Chapel of Love among losses from Tenn. wildfire
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.