Fifteen Years of Tale-Telling with Bill Burton
On June 17, 1993, the famous Bill Burton hitched his star to our six-issue-old paper. You’ve been reading him in our pages ever since. Everybody’s happy, even the complainers.
Is renowned writer Bill Burton Bay Weekly’s fairy godfather?
Would upstart New Bay Times have had any readers if he hadn’t retired early when his beloved Baltimore Evening Sun, already downsizing, offered buyouts back in 1993?
Without him, would this paper have grown from every-other week to a full-fledged weekly, from New Bay Times to Bay Weekly?
Fifteen years later, those are questions whose answers we’ll never know. Since June 17, 1993, Bill Burton famous for his outdoors stories not only through the Sun but also radio and television hitched his star to our six-issue-old paper, and you’ve been reading him in our pages ever since.
This week, we celebrate those 15 years in Bay Weekly with a look back on his columns and some of the letters they’ve evoked.
Over the years, Burton’s columns have gotten shorter. In the beginning, Bill wrote over 2000 words each week. That’s as much as a feature story. Eventually we pared him down by a thousand. That’s about when he started using his famous end line, Enough Said.
It took 13 years to figure out why he wrote so much. The answer was revealed in his August 24 column of 2006, on the anniversary of his 50th year in journalism, which is where this retrospective starts
The city editor of the Springfield Union in western Massachusetts was Bill Hatch, in his mid 70s yet packed with nervous and physical energy and one of the last legitimate old-school newspapermen around. I learned much from him; his passion was news, his hobby, work and life was news. He practically ate news.
When howls of delight came from his desk, I’d look up and see him holding a bunch of pasted together copy sheets, maybe six feet long. Hatch liked long stories, and in those days news, not ads, ruled …
I wrote a short piece of about 400 words on one of Hatch’s favorite subjects one day. “Jesus Christ, Burton,” he screamed across the newsroom, “If we had the second coming you’d write only a few paragraphs and spell his name wrong.”
I learned that to satisfy editors of that era it was best to milk every single word in my notes and add every adjective I could think of so the finished pages pasted together reached the floor. Without Hatch’s reading it, just checking the length, I’d hear “Good story. Are you sure you’ve covered it all?”
Not in My Back Yard
I am an avid hunter. But for the past two years I have sweated out duck seasons for [the sake of] two drakes and a hen, who spend as much time on the east lawn of my Riviera Beach home as they do on the creek.
I stepped up feeding and provided water in hopes they would spend less time on the creek. When they were not present, I cringed every time I heard shots from the blind at the mouth of the creek several hundred yards away. But my ducks survived.
Vol. i: No 9: Aug. 12
Crabs: With No Flurry, Need We Worry?
Something is missing as I write on the east porch of my home looking across Stoney Creek. Where are the crabbers usually about this time of year on the dock of this Anne Arundel tributary of the Patapsco River, which meets the Chesapeake several miles down river?
When I moved here nearly 23 years ago, recreational crabs were caught as early as Memorial Day. By now, the season would be in full swing.
We’re told we don’t have to worry about that with our Chesapeake Bay crabs. But every year when things start out slowly, we get the jitters.
We have witnessed dramatic declines in oysters, clams, yellow perch, shad, rockfish, herring and now bluefish all of which once appeared as plentiful as blue crabs. We have become concerned for good reason.
Vol. ii, No 15: June 30
What Readers Said
Burton in the Comics
New Bay Times is quite an endeavor.
I especially like the photo of Burton on the Bay. He reminds me of a Sunday comic called “Cappy Dick,” which was filled with tips for fun-seeking boys and girls. For example, “Hey kids, when you’re walking down the street, don’t be bored. Why not count things?” (illustrated with a body in red sweater vest, counting “127 trees, 39 birds, 17 houses …”)
Each week closed with a grizzled Cappy Dick, snarling through the pipe clenched in his teeth: “Cappy Dick says ‘Get busy, kids.’”
Could Burton on the Bay be the original Cappy Dick?
I congratulate you on the newspaper. I hope it does fabulously. But if it doesn’t, remember
Cappy Dick says “Get busy, kids.”
Dan Hunter, Des Moines, Iowa, Vol. ii, No 1: Jan date missing
The World Bill Burton Was Born Into
I was delivered via Mildred Burton in the year the television was invented, though I never saw a set for another 20 years. I share birth years with Queen Elizabeth II, jazz trumpeter Miles Davis and Marilyn Monroe among probably a couple million others of less or possibly more prominence since then through today.
That was a time when people improvised or made do without rather than go out and buy and when families talked, played games, read or listened to radio.
This year, as today’s Burtons spent more money for two wreaths of evergreens than the Burtons of the Great Depression years spent on everything for the holidays, I look back fondly on those days. As they say, we were poor and didn’t realize it. We created our own Christmases; we didn’t buy them.
Vol. iii, No 50: Dec. 14
What Readers Said
That Amazing Bill Burton
My neighbor told me of Bill Burton’s column about fishing at the wreck (the William L. Davidson) and having the Navy jets open up on it for target practice. I told him he was crazy. Then I got my issue of New Bay Times and saw that you actually had a photograph of the plane getting ready to open fire. And then there was the story about Burton’s buddy in the jet scouting for bluefish. Amazing.
Just wanted to tell you how much we appreciate Burton’s stuff. He’s kind of crusty sometimes, and we don’t always like his politics, but you can count on a good read.
Robert Jaffe, Prince Georges County; Vol. iii, No. 5: February date missing
Forget Football; Go Fishing Instead
You need a program to stay abreast of all the shenanigans in the on-going effort to bring the Cleveland Browns to Baltimore in the most lopsided deal since whites included Manhattan in their domain.
Who really knows what’s going on? Football is a game of fumbles, but there are more dropped balls in this disgraceful undertaking than in a gridiron game played by players with greased hands.
Mid-season came the surprise joint announcement by Gov. Business-Above-Bay Glendening and Browns’ owner Art Modell that the Browns were headed here.
Without our knowledge, the Guv promised it all. Now he’s shell-shocked that the entire state isn’t rooting for a new home team.
There are considerations, coming up with $200 million to build a home for another city’s team, while going begging are Chesapeake Bay restoration, school construction, law enforcement, public health.
Put $200 million into Bay programs, and more than 1,400 solid jobs could well be created.
Do you think NFL football is worth it? We’d like to know and we’d like to take you fishing. Participate in our survey, and you’ll have a chance to win a fishing trip on a Sunday in fall so you’ll have an excuse for not heading to Baltimore to see the Browns play, if they and the Guv get their way.
Vol. iv, No. 5: February 1, 1996
What Readers Said
Best Fishing Ever
I want to let you know that we had the time of our lives at the New Bay Times-Bill Burton Fishing Before Football trip. It was a gorgeous day; our captain, Mike Lipski, was absolutely terrific; and it was the best fishing I’ve ever done in my life. It was so exciting when the rockfish came up and started biting. I can’t wait to go rockfishing again.
We were lucky and caught a dozen bluefish as well. Everyone on my boat had a super time. Thanks so much for providing the chance to go on this trip. Count us in for next year.
Lisa Ashton and Roger Bennett, Shady Side; Vol. vi, No. 40: October 8
My 31-year-old beard has protected me from sun, wind and cold though not trouble.
Thirty-one years ago this week, I gave up shaving for good.
Intermittently, there had been beards on my face before: several different ones while in the Navy, a few short-lived during equally short post-war college days, then in my early days of broadcast and print journalism. Girlfriends, wives, other relatives prompted their harvest.
Wife Lois has never seen me without it; three of my children have never seen my face clean-shaven.
I was the first modern-times member of the editorial side of the Sunpapers to go beyond a mustache.
My beard was never a statement. In Alaska, I found it useful for warmth in winter, and it was just as good to spare my face from sun and windburn in the long summer days. In the mountains of Western Maryland, facial hair keeps glare off the face when I’m trying to secret myself while calling wild turkeys. It does the same when I’m waterfowling in Chesapeake Country.
So here I am still bearded. The black turned to reddish brown, then gray, now mostly white. I harbor thoughts of shaving just once to shock family and friends, to have that refreshing image in the mirror, but don’t count on it. Truth is, I’ve forgotten how to shave.
Vol. v, No. 14: April 3
A Sailor’s Revenge
For the past 40 years I haven’t shaved, after a lieutenant J.G. informed me of the standard penalty [for failing to be clean shaven]: a dry shave with razor in front of my shipmates. No soap, no lather, no nothing, just a razor and blade until the face was smooth and shiny …
I got my paybacks with an invitation from the president of the Naval War College, Newport, R.I., to be guest speaker at the retirement ceremonies of a decorated captain who nearly 50 years ago I taught to fish and hunt. I could be in front of all those admirals, captains and commanders with a full beard and there wasn’t a damned thing they could do about it …
I didn’t implement the power I briefly held beyond flashing an old face covered with whiskers. As I looked into the audience and saw the faces of old and new officers from top to bottom, all Marines and Navy men, I wanted to salute them, one and all.
Vol. xiv, No. 27: July 6, 2006
What Readers Said
Burton Flies High
On a flight from Denver to Baltimore, I noticed a fellow flyer with computer problems. At first I thought the chap was just learning the luxury of laptop computing for he kept reading the same web page over and over. Later, I realized this guy was genuinely interested in the article on his screen by Bill Burton.
Pushing my seat in the recline mode, I could only say, ‘this Bud’s for you, Bill.’ Next time, I’ll bring my laptop.
D.C. Bourne, Churchton; Vol. vi, No. 50: December 15
Louis Goldstein: A Friend’s Appreciation
My first impression of Louis Goldstein wasn’t very good, but some of that can be attributed to the cynicism of a brash young newspaper man who came here after covering politics in Vermont, Rhode Island, Massaschusetts, Alaska and Nebraska. I had written about the worst and a few of the best, and though my career was changing from tracking politics to outdoors, I wasn’t ready for Louis’ trademark benediction, “God bless you all real good.”
Louis Goldstein was a whirlwind, a man always on the go, few could keep up with him and his schedule. Fatigue had to take over at times, much as he denied it. Yet he was always vibrant, upbeat and ready to listen. And he really did listen to people.
To his own end, Louis Goldstein never lost his zip, his zest for life and his interest in people and things around him. He might close his eyes while we were trolling, but once a reel clicked, to indicate a strike from a fish, he was the first to reach for a rod and start cranking. He made every minute count.
D.H. Lawrence wrote, “Life is something to be spent, not to be saved.” That’s what my friend did.
We will have another state comptroller, but never another Louis Goldstein.
Vol. vi, No 27: July 9
The Christmas That Almost Wasn’t
At this Yuletide, I think back to the Great Depression and living on a New England farm where pennies were counted closely, but few spent.
One particular Christmas in the early ’30s comes to mind: The Christmas, shall we say, that almost wasn’t.
Grandpa Burton, better known in the countryside as Joel William Burton, had died in October, and spirits were mighty low.
He was getting along in years, and that was in the days before Social Security, Medicare and such. So one worked, worked and worked.
It was dreary indeed at Grandma’s house that Christmas. I was a sad boy when I headed upstairs by candlelight on the eve.
But, miraculously, the spirit of Christmas prevailed.
In the morning there was a tree and the trimmings, including real candles. Auntie and Grandma had cut it during the night. They had gathered holly and princess pine by lantern light for a wreath, baked cookies and boiled fudge. One of Auntie’s cotton stockings filled with sweets was hung behind the stove for me, and an odd assortment of used and unused gifts found in the attic, bureau drawer and closets were wrapped in tissue paper and under the tree for all.
Though I didn’t realize it then, the manner of giving was the Christmas lesson I would cherish to this day.
The farm that was almost overlooked by Santa all those years ago is still in the family and has a Christmas tree each December.
Vol. vii, No. 51: December 23
For years my goal has been twofold: To accommodate the squirrels while ensuring the birds of adequate seeds. In the effort, the backyard is a maze of master cables from tree to tree, drop wires to hold feeders, baffles to discourage squirrels from reaching the feeders and special ground and tree feeder stations for squirrels in hope that these will divert their attention. None of it has worked.
Now, for $34.99, I’ve baffled the thieving squirrels though I know well my victory is momentary.
In a garden shop, I came across Stop.A.Squirrel, a metal box of dark green that holds a gallon and a half of sunflower seeds all visible through acrylic siding. There’s an adjustable spring mechanism involved. When anything heavier than a few birds gets on the perch, the weight flies a cap over the feeding trough. I’ve seen such contraptions advertised for years, but at $35 I was reluctant to test the concept. But one can take defeat only so long.
For five days now, the Stop.A.Squirrel feeder has been in operation, and I’ve watched bushytails spend hours unsuccessfully trying to find a way to bypass the spring-activated mechanism. I hope they will soon realize they can’t, give up and return to all the other feeder stations. As long as they continue trying to figure out the new feeder, the birds can’t get to the seed and I’m right back to where I started. So once again, it’s perseverance, Burton vs. the squirrels, and who will win.
Vol. vxi, No 15: April 13
What Readers Said
Another Squirrelly Victory
Burton Victorious really hit home. Two years ago I gave my parents, who live in Bloomfield, N.J., a designer bird feeder as an oddball Christmas present.
My father had problems with squirrels climbing the pole right away, so being a little crafty himself, he mounted an upside-down plastic bucket as a barrier. It worked for over a year. The bucket had four small slots for drainage. The squirrels finally figured out a way to hold on while they gnawed ever so slowly to make the slot bigger. The squirrels finally won.
My stopgap fix employed duct tape since it works on everything. I covered the slots with the tape. On the inside of the bucket, where the sticky side is exposed, we coated the tape with red-hot cayenne pepper. I’ll let you know how it works out.
Keep up the interesting articles.
Bill Lang, Chesapeake Beach; Vol. viii, No. 17: April 26
Farewell Frieda: With My Cat, My Comfort Is Gone
When Frieda got older and vulnerable to health problems, I would promise her she would live as long as I and I as long as her.
In the scheme of expected longevity, for sometime we were approximately of the same age. But more recently, her cat years seven for every one of mine outpaced me. She was approaching 100, me 75, and ultimately my promise that she would live as long as I failed her as did her kidneys.
Without hesitation, I would have given her one of mine. I might even have offered her one or two of my years to fulfill that promise. But such tradeoffs cannot be decided by man or cat. So Frieda departed without complaint, silently and gracefully, dignified and purring lovingly to the end.
Vol. ix, No. 2: Jan. 11
What Readers Said
Eulogies for Frieda
Hooray for Bill Burton, that seemingly crusty curmudgeon! He has a heart, although it is bruised and hurting from the death of his cat. Frieda.
Aloysia C. Hamalainen, Silver Spring; Vol. ix, No. 3: Jan. 18
What Memorial is Big Enough for Big-Hearted Johnny U?
Who better deserves to have his name on a stadium than Johnny U? He made the Colts. The Colts were nothing when Johnny U signed on. Not long after they won the 1958 NFL championship, a feat repeated in ’59 and that was before there was a Superbowl, one of which he also conquered. If ever a single gridiron star made a team and made that team the darling of a city, indeed, the whole state it was Johnny U. He was the consummate quarterback, cool, smart, confident and able to pick a defense apart. He made Baltimore a football city big time.
The heart that never flagged on the field gave out on 9/11 at 69. Though we knew his health hadn’t been good in recent years, his passing came as a shock. Unbelievable. Once, he could emerge from beneath a half-ton of opposing players, shake his slope-shouldered body a few times and be ready to fling the pigskin again.
But life is not a game, and his time was running out last week. For Johnny U, it was all over. And I, like so many others, lost a friend.
Vol. x, No. 38: September 19
Teach a Child to Fish and You’ll Never Fish Alone
To others, Grumpy is better known as Mackenzie Noelle Boughey. She’s been around for 18 months, and seeing she’s my granddaughter, I figured it was time she took up the sport. After all, the first discernible word to pop out of her mouth was isssh. Honest.
Her first isssh was directed at the household aquarium in mid-April. She got it right at the docks at Harrison’s Chesapeake House, when I introduced her to a rockfish of about 18 pounds, caught on the opener of the season. Fisshh, she screeched as she tried to hug it.
Vol. xi, No. 23: June 19
What readers said
A Fine Martini Takes an Eyedropper
The solution to Bill Burton’s martini problem [Vol. xi, No. 32: Aug. 7] is simple: Put an eyedropper and a shot glass next to the vermouth bottle. Pour a smidgeon of vermouth into the shot glass and use the eyedropper to add one drop of vermouth to the full glass of gin. Makes a fine martini.
Tom Gill, Rose Haven: Vol. xi, No. 33, August 14
What Everyone Wants to Know about Chesapeake Bay And Isn’t Afraid to Ask
Seeing we’re paying the bill and enduring whatever sacrifices, then we can make the decisions. Of course there is only one reasonable decision, which is to pay the bill and make sacrifices though we should have input in prioritizing what must be done.
Hey, lay it on us. We’re not kids.
All the sidestepping of the past has gotten us where we are today.
We’re smart enough to know if the Bay is to be saved, what we put off today will cost us even more tomorrow. Forget about governors, departments, bureaucracies; special interest groups like farmers and those who harvest from the Bay commercially or recreationally; businesses, municipalities laggard in updating wastewater facilities and so many others adversely impacting the Bay. We can’t wait for other states or the feds to get a kick in the fanny before we do our thing.
Vol. xii, No. 47: Nov. 18
What Readers Said
Enough Said; Just Do It!
Bill: like you, I am no spring chicken, and, like you, I am fed up with the lack of action concerning Chesapeake Bay. But your final words are totally untrue. It’s not “Enough said.”
As I read, I cheered out loud.
However, near the end, I recognized the same old pabulum. The article wraps up with yet more questions. After 50 years, more questions to be answered. Enough is enough! We all know what’s wrong and what must be done. Just do it!
Action, folks! Action! Immediate and decisive action is what is needed, and you all know it without any more schooling, without any more questions to be answered. Just do it!
Let’s start with an immediate moratorium on harvesting any and all filter feeders. You heard that right. They’re the last lines of defense. That means oysters, mussels, menhaden, etc.
Number two, start immediately redesigning sewage treatment plants to completely overhaul waste treatment to a state-of-the-art condition in the entire Chesapeake watershed.
Dave Gauntt, St. Leonard; Vol. xii: No. 50: December 9
My Furry Companion is Gone
What do you do when a three-year-old loses her pet?
I think daughter Heather and her husband Jon handled it nicely.
Granddaughter Grumpy (also known as Mackenzie Noelle Boughey) was told Hemingway was going up to the sky to become a star. They bought a balloon with a big star on it, and Grumpy let the balloon go and watched it disappear.
Each night, she looks for the most prominent star and blows it a kiss. But sometimes she asks if Hemingway will ever come back again as a cat.
The loss of 2-E, Grumpy’s cat-away-from-home, will also be felt deeply by Grumpy. She comes here almost daily, so now there will be another loss, another balloon and, soon, two stars up in the sky …
My furry companion is gone, and I’m too old to believe she is that star next to Hemingway up there in the sky. But I’m confident that there will be solace as Grumpy and I blow kisses to the two stars.
Vol. xiii, No. 13: March 31
What Readers Said
Burton Tells the Whole Story
Please convey my thanks to Bill Burton for his amazing article [Vol. xii: No. 7: Feb. 17] on Diamond Jim, the rockfish we dreamed about when I was a squirt growing up on neighboring Rhode River. I had sent a request to him about information on the Diamond Jim project, as my childhood memories were sketchy. I had no idea the response would be a full-blown article with such depth of research and the excellent idea to revive the whole thing.
The Roads I’ve Taken
Picture this: I’m home, the phone rings and a man says Would you hold? The president wants to speak to you?
I asked what president and was informed the President of the United States.
Figuring it was a joke the voice sounded familiar I responded with a few words not fit for this paper, then hung up. The phone rang again, and I was talking to the senior George Bush.
Among my retirement gifts was an invitation to the White House from George H.W. Bush, who I’d met a decade earlier while fishing in Texas. Before the White House I was to take him fishing.
On an exceptionally cold and blustery March day on the Potomac River, the president, no slouch at bass’n … cast a small Silver Buddy spoon to the piling of a decaying pier and caught a bass. It wasn’t big enough to keep and he wouldn’t have anyway but it was a fish on a day when no reasonable fisherman could expect to catch anything.
Vol. III, No. 44: Nov. 2
During our fishing trip, he suggested I shouldn’t completely retire; I’d get old. Looking at him another former Navy man fit and trim I took his advice. The maze of roads took me first as professor of journalism at Anne Arundel Community College, then here and to other publications where I still write regularly.
To those younger (and isn’t most everyone?), I can only advise that you keep walking through the woods, and when the roads diverge, choose carefully … Then never look back to wonder where that other road went.
Vol. xiv, No. 34: August 24;
What Readers Said
DNR’s New Head Needs to Be an Activist, a Diplomat, a Sage
Bill Burton is that rare source of provocative opinion backed by first-hand knowledge and observation. He never fails to educate, engage and entertain his loyal readers. He keeps us mindful of crises past, treasures lost and our obligation to protect our remaining natural resources.
As such, Bill of all people should be campaigning for a true activist to take over at Department of Natural Resources …
Marquerite Whilden, The Terrapin Institute, Grasonville; Vol. xiv, No. 49, Dec. 7
If the Shoe Fits, Wear It
Me, in red shoes almost the configuration of a duck’s web feet, holes all over them, slits on the lower side to drain water. No way. I’d rather wear a live crocodile. By the time I was home, I was amazed to find my feet were as comfortable as with my old sneakers.
When we went out to a fancy restaurant for Father’s Day the following day, they were on my feet; if all around laughed, including wife Lois, granddaughter Grumps would be with me.
I’ll take a pile of humiliation to keep Grumps happy and there were more than a few questionable looks as I wore my new red shoes with coat and long trousers. After dinner we did a good bit of walking; by the time I returned home, my dogs were as cool as the proverbial cucumber, but red not green.
Vol. xv, No. 35: August 30
On Better Footing
Alas, I can no longer recite this old baby rhyme using my left foot as the stage. There’d be one piggy too few to match the lines.
I took the first piggy to market and it never came home.
It wasn’t really to market. It was to Baltimore Washington Medical Center in North County. And I left it there.
It was a good toe: For nearly 81 years it served me well, though I had broken it several times when going barefoot in boats and elsewhere. But it had used up its nine lives, or however many a toe has.
I’m not about to get a replacement for the missing toe, but I do concede I’m rather curious how I’ll keep my left foot on an even keel in my four new pair of Crocs. They have spacious toe areas, and I have nothing to fill the vacancy in the left ones.
Vol. xv, No. 40: October 4
What Readers Said
Bay Gardener Sets Bill Burton Straight
Please tell Bill Burton and his granddaughter Grumpy I did not say that the pumpkins would not grow [The Burton Castle Is Under Siege: The forces of nature are crossing the moat: Vol. xv, No 30: July 26]. But do understand that farmers who grow pumpkins for cash don’t have the time to baby their plants to make them survive.
With regards to raccoons on the back porch, if Bill had read the Bay Gardener’s articles on raccoons in the garden printed in July of 2005, he would have installed flashing light on that porch to keep them away. A flashing 40-watt bulb is what keeps raccoons from eating my corn every year.
The Bay Gardener, F. R. Gouin: Deale; Vol. xv, No. 32: August 7
Read Bill Burton’s 15th anniversary column HERE in this week’s paper.