During the 10 minutes it takes to get a marriage license in City Hall, Guy Sabelli has heard a lot of love stories.
The sweet ones — like the divorced couple who remarried after their kids had grown up, explaining with a shrug that they realized they'd never stopped loving each other.
And the strange ones — like the guy who came in carrying a Cabbage Patch doll he wanted to legally marry.
"Some couples don't want to be bothered; they want to get in and out," said Sabelli, who has run the office for 20 years. "Some are talkative. Some want to tell you their whole life story."
On Tuesday, the department will celebrate Valentine's Day by opening its biggest courtroom to marry 50 couples on one of its busiest days of the year.
Sabelli, 56, ran around Monday morning making sure the courtroom was ready and the marriage licenses were printed, and checking in on his clerks, attending to a steady stream of couples coming in for licenses.
In one year, the staff inside the lemon chiffon-painted, fluorescent-lit room will produce about 11,000 marriage licenses. The number was about 10,000 until same-sex marriage was legalized three years ago.
Every Tuesday and Thursday, eight couples are married by a judge in a courtroom space across the hall.
"I've seen people come in this room to get married with like seven kids. I've seen flip-flops and shorts, tuxedos and $10,000 wedding gowns on some of these girls," Sabelli said. "I've seen couples come in, stand in front of the judge, barely look at each other, and move on their merry way."
Sabelli said his role isn't to question the legitimacy of any marriage but to help people get their licenses and, if they want one, a free wedding in City Hall.
Born and raised in South Philadelphia, Sabelli graduated from Bishop Neumann High School and got a degree in marketing from Peirce College. He worked as a pipefitter at the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard before getting a job in the marriage records department through Register of Wills Ronald Donatucci, whom he'd known since age 14 when he worked on Donatucci's campaign for state representative.
Sabelli has been married 25 years and said he'd "do it all over again in a heartbeat." The couple have a 20-year-old son in college. His first marriage lasted only a year and a half. "We went our separate ways, and I found the person I really loved. I found my soulmate," he said.
On Monday, Rita Giandonato, 61, and Kimberlee Lemmerman, 55, walked into the fourth-floor office in City Hall to get a license. After a series of rapid-fire questions — name, occupation, parents' names —they were looking at a piece of golden paper, hot off the printer.
"It only took 30 years," Giandonato said, smiling. The couple have been together that long but couldn't wed until same-sex marriage was legalized three years ago. They'll marry in City Hall in March, followed by a poker game and reception with friends. "The secret is patience, and just have fun," Lemmerman said. "Have fun no matter what you do."
Erika DeJesus, 34, is one of the longest-tenured clerks in the office. She said being surrounded by engaged couples can mean an abundance of wedding knowledge. She knows exactly what kind of engagement ring she wants, for example.
"The diamonds on some of these ladies," she said. She's also seen rubber bands, tattoos, ring pops, or no rings at all.
DeJesus once gave out a marriage license to a man who came back four days later to ask her out. She also helped an 80-year-old woman fill out the license for her eighth marriage.
"She joked about competing with Elizabeth Taylor, but she was just a hopeless romantic and she kept following her heart wherever it led," DeJesus said.
With thousands of people coming through each year, statistically one or two end up on the news. When a man was arrested for killing his wife with a crossbow in June, DeJesus' heart sank. She'd given the man and his wife their marriage license.
Professional athletes from all of the major sports teams have come through. Perhaps the most famous couple to visit Room 413 was Frank Sinatra and Ava Gardner, who applied there in November 1951.
Most will stop in during the busiest time of the year, May to September, when an average Wednesday evening means 70 to 90 licenses. Couples have 60 days to use the licenses, which cost $90.