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Eastern Shore Serendipity

When I visit my parents, we typically do a lot of sightseeing — although when you are touring your own backyard, perhaps you don't call it "sightseeing". Whatever you call it, we do it. Most times we have a destination in mind — and on our last full day in the Eastern Shore, we took a trip up to a little town called Oxford, located on the Chesapeake Bay. Quaint old homes and businesses, including those related to harvesting seafood. It's all rather upscale now — the well-to-do from Baltimore and Washington are buying up these old homes and refurbishing them for use as weekend retreats.

We had visited there on a previous trip and really enjoyed it. Of course, that trip was during the summer months. This time we were there in March. It was almost a ghost town. We stopped at the restaurant that we had enjoyed on that previous visit only to be greeted by a sign saying that the restaurant would open for the season in mid-April. We found a small inn — but they were only open on weekends. I asked a jogger if any of the restaurants were open — maybe the one on the way into town. Wrong!

So we retreated to Easton (a nearby year-round town) where we had one of those forgettable meals that I mentioned last week. But at least we found some nice quilting fabric for the quilts that my mom's quilting guild is making for the kids in the shelter.

Before returning home, we decided to visit nearby St. Michael's, another one of these older bay-side towns that is going upscale from its former waterman working-class roots. And what a piece of serendipity it turned out to be. Not only was it every bit a cute and quaint as Oxford — it was open. And one of the treats was the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum — which I had never visited and which my parents had not seen in ages.

The entrance is past this old drawbridge which used to span the gap over to Tilghman (pronounced "TILL-man") Island. They moved it to this driveway and fixed in the open position as a reminder of the "old days". But this was just the beginning.

My parents did not feel up to walking the entire museum so they sent me on to enjoy it — and then share the photos when I returned. The centerpiece of the museum is the Hooper Strait Lighthouse. It used to stand in the treacherous waters of the (what else) Hooper Strait. It had been decommissioned when an automated light was put its place.

They actually lifted it in sections onto a barge, sailed it to St. Michaels and reassembled it. Now we have the opportunity to tour the inside and obtain an idea of what it must have been like for a lighthouse keeper. The interior was spartan and the privy was outside on the balcony. It would have been a rough life, especially in the cold Chesapeake winters.

Of course, I was fascinated by the giant Fresnel lens (left) which was used to focus the beam of light so that is could be seen miles away — alerting ships to avoid those treacherous waters. Now that's a hunk of glass! In addition to keeping the light burning, the lighthouse keeper had to keep the glass clean.

Not only is the museum trying to preserve artifacts, they are trying to preserve the crafts such as demonstrated in the boat-building building (right). Master boat builders use traditional techniques to make authentic reproductions of the boats that used to be part of everyday life. People can sign up to be an apprentice for a day and see the work up close with hands-on activity.

Below left is a reconstructed waterman's wharf where fishermen, crabbers and oysterers could drop off their catch and pick up supplies. Museum visitors can try their hand at pulling up a crab pot or using tongs to dredge for oysters.

Below right is a small shanty that a waterman might use as temporary shelter when staying out on the marshes for days on end.

There was much more to see but my parents were waiting in the car so I turned back to rejoin them. As I strolled back to the entrance, several male Mallard ducks landed on the water not far from the pier. Two of them began a tussle where they pecked at each other and tried to push the other away. Finally, one admitted defeat and took to the air. I caught him on silicon. Not part of the customary exhibits but a rare treat for me since I have never seen ducks do that.

All in all, quite a remarkable museum. Some of my older relatives probably remember some of what was on display from when it was part of the daily life of the Eastern Shore. For the rest of us, this museum is doing a remarkable job of preserving those memories.


Life is good.

B. David

P. S., All photos and text © B. David Cathell Photography, Inc. — www.bdavidcathell.com