Did She — or Didn’t She?

Make a date July 30 to meet Maryland’s mystery woman.    
    Was Anna Ella Carroll a Civil War heroine, achieving that status, as her champions claim, by advising President Abraham Lincoln? Or is her role in history a myth? Worse, was she a fraud?
    If there’s one thing historians love more than unraveling mysteries of the past, it’s infecting others with their passion.
    The Calvert Historical Society doesn’t have the answers to the questions dogging the truth of Carroll’s life.
    “There is much controversy surrounding Anna,” allows Chris Stelloh-Garner, Calvert’s Historical Society president.
    But the local historians are so inflamed by the questions that they’re betting their future that you’ll care, too. Enough to spend $35 and devote a summer Saturday evening to the quest, thereby funding the Society’s own investigation of more local mysteries of the dusty past.
    Earlier converts have spent far more.
    Civil War buff Bruce D. Bridegroom was so moved by C. Kay Larso’s book on Carroll — Great Necessities: The Life, Times and Writings of Anna Ella Carroll, 1815-1894 — that he bankrolled a film on her life. Produced and directed by Jason Urban, Lost River premiered on the Eastern Shore in November 2010 to an audience of more than 1,000.

Did She?

    Carroll, who was born in 1815 on the Eastern Shore, had education and opportunity on her side. She was the daughter of Maryland Governor Thomas King Carroll, who educated her in such “manly subjects” as law and politics. She formed opinions and expressed them. During the 1860s, she wrote a series of papers on Constitutional theory, arguing against Maryland’s secession from the Union.
    Her paper supporting Lincoln’s Constitutional authority to stop the Southern rebellion was distributed to Congress and played a major role in keeping Maryland from joining the Confederacy. Or so her supporters say.
    Did a woman of the 19th century — an era when American women had no official standing, not even the vote — win a seat at Lincoln’s table of advisors? Her supporters put her there, claiming painted evidence. Travel to the U.S. Senate to view Francis Bicknell Carpenter’s 1864 painting of Lincoln’s cabinet at the “First Reading of the Emancipation Proclamation.” That empty chair belonged to Carroll, say her supporters.
    The Friends of Anna Ella Carroll feel so strongly about that chair that they commissioned a repainting of the “First Reading of the Emancipation Proclamation.” Easton artist Laura Era’s “Maryland’s Version of the First Reading of the Emancipation Proclamation” shows the controversial advisor seated smiling in the once-empty chair.

Or Didn’t She?

    Carroll’s detracters say whoa on the hero worship, believing instead that she was nothing more than a tireless self-promoter who claimed a false role in Civil War history.
    As far as they’re concerned, the chair stays empty.

See Lost River to Decide

    “We are inviting people to learn about the controversy, this rather remarkable woman and perhaps spur them on to do their own research, form their own opinions,” says Stelloh-Garner.
    Educating people in the history of the places they’ve inherited is the goal of the Calvert Historical Society, which was founded in 1954 “to provide a place to gather, archive and retrieve historic information regarding Calvert County people, places and things.”
    The place the Society provides is the county-owned historic Linden property in Prince Frederick. The 1868 home on Church Street has been completely restored, and its 10 period outbuildings are undergoing restoration. Headquarters and archives are staffed and open to all Tuesday thru Thursday.
    As well as Linden, the Society has supported the restoration of the Drum Point Lighthouse at Calvert Marine Museum. It’s also behind the county’s historical road markers.
    On its website, www.calverthistory.org, the Society publishes articles of historical interest and offers peeks into historic Calvert locations. It also hosts monthly brown-bag history lunches.
    See Lost River at Saint John Vianney Family Life Theater at 7pm on Saturday, July 30, following a reception from 5:30-6:30pm at Historic Linden. $35 both; movie only $15: 410-535-2452. Your tickets support new Society projects.

Preview Lost River at www.lostriverthemovie.com.