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Taking their turn at historic chapel



Like so many brides before her, Linda Ward peered out the window of the upstairs dressing room at the Historic Little Wedding Chapel in Elkton and tried to catch a glimpse of her groom.

Though Linda couldn't see him, a grinning David "Dave" Hoffmann was waiting in the tiny vestibule downstairs, crowded in with his family while the Rev. Frank T. Smith performed another couple's wedding ceremony.

Dave and Linda were one of 13 couples Smith married on Valentine's Day. That's a far cry from the 22 couples he married on Valentine's Day 1998 ("but that was a Saturday," the minister says by way of explanation).

Both numbers are well below the chapel's figures in its heyday -- the 1920s. Back then -- when many of the states surrounding Maryland had strict marriage laws and Elkton boasted more than a dozen wedding chapels -- it's estimated that at least 20,000 couples were married in the town each year.

Today, the Historic Little Wedding Chapel -- a converted rowhouse strategically located directly across from the Cecil County Courthouse -- is the only chapel that remains. With their Valentine's Day ceremony, Dave and Linda joined the likes of baseball great Babe Ruth and actress Joan Fontaine, who were married to their sweethearts at the chapel, as well as hundreds of thousands of more ordinary couples who elected over the years to celebrate their nuptials there.

It was a decidedly old-fashioned ceremony for a couple who were brought together by the most modern technology: the computer. Dave is a software engineer for Danfoss Automatic Controls in White Marsh. Linda was hired as a technical assistant at the same firm in May 1996.

It was their assignment together on projects at work and their shared interest in computers that got the couple talking. But both had been married and were a little cautious about new relationships. So when their friendship began in June 1997, Dave and Linda found it was easiest to communicate via electronic mail -- outside of the workplace.

Their first date, in September of that year, came about after Dave won tickets to an Orioles game in a company drawing. Six weeks later, Linda met Dave's children, Brian and Brittany. Soon after, Linda began exchanging e-mail with Dave's parents, Dave and Barbara Hoffmann of Cape Coral, Fla. And Dave met Linda's mom, Brenda, and Linda's stepfather, Gary Grant, who live in Edgewood.

In November 1998, Dave moved into Linda's Joppatowne townhouse. He proposed on her birthday -- Dec. 20 -- using his computer and her computer to broadcast a three-dimensional video image of him handing her a birthday card, and then, a ring. (Techno-wizard that he is, Dave recorded the proposal so that Linda could play it over and over again -- and she has.)

It was Linda's stepfather who suggested the couple be married at the quaint chapel. Dave and Linda chose Valentine's Day for their wedding because "the whole world will celebrate our anniversary," Dave says, grinning.

And so on the afternoon of Feb. 14, Linda found herself standing in the doorway of a chapel smaller than the average living room. Grapevine boughs strung with ivy and white lights twinkled above. A huge bouquet of red and white roses crowned the mantel.

Linda, in an elegant ivory gown and carrying a bouquet of red and white roses, walked down the brief aisle to Dave, Brian and Brittany. Standing before Smith, their hands clasped together, Dave and Linda smiled as their parents agreed to offer the couple their "blessing, love, prayers and encouragement."

Linda's eyes glistened with tears as she repeated her vows. After she and Dave exchanged rings, the focus of the ceremony was turned to 10-year-old Brian and 7-year-old Brittany. "For more than two souls are joining today," Smith explained. "With this union, we have a family."

Linda placed a small medallion on a silver chain around Brian's neck, promising "to always include you in the love that I have for your dad." She then offered Brittany a similar medallion, and the same pledge.

Then Smith pronounced Dave and Linda husband and wife and offered a final blessing. "May you find trust and comfort in each other's hands, happiness and joy in each other's arms and one love in each other's hearts that lasts and grows forever," he said.

With that, the groom kissed the bride. And as their family members congratulated them and posed for photographs, friends and family of the next couple on the schedule moved into the vestibule, waiting for their turn to be a part of the little chapel's history.

Pub Date: 02/21/99

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