Chapel of Love among losses from Tenn. wild­fire

The Denver Post - - NEWS - By Jonathan Mat­tise

gatlinburg, tenn. » The wild­fires that killed 14 peo­ple and tore through Gatlinburg also stole an iconic venue from this city, which at the foot of the Great Smoky Moun­tains and whose nick­name is “the wed­ding cap­i­tal of the South.”

All that re­mains of Cupid’s Chapel of Love is a heart-shaped pink sign with its name spelled out in Bar­bie-doll-style cur­sive let­ter­ing.

The white, log build­ing with a green tin roof and wa­ter­fall around back hosted more than 20,000 wed­dings in more than two decades. Some were quick, 15minute “let’s get mar­ried this week­end” ap­point­ments. Oth­ers were full cer­e­monies, re­newals of vows and wed­dings built on fam­ily tra­di­tions that be­gan when par­ents and grand­par­ents eloped there.

Along­side 20 friends and fam­ily mem­bers, Ch­eryl Petty Moats and her hus­band, Jim, got mar­ried there in 2014. The cou­ple from Hur­ri­cane, W.Va., al­ways rent a cabin nearby in Pi­geon Forge for their an­niver­sary and take pic­tures where they were mar­ried.

Moats cried when she saw pho­tos of the rub­ble. It’s un­cer­tain whether the chapel will ever be re­built.

“You could just feel that it was a special place. There was a lot of love there,” she said. “We looked at sev­eral chapels down there to get mar­ried in, but there was just some­thing about that one.”

The fires that dev­as­tated Gatlinburg also took the life of the Rev. Ed Tay­lor, 85, who nearly four decades ago launched the wed­dingdes­ti­na­tion in­dus­try that has ex­panded through­out the city and into neigh­bor­ing towns, in­clud­ing Pi­geon Forge. Hun­dreds of thou­sands of peo­ple each year now flock to the Smoky Moun­tains re­gion to get mar­ried or at­tend a wed­ding.

A friend of Tay­lor’s, Adren Greene, said the rev­erend died in or just out­side his home. Lit­tle Moun­tain Chapel, the brown build­ing with the red door where he of­fi­ci­ated thou­sands of wed­dings, sur­vived the fires, Greene said.

Tay­lor ar­rived in town in 1979. Since then, his or­ga­ni­za­tion, Gatlinburg Min­istries Inc., has mar­ried more than 85,000 cou­ples, with Tay­lor him­self ad­min­is­trat­ing more than 45,000 wed­dings, ac­cord­ing to the group’s web­site.

Tay­lor per­formed the wed­ding for Billy Ray Cyrus, coun­try mu­sic star and fa­ther of Mi­ley Cyrus, and coun­try singer Patty Love­less. Coun­try per­former Tanya Tucker sang at the wed­ding of a band mem­ber. Tay­lor also per­formed the wed­ding of Jeff Cease, for­merly in the Black Crowes rock band. Tay­lor had re­tired about a year ago.

“I’ve done it seven days a week,” he said in a 2009 in­ter­view with The As­so­ci­ated Press. “We used to do ‘mar­ry­thons’ on Valen­tine’s Day around the clock. We did as many as 60 in a 24hour pe­riod.”

Cupid’s Chapel of Love, which started up in 1994, was one of the few in this con­ser­va­tive town of mul­ti­ple churches and fer­vent re­li­gious be­liefs that did al­low same-sex wed­dings.

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