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Learning Who We Are … from Who We Were
Family History Month is a good time to dig up the past
by M.L. Faunce
History seems to mean more when there's a personal connection. When, for example, you learn your great-grandmother marched to win women the vote or your mother marched for the Equal Rights Amendment, you understand more than where you come from. You learn, as well, a bit more about who you are.
Hundreds felt that kind of link when Dr. Emily Hammond Wilson came to the Shady Side Rural Heritage Society to sign her new biography. Dr. Wilson spent 53 years as a country doctor in southern Anne Arundel County, and among the former patients who came to see her were more than a few whom she had brought into this world. Learning about Dr. Wilson's life in this rural county from early to present days made friends a little more aware that they had lived history.
“I was married in 1944, when Doctor had just started practicing. She was my doctor for my first child in 1946 and took care of all four of my children. Any of us who had anything wrong with us would go to Dr. Wilson, and even now I see her nearly every week at church,” said Doris Phibbons of Harwood. “But the book made our everyday life seem like history.”
Newcomers, for their part, saw the world around them with deeper eyes. Dennis Williams, of Columbia Beach, read a life lesson into Dr. Wilson’s energy and easy ways. “She didn’t reinvent herself when she became a doctor, the way so many people do and later wish they hadn’t who don’t want the past to follow them around.”
Throughout Chesapeake Country, history is coming to life in lots of interesting ways. In Annapolis nowadays, you can walk through a chapter of the port town's history beyond ship captains and seafarers. An Historic Annapolis Foundation self-guided tour follows the footsteps of African Americans who struggled for success and standing in a community that has been about one-third black since the mid-1700s.
The first spot on the tour is the bronze plaque that marks the spot where the enslaved Kunte Kinte stepped ashore at the Annapolis City Dock in 1767. Alex Haley, author of the epic best-seller Roots, traced his family's beginnings in America to that arrival. Tour planners say they hope that by standing at the water's edge and looking into the past, we can better understand the long voyage from our roots to our times.
From lighthouses in the Bay to painted screen doors in Baltimore, Marylanders are banding together to protect and preserve symbols of our past that we often take for granted. They are standing guard over the great Wye Oak and other trees that watched as our forebearers lived and died, crumbling scenic highways and bridges, and reminding elected officials of their responsibility to help safeguard the icons of our past.
“People have rediscovered rediscovering themselves,” says Elaine Eff, cultural curator at the Maryland Historical Trust. “It started in 1976, in the Bicentennial and is now in a second wave. It could be the millennium, it could be a lot of communities having anniversaries, or it could be a continuum that’s not going to stop because people are realizing how quickly things are changing.”
Family and neighborhood stories are painstakingly gathered and preserved as oral histories; genealogies are compiled. Local historical societies are publishing books in record numbers. The forms of local history stretch beyond books to include reenactments of Civil War battles, patriotic plays and heritage trails following long-lost landmarks through cities.
The great American pastime of chronicling the history of an area or life of a local hero has become a multi-media affair. Nowadays, you can make your own book, or you can bypass print and still reach the audience who shares your interests by designing and posting a web page for less cost than publishing a book. Or you make a home video, like New York University history professor Paul Mattingly, a descendant of an Arc and Dove colonist, who came to St. Mary’s County recently to shoot a “small commentary for family usage.”
“The videotape,” he explains, “has a broader conceptual framework than just our family genealogy and uses ideas on colonial Chesapeake culture. We thought it might be of interest to many other families …”
School Children to Presidents …
Though today’s historians can choose from many media to recount their discoveries, written histories make up the largest part of this cultural safekeeping. Their authors are often, but not always, amateurs. The term "amateur" need not offend anybody who sets about the task of compiling local history. We are all in good company: Theodore Roosevelt and Franklin D. Roosevelt were both amateur local historians. FDR wrote a history of Hyde Park, N.Y., His older cousin, Teddy, perhaps our most colorful president, authored over 40 books on many subjects, including local history.
While "professional" historians have sometimes overlooked the history of America's hometowns, amateur historians have helped save the small records of life past from oblivion.
"Discovering our Community," a 1950s' school project in the Anne Arundel County schools, is just such a project. Fifth grade students, with the help school principals and teachers, gathered information about their communities, describing location, topography, soil, trees, wildlife, industry and economy, historical background, and special identifying characteristics.
Some reports examined in detail the boating industry that engaged nearly everyone one in their community, discussing boat yards, boat building techniques and even recording what farm supplied the wood. Transportation and the muddy condition of roads; tobacco and a short-lived attempt to cure it with fire in the barns were all detailed by students.
Every school throughout Anne Arundel County participated in the project. Today, nearly a half-century later, the two-volume community profiles are still available in the reference areas at the Anne Arundel branch libraries.
South County librarian Gwen Klein was one of those fifth-graders. “It was a wonderful project,” says Klein, “because we walked all over Shadyside with our Brownie cameras. And we interviewed older residents, some of whom are still living, like Miss Ethel who was my teacher and the principal. She also taught my dad.
“Now, we use them all the time,” says the librarian. “At first, we had little copies at each school. If we needed something from Owensville, we went over there. The county library finally put them together in notebook form. They’re used by kids, by people doing research papers; people who are curious about their new homes; visitors.”
Ethel Andrews, herself the subject of a book published by the Shady Side Rural Heritage Society, was principal of Shady Side Elementary School during the "Discovering our Community" project. Asked about the profiles, 107-year-old "Miss" Ethel remembers them vividly. “That project was so good for the children. They went out to interview older people in the community ... it was history they could feel," said "Miss" Ethel, who is legendary for her knack of bringing history to life.
Like county libraries, Library of Congress holdings reflect the popularity of local study. In its collections are over 100,000 U.S. local histories and about 40,000 compiled family histories. Most are privately published, many are written by first time authors, amateur historians, and genealogists. They are sponsored by historical societies, museums, universities, and senior centers to celebrate our bicentennials and tricentennials, our struggles and our triumphs. Some are unashamed boosterism, presenting their subject in the best possible light, and a few reflect our occasional clannishness. In all their sorts, local histories personalize our national and regional fabric, teaching us who we are.
Getting There Before Yesterday
"You should have been here yesterday." Those are words every historian dreads. To help us avoid that all-too-familiar refrain, Elaine Eff compiled You Should Have Been Here Yesterday; a Guide to Cultural Documentation in Maryland.
To teach people how to preserve their culture from loss and forgetfulness, the Trust staged a series of workshops that are the basis of the book. Through the workshops, amateur local historians throughout the state set out to record vanishing scenes disguised as everyday life. They captured the sounds of hucksters in Baltimore markets. They recorded Eastern shore watermen speaking in soft accents of that reflect the British Isles origins of Maryland's earliest settlers, sounds slipping away as isolation gives way to development. Tobacco barns of Calvert County were surveyed and documented. In an oral history project focused on women's lives in St. Mary's County, midwives, crab pickers, oyster shuckers and school teachers were interviewed.
Out of the workshops came Eff’s 1995 book, a lively guide to "guarding Maryland's culture and traditions."
“Our goal,” says the one-time Baltimore City folklorist now with the Maryland Historical Trust, “is to enable Marylanders to tell and share their own stories, to fashion and complete meaningful projects of a quality that will have lasting lessons for tomorrow."
For a copy of the Guide or help on your project, call the Cultrual Conservation program at Maryland Historical Trust: 410/514-7650.
Voices Added to History
Emily Peake, of Riva, retired three years ago from the Postal Service, is making her life-long dream come true. "I always wanted to write, and history of all kinds has been my life-long interest,” says Peake of her second career as a local historian.
Her personal quest is documenting the history of a place she treasures, St. Anne's Cemetery in Annapolis. Tombstone inscriptions especially fascinate her. The epitaphs aren't always original, she says, but they are moving. Her favorite: "Listen young man, as you pass by / As you are now, so once was I / As I am now, so will you be / Prepare yourself to follow me." Though its author is unknown, this message been seen on tombstones around the world. In a recent letter, Peake's Australian cousin reported seeing it again in a cemetery in northern Ireland.
As well as writing history herself, Peake teaches seniors how to write their own personal histories. Her popular, ongoing series at the South County Senior Center in Edgewater includes lectures, tours of local sites and speakers who recount from firsthand experience the stories of their life and time.
Like many local historians, Peake says she will have to probably "dig deep" to pay for having her book published. It's worth it, she says, because "people want to know about their own area, or the area they've adopted."
Whether begun as a lark or a love, local histories devour time, work and money with an appetite few professional historians or sponsors have anticipated.
That's what happened to Therese Magnotti, who's first effort became "Doc," the Life of Emily Hammond Wilson, the third book to be published by the Shady Side Rural Heritage Society. Magnotti, who spent three years researching and writing the biography of Dr. Wilson, described her experience with Dr. Wilson as "a pure delight." Still, the rigors of such a commitment while attending to family and other interests compel her to add that this is her "first, and probably last book."
If some are exhausted, other historians are exhilarated by their efforts.
Caroline Britt Mullins became an author, as she had dreamed, with her recently published The History of Mayo, Maryland, a significant addition to our knowledge of peaceful peninsula life between the South and Rhodes River (see sidebar). Mullins started this project after researching her family history. "It gave me a sense of belonging," she said. She hasn't skipped a beat before starting her second book, to be called In Her Own Words.
Exhausted or invigorated, all who undertake the focused study and writing of local history seem to be transformed by the experience. Ask Dr. Wilson’s old friend and patient Doris Phibbons. Soon after Phibbons retired, she and a friend took a course in oral history, much like the ones taught by Emily Peak, at the Eula Scott Center in Shady Side. “There were 10 of us with our teacher Ellen Sheets, talking about how things were as we grew up. We have stayed together and continue to meet. It’s a bond we made,” says Phibbons.
While preserving our collective spirit, we are also discovering ourselves and proving the old saying: "I hear and I forget, I see and I remember, I do and I understand."
Mayo Historian Caroline Mullins
What do you do when you're sidelined by a serious car accident?
If you're Caroline L. Britt Mullins of Mayo, you spend time researching your family history and learning a lot about yourself. And when you finish that, you write the definitive history of your community. Mullins’ 250-page The History of Mayo, Maryland, recently published by Gateway Press of Baltimore, is the product of one of that journey.
The book is one part genealogy, recording the lives of Mullins' own ancestors, who date back to the 1600s and the beginnings of Anne Arundel County.
It is another part local history, drawn from many primary and secondary sources, including census and land records. As well as Mayo, the book touches on the several communities that rest between the Chesapeake Bay and the South and Rhode Rivers Selby Bay, Glebe Heights, Woodland Beach, Turkey Point, Loch Haven, Beverly and Triton Beaches, which have separate identities but shared interests. All form a part of that "land of pleasant living," shaped by fertile fields, the bounty of the Bay and a proximity to Annapolis, Baltimore and Washington, D.C.
Mostly, Mullins’ History of Mayo is a collection demonstrating its author’s love and knowledge of the Mayo Peninsula with its hard working people of proud spirit. Personal interviews and a section of vignettes entitled "Memories" give the history charm. Mullins says she "had a ball" talking to older Mayo residents, and wanted to give something back to them.
Mullins’ sister calls her a "late bloomer.” But Mullins herself says she’s "coming into her own," which just happens to be the title she’s chosen for her next book now in progress.
Get your copy at the Mayo Food Center, Lou’s Stop Shop or your local library. Or order for $33.24 from Mullins at P.O. Box 23, Riva, MD 21140.
A Fifth-Generation Washingtonian’s First-Person Encounter with History
When local and family history intersects, each enriches our understanding and appreciation of the other.
When I explored my own Washington, D.C. family
roots, I discovered several earlier generations of Irish and German ancestors largely unknown to my own parents. That these ancestors had walked the same Capitol Hill and Georgetown streets as I had struck me personally. Pouring through aging civil and church records, I not only discovered their existence but also reveled in the knowledge that we had prayed in the same churches, climbed the same city stairs, boated across the same river.
Researching my own family roots also revealed a small but fascinating footnote to local history. Advancing to what would become the First Battle of Bull Run, Federal troops crossed from D.C. into Virginia, yanked down the secessionist flag of the Confederacy at Fairfax Courthouse, and burned the nearby village of Jermantown to the ground. An "ordinary" or tavern operated there by my great, great grandfather, Hezekiah Jerman, was among the buildings burned.
I made that discovery reading old newspapers on microfilm to learn more about the Civil War in our area. The newspaper headline that proclaimed "Exciting War News" proved as exciting to me some 135 years later. From census records I learned that Hezekia's two sons fought on opposite sides in this bloody war between the states, each attaining rank and honor, each following their own conscience. Learning that my ancestors were part of local history gave me my own personal connection to history and made me thirsty to learn more.
Doing It Yourself? How to Get Started
1. Choose a topic; keep it focused.
2. Research; explore resources: libraries, historical societies, public and church records, maps, memoirs, newspapers, photographs. Computers can link you on-line to other people who, sharing your interests, can further your search.
3. Conduct interviews: listen well, resist judgment, record carefully.
4. Write narrative: Determine your purpose. Devise and follow a structure. Use plenty of details, but keep them subordinated to the big picture. Be honest and impartial.
5. Get in print: Desk-top publishing means you can prepare your book for publication yourself, typesetting and designing it. Or pay to have a professional do it for you.
6. Seek support to defray expenses. Use your imagination: consider civil groups, churches, historical societies.
Weekend Sidetrips to Local History
Here are three ways to spend the weekend learning more:
• Black Life at London Town
Fri. Oct. 18-Black life in London Town the daily lives of slaves, the role of free blacks, the entrepreneurial activities and the emergence of African-American craftspeople comes to life in the words of Christy Matthews, director of African-American Interpretations and Presentations for Colonial Williamsburg. 7pm at London Town Visitors Center, Edgewater. All places may be taken, so Call Ahead: 410/222-1919.
• Tuskegee Airmen Book Signings
Sun. Oct. 20Jacqueline Harris wrote the book that made these airmen famous. She and two other Tuskegee authors introduce and sign their books. Get your signed copies of Harris’ The Tuskegee Airmen plus Ruth Bates-Harris’ autobiography Harlem Princess and old friend LeRoy Battle’s autobiography, Easier Said. 2pm at the Officers’ Club at Bolling Airforce Base in Washington, D.C.: 703/777-1687.
• Historic African-American Sites in Annapolis
The Historic Annapolis Foundation's African-American Heritage Walking Tour tells about 15 African-American sites in historic Annapolis through the eyes and experiences of its black residents, including the first African-American elected to public office in the state; a founder of Anne Arundel General Hospital; the physician who performed the first successful surgery of the human heart; and the first man to reach the North Pole. Get cassettes and earphones at HAF's Welcome Center and Museum Store at 77 Main St.
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Dock of the Bay
It’s happening: autumn’s chemistry is painting the leaves with colors that steal your breath and challenge your vocabulary.
Scientists tell us it’s all a matter of pigment revealed as chlorophyll production shuts down. We simply say, Wow!
As we did at about mile 5 of I-97. Beyond a median of cosmos furiously indulging their last fling, sumac burns red along the roadsides. Higher, the hardwoods, bored with summer’s monochromatic green, are changing into butterscotch, cinnabar, mango, port, chartreuse, peach and cordovan.
Help us keep watch. Tell us where you saw autumn’s most amazing artwork. Write NBT Leaf Watch, P.O. Box 358, Deale, MD 20751 • Fax: 410/867-0304 • E-Mail [email protected] com.
An American Dream
It comes as a surprise, meeting a person right here along the Bay who comes from a background with rules are so different that it’s hard to imagine they’re real.
Fahima Vorgetts is such a person. Her story is one of four that will be told on United Nations Day at Unity on the Bay in Severna Park.
Vorgetts wants to bring her sister to the United States because she fears that Hilai will be stoned to death if she is sent back to her native Afghanistan from her current haven in Switzerland.
Stoned to death. We sit and talk about it at a suburban MacDonald’s while Do You Know the Way to San Jose plays brightly in the background. Stoned to death.
Do they still do that? Vorgetts admits that she doesn’t know of anyone stoned except for political reasons. Yet Hilai may be stoned. The two are daughters of a well-known political and religious leader who was assassinated. The daughters followed in political activism but not in their father’s steps. They championed women’s rights instead. Further, like Vorgetts, Hilai has become a Christian. In Afghanistan, where a person’s religion is written on their passport, this is a serious matter. Vorgetts tells me, “In Islam, if a person changes religion, it says in the Koran, it is allowed to stone. In fact, the person doing the stoning is guaranteed an instant place in heaven.”
Vorgetts, who on this day has two interviews scheduled one with New Bay Times and another as part of her application for U.S. citizenship particularly fears for her 29-year-old sister now. Muslim fundamentalists are stepping into more power in Afghanistan. Even in the modern city of Kabul, women have been sent home from their jobs as teachers and doctors and told not to go out of the house. At the same time, officials in Switzerland have told Hilai that her application for a visa has been denied and she must leave the country. She has been given no deadline and has filed an appeal, but a visa will give her an additional two years at most. What Vorgetts hopes for is sponsorship to bring her sister to this country.
She even has a sponsor in mind. The five-month-old Ariana restaurant owned by Vorgetts and her husband in Severna Park. There’s only one catch. The sponsor will have to set aside one year’s salary for the immigrant. That’s $21,000 the Vorgetts don’t have. Every credit card is filled up with the expenses a new business brings.
Unity by the Bay wants to help. Although Vorgetts has been advised by immigration lawyers that the church cannot sponsor her sister directly in this case, donations are being collected by the congregation to help her cause. When Vorgetts tells her story on U.N. Day, perhaps enough people will respond to bring Hilai to the tolerant United States.
Unity By the Bay, Severna Park, celebrates United Nations Day on Thursday, October 24 at 730pm with prayers for world peace, Celtic music by Cathy and Bill Palmer and stories of immigration from China, Brazil and Columbia as well as Afghanistan: 410/544-7990.
Another Kind of Powerboat
When I hopped aboard Steve Black's Duffy 21, I definitely felt out of place. Where was the engine box?
The familiar growl of a diesel was absent, and only a faint hum came from below deck. Somewhat skeptical, I'd have settled for a small outboard engine at that point. But after a tour around Spa Creek, which included a turn at the helm, I came away not only with a new-found respect for the quiet launch but also a little of the storied history of electric boats.
Electric boats made their debut in the 1890s, more than a century before Black founded the Eastport Electric Boat Company, which charters and sells Duffy and ELCO electric boats, two of the industry leaders.
Charles Houghton, president of ELCO boats of Highland, New York, joined us aboard the Duffy 21, and surprisingly was not incognito. His company doesn't necessarily compete head to head with Duffy, he explained. Rather, Houghton says, ELCO tries to complement Duffy by offering a different type of electric boat. The Duffy is made entirely of fiberglass and trimmed out with modern materials, while ELCO offers more traditional electric launches, featuring white oak, fur, and mahogany, in its construction. As well as selling electric boats, Brown’s Eastport company also converts gas- or diesel-powered boats to electric, which may interest sailboaters who seldom use their engines.
Electric boats are extremely reliable and virtually maintenance-free, a fact to which Houghton personally attests. On Lake George in the Adirondacks, his family has an electric boat that runs as well today as it did when it was built more than 90 years ago. Except now there is no chauffeur.
The advantages of electric drives are many: Low noise, no vibration, no pollution of air or water, and no potentially costly engine repairs. A bank of 12 wet-cell, deep-cycle 12-volt batteries wired in parallel power the drive. Options to enhance recharging capabilities and range include micro-wind turbines or solar panels.
The Duffy 21 is equipped for comfort, too, with a cockpit laid out for socializing and sight-seeing plus table, cassette-stereo and full ice box. It has a top end speed of about six mph, very helpful for boaters without loads of sea time.
"It’s a really nice alternative for people who want to enjoy boating without the hassle of regular maintenance," Black says. In his first season, most charter customers were locals, many of whom renting out a boat two and three times.
Gliding silently through the water, the Duffy 21 handled nicely, backed down with conviction and responded well to rudder and gear changes. The dual rudder set-up definitely helped her responsiveness. The boat demonstrated competent stability, though conditions that day were far from challenging. A small water boat, it may well be ideal for the numerous creeks along the Chesapeake.
Though I'm not ready to ditch my center-console outboard, I’ve learned that electric boats have a place on the Chesapeake.
As a bareboat charter, the Duffy 21 is rated to carry 12. Hourly, half-day, and evening rates are available: 410/263-5060.
The High Technology of Wooden Boats
Technology behaves a little like astrophysicists tell us space does, bending back on itself. So even as the U.S. Powerboat Show gathers the most advanced technologies in Annapolis harbor, Joe Reid’s 20th wooden boat, give or take a few, is getting the feel of Chesapeake waters in Galesville harbor.
Looking casually at the Rabbit 34 commissioned by retired Rear Adm. Robert Welander of Galesville, you see a familiar Chesapeake workboat. “Similar to a Chesapeake Bay deadrise with some elements of New England style,” says Reid of the latest boat launched by Mast and Mallet, his wooden-boat yard. “We’re trying to stay similar to Bay craft and classic lines.”
Looking beneath the surface, you see technology bending back on itself. As in a traditional Chesapeake Bay deadrise, this boat is cedar. Innovation takes the next step, for boats at Mast and Mallet are cold molded, the two layers of half-inch planking bent around a form and glued with epoxy.
“Our designer gives us full-scale pattern of frames, which we set up in position. Then we add the stem and keel or transom and then bend the first layer of planking,” says Reid.
Sealing the wood with epoxy and fiberglass makes for wooden boats that, says Reid, take “the same or less maintenance than fiberglass.” Mast and Mallets boats, finished with polyurethane paint, can go several years without repainting.
The thousands of hours of skilled labor that go into each boat make them, as you can imagine, rather pricey. Most sell for between $100,000 and $200,000 range. Last year Reid’s crew made a classic Criscraft style speed boat in only 1500 hours. That 12-foot long runabout finished in bright mahogany cost only about $60,000.
Mast and Mallet did two more 12-footers this year. One was miniature skipjack. The other, a catboat, will be offered as a kit.
“We work for experienced boat owners looking for something more personalized, and they know they can get it by having it custom built,” says Reid, who dropped out of college to help his father restore an old wooden boat. He’s been building wooden boats even since.
Welander’s new Rabbit, with an enclosed, full-sized cabin and a generator on board, is designed with old technologies and new for pleasure cruising.
Herrington Harbour Judged Nation's Best
More than 150 marinas competed for the distinction as the nation's finest from Marina Dock Age magazine, the bible of marina operators.
When the rigorous judging had ended, one marina stood alone Herrington Harbour, which has locations at Deale and Rose Haven.
"It was judged the best marina by people who know marinas the best," said Larry Hooper, editor of the magazine.
E. Steuart Chaney, managing owner of Herrington Harbour, will receive the 1996 Marina of the Year Award on Saturday, Oct. 19. at the U.S. Powerboat Show in Annapolis. The award will be presented at 2pm at the Herrington Harbour display on dock F-2.
This is the second year that the 18,000-circulation, Chicago-based magazine has presented its coveted award. The first winner, Eldean Shipyard, of Macatawa, Mich., was so special that editors wondered if a benchmark had been set that might not be equaled.
About half the applicants for the award were rejected immediately. The other half were put through rigorous judging that included these criteria:
• Is it a well-run and profitable business?
• Is it an "absolutely first-class, beautiful" facility?
• Are its owners good corporate citizens?
"Do they get back to their community? Or do they fight with their community?" Hooper said, recounting the questions that are asked.
After investigation and telephoning customers, Herrington Harbour won the coveted distinction.
Who's buried in Grant's tomb? Only kidding.
This time of year with kids back to school and homework time filling evenings, questions seem to fill the air.
Where is Dewa Mountain? Is shark cartilage an arthritis treatment? Where did the idea of the suggestion box come from? Do hummingbirds migrate by attaching themselves to ducks?
These and other questions that might keep you up at night can be answered very simply thanks to local librarians.
Calvert County's library has reference librarians specifically trained to help with information, although all library personnel can help. Kathie Eichfeld at Prince Frederick library told us that "the library at Prince Frederick answers over 1,000 questions a month, mostly asked by adults. There are many medical and consumer questions, as well a some seemingly odd ones."
Eichfeld says, "Some people call while they're working on crossword puzzles. Someone brought in an old glass Crisco jar and wanted to know how old it was. " The Calvert County librarian called the company and found out that glass jars were used during the World War II when metal was scarce.
In addition to print reference materials and computers, the Prince Frederick librarians also use people as sources. Someone wanted to know if using glass pickles on Christmas trees was a German tradition. Different resources were checked. No answer. A staff member who had lived in Germany called the Smithsonian European desk and got the answer. Glass pickle ornaments are made in Germany for the German export market.
People also call up to recite a line of poetry or sing a line from a memorable tune. Name that tune by phone. Librarians try to help, often enlisting the aid of others on the staff.
The Anne Arundel County library system trains all of its librarians in information sleuthing as well. It handles a huge volume of requests for answers. "Our library system fielded a quarter of a million questions last year," says Betty Morganstern, information, programming and outreach librarian.
Many of Anne Arundel's requests involve complex statistical information. What is the demographic profile of luxury car buyers? Help us apply for a grant to combat drug abuse by finding a source that tracks crime street by street in specific neighborhoods.
When you're wide awake at night searching for an answer to a question that keeps bugging you, get up and write it down. The next day, call your local library. Sorry! 24 hour service isn't available yet.
Way Downstream …
In Russia, environmental advocates are protesting a plan to bury millions old banknotes in abandoned missile silos. People in the town of Kostrama, 200 miles north of Moscow, say that heavy metals and salt leech from the old rubles and pollute the waters …
The news from Antarctica is that penguins aren't the lazy creatures people had thought. An article in the new Nature magazine said that one penguin traveled 1,775 miles from his birthplace ...
In Zimbabwe, a beautiful country in southern Africa, developers looked to an unusual designer for a new mall: ants. Builders are modeling the new 11-floor Eastgate Mall after the burrowing white ant hill because of its strength and efficient ducts...
Our Creature Feature this week comes to us from Switzerland, where a clothing designer has gone a bit far for even the most upscale Swiss.
Ann-Kristin Antmann has designed a parka made out of salmon skin soaked in urine. She modeled it after the fashions of natives in the far north who concluded over centuries that there was not a warmer nor more waterproof garment on earth.
Antmann says don't worry, the urine smell disappears soon after the parka is broken in. The price is another matter: $11,345.
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Seeing the Politics Through the Trees
In these pages we refer to Virginia's chief executive as Gov. George "Banana Republican" Allen. We do so whimsically because of the jungle hats he wears.
Admittedly, we often are confounded by Allen's anti-green sentiments. His disdain for pollution control and tough crabbing rules and his antagonism toward environmental advocates would be more forgivable if he were the governor of, say, Oklahoma.
But Allen reigns over our neighbor and co-steward of the Chesapeake Bay. The truism that "We All Live Downstream" seems to have never occurred to him.
Consider the agreement last week by the Chesapeake Executive Council to plant trees along the banks of the Chesapeake. The council, you may recall, is made up of the chief executives of Maryland and states that surround the Bay.
Trees are not just pretty; they also prevent sediment from muddying the Bay, killing aquatic life and gumming up boating channels. About half the 112,000 miles of streams and rivers along the Bay have lost their forest buffers because of development and farming.
So you'd think that the bipartisan band of smiling governors would readily agree to the plan to begin restoring trees. Wrong.
Allen said the concept was fine but that specific goals how many trees would be planted were unnecessary. He later backed away from his opposition. But the damage was done.
If you're a Democrat, you may be pleased that Allen reinforced the notion of Republicans as thoughtless about the environment just three weeks before the election.
But if you're a Republican, trying to undo that reputation, you've got to wonder what's under George Allen's goofy hat.
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Letters to the Editor
Burton Van Winkle?
Dear New Bay Times~Weekly:
Sometimes Bill Burton reminds me of Rip Van Winkle. From his Oct. 3-9 article, "Egad! The world of fishing is becoming a women's world," you'd think he'd been asleep for the past hundred years and suddenly woke up in the 1990s.
I don't think Bill really believes a woman's place is only in the house five Burton women must certainly keep him honest on that score. However, separate but equal bass tournaments is not a true reflection of either the progress women have made, or their goals.
Bill's a-man's-got-to-do-what-a-man's-got-to-do theme in the so-called "highly competitive sport of bass fishing that requires great concentration" demonstrates why women are catching more than fish these days.
If Shannon Lucid and her male crew members handled the sanitary disposal issue in space while accomplishing significant scientific experimentation, earthbound men and women bass fishing on our rivers and ponds should be able to accommodate their differences and enjoy each other's company. Nuf said.
D.C. Bourne, Churchton
Why I Liketh New Bay Times
Dear New Bay Times~Weekly:
Because it invoketh in me a vision of an ideal, small American town, populated by friendly people living in houses with picket fences where there is no crime and discrimination. A town with live music in the square on Saturday afternoons. With children playing tack, hide-and-seek or with marbles and tops.
And where the newspaper writes about local happenings with just a hint of news from the outside world.
For the above reason, I love the articles by Bill Burton, about the mourning doves and why he does not hunt them anymore … and about his mother’s recipe for seafood.
And then NBT’s heartwarming story about Mama Della’s 110th birthday. Also the interesting NBT Classified Ads with so much variety, besides News of the Weird; Dock of the Bay; Land, Sea and Sky …
Even the NBT office is exactly as a newspaper office in a small town (I imagine) should look like small, busy and friendly.
Call me sentimental or nostalgic, but don’t ever call NBT a free tabloid paper. I liketh NBT and hope she will prosper and continue for years to come.
Eddie Tecumseh Yo, Davidsonville
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Readers’ Commentary on Baldwin’s Choice
Development Should Proceed
Dear New Bay Times~Weekly:
I read with special interest your article “After Big-Wigs Visit, Will Baldwin’s Choice Bounce?” (Aug. 29-September 4) In my opinion, development should proceed. Let me go on record as to why.
In October, 1994, Ardath M. Cade, then Planning and Zoning Officer for Anne Arundel County, requested the South County Environmental Commission (I was then chairman) and Severn River Association review a number of projects for environmental correctness. Franklin Point was one of them.
The developer presented all aspects of the proposed environmental protection measures to the satisfaction of the commission. I can honestly say all of the major players did an excellent job of assuring compliance with state-of-the-art procedures.
Our additional review of the engineering, scientific and environmental planning upon which the project was predicated showed that no stone was left unturned with respect to the protection of fish and wildlife and to the removal of silt and unwanted nutrients and heavy metals from storm water run-off into Chesapeake Bay.
Now is much too late for any politician to cast a vote to change the project into a no-go. The folks who are opposing the project want to throttle growth in South County, but let me suggest to them that this project is one of the most carefully thought out and least environmentally obtrusive of any project that it has been my pleasure to have guided the County on.
Vernon Gingell, Fairhaven
In four years as chairman of the South County Environmental Commission, Vernon Gingell was responsible for compiling both citizen and community environmental concerns. He published the brochure, “Helpful Hints for Managing Your Buffer,” which was mailed to 10,000 waterfront residents.
Let’s Put Our Money Where Our Hearts Are
Dear New Bay Times~Weekly:
As a neighbor of the proposed Baldwin’s Choice subdivision, I am writing in response to the plethora of editorials calling on the Board of Public works to disapprove the project.
Like the more vocal of the residents of the area, I admire the beauty of the Franklin Pint woods and marshes and creeks. It would make a wonderful park or preserve for our state or county. Indeed, the land would benefit greatly from some riprap or revetment on the Bay side and from a clean-up of debris on the Columbia Beach end. Nature paths and bird watching points could help to educate our children and others in matters of the wetlands and their function.
Fortunately or otherwise, the owners of the tract at this time are the developers, who hope to build 150 homes there and provide the land for the clients. So far as I know, the developers have not only legally acquired and paid for the land but have also been through many months of struggles to meet ever-increasing demands by the county, the state, and the Corps of Engineers to fulfill innumerable zoning and wetland requirements.
Now those of us who would love to see the area remain more or less pristine are crying for the authorities to deny the owners of the land what most of us have believed to be their property rights. Thus far, I have seen no offer from South County environmentalists to pay the Baldwin’s Choice developers one cent for their land or their considerable work. We lovers of the environment seem to want a free ride. isn’t that a bit unfair? Of course, SACReD and Pointe properties can spend their days in hearings and in court enriching some lawyers while the land erodes and some people throw their beer cans there. And it is not clear that justice or the environment will be served.
An alternative would be to collect, say, $100 from every one of the residents of the neighborhood (and elsewhere in the County) who claim to love the land, and offer Pointe Properties some compensation. The county or state might be induced to manage the property, and it would remain undeveloped.
Such a collection would show how much real support SACReD has. It seems reasonable to ask us environmentalists to put our money where our hearts are, while demonstrating our concern for the rights we all share as property owners.
Nelson Goddamn, Shady Side
Speak Out Against Irresponsible Development
Dear New Bay Times~Weekly:
In your Bay Reflection (Oct. 3-9), M.L. Faunce notes the variety of signs we see along our roads that remind us of what is special about our community. One she mentions is “Save Franklin Point,” which reminds passers-by of the struggle to rescue the last extensive wetlands area on the Shady Side Peninsula from irresponsible development. Many readers are aware of the proposal to build over 150 homes on the site and the frightening impact this would have on the environment as well as on school overcrowding and traffic.
What readers may not know is that this is a critical time to make their voice heard. The project may soon get through the Maryland Board of Public Works even though the Maryland Department of the Environment has not completed its review of he impact of the proposed project. One brand-new environmental wrinkle is the state’s newly announced plan to restore the Bay’s oyster harvest. Franklin Point lies next to one of the state’s few remaining healthy oyster bars.
Letters and phone calls to the Board of Public Works urging delay of their decision until the department of the Environment has done its work can make a huge difference at this critical moment. Concerned citizens should contact the Board by writing to the Honorable Parris N. Glendening, Governor of Maryland, State House, Annapolis, MD 21401 or by calling 410/974-3901.
To learn more, people can contact South Arundel Citizens for Responsible Development (SACReD), which is leading this fight, at P.O. Box 205, Churchton, MD 20733, or by calling Michael Shay at 301/261-9267.
Every voice counts!
Sally Shivan, Deale
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The Great Pumpkin
The world’s biggest pumpkin weighs 1,061-pounds. What in the world are they going to do with it?
I saw by the paper a recent Washington Times that there's a new world-record pumpkin, an awesome 1,061-pounder. That's better than a half ton, and at a time when Maryland farmers and consumers are griping about both poor pumpkin harvests and pumpkin quality.
The Times didn't go into much detail about the biggest recorded pumpkin ever, just a picture and three lines of type below, so seeing that Halloween is fast approaching, I wondered whether a big orange fruit of such distinction would end up hollowed out, a face added and then stuffed with a dozen or so candles or perhaps a bonfire. Or maybe would it become a couple hundred pies?
I was confident that big relative of the common gourd wouldn't be among the hundreds of thousands already carved or soon to be carved for the tricks or treats holiday, but newspaper people can't take anything for granted.
I was also curious whether a pumpkin of such size could possibly be good to eat. Does the flesh toughen, get dry, become tasteless, get strong or what? My experience certainly couldn't offer much insight; biggest pumpkin I ever grew probably weighed about 50 pounds and I was pretty proud about it until several years ago when I began reading of others that went well up into the hundreds of pounds.
So I did what any inquisitive newspaperman would do, I called Nathan and Paula Zehr of Lowville, N.Y., the proud parent farmers of The Great Can Do, the name they gave that trophy of the Atlantic Giant variety at some time or other in the growing process.
When I was a kid on the farm in New England, we never thought of giving a pumpkin a name. If there was one that stood out from the rest because of its size and shape and qualified for Halloween honors, it was referred to simple as "that big round pumpkin."
Always served dutifully at Halloween, the pieces cut out to make mouth, eyes, nose and sometimes ears went into pumpkin pies. My mother, Mildred Burton, didn't believe in allowing any produce to go to waste.
We might have grown 35 to 75 pumpkins in a good year, most of them from bowling ball to basketball size, with an occasional bigger one mixed in. Rarely did we sell one, certainly never displayed one at the Grange Fair, never mind the state fair; we just raised them because we liked pumpkin pies, pumpkin bread, pumpkin anything including mashed pumpkin, which wasn't quite as good as the winter squashes on the dinner plate though certainly nutritious and filling, an important consideration during the Great Depression.
Turns out, Paula, who answered the phone, does one thing my mother did. Even in these changed times of plenty, she salvages the cut-out pieces of pumpkins for the table. From one pumpkin's "scraps," she got more jars of the delicious fruit than Mother (who preferred using most of her crop for fresh pies) canned in a year.
From the eyes, nose and mouth of one of her previous biggies, Paula canned 42 quarts of edible pumpkin.
Turns out also, the previous record pumpkin, a 963-pounder, was also raised by Paula, so the record they broke was a family affair. There are many other records and outstanding pumpkins for them in the "sport," as they call growing them since Paula first took up the idea after reading a newspaper article about it 10 years ago.
"I've always like pumpkins, grew them when I was young," said Paula, who also likes jack-o-lanterns. The "sport" has turned into much work for the couple whose vocation, fittingly enough, is nutritional consulting.
This year, they grew only three pumpkins (from seeds of previous trophies), planting them between April 18 and 24. Then they spent 900 hours nurturing their "crop." That’s five and a half hours a day, every day for six months as the fruit "set" between June 20 and July 5, and the weigh-in on Oct. 5.
Other than The Great Can Do, a name this former World War II Seabee likes because Can Do is the motto of the Seabees, there was My Secret Prayer of 917 pounds and Do It Again, an 846-pounder.
The Great Can Do is three feet high. With a girth of 14.5 feet, it grew an average of 11.75 pounds a day over the long haul, weighing 250 pounds by July, adding another 500 pounds in August and 300 more last month. Its vines stretched six to 10 inches a day thanks to 150 gallons of water and a half pound of water soluble fertilizer daily.
Hey, if you're thinking of getting into the competition, you'd better have a big backyard. The Zehr's pumpkin patch is 1,200 square feet, from which came that master of all pumpkins that goes into both the Guinness Book of World Records as well as the records of the World Pumpkin Confederation. Guinness's previous all-time mark was a 900-pounder grown by Herman Bax of Brockville, Ontario.
Note those two locations, they're far north of here. We grow big rockfish, deer and peaches, but we'll never make the Pumpkin Record Book. The climate up there at the 45th Parallel is ideal for pumpkins, which don't like conditions hereabouts. "Pumpkins don't like it too hot or too cold, too wet or too dry," said Paula, whose farm is just east of Lake Ontario.
So What Are You Going to Do with All That Pumpkin?
So what are you doing with the Great Can Do? The obvious question had no definitive answer. The pumpkin is now the property of the World Pumpkin Confederation, rules of the contest, I guess. The Zehrs got the seeds, the contest got the pumpkin, which Paula says could be carved for Halloween, but she's only sure of one thing: the pumpkin is now on exhibit at Clarence, N.Y.
My Secret Prayer and Do It Again will delight youngsters and certainly adults also on Halloween. Both are headed to two parks in Lowville to be carved, a project Paula says will take 16 hours for each.
As for my curiosity about texture and taste of monster pumpkins, Paula assured me both were are outstanding. "They're very sweet and have the thickness associated with little pumpkins," she said. "I had to add hardly any sugar at all to the pumpkin whose cut-away pieces canned those 42 quarts."
So what's next? Paula, who just returned with Nathan from the Japanese National Pumpkin Festival (the winner was a 754.5-pounder), says her goal is a personal "best." Though the previous record was hers alone, this one was raised by the husband/wife team. Nathan's best alone was 917 pounds.
Together or alone, they have won championships in the World Pumpkin Confederation, International Pumpkin Association and the Great Pumpkin Commonwealth as well as U.S., New York State and women's records.
Pity Poor Maryland
Meanwhile, back hereabouts, things are patchy at best in pumpkin patches plagued with high humidity, many hard and heavy rains, and some say a shortage of honeybees to pollinate the fruit.
Many pumpkins have rotted in fields, others never developed and many that matured lack in jack-o-lantern quality and size though they certainly qualify for pies. Maryland's crop is off 30 percent; double that decline for Virginia and many of the fruit you see in the market and at farm stands along the roadways are imported from other states.
Those alien pumpkins cost more, but at Halloween, price isn't the main consideration. People who most cherish grumpy or happy face jack-o-lanterns want a real pumpkin, not one of those plastic jobs. And did you ever try making a pie from the shell of a phony pumpkin?
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Autumn’s Wake-Up Call
When Orpheus, the legendary sun-singer, died of a broken heart, his job of waking up the sun still had to be done every morning. But none of the eager aspirants could quite fill his shoes, so sun-raising got divided up by seasons.
Autumn’s sun-singers now raucously take their turn.
On the far edge of night amass the mixed flocks of starlings, cowbirds and blackbirds that are autumn’s Orpheus. Thousands upon thousands upon thousands of the black birds gather in the tops of the tallest trees. They come under cover of night, camouflaging their blackness among the unawakened leaves. Then, when the moment is right, they scream their wake-up call. Thousands upon thousands upon thousands of shrill bird voices wake the sun.
We wake with the sun, pulled from the black underworld of sleep from which Orpheus’ lost love, Eurydice, can never wake. Bird voices are the first sounds of morning; they and blackness are all we know until our wits return in time with the obediently rising sun. Then far beyond the Eastern Shore, the sun ignites the sky on fire and the horizon glows like morning embers. Soon, the drama of sun rise catches up the clouds as morning paints the east with rainbow pallet.
Then all around, even in the tops of the tallest, darkest trees, blackness dissolves into morning. Light comes in slow, perceptible stages like the reverse of ink staining a glass of water. The singing tops of the trees come alive with a movement that, awakening sleepers slowly recognize, is not wind-stirred leaves.
It is the triumphant flock rising like the wind, falling like the leaves will someday soon, celebrating the morning they have managed. The birds separate from the trees, from the night, buoyant in soaring, shrieking flight until the morning sky is blackened again with their wing-beating legions. From tree to tree they swirl, starlings, cowbirds and blackbirds as many, mortals might imagine, as stars in the Milky Way.
Thus in every tall tree top, city, town and village does autumn morning come to Chesapeake Country.
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