It was a cool, cloudy afternoon on Oct. 17, 1914, as George Herman Ruth and his bride-to-be stepped off the train in Ellicott City, climbed the steep hill to St. Paul’s Catholic Church and tied the knot. “Babe” Ruth was 19, a brash big-league rookie and budding superstar; Helen Woodford was 17, a quiet, dark-haired coffee shop waitress from Boston whom he’d met just months before.
It was, by all accounts, a slap-dash affair; Ruth wasn’t one to think stuff through. Having started the season with his hometown Orioles, playing for peanuts, he finished with the Red Sox of the American League after more than quadrupling his salary to $3,500.
“I felt rich enough … to take myself a wife,” Ruth said in his 1948 autobiography. “[Helen] used to wait on me in the mornings, and one day I said to her, ‘How about you and I getting married, hon?’ Helen thought it over for a few minutes and said yes.”
They chose Ellicott City, one of two towns in Maryland where they could skirt the three-day waiting period (Elkton was the other). Besides the priest, the Rev. Thomas Dolan, the great stone church was empty save for two witnesses, both parish members.
A framed copy of the Ruths’ marriage certificate hangs in a display case in the narthex at St. Paul’s, just above the silver chalice used in the church’s dedication in 1838.
“New parishioners who are baseball fans track us down to see it,” office assistant Maria Grove said.
Alas, the marriage didn’t last. Though the couple adopted an infant, Dorothy, in 1921, Babe’s womanizing led to a separation in 1923. Six years later, Helen died in a house fire in Watertown, Mass. Three months afterward, in New York, the Yankee slugger married Claire Hodgson, a widow and his longtime mistress.
Ruth died of cancer in 1948. The Hall of Famer and idol of millions was 53.