his bride, Susan Likowski, with her daughter, April, are accompanied by a three-year-old ring bearer named Emma, who tires during the ceremony and goes to sleep at the couple’s feet. At the appropriate time Emma surrenders the rings, fastened to a collar around her neck. Emma rears enthusiastically and places her forelegs around the bride’s neck and licks her face. Emma is a Great Dane.

At the courthouse across the street Janice Potts, deputy clerk, has married 15 couples before lunch. Then Leonard Irving, a waiter, arrives with Imelda Ornelas, a housekeeper originally from Veracruz, Mexico. José Gallinat, a friend who escaped from Cuba in 1960, translates Potts’s words into Spanish for Imelda. The scene touches everyone.

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In More to Explore the National Geographic magazine team shares some of its best sources and other information. Special thanks to the Research Division.


They say that when you’re head over heels in love, it’s like seeing fireworks. So it’s fitting that over the years Elkton has produced not only tens of thousands of marriages but millions of fireworks and firecrackers. Fireworks factories started to appear in the Elkton area soon after World War I. One of the early manufacturers was Victory Sparkler and Specialty Company; another was Triumph Fuses & Fireworks. These companies specialized in producing items for professional fireworks displays. With the onset of World War II, however, the fireworks factories shifted their production to munitions, such as signal flares and hand grenades. They resumed making their more lighthearted products after the war was over. There are still a few fireworks manufacturers and distributors in the Elkton area today, selling Roman candles, rockets, spinners, sparklers, and more. Check out the websites of Patriotic Fireworks (patrioticfireworks.com) and Kent Fireworks Manufacturing Company (fireworkswarehouse.com).

—Robin A. Palmer


Historical Society of Cecil County
cchistory.org/
Elkton is the county seat of Cecil County, Maryland. Find historical and genealogical resources at the official site of the county’s historical society.

Cecil County, Maryland
www.seececil.org/
If you’re planning a visit to Cecil County, check out this site. It provides information about where to stay and where to eat, and there’s also a calendar of current and upcoming events in the county.

Town of Elkton
www.townofelkton.org/
This site offers information about the government of the town of Elkton. You’ll also find minutes from town meetings, public notices, and related links.

Historic Elk Landing
www.elklanding.org
Elk Landing, at the head of the Chesapeake Bay near the town of Elkton, was an important shipping and supply port in the 18th and 19th centuries. It was also the site of a battle during the War of 1812. Learn more about this historic place and the restoration campaign that is under way there.

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Chappell, Helen. “We are Gathered Here...” Maryland (Autumn 1992), 32-37.

Mack, Tara. “The Sky’s the Limit in Boom Town USA: Fireworks Factories Give Elkton Its Spark,” Washington Post, July 4, 1996, C1.

Mordecai, Carolyn. Weddings: Dating and Love Customs of Cultures Worldwide. Nittany Publishers, 1999.

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