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Babe Ruth, Elkton and the Battle of Waterloo

A recent article about the declining marriage business in Elkton suggested there was an "unconfirmed" report that Babe Ruth had been married there ("Wedding chapel and amenities for sale in Elkton," Dec. 28).

Such reports are not only unconfirmed, they are completely untrue — despite the claims of several publications, including the Cecil County government tourism Web site.

At the age of 19, after his first season in professional baseball, George Herman "Babe" Ruth Jr. married Helen Woodford, a waitress whom he met in Boston. The wedding took place on October 17, 1914, at Saint Paul's Roman Catholic Church in Ellicott City.

Although they later became estranged and lived apart for several years, the couple remained married until Helen's tragic death in a fire in 1929.

Three months later, Ruth married Claire Hodgson, on April 17, 1929, at Saint Gregory the Great Roman Catholic Church in New York. He was still married to Claire when he died in 1948. There were no other marriages, precluding the possibility of any alleged Ruth nuptials in Elkton.

So what is the source of this "unconfirmed report?" It probably came from the Babe himself, who was notoriously inaccurate when discussing his past.

Legendary sports writer Grantland Rice wrote that he once interviewed Ruth on his radio show. Unwilling to leave anything to chance, Rice provided his guest with scripted answers to every question he planned to ask.

Still, in answer to one of the questions, Ruth replied: "As Duke Ellington once said, the Battle of Waterloo was won on the playing fields of Elkton."

The Babe obviously had misread the script, which referred to the "Duke of Wellington" and the "playing fields of Eton."

After the show, Rice asked Ruth how he could possibly louse up the statement so completely. To which the Babe replied: "About that Wellington guy, I wouldn't know. Ellington, yes. As for that Eton business — well, I married my first wife in Elkton, and I always hated the (expletive deleted) place! It musta stuck."

Well, the joke was on Babe. A marriage certificate confirms that he was married in Ellicott City, not Elkton. Yet as far as I can determine, Ruth's opinion of Elkton never made it to the Cecil County tourist board.

For tourists vainly searching for Babe Ruth's wedding site in Elkton, I suggest instead a trip to Elkton's playing fields — which had such a big influence on the outcome of the battle at Waterloo.

Fred Shoken, Baltimore

Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
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