Discovering a Lost Poet
There’s more to these magic words than meets the ear
by Dotty Holcomb Doherty
Matapeake, Chesapeake, Kiptopeke, Fishing Creek;
Pocomoke, Romancoke, Royal Oak, Nanticoke;
Pungoteague, Wachapreague, Chincoteague, Assateague;
Accomac, Mobjack, and Bodkin Point;
Love Point, North Point, Point No Point;
Crisfield, Tangier, and Rockawalkin;
Choptank, Tilghman, and little waves talkin’ …
Salt-flavored names, from Elk to James
Keep them alive, all you of tomorrow.
Keep them aglow, free from dark sorrow.
Hear their keen music, and heed their bold claims.
Let them burn red, like sparks in the night.
Keep them alive shining and bright.
I went looking for a poem. I found a poet and pianist, an historian and critic, an executive director and publisher. I found George Schaun, a generous man, dead these 19 years but remembered as tall, courtly and, quite simply, a darling.
Searching for a Poem
The idea seemed easy enough. Find a poem about the Chesapeake or summer to include in Bay Weekly’s supplement 101 Ways to Have Fun. A large volume of American poems yielded nothing that suited me. Next, I Googled.
I found Back Creek Books, a wonderful local bookseller with many hard-to-find volumes about the Bay. The 1957 poetry book Chesapeake Memories by George Schaun made me want to know more, but $25 seemed a high price for a single poem. In the Anne Arundel County Library system I found other books by Schaun, but not the one I wanted. I turned to Marina, a search of all Maryland libraries, and found a copy at the Enoch Pratt Free Library in Baltimore. It arrived four days later.
Twenty poems came packaged in a slim marbleized-looking cardboard covered volume. Maryland Main entranced me. I liked the rhythm of the places Matapeake, Chesapeake, Kiptopeke, Fishing Creek/ Pocomoke, Romancoke, Royal Oak, Nanticoke and Schaun’s description of them as “salt-flavored names.”
Now, I simply had to request permission to reprint it.
Searching for the Poet
An Internet search for George Schaun’s original publisher, Greenberry Publications, led nowhere. They did not seem to exist, and their Annapolis address no longer led to a business.
At Back Creek Books, owner Rock Toews said that Greenberry Publications was Schaun’s own independent press. Who to contact for reprint permission he did not know.
Yahoo and White Pages turned up a George (age 105) and Virginia Schaun (age 89) both of Annapolis. They did not appear in the phone book. Could they still be living here?
Online library holdings turned up more clues. Several history books, co-authored with Virginia, appeared between 1955 and 2002. Best of all, I found a new publisher: the Maryland Historical Press.
But their phone number had been disconnected and the address was no longer there. Wondering if there was a connection with the Maryland Historical Trust Press, I e-mailed for information. Nicole Diehlmann, an administrator for the Statewide Preservation Programs of the Trust Press, answered that Maryland Historical Press was indeed different from the Trust Press and all she could turn up was the same address and phone number. Another dead-end.
I was getting desperate; maybe I didn’t need permission to reprint this catalogue of river names. To find how long a work must be in print before it entered the public domain, I called reference librarian Sandy Mueller at Severna Park Library. Checking the U.S. Copyright Office, she found that works published before 1978 were protected for 95 years. I was 45 years too early.
She also found two addresses for Maryland Historical Press, the fruitless one plus another in Georgia with a phone number and name: Vera Roloo. With buoyed spirits, I continued my quest.
At Maryland Historical Press, an elderly woman’s voice message prompted me to leave a message and speak clearly. Two days later, Vera Roloo returned my call. Yes, she knew George Schaun. I had made contact.
Encountering a Many-Talented Man
As Roloo’s information led me onward, I found a complex and intriguing man.
Schaun’s passions for history, music and poetic language wove throughout a life begun in 1901. An accomplished pianist, he studied at the Peabody Conservatory of Music in Baltimore, prompting his poem: “Room Thirty-eight.”
Perhaps I’ll forget that I used to come late
down the dark hallway to room thirty-eight.
Perhaps I’ll forget the misfortunes and trials,
But the music you taught me looks backward, and smiles.
During the ’20s through ’40s, George Schaun wrote music critiques for the Baltimore Sun and edited the music section of the Sunday Sun. During World War II, he donned the hat of a civilian historian for the Signal Corps of the U. S. Army. After the war, music gripped him again, and he became assistant manager and program annotator for the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra.
In 1953, he married Virginia, an occupational therapist who shared his love of history. They moved to Annapolis, where George became the first executive director of the newly established Historical Annapolis Inc. (later Historic Annapolis Foundation); Virginia was hired as office secretary and tour bureau director. The preservationist group was run by volunteers during the ’30s and ’40s, until a bank loan brought on real staff, the Schauns.
Orlando Ridout IV, a board member at the time, recalls the Schauns as quiet, studious and sincere people who blossomed into successful leaders. Glenn Campbell, a current historian with Historic Annapolis Foundation, reported that George Schaun’s perseverance, active fund-raising and deep belief in the value of historic architecture fueled the conservation movement in Annapolis. Ironically, their first major preservationist project saving the 1722 Charles Carroll Barrister House by moving it from Main Street to the campus of St. John’s College proved so costly, at $20,000, that Historic Annapolis Inc. was forced to lay the Schauns off.
Undaunted, the Schaun’s turned their energies to writing and publishing. In the next 21 years, they would research, write and publish 21 historical texts for use in schools and libraries, often giving them away. Compass Pointers and Other Streets of Annapolis (1955) notes early city zoning by Gov. Francis Nicholson in the 1690s, a century before Washington, D.C., came to be.
Schaun’s Greenberry Series of Maryland ran from 1962 to 1969, producing five volumes of six issues each, all available at the time by subscription at $3 per volume. The series covered a range of historical topics including biographies, customs, holidays, agricultural practices, inventions, boats, government and pirates. This series led to a later book, Biographical Sketches of Maryland (1969), which spanned three decades from 1600s’ Margaret Brent, “America’s first woman lawyer, first woman landowner, first woman taxpayer and most likely, first woman to ask for the privilege of voting” through 1700s’ Benjamin Banneker and 1800s’ Edgar Allen Poe to the 20th century’s Rachel Carson.
The Schauns ran their own press, Greenberry Publications, for over 20 years. With age, they turned over their publishing to Vera Foster Roloo, owner of the independent Maryland Historical Press, which she founded in 1964.
“He was such a nice man,” recalled Roloo. “George and Virginia had no children, but anyone would have loved to have him as a grandfather.” Both Schaun’s have died: George in 1988 at age 87; Virginia several years later at a North Carolina retirement community.
“I’m sure he would have been very pleased to have his poem printed in the newspaper,” Roloo said. “You could do it in honor of George Schaun for his long service to Maryland history.”
Glimpsing the Poet’s Heart
I perused the Schaun’s historical volumes housed in Maryland libraries. Only one book of poetry remains; perhaps it is the only one George Schaun ever published. But his poetic voice sings throughout his writing.
In a 1936 Baltimore Sun article on building model train towns, Schaun writes how “Care-ridden housewives, kept within four walls by silken bonds of duty, may check seething waterfalls at will, or carve mountainsides in a way to bring envy to the heart of Boulder Dam’s engineers. And in this pageantry of miniature art, every man is free to design and build his own castle.”
His Compass Pointers book begins with a description of Annapolis, “with its soft summer nights; its bronze-green magnolias; its sudden glimpses of white sails and blue water; its Georgian doorways guarded by platoons of boxwood.” He writes in American Holidays and Special Days (1986), of Thomas Edison, whose “stream of new inventions unwound like tangled ribbon from a spool.”
In Chesapeake Memories, his poems speak of his passion for Maryland’s past and his ties to the Bay. His “Sonnet to Annapolis” displays his longing for preservation; “Chesapeake Journeys” recalls steamboats from the 1800s; “The Miles River” breathes nostalgia for long lost youth. Perhaps, though, it is his poem “Remembrance” that reminds us that though the poet, the writer, the historian is gone his words live on:
Words live after speech has died.
Flotsam from a vanished tide:
Solid words like heavy beams,
Adjectives with sunlit gleams,
Wreckage from the ocean’s store,
Home from voyage, home on shore.
Each, with memory as a bride,
Lives long after speech has died,
Sheltered in the minds of men,
Giving birth to thought again:
Thoughts quick children brief star-gleams,
Outward thought but inward dreams.
Dotty Holcomb Doherty not only found George Shaun’s poem for this week’s special edition, 101 Ways. She also contributed 21 more of the 101 Ways and 74 Kids’ Ways.