A love-struck young man from New Jersey nuzzled his girlfriend's ear as they gazed at the mirror image of the Washington Monument dancing on the Reflecting Pool. A Swedish couple shared a passionate kiss in the shadows of the Lincoln Memorial, and two starry-eyed college students planned their next rendezvous.
The muffled sounds of the city -- airplanes arriving and departing at National Airport, an occasional car horn or bus roaring into operation -- pierced the silence. But the concerns of the city were far away as lovers succumbed to the romance of the Lincoln, where thousands of couples flock each year to lose themselves in the magnificence of the marble memorial.
"It's the majesty of the monument that makes it so romantic," said U.S. Park Police Lt. Joseph Maimone, who has supervised patrol officers at the Lincoln Memorial, Washington Monument and Jefferson Memorial for several years. "It affects people's emotions. They just get swept away."
Lovers at the Lincoln said they chose the spot for the scenery, the atmosphere, and a feeling of privacy in the bustling city.
"You can be around a lot of people here, yet feel alone," said Deanna Taylor, 23, a Department of Social Services employee, who went to the memorial on her third date with Damian Luckman, 22, an auto body shop owner from New Jersey.
National Park Service spokeswoman Sandra Alley said the magic is particularly compelling to first-time visitors.
She remembers touring the memorial several years ago as a 26-year-old new to the area with a beau who had just returned from a stint in the Navy.
"It was winter and the wind was blowing and I just remember thinking that I was so in love," Alley said. "I remember sitting in one of the chambers and being all starry-eyed."
"The only thing more beautiful than the Lincoln in the summer is the Lincoln covered with a foot of snow," said Conner Sparks, 52, a salesman from Alexandria who stopped by the memorial with his wife, Patsy after a dinner date.
Trinity Women's College student Shelly Stonecipher, 19, and Robert VanBenthuysen, 20, a student at Northeastern University in Boston, danced the tango on the memorial steps two weeks ago. VanBenthuysen said the "emotion" of the Lincoln makes it an ideal place to share with a loved one.
Sometimes romance has been known to get out of hand at the memorials. Ranger Jeff Oates said he has happened upon over-enthused couples three times in the past year: once on the memorial's front steps and twice on the back side of the statue.
"The one on the steps really took me by surprise, because it was right in the front and I wasn't sure what they were doing," said Oates. "But I haven't had a problem. I just tell them there's a time and a place for everything and this ain't it, and they move on."
Most of the memorials' romantic encounters are far more innocent, authorities said. Shafeena Rahman, 16, of New York, and Stefon Deen, 15, of Silver Spring, were accompanied to the Jefferson for a date by her mother, Yasmin, and his cousin Saudia. Blushing, Stefon admitted that he had sneaked four kisses while the chaperons were busy admiring the view.
Maimone, 44, said the romance bug bit him one night recently. "I was just driving through and I noticed all the people out holding hands and I thought about my wife, Elaine," he said. "I called her and told her it would be nice if I was off and she could come down here."
The Sparkses said that once, when they thought the romance was fading from their relationship, they returned to the Lincoln for a romantic late-night picnic near the Reflecting Pool. It was the same date they had shared "more years ago than we care to count," Patsy Sparks said.
For corporate management consultant Steven Malech of Silver Spring, the Lincoln was his last chance to weave magic three weeks ago when he proposed to Sally Jacob, a 24-year-old Yale graduate student.
For weeks he had planned every detail of the day. But his scheme went awry when word got out on the family grapevine that he had flown to New Jersey to speak to her father.
To make things worse, dinner that evening at a posh French bistro turned to disaster when the couple was inadvertently served shellfish, which their kosher dietary laws disallow.
Thinking he had one last chance to pull a rabbit out of his hat, Malech chose the Lincoln. Even then, he barely averted another disaster when the couple was accosted by this reporter."I'm about to propose," Malech said, "could you go away for about a half hour?"
Finally, with Lincoln looking regally on from atop his marble throne, Malech knelt on the soft grass next to the Reflecting Pool, placed a picture-perfect, pear-shaped diamond ring on Jacob's finger and asked her to share his life.
A few minutes later the couple beamed as they discussed tentative plans to marry next year, honeymoon in Hawaii and move to Jerusalem. But the memorial will always be their special place.
"I've been around the world and this is the most beautiful place," Malech said. "We will always come here."