view counter

Articles by Christina Gardner

Holiday dates back more than 130 years

The first Monday in September marks Labor Day.
    “Labor Day is a creation of the labor movement and is dedicated to the social and economic achievements of American workers,” according to the U.S. Department of Labor. “It constitutes a yearly national tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity and well-being of our country.”
    Credit for the day of celebration is divided between Matthew Maguire, a machinist and member of the Central Labor Union in New York, and Peter McGuire, a carpenter and co-founder of the American Federation of Labor.
    The first Labor Day celebration was held by the Central Labor Union in New York on Tuesday, September 5, 1882. Ten thousand workers took unpaid time off to march from Market Hall to Union Square in the first Labor Day parade.
    Labor Day celebrations spread throughout the country, with municipalities, then states and finally the nation recognizing a holiday for working people. President Grover Cleveland signed the law designating the first Monday in September as Labor Day in 1894. His timing was practical, in response to a railroad strike that crippled rail travel. In response, the government deployed troops to Chicago to control the striking workers. Riots broke out and dozens were killed. Labor Day was recognized in hopes of repairing the relationship between government and workers.
    Through the 20th century, the power of labor unions rose. The American labor movement has become synonymous with values that Americans hold dear: a fair wage for a day’s work, safe working conditions for all, a labor force that is valued and protected from exploitation — and the weekend.
    In the 1980s, 30 percent of Americans were union members. Today, only about 11 percent of workers are represented by unions.


Has a sight stymied you? Does an oddity bewilder? Your curiosity may be featured in an upcoming column. Send your questions to chesapeakecuriosities@gmail.com.

 

Why is this the state sport?

Maryland is the first state to have a designated state sport. Jousting became our sport in 1962, when State Sen. Henry J. Fowler Sr., a jouster from Southern Maryland, proposed the bill. The General Assembly passed the bill, and Gov. Millard Tawes signed it into law. Jousting became Maryland’s seventh state symbol, following the state flag, flower, song, tree, bird and seal.
    In 2004, Lacrosse became our official team sport. We now have 26 state symbols. The most recent, our state dessert, Smith Island Cake, and state exercise, walking, were approved in 2008.
    Jousting is the oldest equestrian sport, dating back to medieval times, when jousters tried to knock an opponent off a horse. The jousting practiced in Maryland is called ring jousting, with jousters trying to lance a series of ever-smaller rings hanging from arches down the field. The rings range from one-and-three-quarters inches to one-quarter inch in diameter.
    Jousters range in age from kids to seniors, many trying out the sport after seeing a tournament.
    “There are about 85 to 100 jousters in Maryland, living in all areas of the state, says Vicki Betts, president of the Maryland Jousting Tournament Association.
    She cites four prominent clubs: Maryland Jousting Tournament Association, The Western Maryland Jousting Club, The Amateur Club and The Eastern Shore Jousting Club.
    August 27 marks the 150th anniversary of the Calvert County Jousting Tournament, started in 1866 just after the Civil War. The sport is also part of the Maryland Renaissance Festival, opening this weekend. See 8 Days a Week.


Has a sight stymied you? Does an oddity bewilder? Your curiosity may be featured in an upcoming column. Send your questions to chesapeakecuriosities@gmail.com.

Chesapeake Curiosities: Battle Creek Cypress Swamp is the northernmost of its kind

A habitat unique in Maryland flourishes just south of Prince Frederick. Battle Creek Cypress Swamp is one of the nation’s northernmost naturally occurring stands of bald cypress trees.
    “It’s actually a bit of a mystery why the swamp is here, as we don’t see similar stands of trees in other low-lying swampy areas of the county,” says Shannon Steele, Calvert County naturalist.
    In 1957, the Nature Conservancy purchased 100 acres of land to protect the unusual ecosystem. Today, a boardwalk brings you into the habitat, crossing about 10 acres of the swamp. The park encompasses most of the remaining cypress stand, but some trees remain on nearby private property.
    Delaware has another stand of cypress trees on the Eastern Shore in Trap Pond State Park.
    Some of ­Battle Creek’s cypress are ex­tremely old. “The oldest tree we know of is around 500 years old,” Steele says. This tree can’t be seen from the main boardwalk, but you can visit it on an annual guided hike (calvertparks.org).
    Bald cypress trees are interesting in that they are deciduous conifers, meaning that they have needles like an evergreen but drop those needles in the fall just as oaks and maples lose their leaves. Cypress also grow knees, root system knobs that grow up out of the soil rather than staying underground.
    “The function of these growths is something of a mystery,” according to the Arbor Day Foundation, “although some believe it is a way to help the roots get oxygen.”
    Cypress provide valuable habitat to many creatures, especially the prothonotary warbler, a small yellow bird that likes to nest in the trees’ knees.
    As for the name, Battle Creek is the small stream that flows through the park, named in honor of the town of Battle, England, the ancestral home of the original owners of the land.


Has a sight stymied you? Does an oddity bewilder? Your curiosity may be featured in an upcoming column. Send your questions to chesapeakecuriosities@gmail.com.
 

The story of the Chessie

 

The Chesapeake retriever originated in Maryland, developed to suit the climate and the waters of the Bay.
    In 1807, a British ship wrecked off the coast of Maryland. Among the crew and cargo saved by another ship were two Newfoundland puppies. These pups turned out to be great retrievers and were bred with flat- and curly-coated retrievers as well as other dogs to create our Chessies.
    “They love the water and can swim in the coldest conditions,” says Dawn Logan, statistician and historian for the American Chesapeake Club. “They have been bred to have the ability to hunt many hours in the icy waters of the Bay. Today, they maintain the coat, structure and determination to do what their ancestors did.”
    Today’s Chesapeake Bay retrievers are much the same as the first Chessies.
    “When you look back in breed history, photos and drawings of the first Chesapeake Bay dogs, you see they look very much like today’s Chesapeake Bay retrievers,” Logan says.
    The Chesapeake Bay retriever is a relatively rare breed, with only some 2,000 registered with the American Kennel Club.
    “Because of its intelligence and loyalty, it is not a dog for everyone,” Logan explains. “They do not have the love-everyone attitude of a Labrador retriever or golden retriever. They are known to be stubborn and to think for themselves, which can be a challenge in training. Also, they tend to be more protective than other retriever breeds.
    “They were bred to hunt for hours on end, and that is maintained today, so they do best with a job, whether it be hunting, obedience, agility, daily walks — they need something to do,” Logan says. “We want to maintain the heritage and original capabilities of this unique breed.”


Has a sight stymied you? Does an oddity bewilder? Your curiosity may be featured in an upcoming column. Send your questions to chesapeakecuriosities@gmail.com.

Chesapeake Curiosities

A small building in the Rhode River is built up over the water like a duck blind. But it doesn’t quite look like one, and it’s surrounded by Smithsonian Environmental Research Center land. What is it?
    The structure, an instrument shed, was built in the 1970s, according to Kristen Minogue of Smithsonian Environmental Research Center. Initially it was one of a series of similar stations that monitored the Rhode River. The stations provided data on water chemistry as well as the flow of sediments, nutrients and water. This location is no longer a monitoring station, but others in the network still provide long-term data on the health of the river.
    While it was a monitoring site, the shed housed equipment that operated automatically. Scientists picked up samples weekly. In the 1980s, Smithsonian scientist Tom Jordan spent 24 hours conducting a study from a boat tied to the shed.
    The shed now holds equipment for other projects. It’s recently been used to house hydrophones — underwater microphones — that track fish movement.
    “We use hydrophones in our tagging projects to track how different animals in the Bay move. We attach ultrasonic tags to fish and crabs, and the hydrophones enable us to listen and record the signals those tags emit. One of our postdocs is also using them to listen to the sounds animals make underwater,” said Minogue.
    “The little shed is a testament to almost 40 years of tracking the health of a single river,” Minogue added. “ And the fact that it’s now used by osprey is a symbol of hope. Back when it was built in the 1970s, osprey in the Chesapeake had just hit an all-time low, and now we see them all over.”


Has a sight stymied you? Does an oddity bewilder? Your curiosity may be featured in an upcoming column. Send your questions to chesapeakecuriosities@gmail.com.

Yes, but do it at the grocery

Anne Arundel Countians are lucky to have their recycling picked up at the curb. With the county’s single-stream recycling program, you don’t even have to sort. Even so, 26 percent of what goes into the trash is recyclable, according to Anne Arundel County Recycling.
    Getting that quarter of our waste out of the trash stream depends not only on the will to recycle but also our knowledge.
    You can find a list that outlines most of what is and is not accepted for curbside recycling on the website www.recyclemoreoften.com.
    How about plastic bags?
    Reading the website left me confused, so I asked direction from Rich Bowen, Recycling Program Manager for Anne Arundel County.
    Most plastic bags that stretch when pulled are recyclable. This includes grocery bags, bread bags, retail bags (even the thicker plastic retail bags) and newspaper bags. Also in this category are zip-top or roll-top food bags and cellophane plastic wrap.
    Not recyclable in Anne Arundel’s program are shiny metallic bags like chip bags.
    Gather recyclable bags together, please, Bowen asks.
    “For curbside pickup, we ask that residents bundle these bags together and tightly tie the bundle so that they don’t come apart during collection or sorting,” he told me.
    Still, curbside recycling is not the best solution for plastic bags.
    “The best thing to do with them,” Bowen advises, “is take them to the grocery store with you and deposit them in the collection bin at the front of the store.”
    The reason is what happens to the bags after you put them out for recycling.
    “The biggest buyer for bags right now is the company that makes Trex decking,” Bowen said. “The composite lumber material uses the plastic bags to make its product. They want clean bags and feel that when the bags are collected with other materials they get soiled by other recyclables so they can’t use them,” Bowen said.
    Also, if the bags come loose during sorting, they can get lodged in the gears of the mechanism that separates paper, metal, glass and plastics. Escaped bags gum up the works, causing the machine to slow down. This results in a slower processing time, which makes costs for recycling all single stream materials increase.
    Many — but not all — grocery stores have obviously located plastic bag collection bins.


Has a sight stymied you? Does an oddity bewilder? Your curiosity may be featured in an upcoming column. Send your questions to chesapeakecuriosities@gmail.com.
 

Is the Bay full of sharks?

The teeth you find at beaches in Southern Anne Arundel and Calvert counties aren’t from sharks now living in the Bay. The teeth fall from the eroding cliffs around the Bay, where sharks lived during the Miocene Epoch, around 17 million years ago.
    At that time, Southern Maryland looked very different. We were a shallow, salty sea with a climate like North Carolina’s. Over millions of years, the sea receded and through erosion the land that was once the bottom of the ocean rose as Bayside cliffs. The fossils are remains of animals that once lived in the sea, from scallops to sharks.
    Shark teeth top off at seven inches, which means the Great White Shark that grew them was as big as a boxcar. But even an ancient tooth as tiny as a rose thorn can be a thrilling discovery. Learn about these treasures from Calvert Marine Museum, which has a fine collection and offers Fossil Field Experiences (the next is July 16), help in identification and the guidebook Fossils of Calvert Cliffs.
    In addition to shark teeth, a trip to Calvert Cliffs State Park, Flag Ponds or Chesapeake Beach Bayfront Park can yield finds of fossilized shells, whale bones and small sea creatures. The Maryland Geological Survey has a number of handy guides available on its website (www.mgs.md.gov) identifying the fossils you can find in the area.
    If you go fossil hunting, know that collecting fossils directly from the cliffs is prohibited. The regulation protects the cliffs and you: The cliffs are unstable, and a collapse can ruin your day. The best time to go searching for fossils is at low tide or just after a storm.


Has a sight stymied you? Does an oddity bewilder? Your curiosity may be featured in an upcoming column. Send your questions to chesapeakecuriosities@gmail.com.

Chesapeake Curiosities

Founding father John Adams wanted to celebrate Independence Day July second rather than the fourth, but he was the visionary in celebrating with fireworks. The Adams family hosted huge Independence Day celebrations for generations.
    In a letter to his wife, Abagail Adams, on July 3, 1776, he wrote:
The Second Day of July 1776, will … be celebrated, by succeeding Generations, as the great anniversary Festival. It ought to be solemnized with Pomp and Parade, with Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other.
    Fourth of July fireworks displays became the standard in the 1880s.
    The first fireworks are believed to have been made in China around 2,000 years ago, when gunpowder stuffed into bamboo was detonated. Ever since, people have been fascinated by their magic. Fireworks were especially popular in Renaissance Europe, when royalty set them off to punctuate celebrations.
    In 1608 Captain John Smith set off the first fireworks display on Chesapeake Bay to impress Native Americans.
    Today’s fireworks are complicated affairs with each color created by a mix of chemicals. Copper burns blue. Strontium salts and lithium salts burn red. Sodium burns yellow. Calcium burns orange. Barium burns green. Charcoal and lampblack burn gold. Magnesium, aluminum and titanium burn white or silver.
    Setup for large fireworks displays like the ones in Annapolis, Chesapeake Beach or Solomons can take days. Each display is carefully choreographed and timed. It takes years to master the skills to pull off a dazzling show. Fireworks can also be extremely dangerous, so leave it to the pros to handle the light show this year.
    See page 12 for a listing of this year’s local fireworks, with some falling before July 4, which would please John Adams.


Has a sight stymied you? Does an oddity bewilder? Your curiosity may be featured in an upcoming column. Send your questions to chesapeakecuriosities@gmail.com.

Chesapeake Curiosities

At the corner of routes 468 and 255 in Galesville, a lovely, tree-filled cemetery reminds us that one of the first Quaker communities was in Chesapeake Country. George Fox, the father of the Religious Society of Friends — the proper name for the Quakers — opened the meeting house in Galesville in 1672, uniting various Quaker groups in Maryland into the first organized West River Yearly Meeting of Friends.
    Fox advocated nonviolence, equality, obedience to God, simplicity and conviction of the Divine Presence within every individual. He promoted his cause in his native England, throughout Europe, then in the colonies.
    “Quakers first arrived in Maryland in the 1650s after being expelled from Virginia,” wrote Quaker historian Peter Rabenold in History of Quakers in Southern Maryland.
    Maryland was more tolerant of religions than other colonies. For nearly a century, the Quaker community thrived, with hundreds of Quaker families establishing themselves throughout the area. Galesville gets its name from the Gales, a prominent Quaker family, according to the Galesville Historical Society.
    The religion declined in the mid to late 1700s. Some families moved when residents were asked to swear allegiance to Lord Baltimore as Quakers don’t swear oaths. Additional decline was due to the Maryland chapter of the religion outlawing slavery in 1777.
    “Friends who did not wish to give up their slaves became Episcopalians. Those who gave up their slaves moved out of the area, since they could not grow tobacco economically without slaves,” Rabenold wrote.
    By the 1800s the meeting house in Galesville had largely been abandoned. Today, a historical marker is the only evidence that the meeting house existed.
    The cemetery is distinctive because Quakers mostly do not mark their graves with headstones, following the Quaker principle that all people are equal and headstones differentiate and elevate one over another. Thus Quaker graves at the Galesville burial ground are unmarked.


Has a sight stymied you? Does an oddity bewilder? Your curiosity may be featured in an upcoming column. Send your questions to chesapeakecuriosities@gmail.com.

 

Chesapeake Curiosities

Sonora Smart Dodd wanted a holiday to match Mother’s Day in honor of fathers because she and her five siblings were raised by a widower. She worked to gain — and found — community support. Her home state, Washington, was the first to have a recognized Father’s Day in 1910. In 1972, President Richard Nixon signed a proclamation making Father’s Day a federal holiday.
    In the intervening years, the idea drew some controversy. In the early years, opponents criticized Father’s Day as a commercial invention, requiring gifts for a made-up reason. In the 1920s and 1930s, a movement rose to scrap both Mother’s Day and Father’s Day in favor of a unified Parent’s Day.
    The Depression and World War II cemented Father’s Day as retailers seized on the holiday to bolster business. During World War II, the holiday gained favor as another way to honor the men serving their country away from home.
    This year, consumers are anticipated to spend an average $125.92 on Father’s Day, according to the National Retail Foundation’s annual survey. That’s up $10 from last year’s $115.57. Total spending is expected to reach $14.3 billion, the highest in the survey’s 13-year history but still below this year’s Mother’s Day total of $21.4 billion.


Has a sight stymied you? Does an oddity bewilder? Your curiosity may be featured in an upcoming column. Send your questions to chesapeakecuriosities@gmail.com.