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Written June 15, 2003


My late parents never told me the story of their wedding.  They left me only two clues.

One is a yellowed clipping from the newspaper in Cambridge, Ohio, The Daily Jeffersonian.  On Monday evening, November 18, 1940, the following ran at the top of Page 5:

The other clue is this white plastic box, which apparently once held a relatively inexpensive wedding ring.  (The diamond would arrive 33 years later as a Christmas gift.)  The imprint inside reads, "J. Newstate, Jeweler & Optician, 519 Madison Ave., Covington, Ky."

composite of two photos

I decided to discover what these clues could tell me about my parents' wedding day.

Why Covington?

This Kentucky city, population 43,000, sits on the south bank of the Ohio River, just across the Suspension Bridge from downtown Cincinnati.

Cincinnati has its landmark Fountain Square.  Covington's counterpart is the fountain at the right, located in the Mainstrasse park, which depicts a rustic German immigrant carrying a goose on each hip.

Many of the homes in Covington are detached row houses, constructed mostly in the 1870s.  These houses aren't usually built right next to each other; there's a six-foot gap between them.

Within these narrow passageways, the house on the left has numerous windows but the house on the right has a blank wall, so the passageway forms a little urban garden for the house on the left.

My future father would have been familiar with Covington, because he once worked for the Chevrolet dealer in the town of Falmouth, Kentucky, 37 miles to the south.  He started there about 1929 and continued until he moved to Cambridge, Ohio, in 1938, where he met my future mother.

But as far as I know, neither of them was acquainted with anybody in Covington itself.  They both lived in Cambridge now.  Her parents also lived in Cambridge, and she was their only daughter.

One would have expected that they would have been married in Cambridge, perhaps in a big wedding in the local Methodist church.

Instead, they eloped and got married in another state.  Perhaps they didn't want a big wedding.  Perhaps they wanted to spare her parents the expense; the Great Depression had never really ended, and money was still hard to come by.

If they had merely wanted to cross the state line to avoid a waiting period, there are parts of Kentucky that are closer.  For example, Ashland is only 150 miles away.  And in the other direction, it's less than 50 miles from Cambridge to Wheeling, West Virginia.

His parents lived in Livermore, Kentucky, where he had been born.  A glance at the map shows that Covington lies halfway between the two hometowns, which are about 420 miles apart.

My guess is that the couple, in the midst of a trip from Cambridge to Livermore to visit his folks, impulsively decided to stop and get married.

One impetus in 1940 might have been the looming threat of war.  Only a month before, Vernon and 16 million other American men had been required to register for the military draft.  Just over a year later, listening to reports about Pearl Harbor on the car radio, my future parents realized that he was actually going to be drafted.  (He was inducted in April 1943.)

In Covington, Vernon and Ann looked up the most prominent Methodist church in town, which turned out to be the First Methodist Church on the corner of Fifth and Greenup Streets.

It had become the "First Methodist" only the year before, in a merger of congregations.  Previously, when this old picture was taken, it had been known as the Union Methodist Episcopal Church.

The building was constructed in 1867.

(Information comes from an archived 1999 article by Jim Reis of the Kentucky Post.)

From this house across the street, General Ulysses S. Grant's parents had watched the church go up.  Jesse Grant, the father of the Civil War hero and future President, was the postmaster of Covington at the time.

First Methodist was damaged by fire in 1947, and its steeple was damaged by a windstorm in 1986, but both have been reconstructed.  Today it's called First United Methodist.  Here's what it looks like from the Grant house.

The attached three-story building to the left at 511 Greenup Street is now called the Parish House.  In 1947 news accounts, it was referred to as the parsonage.  In 1940, it probably was the home of pastor Harry F. King, and if so, it was the place where my parents were married.

2008 UPDATE:  I've heard from Rev. King's grandson!  And I've found half a dozen other stories of out-of-state couples Running Off to Covington to get married.

My father would have had to walk only two blocks west to buy the wedding ring at the jewelry store at 519 Madison Avenue.  Today, the Community Ventures Corporation occupies that address, but there's a "Madison Avenue Wedding Mall" just a block away.

Then, at 9:00 on that Saturday morning, the couple entered the parsonage to solemnize a marriage that would last until her death more than 41 years later.

There were no bridesmaids; all her friends and family were nearly 200 miles away.  There was no best man, although the groom had friends in nearby Falmouth.  There was no wedding gown, no reception.  It was a very private, simple ceremony.

My parents never talked about their decision to get married in Covington, and I never asked.  They kept this special story to themselves.



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