Duncan Memorial Chapel popular

Historic chapel adds
interesting element to wedding ceremonies

By Helen E. McKinney
Contributing Writer

FLOYDSBURG, Ky. (March 2005) – Mike Zalampas has officiated at weddings for more than 4,500 couples. But it’s all in a days work for this soft-spoken Florida native.
Zalampas is entering his 31st year as wedding officiator at Duncan Memorial Chapel in Floydsburg, Ky., located next to Crestwood. He has seen the number of weddings per year steadily increase in the three decades he has been with the chapel. They average to about five a week, he said, depending upon the time of year.

Duncan Memorial Chapel

Photo by Helen E. McKinney

For nearly 70 years, couples have
been choosing the Duncan Memorial
Chapel for their wedding ceremony.

Right now is a slow time of the year for weddings at the chapel, said Zalampas. But soon things will “really pick up.” In the summer months, he may conduct as many as six weddings on any given Saturday.
“Weddings are very happy times, and the people are very nice,” said Zalampas. He married a Kentucky woman and moved to the area in winter 1974. His wife, Sherree, who has a doctorate in music, has played the organ for probably 4,000 of the weddings he has performed.
A former superintendent at the chapel had remarked to Zalampas that many couples were having trouble finding someone to marry them. One major reason for this was that some religious denominations would not recognize divorced individuals and agree to let them remarry in a church.
“Everyone has a past and hopefully a future,” said Zalampas. He had no qualms over performing a ceremony for a couple that truly wanted to be married. Duncan Memorial Chapel is non-sectarian and seats 100 guests.
Many couples find the chapel romantic, said Zalampas, who is of Greek ancestry. Couples are fascinated with the chapel’s history and the fact that their wedding is conducted over a tomb.
The chapel was built in 1936 by Alexander Duncan as a memorial to his wife, Flora Ross Duncan. Duncan and his wife are entombed in the chancel of the chapel. The couple had lived in Floydsburg for three years.
Duncan enlarged and landscaped the existing Floydsburg Cemetery as a Memorial Cemetery. It encompassed 16 acres, which were landscaped by Mary Louise Speed in 1936-37. Duncan purchased several pieces of adjoining property and donated them to the Floydsburg Cemetery Co., the foundation that oversees the upkeep of the chapel and cemetery.

Duncan Memorial Chapel

Photo by Helen E. McKinney

Mike Zalampas is the chapel officiant at Duncan Memorial.

In 1799, William Boulware had set aside about three-quarters of an acre of ground for the final resting place for his family and friends, thus establishing Floydsburg Cemetery. Nineteen years later, Boulware and his wife, Charity, deeded an acre to the Trustees of the Methodist Episcopal Church in Floydsburg. Around 1900, the Duncan family acquired the land on which the Floydsburg School and church had once stood and began to upkeep the grounds. Before his death in 1972, Duncan established the Duncan Memorial Trust for future upkeep of the chapel and grounds.
The chapel was designed by Louisville architect Fred H. Elswick. Abbott-McMillan Co. constructed the early English Gothic style chapel.
The interior is lined with cut Indiana limestone, and the roof and floor are made of slate. The pulpit, benches, porches, rafters and arches are made of sandblasted white oak. A carving of The Last Supper is to be found on the altar, crafted by woodcarver F. Pescosta.
The stained glass windows were designed and created by Henry Lee Willet of Philadelphia. Before installation, one of the windows was selected for exhibition at the 1937 Paris Exposition as an outstanding example of stained glass artwork in America.
“It’s one of a kind,” said Helen Bryant. She and her husband, Wilson, have been the superintendents of chapel for almost 27 years. Their phone rings constantly with couples from all over the world seeking to be married at the chapel.
Couples have come from England, Germany, Iceland, Iran, Australia and Scotland, said Bryant. One couple from Scotland actually brought their own minister and a bagpipe player.
Couples can use their own wedding officiator, as long as the person is a licensed, ordained minister, said Bryant. Zalampas and clergy from local churches preside over most of the marriages at the chapel.
She said that when she and her husband first came to the chapel, Alexander Duncan’s daughter, Elizabeth Yaggy, was still living. “We used to send her pictures every year,” said Bryant. One year Bryant forgot to mail the pictures, and Yaggy called and reminded her that she hadn’t received any pictures that year.
The first wedding was performed at the chapel on Nov. 11, 1937, between Mr. and Mrs. W.R. Wakefield. Mr. Wakefield was a first cousin to Alexander Duncan. Mrs. Wakefield is still living in the area and is a board member of the Floydsburg Cemetery Co.
Milton Stoess is president of this company, which dates to 1894. He has been chairman since 1941. There is a certain unique quality to the chapel but no full-time staff at the chapel, said Stoess.
Zalampas has performed many memorable weddings at the chapel. He recalled one in which a bride walked down the aisle with her dog. When it was over, the dog, bride and groom all went out together, said Zalampas. The pooch even put his paw print on the marriage license.
The oldest couple was probably an 87-year-old groom and an 85-year-old bride. They had met at an assisted living home and decided to marry for companionship. The groom cried throughout the entire ceremony, Zalampas recalled.
The only double wedding Zalampas ever performed was for a mother and daughter. The father had passed away while the daughter was still young. The mother told her daughter, “I won’t remarry until you do.” And she didn’t, said Zalampas.

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