Category Archives: Maryland

Summer Writer’s Challenge: Day

Beautiful tropical beach with the word summer written on the san


It is Primary Election Day in Maryland. Today we get to vote for our political party’s candidate for Governor along with a slew of local spots. The traffic was light at our polling place, and, frankly we aren’t supposed to have a big turn out. Election years that don’t align with a Presidential election seldom see long lines at the poles. But when I think of all  the people in the world who don’t have the power to freely elect a representative government, and the struggles that so many people in this country went through to get the franchise I wouldn’t miss the chance to vote. My beliefs might not align with a candidate’s platform 100%… but, I’m still going to vote. I owe it to those who don’t have the power to cast a ballot. I owe it to the women and minorities of a not so distant US History to step into that booth.

So choosing today’s prompt was easy … VOTE.


Maryland flag flying outside our house on a cold winter's day

Maryland flag flying outside our house on a cold winter’s day


Maryland, My Maryland — thoughts on Maryland Day



The Maryland Flag proudly flying over my abode.

The Maryland Flag proudly flying over my abode.


The State of Maryland is 380 years old today.


On March 25, 1634 two small ships, The Ark and The Dove,  carrying 140 English settlers landed on St. Clement’s Island in the Potomac River. They’d left Cowes on the English Isle of Wight four months earlier with a charter from King Charles I to settle a new colony in North America (the third English colony in North America.)


English: Postage stamps and postal history of ...

English: Postage stamps and postal history of the United States|History of the United States government|American Revolution|Maryland (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


It was a rough journey. Three days out of port they hit a severe storm and the two ships were separated. The Ark, the larger ship assumed the Dove was lost and …


continued its journey, following the European coast south to the Fortunate (now Canary) Islands. From the Canaries, the Ark sailed due west across the Atlantic, touching land at the island of Barbadoes in the West Indies on January 3, 1633/4. There, the ship’s weary travelers stayed three weeks replenishing provisions, and there the Dove reappeared, having weathered the Atlantic voyage alone. At other Caribbean isles they also landed, and then sailed north. They reached Virginia on February 27th, gathered more supplies, and navigated Chesapeake Bay north to the mouth of the Potomac by March 3rd. []


After negotiating with the Native American Conoy tribe the settlers finally landed on Blackistone Island (they renamed it St. Clement’s Island.)  Father Andrew White, a Jesuit priest, said Mass, and the group celebrated a day of thanksgiving. Leonard Calvert, younger brother of Lord Baltimore who had received the Charter from the King, and first governor of the colony erected a large cross.


English: View of Commemorative Cross from Blac...

English: View of Commemorative Cross from Blackistone Lighthouse, September 2009 (Photo credit: Wikipedia) [This cross is in roughly the same location as Calvert’s Cross, but it, obviously, isn’t the same one that was planted in 1643]

Two days later, on March 27, 1634 the sailed about six miles up the river and established their first permanent settlement on a buff overlooking the St. Mary’s River.  The location had been a Yaocomico village, but the Indians “were more than willing to turn their home over to the Englishmen.” [ “Maryland: At the Beginning”]  When half the Yaocomicos left the English took over their bark huts as temporary dwellings. A “pallizado” (fort) was constructed and the colonist sowed the fields the Indians had already cleared. The countryside and river proved bountiful with game and fish. Relations between the Yaocomicos and the settlers was amicable and fair.


the natives supplied the English with corn and fish and were ready to teach them how to make corn bread and hominy, show them what herbs and roots could be used for medicine and dyes and cooperate in other ways. The English, for their part, paid the Indians for their land and supplies and the leaders wrote of the natives with respect.  [Ibid]


St. Mary’s City became the capitol of the new colony, and the first Maryland legislative assembly took place the following winter (1634-35). A Court House and Jesuit Church were erected.

St. Mary's City became a National Historic Landmark in 1969. Since then Archeological Digs have uncovered 800 acres of the colonial town and major buildings, like the State House, have been rebuilt.

St. Mary’s City became a National Historic Landmark in 1969. Since then Archeological Digs have uncovered 800 acres of the colonial town and major buildings, like the State House, have been rebuilt.

Maryland Day was created in 1903 to commemorate the landing on St. Clement’s Island. It became a legal holiday in 1916 in the state.


More facts about Maryland:

  • Nickname: Old Line State
  • Flower: Black-eyed Susan
  • Tree: White Oak
  • Bird: Baltimore Oriole
  • Sport: Jousting
  • Fish: Rockfish
  • Dog: Chesapeake Bay Retriever
  • Boat: Skipjack
  • Population: 5,828,289 (as of 2011) [Info from]



Largest City: Baltimore

Downtown Baltimore City from the Harbor.

Downtown Baltimore City from the Harbor.


Capital: Annapolis — Maryland’s capital moved up the Chesapeake Bay in 1694.

Downtown Annapolis. The State House tower is center.

Downtown Annapolis. The State House tower is center.




[All images were taken by me, unless otherwise noted]



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July Creative Challenge, day 31: RELAX — St. Michaels

[I’m taking this challenge seriously. First I’m RELAXing a bit on this last day of the July Creative Challenges by recycling and revising an article I did for an online travel magazine that has sadly gone away. Since the article is all about RELAXing and having fun in St. Michaels I thought it fit the challenge pretty well… Here goes…]

Take a walk on the relaxing streets of St. Michaels.

Take a walk on the relaxing streets of St. Michaels.

St. Michaels is a place of history, water, crabs, but above all St. Michael’s is a place to relax.

Finding a home on the river…

The little sea fairing town was built around St. Michaels Episcopal Church which was established in 1677. It was a trading post for farmers and trappers. James Braddock, an English land agent purchased 20 acres in 1778. An early real estate developer, Braddock carved 58 plots out of the land and arranged them around a town green. Along with the houses he included churches, a market and schools. Since the town is on the water fishing and shipbuilding became natural industries. By 1812 a half-dozen firms were building schooners to sail the Chesapeake.
It became the “Town That Fooled the British” in the War of 1812. The English fleet was barreling its way up the Chesapeake Bay headed to Baltimore. St. Michaels, with its shipping industry was a clear target for destruction. But in the wee hours of August 10, 1813 as the fleet approached the town’s residents hoisted lanterns into ship’s rigging and high into the tree tops, and the British cannons overshot the town. Only one house took a direct hit. A cannonball crashed through the roof, frightening, but not harming the inhabitants as it rolled down the stairs. That house still stands on Mulberry Street, it is aptly named the “Cannonball House.”
Over the next 150 years St. Michaels became one of the major seafood processing centers on the Bay. By 1930 a single processing plant was shipping more than a million pounds of crab meat annually, and 12,000 gallons of oysters a week! But, by the mid 20th century the seemingly boundless harvest of seafood began quickly, to dry up and St. Michaels long history as the “seafood basket” of the Chesapeake was coming to an end.
With the establishment of the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum in 1965 the city turned full-time to tourism as a way of life. St. Michaels beautiful colonial and Victorian homes refashioned themselves as bed and breakfasts, feed stores and tack shops were converted to boutiques and restaurants, and skipjack captains turned from dredging crustaceans to hosting sunset cruises.

Interior of one of the boat barns at the Maritime Museum

Interior of one of the boat barns at the Maritime Museum

Lots to see and do around town…

The Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum offers 12 buildings and sits on 18 acres at old Naval Point in St. Michaels Harbor.
The Hooper Strait Lighthouse is the iconic center piece of the museum.  Built in 1879 the hexagonal lighthouse guarded the wicked shoals near Deals Island. It was accessible only by rowboat then, and the keepers spent months alone on the water tending the 4th level Fresnel lense and keeping weather and vessel records at the “screw pile” lighthouse. But by 1954 the lighthouse was fully automated and the Coast Guard began dismantling the old style lighthouses.. The Hooper Straight house was on the list for demo! Luckily the fledgling Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum was able to purchase it for $1,000 and barge is North to St. Michaels. Today it sits safely on the tip of Naval Point, one of four screw pile designed lighthouses left on the Bay. Visitors can climb into the lighthouse and take a self paced tour of the interior, including the keeper’s quarters and the light, and get a birds eye view of the harbor from the catwalk.  The Museum offers a Lighthouse Overnight program for small groups of kids 8-12.
At the “Oystering on the Chesapeake” building visitors board the E.C. Collier and listen in as her long time crew brings in the harvest. Dozens of hands-on, kid friendly displays take you through the history and conflicts of the oystering industry and lets you see how Maryland’s favorite mollusk went from the Bay’s bottom to a restaurant’s table top.
At the museum’s boat yard you can watch as skipjacks and crab dredgers are restored to new life. If you are itching to get out on the water you can take a tour on the Mister Jim. If you want a more hands on approach, the Museum’s Apprentice For A Day program is a unique opportunity to help build traditional wooden skiffs. The museum is open daily year-round (except Christmas, Thanksgiving, and New Year’s day).


Canon at St. Mary’s Square

St. Mary’s Square lies just to the south of St. Michaels Harbor. See cannons, one of which defended the city in during the War of 1812, and the Mechanic’s Bell that ruled the shipbuilder’s day by ringing at 7am, noon and 5 pm. St. Mary’s Square Museum host historic exhibits centered on the town of St. Michaels. The Museum is open weekends from May to October, Guided walking tours are available at the corner of Chestnut street and St. Mary’s Square on Saturdays beginning at 10:30 am. The tours alternate between “Young Frederick Douglas in St. Michaels” and “Historic St. Michaels Waterfront”. Reservations are required for a docent tour, call 410-745-0530. A Self-Guided walking tour map is also available at the St. Mary’s Museum.

Get out on the water! Go down to St. Michaels’ dock or drive over to nearby Tilghman Island for some water action.  Get up close and personal with some wild life, including osprey and bald eagles, with Peake Paddle Tours. Tours range from freshwater streams, to tidal rivers, to salt marshes all over the Eastern Shore, and skill levels start at beginner. Chesapeake Lights offers a variety of Lighthouse tours on the Bay.  Captain Mike Richards sales the motorized M/V Sharps Island out of Tilghman Island. A 10 hour, 10 lighthouse tour is scheduled for July 24th. The skipjack Rebecca T. Ruark, a National Historic Landmark, also sales out of Tilghman’s.  Captain Wade Murphy, Jr. is a 5th generation Chesapeake Bay waterman, and along with a beautiful ride you’ll get a history and science lesson on the Bay. The beautiful canoe-sterned ketch the Lady Patty is berthed in front of the Bay Hundred Restaurant in Tilghman Island and sets sail three times a day for 2 hour cruises including a romantic Champagne Sunset Cruise at 6:30.  The Salina II, a vintage catboat hosts private sailing lessons and 2 hr cruises for six. You can also take a Wine or Beer Tasting cruise or even an Overnight Excursion on the Selina II which docks at St. Michaels.

Sailing on the Bay

Sailing on the Bay. We took a twi-light cruise on the Rebecca T. Ruark which I found both educational and relaxing. This shot if of another vessel as the sun set to the left.

Spending the night…

There are over 25 Bed and Breakfast establishments in the St. Michaels area, so there’s plenty of variety in cost, location and luxury.

Dr. Dodson’s House at 200 Cherry Street began life as a tavern and the town’s first post office in 1799. Fredrick Douglas visited the house after the Civil War to meet with his former master, Captain Thomas Auld. Much of the house still maintains a historic flavor with original fireplaces, woodwork and glass. The house, which is on the St. Mary’s Square Museum walking tour, remains one of the finest examples of Federal architecture in town. It was brought to new life as a Bed and Breakfast after a bit of modernization (read: Air Conditioning and WiFi). The full breakfast is an “Event” from the eggs benedict, to the fresh tomato tarts, to the banana pecan waffles. You won’t leave the table hungry.

For Victorian charm try the Cherry Street Inn. This 1880’s house built by a steamboat captain has been lovingly maintained. The Inn is an easy walk to the harbor, The Chesapeake Maritime Museum and the shops and eateries on Main Street (Talbot Street).

Five Gables Inn and Spa offers a number of packages for the ultimate escape to the Bay. The signature Spa and Sail package includes two nights at one of their charming Main Street locations, two massages at the on site Aveda Spa, crab dinner for two at the Crab Claw Restaurant, and a two-hour cruise on the Rebecca T. Ruark. Other packages range from a one night champagne and chocolate get away to a four night “Learn to Sail” program that includes three private sailing lessons followed by massages. Five Gables is in the heart of St. Michaels, it is nestled among the Main Street Antique shops and is an easy walk to the harbor and the Maritime Museum. The Five Gables offers 12 rooms and 8 suites and an extended continental breakfast.

The iconic Hooper Light House at St. Michaels.

The iconic Hooper Light House at St. Michaels.

  • re-enactments,
  • boat rides,
  • cannon firings,
  • a Talbot Street parade,
  • horse-drawn carriage rides,
  • an Art show
  • and more.

If you stay an extra day you can enjoy the 4 th Annual Watermen’s Appreciation Day and Crab Feast.


Mary Katherine Goddard 6.16.13 Thought of the Day

“He carries every point, who blends the useful with the agreeable, amusing the reader while he instructs him.”
the English translation of the Goddard family motto.

[Image courtesy: The Baltimore Sun]

[Image courtesy: The Baltimore Sun]

Mary Katherine Goddard was born on this day n Groton, Connecticut, USA, in 1738. Today is the 275th anniversary of her birth.

She was elder of two children born to Sarah Updike Goddard and Dr. Giles Goddard. Mary Katherine and her brother William learned to read and write at their New London, Connecticut home. Their mother also taught them “Latin, French, and the literary classics.” [] Shakespeare, Pope and Swift  were favorite reading assignments.

When Mary Katherine was 19 her father passed away. The family stayed in Connecticut for a few years while William was apprenticed to a local printer, but in 1762 they moved to Providence, Rhode Island, and  Sarah Goddard lent William the money to start his own printing business. All three members of the family pitched in to help establish the business.

William was ostensibly in charge, (but) he traveled a great deal, and it was Sarah Updike Goddard who was the true publisher of the Providence Gazette and Country Journal.  Mary Katherine took a great interest in the business and forewent many of the usual activities for young ladies to work as a typesetter, printer, and journalist.  The mother/daughter team made their print shop a hub of activity at a time when newspapers exerted great political influence.  They added a bookbindery, and in addition to the Gazette, printed almanacs, pamphlets, and occasionally books.[]

In 1765 William left Rhode Island for the more metropolitan Philadelphia.  Mary Katherine took over the printing operation in Providence.

…Left with a burden upon her shoulders, Mary Katherine acquired the skills she needed to print a successful publication. “It was probably during the years of [William’s] absence… that his sister… learned the practical side of typography and journalism… ” Lawrence C. Wroth wrote.[University of Rhode Island web site]

Three years later William asked the two women to sell the Providence business (They sold the Gazette,  press and building for $550) and move to Pennsylvania to help him with the Philadelphia Chronicle.

Upon their arrival they ran the newspaper and press and William headed to Baltimore, Maryland  on a new venture.  Mary Katherine followed him again in 1774 when she took over her brother’s weekly publications the Maryland Journal and Baltimore Advertiser as he continued to travel.

With her mother dead and her brother prioritizing his political inclinations, Mary Katherine Goddard finally assumed the title of publisher of the Maryland Journal and the Baltimore Advertiser.  She put “Published by M.K. Goddard” on the masthead on May 10, 1775 — and it remained there even when William returned from his New Hampshire-to-Georgia travels in 1776.  []

She also became a postmaster in 1775 — the first woman in the colonies to do so. As postmaster she was at the  “center of the information exchange.”  [Ibid] and was privy to the news before her competitors. The Journal broke important news stories  (like the skirmishes at Lexington and Concord).

[Image courtesy the Library of Congress]

[Image courtesy the Library of Congress]

Mary Katherine kept the tone of the Journal professional. Other newspapers — and William — editorialized and included op eds that advanced political agendas. “Mary Katherine Goddard used a more objective, impersonal, and professional tone.” [Ibid]

She was a shrewd business woman who accepted alternate forms of payment when the taxes or the War made cash subscription payments difficult.

These included beef, pork, animal food, butter, hog’s lard, tallow, beeswax, flour, wheat, rye, Indian corn, beans and other goods she could sell in her shop. [University of Rhode Island web site]

She ran a stationary and printing press where fine printing was produced. She also had a local paper mill.

Mary Katherine biggest scoop as a newspaper woman came in January of 1777 when her press printed the first official copy of the Declaration of  Independence to include the names of the signers.

Goddard's published copy of the Declaration of Independence with all the signers identified. [Image courtesy McHenry Country Turning]

Goddard’s published copy of the Declaration of Independence with all the signers identified. [Image courtesy McHenry Country Turning]

She successfully ran both the publication and the related printing and paper companies AND served as postmaster through out the long Revolutionary War. But things changed in 1784. She had a falling out with William and he forced her off the paper’s staff. Then in 1789 Mary Katherine was forced to give up her postmaster position. As a woman — it was as argued — she could not handle the traveling the job would demand. Her appeals — backed by a petition of endorsement signed by over 200 Baltimore businessmen — went to President Washington and Congress but got nowhere. She resigned her self to running her bookstore.

Mary Katherine Goddard died att he age of 78 on April 12, 1816. “A copy of the Declaration of Independence printed by her is at the Maryland Hall of Records.”[]

Samuel Mudd 12.20.12 Thought of the Day

English: Samuel Mudd

English: Samuel Mudd (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Samuel Alexander Mudd was born on this day in Charles County, Maryland, USA in 1833. Today is the 179th anniversary of his birth.


Mudd grew up on a tobacco plantation about 30 miles southeast of Washington DC. He was the fourth of ten children . He was home schooled until age 15 when he went to St. John’s boarding school in Frederick, MD. He went to college at Georgetown in Washington, and graduated from  the University of Maryland, Baltimore having studied medicine with an emphasis on dysentery. In 1856 he returned to Charles County and began a family with his long time sweetheart Sarah “Frankie” Dyer. Mudd’s father gave the couple a 218 acre tobacco farm called St. Catherine’s. He supplemented his income as a doctor with the sale of tobacco from the farm. (He grew the tobacco with the help of five slaves.)


Dr. Mudd's House

Dr. Mudd’s House (Photo credit: jimmywayne)

When the Civil War began Maryland was a border state. If Washington, with its large number of Union soldiers had not be located in its southern border along the Potomac River the state may have voted to succeed from the Union. When Maryland abolished slavery in 1864 ( a year after the Emancipation Proclamation) Mudd could no longer effectively run his farm. He began looking for a buyer and was introduced to a young, dashing, actor in the market for some property. That actor’s name was John Wilkes Booth.


Booth and Mudd met in November  at St. Mary’s Catholic Church  to discuss the purchase. Booth stayed overnight at the farm before returning to Washington. Unbeknownst to Mudd, Booth wasn’t interested in real estate at all, but was scouting out an escape path from the Nation’s Capital. The actor was planning on kidnapping President Lincoln to bring him to Richmond (the capital of the Confederacy). He would ransom Lincoln for a large number of Confederate POWS.


Portrait of John Wilkes Booth (1838–1865)

Portrait of John Wilkes Booth (1838–1865) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Mudd and Booth met again shortly before Christmas 1964, this time in Washington. They met John Surratt and Louis Weichmann for drinks.


Before Booth could pull off his ill-advised and grandiose plan Lee surrendered at Appomatox, Virginia and the War was over. Booth was furious. He altered his plan and decided to kill the president instead of kidnapping him. Booth shot Lincoln in the head five days after Lee surrendered. The President and Ms. Lincoln were watching a play, Our American Cousin at Ford’s Theatre in Washington, DC. After shooting Lincoln at point-blank range he jumped down from the Presidential Box to the stage to escape. He broke his leg in the fall but managed to get out the stage door and onto his horse and escape the city.


English: Interior of Ford's Theatre, Washingto...

English: Interior of Ford’s Theatre, Washington, D.C., where Abraham Lincoln was assassinated. The presidential box is towards the right. The theatre is still in operation and the stage is set up for a current stage play (i.e., it is not set up as it was when Lincoln was shot). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

About four o’clock on the morning following the Lincoln assassination two men on horseback arrived at the Mudd farm near Bryantown.  The men, it turned out, were John Wilkes Booth–in severe pain with a badly fractured leg that he received from his fall to the stage after shooting the President–and David Herold.  Mudd welcomed the men into his house, first placing Booth on his sofa, then later carrying him upstairs to a bed where he dressed the limb. 

After daybreak, Mudd made arrangements with a nearby carpenter to construct a pair of crutches for Booth and tried, unsuccessfully, to secure a carriage for his two visitors.  Booth (after having shaved off his moustache in Mudd’s home) and Herold left later on the fifteenth, after Mudd pointed the route to their next destination, Parson Wilmer’s. []

Military investigators followed Booth’s trail to the Mudd farm and Dr. Mudd admitted to having seen a patient, but claimed…”‘I never saw either of the parties before, nor can I conceive who sent them to my house.” []  When Lt. Lovett, the lead investigator on the Mudd end of the trail returned again to the farm Sarah “brought down from upstairs a boot that had been cut off the visitor’s leg three days earlier.” [Ibid.] Booth’s initials were in the boot’s cuff, but Mudd still denied knowing who it was.


Booth's boot, found at the Mudd's farm .[Image courtesy]

Booth’s boot, found at the Mudd’s farm . [Image courtesy]

During the trail Mudd’s lie about not recognizing Booth, compounded by his not coming forward  about “suspicions … aroused by a broken-legged visitor who, during his brief stay the Mudd farm, shaved off his moustache” [Ibid] stained his character far more deeply than the circumstantial evidence of witnesses who claimed he knew of the conspiracy.


Defense Attorney Thomas Ewing argued to the Commission that it is no crime to fix  a broken leg, even if it were the leg of a presidential assassin and even if the doctor knew it was the leg of a presidential assassin. [Ibid}

Mudd was convicted by a Military Commission and sentenced to life in prison.


English: Broadside advertising reward for capt...

English: Broadside advertising reward for capture of Lincoln assassination conspirators, illustrated with photographic prints of John H. Surratt, John Wilkes Booth, and David E. Herold. Français : Avis de recherche avec prime de 100.000 $ pour la capture de John Wilkes Booth, le meurtrier du président Abraham Lincoln, et deux de ses complices, David Edgar Herold et John Harrison Surratt. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

He, and the other conspirators who escaped the noose were sent to Fort Jefferson in the Dry Tortugas 70 miles west of Key West,  Florida. He tried to escape once, but was quickly discovered. He and other prisoners were transferred to “the dungeon” a ground-level gunroom. They were let out six days a week to work, but were forced to stay inside the dungeon on Sundays and holidays. He wore leg irons while outside the cell.


Dr. Mudd as he appeared when working in the ca...

Dr. Mudd as he appeared when working in the carpenter’s shop in the prison at Fort Jefferson. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)



In 1867, an outbreak of yellow fever overtook the Dry Tortugas, claiming the lives of fellow conspirator and inmate Michael O’Lauglin, as well as the prison doctor.  Mudd assumed the role as the new prison doctor. [Ibid]

Mudd was pardoned in March of 1869 by President Andrew Johnson. The Doctor returned to his Maryland farm and his wife (they had 4 more children.) He had always been interested in politics and in 1877 he ran (unsuccessfully) for the Maryland House Delegates. In 1880 his farm was destroyed by a fire. and by 1883, at just 49 years old, Mudd was dead of pneumonia.




Lincoln’s death brought on a media circus the likes of which we are only all too familiar with in 2012. But then, when the nation need to be healed from its bloody civil war a swift and definitive trial was essential. Yellow journalism was in full swing. Certainly some of the men (and possible the one woman) on trial were guilty … but what do you think? Did was Dr. Mudd innocent or guilty?


English: John Wilkes Booth's escape route Türk...

Thought of the Day 11.9.12 Benjamin Banneker

“Evil communication corrupts good manners. I hope to live to hear that good communication corrects bad manners.”

“The colour of the skin is in no way connected with strength of the mind or intellectual powers.”

“Presumption should never make us neglect that which appears easy to us, nor despair make us lose courage at the sight of difficulties”

Benjamin Banneker

Woodcut of Benjamin Bannecker

Woodcut of Benjamin Bannecker (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Benjamin Banneker was born on this day outside Ellicott City, Maryland USA  in 1731. Today is the 281st anniversary of his birth.

His maternal grandmother, Molly Walsh, had been an indentured servant who came to colonial Maryland from Ireland. At the end of her seven years of bondage she bought a small farm and two slaves. Eventually she freed the slaves, marrying one of them, Bannaky. Their daughter Mary Bannaky married a slave named Robert (who may have been a fugitive; may have been freed after the wedding;  or may have been bought out of slavery after the wedding).  Mary and Robert had four children, Benjamin and his three younger sister.

All of the children had to help run the tobacco farm. They weeded the tobacco plants, picked worms and caterpillars off the leaves… by Benjamin’s calculation it took 36 chores to raise a crop of tobacco. He also cared for the farm animals, helped plant the corn, and did other farm chores with this father.

His maternal grandmother used a Bible to teach Benjamin (and her other grandchildren) how to read.

He learned to play the flute and the violin, and when a Quaker school opened in the valley, Benjamin attended it during the winter where he learned to write and elementary arithmetic. He had an eighth-grade education by time he was 15, at which time he took over the operations for the family farm. He devised an irrigation system of ditches and little dams to control the water from the springs (known around as Bannaky Springs) on the family farm. Their tobacco farm flourished even in times of drought. [Mathematicians of the African Diaspora]

It was at school that a teacher suggested he change his last name to the more anglicized Banneker, the rest of the family followed suit.

He loved to read and to do arithmetic . He taught himself advanced mathematics and eventually astronomy.

He would borrow books from his neighbors and friends. His close friends, the Ellicott brothers, lent him most of their books. [American Heroes: Benjamin Banneker]

A clock similar to the one Banneker made.

He loved puzzles and challenges too.

Sometime in the early 1750s, Benjamin borrowed a pocket watch from a wealthy acquaintance, took the watch apart and studied its components. After returning the watch, he created a fully functioning clock entirely out of carved wooden pieces. The clock was amazingly precise, and would keep on ticking for decades. As the result of the attention his self-made clock received, Banneker was able to start-up his own watch and clock repair business. [Famous Black Inventors]

He predicted the solar eclipse of 1789. He earned the nickname the “Sable Astronomer” He started to compile information into Almanac and Ephemeris of Pennsylvania, Delaware and Maryland best-selling almanacs. He even put a skylight in the ceiling of his cabin so he could watch the stars at night. He sent a copy of his almanac to Thomas Jefferson along with “a letter urging the abolition of slavery.” [Ibid]

When Banneker was 60 George Washington appointed him along with his friend Andrew Ellicott to survey what would become the District of Columbia.

A contemporary reprint of Andrew Ellicott's 17...

A contemporary reprint of Andrew Ellicott’s 1792 “Plan of the City of Washington in the Territory of Columbia” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Banneker and Ellicott worked closely with Pierre L’Enfant, the architect in charge. However, L’Enfant could not control his temper and was fired. He left, taking all the plans with him. But Banneker saved the day by recreating the plans from memory. [Mathematicians of the African Diaspora]

[For more on Pierre L’Enfant visit his Thought of the Day bioBlog HERE]

He published a treatise on bees, did a mathematical study on the cycle of the seventeen-year locust, and became a pamphleteer for the anti-slavery movement. [Mathematicians of the African Diaspora]

On October 9, 1806 Banneker died at his Ellicott City/ Oella farm.

The Banneker postage stamp. [Image courtesy: USPS]

In 1980, the U.S. Postal Service issued a postage stamp in his honor. [Benjamin Banneker Center]

Benjamin Banneker

Benjamin Banneker (Photo credit: crazysanman.history)

Thought of the Day 10.25.12 Anne Tyler

“My family can always tell when I’m well into a novel because the meals get very crummy.”
Anne Tyler

Anne Tyler was born on this day in Minneapolis, Minnesota in 1941. She is 71 years old.

She is the oldest of four children. Her parents moved around, searching for the best place to raise the family, but settled, when Anne was six, in the Celo Quaker Community near Burnsville North Carolina. Anne and her siblings attended a small local school. She says she never planned on being a writer, but would tell herself stories to get to sleep at night. She liked Westerns, but, her favorite book was Virginia Lee Burton’s tale, The Little House. Later she read Eudora Welty who showed her “that very small things are often really larger than the large things.” [Tyler from a 1977 New York Times interview.]

She majored in Russian at Duke University, but an English 101 class with Professor Reynolds Price started her on a literary career. Tyler  graduated at 19 Phi Beta Kappa and Price introduced her to his literary agent.  Tyler won the Anne Flexner creative writing award twice at Duke. She went on to Columbia to do post-graduate work in Russian studies at Columbia. She worked  as a bibliographer at Duke and at the law library at McGill University in Montreal after graduating. She published short stories in The New Yorker, the Saturday Evening Post and Harper’s Magazine prior to settling in Baltimore and marrying psychiatrist Taghi Modarressi.

Her first novel, If Morning Ever Comes was published in 1964. The Tin Can Tree followed a  year later. Tyler doesn’t like either of the books, and almost left the manuscript for ‘Morning’ on a plane on purpose. There is a five-year gap between ‘Tin Can’ and her third novel A Slipping-Down Life. She spent the time productively — she had her two daughters, Tezh and Mitra.

In 1974 she published Celestial Navigation. It is one of her favorite’s (one of mine too.) Here’s the Amazon write up…

Thirty-eight-year-old Jeremy Pauling has never left home. He lives on the top floor of a Baltimore row house where he creates collages of little people snipped from wrapping paper. His elderly mother putters in the rooms below, until her death. And it is then that Jeremy is forced to take in Mary Tell and her child as boarders. Mary is unaware of how much courage it takes Jeremy to look her in the eye. For Jeremy, like one of his paper creations, is fragile and easily torn–especially when he’s falling in love…. []

Tyler wrote one book about every two years. So by 1980 she’d published eight novels.  Searching for Caleb, Earthly Possessions and Morgan’s Passing rounded out the early list.

In 1982 she published Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant. ‘Homesick’ “explores tensions inside a family – for Tyler it is the basic battlefield of all society.” [Books and Writers] The book was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize and the Pen/Faulkner Award. [And it remains my favorite of Tyler’s novels. This book would be on my Desert Island Bookshelf*.]

Book #10, The Accidental Tourist, put Tyler on the map. Not only did she win the national Book Critics Circle Award for it in 1985, but it was made into a major motion picture starring William Hurt and Geena Davis. It too was shortlisted for a Pulitzer, but Tyler had to wait one more book before capturing that prize. [I loved the sibling interaction in this one, as well as the hope for new and unlooked for love.]

Of her writing process Tyler said:

“I think of my work as a whole. And really what it seems to me I’m doing is populating a town. Pretty soon it’s going to be just full of lots of people I’ve made up. None of the people I write about are people I know. That would be no fun. And it would be very boring to write about me. Even if I led an exciting life, why live it again on paper?… I hate to travel, but writing a novel is like taking a long trip. This way I can stay peacefully at home.” [Tyler from a 1977 New York Times interview.]

Breathing Lessons earned the Pulitzer and was named Time Magazine’s Book of the Year. Maggie and Ira have been married for 28 years. Things have gotten, shall we say “comfortable?” Like an old leather recliner is comfortable. They take a 90-mile trip to a funeral and “Tyler explores the problems of marriage, love and happiness” [Ibid] [Read it, and you’ll never eat fried chicken again with out a remembering the melancholy cooking scene near the end of this book.] It was made into a Hallmark Hall of Fame television movie in 1994 starring James Garner and Joanne Woodward and into a stage play.

1991 brought Saint Maybe with guilt ridden 17-year-old Ian Bedloe dropping out of school to take care of his dead brother’s children.  School Library Journal says of the novel:

“Tyler’s remarkable novel pulls at the heart-strings and jogs the memories of forgotten youth. Ian’s story is neither action packed nor fast-moving, but each page will be eagerly anticipated. “[]

Ever feel like your family takes your for granted and no one listens to you when you speak?  Delia Grinstead, the heroine of Ladder of Years, does. She REALLY does. And when things come to a head during a trip to the beach she walks away from it all to re-discover who she really is.

A Patchwork Planet was another of my favorites. 29-year-old Barnaby is the family’s black sheep. He got into trouble as a teen and now he doesn’t aspire to much more than helping out old people in his job at “RENT-A-BACK.” There’s a cast of fantastic, spindly, eccentric clients, and Barnaby’s less than loveable family. Then there’s Barnaby himself…

“Sharp and impatient at painful–and painfully funny–family dinners, apparently unable to keep his finger off the auto-self-destruct button every time his life improves. As much as his superb creator, he is a poet of disappointment, resignation, and minute transformation.” [Kerry Field review on]

Tyler’s 15th Novel is Back When We Were Grownups. The book is about widow, Rebecca Davitch, who reassesses her life at the age of 53.  The Amateur Marriage centers on the crumbling marriage of Michael and Pauline Anton. Married just after he returned from WWII the couple wonders if they know anything more about each now than they did 30 years ago. Two families adopting Korean infant daughters meet at the airport at the beginning of Digging To America. The novel follows the two different families (with wildly different parenting techniques) who meet up every year for an annual Arrival Party. Tyler’s handling of mixed cultures adds a new dimension to her usual mix of excellent social commentary.
Liam Pennywell is the protagonist of Noah’s Compass. He is a teacher forced into early retirement who struggles with the fact that he’s never really reached his full potential.

Her latest novel is The Beginner’s Goodbye, which the Boston Globe calls:

“An absolute charmer of a novel about grief, healing, and the transcendent power of love . . . With sparkling prose and undeniable charm, Tyler gets at the beating heart of what it means to lose someone, to say goodbye, and to realize how we are all, perhaps, always ultimate beginners in the complex business of life . . . A dazzling meditation on marriage, community, and redemption.” [Boston Globe review,]

Tyler wrote two children’s book, Tumble Tower and Timothy Tugbottom Says NO! Both were illustrated by her daughter Mitra Modarressi. Tumble Tower with the fabulous Molly the Messy is a must for emergent readers who want a giggle and a hug. (I haven’t read Timothy.)

She jots notes on index card where ever she happens to be in her house then collects them in one of two metal boxes. There is a blue box for NOVEL notes and a second box for SHORT STORIES.
She says she isn’t driven to write but is “driven to get things written down before (she) forget(s) them.” [Ibid] Then once it is all written down she reads it all back and “suddenly it seems as if someone else is telling me the story and I say ‘now I see’ and then I go all the way back and drop references to what it means.”[Tyler from a 1977 New York Times interview.]

“Sometimes a book will start with a picture that pops into my mind and I ask myself questions about it and if I put all the answers together I’ve got a novel.” [Tyler from a 1977 New York Times interview.]


You may have noticed that I’ve quoted a rather old New York Time’s interview quite a bit in this bioBlog. That’s because Tyler very seldom gives interviews.

I read most of her early books in my twenties but I’m going to go put them on my Kindle now. I wonder how much they’ve changed because of how much I’ve changed over the years? I know one thing that will change… the font size. I will pump up that font size to something nice and big for these ole eyes. Ha!


*So … what 10 books would you want on your Desert Island Bookshelf ? I’d definitely have Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant on my shelf. I know that Persuasion, Sense and Sensibility and Pride and Prejudice would be on there too. (I’d like to be clever and get a Jane Austen collection with all six novels, but then the font size would be too small to read) How about you? What books would make the list?


Thought of the Day 10.24.12 Kweisi Mfume

“And it really gets down to an issue of class. The poor and the poorest of the poor tend to be the ones that are being missed by the census,”
–Kweisi Mfume

Mfume delivering a speech at NOAA during Black...

Mfume delivering a speech at NOAA during Black History Month, 2005 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Frizzel Gerald Gray was born on this day in Tuner Station, Dundalk just outside of Baltimore, Maryland in 1948. He is 64 years old.

He is the oldest of four siblings. His father left the family when Gray was a 11 and his mother, Mary Elizabeth Gray, raised the children as best she could as a single mother. She died of cancer when he was 16.

“After she died of cancer, things spun out of control.” Mfume quit high school during his second year and went to work to help support his sisters. At times he worked as many as three different jobs in a single week.” [Kweisi Mfume Biography. Encyclopedia of the World Biography

He began to hang out on the corner drinking with friends to blow off steam. He admits to hanging with the wrong crowd. He could feel his life spiraling out of control as he was arrested on suspicion of theft “Because” he said in a U.S. News and World Report interview ” I happened to be black and happened to be young.” And soon found himself the teenaged parent of five children.

But on a July night in the late 60s all that changed. He felt something come over him and he stepped away from the corner and toward the future. He spent “the rest of the night in prayer, then proceeded to earn his high-school diploma and pursue a college degree.” [IBID] He changed his name to Kweisi Mfume, a phrase that means “conquering son of kings” in Ghana.

He began to work in radio, first as a volunteer than as an announcer. When his college, Morgan State University  opened its own radio station Mfume became the program director.
Flag of Baltimore, Maryland. Image created by ...

Flag of Baltimore, Maryland. Image created by uploader based on images found at and, as well as other images found on the web. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

He parlayed his popularity on the Radio and in Baltimore’s African-American community into politics in 1978 when he ran for Baltimore City Council. There he became a vocal critic of Mayor William Donald Schaefer whom he accused  of ignoring poor neighborhoods. Eventually Mfume learned the three-pronged art of negotiation, compromise and coalition building.

DSC_0120 (Photo credit: owillis)

In 1986 he ran for U.S. House of Representatives and won a seat in Congress. He worked on the House Committee on Banking, Finance and Urban Affairs and later on farming and zoning issues. He maintained a strong tie to Baltimore City and the residents that lived in the inner city.
By his fourth term, Mfume had enough influence to become chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, a group in Congress that supports the interests of African-Americans. Soon after his election as chairman, Mfume and the Caucus presented a list of demands to President Bill Clinton (1946–), most of them having to do with federal aid to cities and the poor. [IBID]
In 1996 Mfume left Congress and became the president of the NAACP (the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. He successfully managed the organization’s financial issues and illuminated the NAACP’s $4.5 million debt. He worked to address “affordable health care, conservation, voting reform, and hate crimes.” [IBID.] He helped raise over $90 million and created the NAACP’s National Corporate Diversity Project during his tenure at the organization. His term at the NAACP ended on January 1, 2005.
Kwesi Mfume, Fmr Prez of NAACP

Kwesi Mfume, Fmr Prez of NAACP (Photo credit: Youth Radio)

Mfume made an unsuccessful bid for a U.S. Senate seat. Although he remains active as a political supporter and organizer he has not run for public office since. Currently he serves on a number of boards of public and private institutions such as the National Advisory Council on Minority Health and Health Disparities, the Platform Committee of the Democratic National Convention and the National Advisory Council of Boy Scouts of America. He actively lectures at…
Colleges, Universities, Corporations, and Bar Associations across the country on corporate diversity, compliance, inclusion, disparities in health care, tolerance and the new challenges of gender and race. []

Thought of the Day 9.12.12 H.L.Mencken

“Love is the triumph of imagination over intelligence.”

— H. L. Mencken

The Sage of Baltimore. [Image courtesy: The American Mercury]

Henry Louis Mencken was born on this day  in Baltimore, Maryland in 1880. Today is the 132nd anniversary of his birth.

Mencken lived in the same house in the Union Square neighborhood of the city for all but 5 years of his life. At 9 he read Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain and knew he wanted to become a writer. His family had other ideas.

His grandfather had prospered in the tobacco business and his father, August, continued the family tradition. Mencken studied at the Baltimore Polytechnic Institute (1892-96) and then worked at his father’s cigar factory. [Books and Writers]

[Image Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons]

He worked for 3 years at the family owned business and would have stayed indefinitely, but upon his father’s death in 1899  Mencken was “free to choose his own trade in the world.”

Within a week, Mencken “invaded” the city room of the old Baltimore Morning Herald to face down the city editor and ask for a job…There were no jobs that day, but Mencken, persistent, returned daily for two weeks. “Finally I was sent out on a small assignment — it was a stable robbery at Govans — and a few days later I was on the staff,” [H.L. Mencken, Pioneer Journalist, By Jacques Kelly The Baltimore Sun]

His skill as a writer and his reputation for being able to turn a phrase grew. So 6 years later when the Herald closed its doors Mencken applied for a position at the larger Baltimore Sun.  He started at “The Sun as its Sunday editor, became an editorial writer, and in 1911 started writing his own column, the Free Lance Mencken.”  He worked at The Sun until 1948, bring his unflinching wit and critical eye to everything he saw.

“I believe that a young newspaper reporter in a big city… led a live that has never been matched… for romance and interest.” [Mencken from his only known audio interview. Courtesy of: The American]/

Mencken at work. [Image Courtesy: Enoch Pratt free Library Digital Collections.]

He was a war correspondent in Germany and Russia from 1916 to 1918. During WWI Mencken was pro-German (a very unpopular thing to be in patriotic Baltimore of 1917).

In 1919 he published The American Language, a guide to American expressions and idioms.

From 1914 to 1923 Mencken co-edited with drama critic George Jean Nathan (1882-1958) the Smart Set, which mocked everything from politics to art, universities to the Bible…[Books and Writers]

He preferred realism to modernism and he helped the careers of Sinclair Lewis, Dorothy Parker and Eugene O’Neill.

Cover of the American Mercury [Image Courtesy: Wikipedia]

He started The American Mercury monthly magazine, working on the magazine from 1924 t0 1933.

A stroke in 1948 left him nearly unable to read or write. Speaking took a lot of effort, and he grew easily frustrated. He spent his remaining days organizing his papers and letters (which can now be found in H.L. Mencken Room and Collection at the Central Branch of the Enoch Pratt Free Library on Cathedral Street in Baltimore.

[Image courtesy: MPT]

Here are a few more quips from the Sage of Baltimore:

  • “A cynic is a man who, when he smells flowers, looks around for a coffin.”
  • “Nature abhors a moron”
  • “Do not overestimate the decency of the human race”
  • “A man loses his sense of direction after four drinks; a woman loses hers after four kisses”
  • “Love is like war; easy to begin but very hard to stop”
  • “It is a sin to believe evil of others, but it is seldom a mistake.”
  • “Conscience is the inner voice that warns us somebody may be looking.”
  • “You come into the world with nothing, and the purpose of your life is to make something out of nothing”
  • “Most people are unable to write because they are unable to think, and they are unable to think because they congenitally lack the equipment to do so, just as they congenitally lack the equipment to fly over the moon.”
  • “I believe that it is better to tell the truth than a lie. I believe it is better to be free than to be a slave. And I believe it is better to know than to be ignorant.”

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