A couple who eloped to Dumfries in defiance of the groom’s parents 50 years ago celebrate their golden wedding anniversary tomorrow.
American student Harvey Shaw, then 19, and his Danish sweetheart Birgit Frederiksen, 22, hitched to Scotland from Copenhagen with the intention of tying the knot at Gretna Green.
But the backpacking couple ended up in “wonderful” Dumfries where they were married in the town hall in Buccleuch Street in the presence of two strangers they met on the street as their witnesses.
That was 50 years ago tomorrow – 23 August – and Harvey and Birgit are still happily married living in Arizona with two daughters and three granddaughters.
The couple got married in a quick civil ceremony and found two people on the street to be their witnesses.
Harvey recalled: “In 1971 I was travelling in Scotland with my friend, both of us from New York. It was pouring with rain one night and we waited in a pub hall until it stopped.
“When two pretty young ladies walked in, we started talking and discovered they were from Denmark. The four of us spent the following days together, enjoying Edinburgh.
“I really liked the girl I found out was Birgit, and when it came time for us to leave for London, she gave me a souvenir of a very thin rope like ring and her address. She got my well worn US Army surplus store cap and my address.
“Back home in the States I was to start college in New York and started writing letters to my new Danish pen-pal. We arranged to meet the following summer in the USA where I was to travel around the country with a group of college friends.
“Unfortunately somehow my parents discovered the travel plan and interfered with Birgit’s trip to the US so while Birgit was in NY I was already in Chicago. When I discovered this I got in touch with Birgit via Western Union telegrams. We agreed she would now fly to Chicago and we would meet at the airport.
“I waited and waited and left messages at the airline counter but Birgit and I did not meet in Chicago. We later found out we were possibly almost standing back to back at the airline counter so how we missed each other still remains a mystery.
“The summer went by and I returned to my second year of college. Just before leaving my home in New York City the phone rang but my older brother answered. It seems the whole family were in on the plot to prevent Birgit and I from getting together.
“I was just about to go down the porch stairs to my van when I heard the conversation on the phone and ripped the phone out of my brother’s hands. It was indeed Birgit calling from Chicago about to return to Denmark. We agreed she should come to New York and I met her at La Guardia airport.
“By then it was 1972 and my parents were vehemently opposed to the arrangement of a woman living with their son and did all they could to end that. Upset with their meddling, Birgit and I took quite a serious and adventurous step. We decided to both head to Denmark.
“Once there, we lived together in Birgit’s parent’s apartment in Copenhagen. We then decided to take things to the next level.
“Birgit had heard of a place in Scotland called Gretna Green where it would be possible for us to get married. So, in August 1973 when I was 19 and Birgit 22, we headed to Scotland. In order to get married though, a special sheriff’s licence was required which we eventually got in Stirling. Our travels took us to the wonderful town of Dumfries where we arranged a wedding at the town hall.
“After showering and changing clothes, ready to be wed, the clerk informed us we would need two witnesses. We knew not a soul in Dumfries, so we headed down the street, tapped the shoulders of a young couple and asked if they would like to attend ourwedding.
“The young lady, Linda, was thrilled saying she’d never been to a wedding before. The wedding took place in the fairly quick civil ceremony with almost a slight hitch as Mrs Nightingale asked us for our rings but we had none. Our witnesses lent us two.
“Time now was to celebrate, so we walked down the street and turned into a pub. They were not serving alcohol at the time, so tea for four it was.
“Our witnesses and us learned about each other, we had a marvellous time and departed as friends with each other’s addresses in our pockets. From that day on, Birgit and I have had a wonderful marriage.
“We have moved a few times back and forth across the Atlantic and now live in gorgeous Arizona. We celebrated our 15th anniversary with our children in Dumfries.
“As for our witnesses Bill and Linda, we too have remained friends for these 50 years. Scotland and Dumfries will forever be dear to our hearts.”
Want a quick and expert briefing on the biggest news stories? Listen to our latest podcasts to find out What You Need To Know...