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Articles by Christina Gardner

Good health or the Lemming Effect?

Charging into a nearly freezing body of water in the middle of the winter is a tradition for people around the world. Frequently, the plunge is made on New Year’s Day.
    The first New Year’s Day Polar Bear Plunge is credited to Coney Island, New York, in 1903. Founder Bernarr Macfadden believed that a dip in the ocean during the winter could be “a boon to stamina, virility and immunity.” The Coney Island Polar Bear Club takes ocean plunges every Sunday from November through April, with the largest on New Year’s Day.
    The notion that cold water could have health benefits probably came to America with European immigrants, who believed that cold-water dips, alternating with sauna or steam baths, promoted good health.
    Boston has the second-oldest New Year’s plunge, started in 1904 by a group called the L Street Brownies.
    January brings two plunges to Chesapeake Country.
    The new year begins with a Polar Bear Plunge in North Beach at 1pm. It’s a free event with all welcome. Register by December 28 or on the day ($25) to record the moment with a T-shirt and certificate and support Calvert Meals on Wheels.
    At the end of January, the Maryland State Police and Maryland Special Olympics invite plungers into the Bay at Sandy Point State Park. The 21st annual Polar Bear Plunge has become so large that it stretches over three days, January 26 to 28, with the main event Saturday: www.plungemd.com.
    “The first year I think there were 300 plungers,” says Jason Schriml, of Special Olympics of Maryland. “We are anticipating 7,000 for Saturday this year but will have around 10,000 for all three days.”
    Last year’s plunge raised nearly $2.3 million for Special Olympics.

It all goes back to Hansel and Gretel

In one form or another, gingerbread has been popular since at least mediaeval times.
    “Gingerbread was a favorite treat at festivals and fairs in medieval Europe — often shaped and decorated to look like flowers, birds, animals or even armor,” according to Smithsonian Magazine. “Several cities in France and England hosted regular gingerbread fairs for centuries.”
    Gingerbread became especially popular in Germany, where monks baked the confection starting around the 14th century. Lay bakers then started making the treat and took their recipes extremely seriously, guarding them as family secrets.
    Building gingerbread houses likely started in Germany. Records of gingerbread houses start in the 1600s but became really popular after the Brothers Grimm fairy tale Hansel and Gretel was published in 1812, according to The History Kitchen.
    In the tale, a witch lives in a house made of delicious candy and cookies. The house is a trap she uses to lure children into her home and, eventually, her oven. Somehow the story inspired bakers to create their own baked houses, and people liked them, despite their terrifying associations. Gingerbread houses now range from the simple to the extreme.
    This year, the United Kingdom’s National Trust commissioned a gingerbread house that is astounding. Built by an English cookie making company, the mansion took 15 months and 500 hours to create. It was inspired by Waddesdon Manor and is made up of 66 pounds of butter, 240 eggs and 480 pounds of icing. It is six feet tall and has details that many of us would never imagine going into a gingerbread house, like paintings, beds, chairs and elaborate carpets, all made of confection. See the creation at https://waddesdon.org.uk/whats-on/biscuiteers-manor-in-gingerbread/
    Closer to home, a gingerbread White House is always part of the holiday decorations at The White House. This year’s house is constructed of 150 pounds of gingerbread, 100 pounds of bread dough, 20 pounds of gum paste, 20 pounds of icing and 20 pounds of sculpted sugar pieces.
    Fifty-six more pseudo gingerbread houses, each actually made of Lego bricks, represent each state and territory
    If you have $78,000 to splurge, you can order an organic gingerbread house custom made to look like your own home, adorned with pearls and a five-carat ruby from veryfirstto.com.

Why are pelicans still hanging around the Bay so late in the year?

Brown pelicans have become summer residents hereabouts, nesting on Smith and Holland islands in the southern Bay when the water is warm and fish are plentiful. This late fall, however, the big-billed birds have been sighted as far north as Ft. Smallwood Park and Ft. Armistead Park near Baltimore.
    “Seeing them that far north in the Bay in November is notable,” says David Brinker of Maryland Department of Natural Resources. “I don’t remember observations like this in years past.”
    As for explanation, Brinker explains that last month was warm “so the waters of the Bay don’t seem to be cooling as fast as they generally do. This means that fish are more active than usual, so the pelicans can still find food easily. So they’re sticking around longer than normal.”
    In a typical year, pelicans start migrating south in late October or early November. Leaving Maryland, most pelicans end up in Florida or the Caribbean islands for the winter. Some go as far south as the northern part of South America.
    In the Chesapeake, pelicans nearly disappeared in the 1960s and 1970s because the pesticide DDT weakened their eggs. They didn’t return until 1987.
    Now, Brinker says, “We have somewhere between one to two thousand breeding pairs of pelicans every summer. I think part of the reason we’ve had this great expansion of birds is that they’ve discovered the great resource of the Bay ecosystem, especially the menhaden.”
    Odder still, a small flock of white pelicans winters at Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge on the Eastern Shore.
    “Thirty to 50 birds have been spending their winters there for the past five or so years,” Brinker said.
    White pelicans spend their summers in the Midwest and west, nesting in freshwater wetlands, then typically wintering along the southern coasts of the U.S. and Mexico.

December 5 ended the Volstead Act

Prohibition Repeal Day, December 5, is the anniversary of the repeal of the 18th amendment, which ended prohibition. Prohibition began in 1920 and ended in 1933 after it was concluded that the law had not ended drinking in America. Worse, Prohibition was costing billions in lost tax revenue for local and federal agencies.
    To celebrate, I’ve found some lesser known facts about the era.
    Prohibition didn’t actually outlaw drinking. Surprisingly, the Volstead Act, as it was called, only outlawed the production, sale and transportation of alcohol. Doctors could prescribe alcohol for various ailments, and you could pick it up at the pharmacy.
    Maryland refused to enforce the law. “Although Maryland became the sixth state to ratify the amendment, the state, led by outspoken anti-prohibition Governor Albert C. Ritchie, refused to pass a state enforcement law abridging its citizens’ right to imbibe,” the Maryland State Historical Society reports. “In his second inaugural address delivered on January 9, 1921, Ritchie laid out his opposition to national prohibition as an infringement on Marylander’s liberties.”
    Thus “Maryland was one of the ‘wettest’ states, and Baltimore one of the ‘wettest’ cities.”
    “The Chesapeake Bay became the prime port of call for the nation’s bootleggers,” according to the Brewers Association of Maryland. “Because of its refusal to enforce prohibition, Maryland was also important in becoming a strong advocate for repealing the law.
    Elsewhere, booze cruises became popular. These “cruises to nowhere” set sail into international waters so passengers could legally drink, went in a circle and came back.
    Some states remained dry even after Prohibition was repealed by the federal government. Mississippi didn’t end Prohibition until 1966.
    This December 5, consider raising a glass to Utah, the last state to ratify the 21st amendment that repealed prohibiton.

Where will he be on Christmas Eve?

Santa Claus is amazing. As you’ll read in this week’s paper, he can wear many faces and be in many places, all at the same time. So you’ll have plenty of opportunity to meet with him from now to Christmas Eve. Then Santa gets down to business, and where he’ll be when is of intense interest to every girl and boy.
    It’s up to the North American Aerospace Defense Command to track his progress.
    The usual business of the North American Aerospace Defense Command is protecting the U.S. and Canada by detecting and warning of attacks from aircraft, missiles or space vehicles. On Christmas Eve, the Command also tracks Santa as he travels around the world in his sleigh.
    “Every year on December 24, 1,500 volunteers staff telephones and computers to answer calls and e-mails from children (and adults) from around the world,” www.norad.mil reports. “Live updates are provided through the NORAD Tracks Santa website (in seven languages), over telephone lines and by e-mail to keep curious children and their families informed about Santa’s whereabouts and if it’s time to get to bed.”
    Santa Tracker began accidentally in 1955, when a department store in Colorado posted NORAD’s phone number as its tracking hotline. On duty that night, Colonel Harry Shoup answered the numerous phone calls, with his team reporting Santa’s location to each one. The typo led to a tradition eagerly anticipated for over 60 years.
    The service has expanded greatly.
    “Each year, the NORAD Tracks Santa website receives nearly nine million unique visitors from more than 200 countries and territories around the world,” the Command reports. “Volunteers receive more than 140,000 calls to the NORAD Tracks Santa hotline from children around the globe.”
    Work begins in May to ensure that everything goes smoothly on the big day. On Christmas Eve, satellites, high-powered radar and jet fighters track Santa.
    Follow Santa by visiting the Santa Tracker website at www.noradsanta.org/ or get live updates through the Command’s Facebook, Twitter, You Tube or Google+ pages. There’s also a NORAD Santa Tracker app. A phone number will be listed as Santa’s big night approaches.

Coyotes yes, bears no

The region is home to many types of animals, but not many large predators. Historically, bobcats, cougars, bears and wolves lived in Chesapeake Country.
    Coyotes are newcomers. The western species wasn’t seen in Maryland until 1972. Since then, they’ve expanded their territory to all Maryland counties. They’ve thrived in part because they don’t face much competition from other predators as we have no more of similar size.
    “The density of coyotes in Anne Arundel County is low to moderate compared to elsewhere in the state. Our highest densities are in the western counties, lowest are on the Eastern Shore,” said Peter Jayne of Maryland Department of Natural Resources’ game management program.
    Coyotes, he noted, can be mistaken for a German shepherd-type dog.
    “Except they tend to appear slenderer than most dogs. They also have a bushier tail, white outlining the mouth and a longer snout,” Jayne said.
    Bears have been increasing in Maryland over the last few decades. Mostly, they stay in Western Maryland; the closest county with full-time bear residents is Frederick County — and maybe Montgomery County.
    “We don’t get reports of bears in Anne Arundel County except on very rare occasions, maybe one every four to five years,” Jayne said. “It’s generally a young bear that wanders through and then leaves to find a more bear-friendly area. In the near term, it is unlikely a bear will stay. However, over the long term it is possible.”
    If you see either a coyote or a bear, it’s best to quietly back away and observe from a safe place. Also, once you’ve seen one, try to ensure that they are not visiting you as a food source. Secure your trash, don’t feed pets outside and temporarily stop feeding outdoor birds.

Remember The Maryland 400

The first regiment of full-time professional soldiers from Maryland to fight for the Continental Army saved the revolution in August of 1776. Against a much larger, better-prepared British force, 450 to 500 Marylanders valiantly defended themselves and their new nation.
    “Through a series of charges, they kept the British bottled up so that the rest of the American forces could get off the battlefield,” said historian Owen Lourie, project director for Finding the Maryland 400 at the Maryland State Archives. “In doing so, they suffered extremely heavy casualties, but they literally saved the Army.”
    This regiment is known as The Maryland 400.
    “It’s not completely clear how they became known as the Maryland 400,” Lourie explained, as the actual number was larger. “We believe that it’s a Victorian allusion to the Spartan 300 rather than a direct indication of the number of men who fought.”
    The First Maryland Regiment was composed of 900 to 1,000 men from around the state, including one company from the Annapolis area.
    It was also known as the Old Line, which is the source of Maryland’s nickname, the Old Line State. Toward the end of the war and after, George Washington referred to the First Maryland Regiment as his Old Line because they were well established and reliable. During Revolutionary War battles, regiments fought lined up, facing the enemy. Each line was referred to as the Maryland Line or the Massachusetts Line rather than their company name.
    The Maryland State Archives, with funding from the Maryland Society of the Sons of the American Revolution, is working on a project called Finding the Maryland 400.
    “We are working to identify and write biographies on the men who served in the First Maryland Regiment,” Lourie said. Currently, 850 of the names have been identified. Read biographies of some 250 at https://msamaryland
400.wordpress.com/.
    A marker in Brooklyn commemorates the bravery of the Maryland 400, but Maryland has no statue or marker. Calvert Countian Bob Parker would like a statue erected in Maryland.
    “I can’t believe that Maryland has all but forgotten about them,” Parker said. “They saved the American Army, and I would like to see them remembered.”

Our estimable forefathers were as bad — maybe worse

If you’re disheartened by the tone of this year’s presidential election, you won’t find refuge in the good old days.
    Historical presidential contests were as bad as — perhaps even worse — than what we’re seeing. In fact, we seem downright civil compared to some of the low-down dirty tricks and harsh rhetoric of prior elections.
    The 1800 election, pitting then vice president Thomas Jefferson against president John Adams, was heated. Jefferson’s team called the president “a hideous hermaphroditical character which has neither the force and firmness of a man, nor the gentleness and sensibility of a woman.”
    However, the lie that could have had the biggest impact in that election was Adams’ camp’s declaration that Jefferson was dead. Jefferson won anyway.
    Even Abraham Lincoln was not above political mudslinging. In the 1860 campaign against Stephen Douglas, Lincoln’s camp took shots at Douglas’ appearance, calling him Little Giant because he was only 5 foot 4 inches, and noting that he was “about five feet nothing in height and about the same in diameter the other way.”
    Perhaps setting the standard for ugliness was the 1828 election, pitting Andrew Jackson against incumbent John Quincy Adams. Supporters of Adams called Jackson “a slave-trading, gambling, brawling murderer.”
    His supporters, in turn, went so low as to call Jackson’s dead mother “a common prostitute, brought to this country by the British soldiers.”
    Jackson’s supporters said that Adams was a pimp, claiming he had provided the Czar of Russia with an American prostitute while Adams was Russian ambassador. Both campaigns took shots at the other’s wives and created lurid stories about their pasts.
    While it would seem that ugly mudslinging is a part of our electoral heritage, I don’t know that we should be heartened by that fact.

Sightings up in warmer weather

Chesapeake Bay sees many migratory visitors, among them Canada geese, tundra swans and rockfish. The list occasionally includes Florida manatees. Colder waters generally keep the species south of us; most venture no farther than South Carolina or Georgia. But some males looking to expand their range can end up as far north as New England.
    “They start their migration in early spring and generally return to Florida in the fall when falling temperatures bring them back,” says Katie Tripp, director of Science and Conservation at the Save the Manatee Club in Florida.
    Many manatees have preferred habitats and will return to the same places year after year.
    In 1994, Chessie the wandering manatee called in many local ports. Newspapers and television recorded Chessie’s amblings. But cooling waters sent chills down the spines of manatee watchers who, fearing the object of their affections might succumb to hypothermia, set out on a Bay-wide chase. An elusive Chessie was at last caught, tranquilized and flown to the warmer Florida waters manatees are supposed to frequent. Apparently the grasses were greener in the Chesapeake. Chessie returned, visiting briefly in 1995 and reportedly again in 1996.
    “Since the early 1990s, there have been over 25 manatee sightings in Maryland,” reports Amanda Weschler, Marine Mammal and Sea Turtle Stranding Coordinator for the Maryland Department of Natural Resources. Sightings are typically made by boaters or citizens on land near the water with photographic confirmation.
    Many more may have visited unseen.
    “They’re large, slow-moving animals, and they don’t breach the water like dolphins or whales, so a lot of the time they don’t get noticed,” says Cindy Driscoll, Maryland Department of Natural Resources State Fish & Wildlife Veterinarian.
    Most visiting manatees are behaving normally, feeding and swimming, and don’t need help returning to Florida. Occasionally, a manatee that is injured, sick or a little lost needs help.
    “The best thing to do if you spot a manatee in the Bay is to call 800-628-9944. That’s the Natural Resources Police number, and they will direct your call to the best responder, depending on the situation,” Driscoll advises.
    The National Aquarium in Baltimore responds when a live marine mammal, including a manatee, needs rescue. Maryland Department of Natural Resources responds to dead marine mammals and sea turtles.


Send your questions to chesapeakecuriosities@gmail.com.

And how did it come to be?

And how did it come to be?
The Appalachian Trail, a 2,190-mile route that stretches from Georgia to Maine, was proposed in 1920 by Brenton MacKaye. Acquiring and protecting the land took decades of cooperation and political and private negotiations. The trail was mostly completed by 1937, but not federally protected until 1968. Only in 2014 was the last part of the route protected.
    The trail is part of the National Parks System and travels through many tracts of federal and state-controlled land, but many parts of the corridor cross over or near privately owned lands.
    “The process of completing the trail has relied on many factors, particularly when it comes to land usage rights,” explains Jordan Bowman of the Appalachian Trail Conservancy.
    Care of the Appalachian Trail falls under the National Parks System, but the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, located in Harpers Ferry, WV, oversees and coordinates maintenance, protection and promotion of the trail. Much of the day-to-day maintenance and construction is done by the 31 Appalachian Trail Communities. In addition to the trail itself, regional groups also maintain and rent the cabins and shelters that line the route.
    The Potomac Appalachian Trail Community oversees a portion of the trail that begins in central Pennsylvania at Pine Grove Furnace, continues through Maryland and West Virginia to Harpers Ferry and extends into the mid-point of Virginia, including Shenandoah National Park.
    The trail is visited by approximately three million people a year
    “In 2015, 916 individuals reported that they had completed the entire trail, including 158 who completed their hikes over multiple years,” Bowman says.
    The most popular parts of the trail coincide with the beginning, Springer Mountain in Georgia, and end, Katahdin in Maine, and portions that go through national or state parks.
    “The vast majority of visitors are not thru-hikers, but those who instead spend anywhere from an afternoon to a few weeks on the trail. That’s one of the great things about the trail,” Bowman says. “Since it crosses over or near many roads and connects with many other trails, it is easy to find a hike that is as short — or as long — as you want it to be.”


Send your questions to chesapeakecuriosities@gmail.com.