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Running Off to Covington
Written June 20, 2008


My parents were married in 1940.  Although they were both residents of Cambridge, Ohio, the wedding took place more than 200 miles away in Covington, Kentucky.  Five years ago, I wrote an article wondering why.

Now I've learned that eloping and getting married in "Old Kentuck" was not unusual.  It was a long-standing regional tradition.

My guess is that couples chose to go to Kentucky because it was a nearby state with no residency requirements or waiting period.  Couples from anywhere could show up and get married right away.  Also, teenagers could legally marry at a younger age.

Cupid’s darts and irate parents caused another of our highly esteemed couples to go to Old Kentucky, where the laws are not so strict on account of their youth.  We wonder who will be next?

— The Richwood (Ohio) Gazette, March 25, 1886

The easiest city in Kentucky for northerners to reach was Covington, because it's right across the river from a regional transportation hub:  Cincinnati, Ohio.

I received an e-mail last week with the subject line YOUR PARENTS' WEDDING.  It's from a man about my age whom I've never met.  Remarkably, he's the grandson of the minister who married my parents!  Cyrus Creveling writes:

I'm a mailman in Fairfax, Virginia.  Tonight I looked on my calendar and saw it was the 53rd anniversary of my grandfather's death.  (I was almost 9 at the time, in Oxon Hill, Maryland.)

I tried to look him up on the Social Security death index but wasn't successful.  Since he was a Methodist minister in West Virginia and Kentucky, I searched his name, Harry F King + methodist.  That led to your article from June 15th, 2003.  After reading it, I realized that my maternal grandfather married Ann Buckingham and Vernon Thomas in Covington, Kentucky.

My mother [the minister's daughter], Eleanor King Creveling, was born in 1922 in Huntington, WV, and was at Kentucky Wesleyan College in the fall of 1940.  Her father and mother lived in the parsonage next to the First Methodist Church.  As a young girl, my mother witnessed many ceremonies, as did my grandmother, Grace Yoak King.  Chances are excellent she would have been in the house and witnessed the wedding of your parents, then signed the marriage certificate as such.

Incidentally, Kentucky Wesleyan College was founded at Millersburg just after the Civil War.  In 1890, the college moved to Winchester, about 90 miles south of Covington.  That's where it was located when Eleanor King Creveling was a student.  Then in 1950, KWC moved again to the outskirts of Owensboro, just 16 miles from my father's hometown.

We often see professional sports teams threaten to leave town unless the local taxpayers build them a new stadium.  For example, the NFL's Colts abandoned Baltimore for Indianapolis.  But we assume that college sports teams will never threaten to move, because it's impossible to relocate the whole campus.  I guess it is possible.  Kentucky Wesleyan has done it twice.

Anyway, back to Cyrus Creveling:

My mother is still alive, and I just got off of the phone with her.  She pointed out that the church was very close to the downtown, and young couples getting a marriage license at the courthouse would ask, "Where is the nearest church?"  They were pointed in the direction of the First Methodist and married by my grandfather:  Harry F. King.

So it was not uncommon in those days for eloping strangers to come to Covington.  They'd get a marriage license and then find a place to make it official.

Last Valentine's Day, I did a little research on elopements to that city, using newspapers and the Internet.  Besides my parents' wedding in 1940, here are eight more examples spanning a period of more than 60 years.

In 1887, two young Ohioans tied the knot.  Twenty-year-old William Keenan, who worked for his father in the furniture business in Columbus, eloped with Mary Meehan, who had recently emigrated from Ireland to Dayton.  They were married at St. Mary's Cathedral in Covington.

In 1890, the New York Times reported under the headline "They Elope and Get Married":

Cincinnati, May 8. — Last night William E. Bundy, a nephew of ex-Gov. Foraker and late clerk of the Board of Elections of this city, was married in Covington, Ky., to Miss Lodo Leedom, daughter of the Hon. John P. Leedom, late Sergeant at Arms of the House of Representatives.  It was an elopement, and the story goes that the lovers met only four days ago in a stage coach in Adams County.  Miss Leedom's father was in the city last night in utter ignorance that his daughter and her husband were two blocks away in another hotel.

In 1908, the newspaper in my future hometown of Richwood, Ohio, reported:

Eloping with a mop agent who had called at her door with his wares, Miss Stella Nowland, aged 50, was married to Alfred F. Bixler, in Covington, Ky., yesterday.  The bride had been keeping house for her brothers and they resented the attention of the persistent vendor of floor brushes.

Mr. Bixler formerly lived on the McPeck farm, west of Richwood.  While he is about 55 years old, he still looks young and as healthy as ever.  We understand he and his bride will take up residence on the farm in the spring.

Pretty old to be eloping and getting married in "Old Kentuck," same as young people.

The following year, the same newspaper reported:

A local couple had some experience in Kentucky trying to get a marriage license.  They first applied at Covington, where they made a blunder by telling their correct ages.  The license clerk refused to issue them a license and he also phoned the clerk at Newport, so when the couple applied there, they were also disappointed.

The couple has fitted up a very cozy home which they will occupy as soon as they can find somebody to marry them.

And the year after that, the same newspaper had yet another elopement to report.  Click here.

In 1924, the parents of an otherwise anonymous "Sue" from Grant County, Indiana, were married in Covington:

They didn't elope as we know it today, that is they didn't just "run off" . . . they just were married together, as it were, and had a little honeymoon before embarking on a longer trip to Clearwater, Florida, where my Dad had a new job awaiting him and where she had obtained a teaching position.  They had both families' approval and blessing.  It apparently seemed such an attractive thing to do that a few years later her sister did the same thing. 

In 1938, food entrepreneur Maury Feren and Bess Nagelbush, both of Cleveland, traveled to the far corner of the state and beyond:

We got engaged when we were 23.  Our parents were so involved with the ritual and tradition of a marriage — arranging for a ceremony and a reception at the Sterling Hotel — that one day I said, "If we leave it up to them, we will never get married.  Let's elope."  We took a bus to Covington, Kentucky, and found a rabbi there.  He married us in the back of a grocery store on November 14th, 1938.  When we came back, our parents made a reception for us.  And we got our deposit back from the Sterling, too.

In 1949, Kenneth Baird and 16-year-old Joan Lancaster of Mt. Gilead, Ohio, near my future hometown, wed in Covington.


Each of these couples traveled at least a hundred miles to be married in Kentucky.  Covington must have been the Las Vegas of its time!




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