Saturday, December 17, 2011

H.L. Mencken House, Baltimore

A three story row home.
Born in Baltimore in 1880, Henry Louis, or H.L., Mencken rose to become a prominent journalist, critic, reviewer, and social commentator (among other things) in his day. A prolific writer, he authored several books and countless essays, articles, and letters. It is fair to call Mencken a libertarian. He was influenced by many great minds, including my favorite philosopher, Herbert Spencer.

Many today are unaware of who Mencken was and how he and his ideas influenced his world and the world we live in today. The Mission of the Friends of the H.L. Mencken House is to educate "the public about the life and legacy of H. L. Mencken." To this end they are interested in purchasing, or at least permanently leasing, Mencken's house to establish a museum to teach others about Mencken, his life, ideas, and times.

The Mencken House, where H.L. lived all but 8 years of his life, and where he died, is only opened today for private tours and special events. I had the opportunity to visit the house during one of those events.

Located at 1524 Hollins Street in the Union Square area of Baltimore, the neighborhood could use some work. I spotted at least one drug deal while driving away. I would advise against leaving out any valuables. But it is safe enough, especially during the daytime and especially if you park near the house. Parking is generally not a problem.

The house is more empty than it would have been when Mencken lived there, but, they try to give a feel, based on old photographs of it, of what it would have looked like then.

The house was properly decorated for the Christmas season. Although Mencken was a famous agnostic who had no interest in religion, he, unlike so many professional atheists today, enjoyed the cultural aspect of the Christmas holiday. In his youth especially, Christmas was an important day for him and his family.

An original chair from the Victorian period was preserved for the house. Other items that belong in the house are apparently in storage elsewhere. Hopefully they will be returned to the house.
On the second floor, if you visit on the right day, the ghost of H.L. Mencken himself, still thinking it is the past, will greet you and talk about his life, views, work, and times. Also, if you would like H.L. to come to your event or party that can be arranged as well.

The garden in the back of the house is worth exploring as well. Original artwork in the walls is still present. View some samples of that below:

H.L. Mencken was an amazing individual who fought, though his words, for the rights of all people, even when that was unpopular. Below are some of my favorite quotes and links to books by and about Mencken. Those interested in learning more about him and his ideas as well as saving the Mencken House should join the Friends of the H.L. Mencken House and also visit the house.

Favorite Mencken quotes:

"The trouble with fighting for human freedom is that one spends most of one's time defending scoundrels. For it is against scoundrels that oppressive laws are first aimed, and oppression must be stopped at the beginning if it is to be stopped at all."

"Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard."

"The most dangerous man to any government is the man who is able to think things out for himself, without regard to the prevailing superstitions and taboos. Almost inevitably he comes to the conclusion that the government he lives under is dishonest, insane and intolerable, and so, if he is romantic, he tries to change it. And even if he is not romantic personally he is very apt to spread discontent among those who are."

"Every time the papers print another account of a Prohibionist agent murdering a man who resists him or searching some woman's underwear or raiding a Vanderbilt yacht or blackmailing a Legislature or committing some other such inordinate and anti social act they simply make a thousand more votes for Prohibition. It is precisely that sort of entertainment that makes Prohibition popular with the boobery. It is precisely because it is unjust imbecile arbitrary and tyrannical that they are so hot for it. The incidental violation of even the inferior man's liberty is not sufficient to empty him of delight in the chase. The victims reported in the newspapers are commonly his superiors he thus gets the immemorial democratic satisfaction out of their discomfiture. Besides he has no great rage for liberty himself. He is always willing to surrender it at demand. The most popular man under a democracy is not the most democratic man but the most despotic man. The common folk delight in the exactions of such a man. They like him to boss them. Their natural gait is the goose step."

H.L. Mencken books on Amazon

Saturday, December 10, 2011

William Bladen's Grave, Annapolis. Maryland's last witch prosecutor

Grave of William Bladen

William Bladen, an important early Maryland official is buried at St. Anne's Episcopal Church, in Annapolis on Church Circle. There are only a few graves in the actual church yard, (the larger graveyard that they own is nearby). Who was this person and why was he considered important? 

According to Side-lights on Maryland history: with sketches of early Maryland families by Hester Dorsey Richardson:
Honorable William Bladen came to Maryland in 1690, at the early age of nineteen years. That he was possessed of eminent ability is very certain from the fact that he at once became active in public affairs. Two years after his arrival, when but twenty-one years old, the House of Burgesses awarded him 1600 pounds of tobacco for his services as clerk. Later in the same year young Bladen was allowed in the levy 4000 pounds of tobacco for transscribing copies of the laws, and in 1693 he, with Captain John Davis and William Aisquith, was appointed deputy to apprehend, seize and take into custody Colonel Peter Sayer and Thomas Smith, of Talbot County, for conspiracy.

For a while Honorable William Bladen seemed to have rivaled the modern clubwoman in his many offices. In 1695 we find him clerk of the House of Burgesses; on December 12, 1696, he made oath that he was then clerk of the House of Burgesses, clerk of St. Marie's County and clerk of general indictments in Prince George's County, while just one year later he gave bond for £500 as Collector of the Port and district of Annapolis, with Charles Carroll and Edward Dorsey as his sureties.

St. Anne's Episcopal Church
In 1698 he was Surveyor and Deputy Collector of the port; the next year or two Naval Officer and Surveyor of the Port.

In 1701 Nathaniel Blackistone, Royal Governor of Maryland, appointed Honorable William Bladen Secretary of the Province. On May 8, 1702, he was commissioned Attorney-General and in 1704 he was Clerk of the Council.
In addition to his civil offices William Bladen was a vestryman of old St. Anne's Church, Annapolis. In the year 1708 Queen Anne appointed Honorable William Bladen one of the first Aldermen for the City of Annapolis. But this high and important Colonial official upon his arrival in Maryland had lived first in St. Mary's County on St. Elizabeth's Manor, an estate of 2000 acres, originally patented to Thomas Cornwaleys in the year 1639. It was in St. Mary's that he met, wooed and won young Anne Van Swearingen, daughter of the notable Gerret Van Swearingen, of St. Mary's County, a native of Holland and said to have been of noble lineage.
The removal of the capital from the City of St. Mary's to the Port of Annapolis accounts for the change of residence of many Colonial families whose representatives figured in official life, and this it was, no doubt, that resulted in Honorable William Bladen's removal from St. Mary's County. His name is associated with the important work of compiling the first laws of Maryland into one volume.

What is left out of this account is a review of his performance as Attorney General, one of the many positions that he held. C. Ashley Ellefson in the book, William Bladen of Annapolis, 1673?-1718:"the most capable in all Respects" or "Blockhead Booby"? painted a far more cynical picture of Bladen as a scheming public official who would do anything to get and hold onto power. Ellefson pointed out that as prosecutor Bladen only received convictions in less than half of the cases that he took to trial. And while that was probably better than my average as a prosecutor in Baltimore City, it was low considering that criminal defendants had less of an ability to get a fair trial in those days. Ellefson wrote about this:
Bladen’s high proportion of failures might be evidence not only of incompetence but also of simple cynicism. Criminal prosecutions and punishments in eighteenth-century Maryland were designed as deterrents — warnings to others to behave themselves as authority demanded —, and the prosecution of an innocent person was as good a warning as the prosecution of a guilty person was. 
Actually the prosecution of an innocent person might provide an even better warning than the prosecution of a guilty person would. The person who watches the prosecution of a defendant whose guilt appears to be clear might conclude that if he does not break any laws he will be safe, while watching the prosecution of an innocent person might lead him to conclude that he had better not draw attention to
himself in any way by deviating from the strictest conformity.

One additional fact about Bladen, that may interest readers, is that as Attorney General he brought the last (capital) witchcraft case to trial in the Provincial Court in Annapolis (then Maryland's highest trial court). Virtue Violl, from Talbot County, was charged with using witchcraft against a neighbor, Elinor Moore, and causing her to lose the use of her tongue. Violl was indicated, transported to Annapolis, and put on trial. She was acquitted by a jury. What is most strange about this case is that it took place in 1712, when most educated people would have ceased to believe in the power of witches to do harm. Did Bladen actually believe that Violl was in fact a witch? Did he care about the truth of the accusation? Or did he simply prosecute her, as Ellefson suggests, as a warning to others?

Hooper sleeping
History's final judgment on William Bladen may still be out. But while visiting the site, my dog, a greyhound named Herr Hooper, made his own judgment. Upon seeing the grave he promptly walked up to it and, despite my protests, urinated on it.

Historic St. Mary's City

Historic St. Mary's City, in St. Mary's County, Maryland, is the birthplace, so to speak, of the State of Maryland.

George Calvert, a secretary of state to James I, was forced to resign his position due to his conversion to Roman Catholicism (which was technically illegal to practice), but was given the title of the first Lord Baltimore (named after the Irish city) by the king due to his previous service. He campaigned for a charter in the mid-Atlantic region of North America in order to set up a colony for disaffected English Catholics. His charter was eventually granted, although shortly after his death, and it was instead given to his son, Cecil Calvert. Maryland's charter set up a proprietary colony under the Lord Baltimore, with the condition that he govern with the advice and assent of the freemen of the province. Maryland was not an English (or British  - there was a union of crowns, but not parliaments between England and Scotland) colony (in the traditional sense of a colony), but a self-governing territory.

After landing in Maryland in 1634, in what is now St. Mary's County, the settlers soon set up their capital nearby, in what they would call St. Mary's City. The capital of Maryland moved in 1695 (1694 if you are using the Julian calendar as they did at the time) to Annapolis, but today a historic park has been set up at the location.

State House Reconstruction
One of the first places to see is the reconstruction (and it is important to note that everything depicted is a reconstruction as the original, mostly wood, buildings have been lost to time) of the original State House from 1676. In this building the lower house of the Assembly, the upper house (which was picked by the governor), the Provincial Court (Maryland's then highest court) and the St. Mary's County Court all would have met. Before the construction of the State House they would have met in private houses and bars.

The building is open to visitors. You can explore the first and second floor. On the left is a picture of the first floor where the lower house of the Assembly would have met. It is also the place where the court would have sat as well. All capital cases in the province would have been heard here(in the Provincial Court), including the witchcraft case against Rebecca Fowler of Calvert County, which resulted in her conviction and execution.

The Dove
The Dove is a reconstruction of a 17th century trading ship and named after The Dove that brought some of the early settlers to Maryland. It is important to note that the blueprints to the original Dove have been lost, but it is fair to say that it would have been similar to this vessel. If you arrive at the right time (12 noon when I visited) you can watch a demonstration of how 17th century settlers would have navigated the waters. Needless to write, it all looked very complicated and since I get lost with GPS, had I been in charge of anything on the ship they never would have made it to Maryland. The reconstruction is an actual sailing ship that they often take out for trips on the bay. If you volunteer working on the ship they will take you out on their trips.

Not every structure has been completely reconstructed. Wooden frames have been put out along the grounds to give the visitor some of idea of what the place would have looked like. A fair amount of trees are present on the property, but I was told by a guide that the early English settlers would have removed most of the trees in the city limits. They could not do this today as the area is a watershed and there is a state law against removing trees in a watershed.

Other structures have been reconstructed on the grounds. In some of them there are guides who will answer questions. Others have placards that display information about the history of the area.

A reconstruction of a Catholic chapel is at the site, demonstrating the importance of religion to the lives of the early settlers. The ruling Calvert family was Catholic, but the majority of early Marylanders were Protestants, including Puritans who were fleeing from religious oppression in Anglican-ruled Virginia. Maryland was more tolerant than most places at the time, but only towards trinitarian Christians. Blasphemy was a capital offense, although there are no recorded executions for it.

A brief walk from the main part of the park will take you to the Tobacco Plantation. The staff at this location act out the roles of 17th century people working on a tobacco plantation. They will show you around the farm and answer questions about the period, as if they were actually still living there. It is a little bit weird at first, but sort of entertaining.

I was a bit surprised, but happy to see, that they actually were growing and curing tobacco, despite the fact that it is a State park. Maryland can be such a horribly "liberal" (actually authoritarian) state and many would love to tax or prohibit tobacco out of existence. Many have the rather fascist view that you are not smart enough to decide what substances you should ingest, whether that be tobacco, marijuana, or trans-fats. I almost didn't want to post pictures of the growing tobacco out of fear that some mentally challenged legislator might seek to introduce legislation requiring them to remove the tobacco from the tobacco plantation in some sort of Stalinist purge.

On the farm you will also find live farm animals, including pigs and cows. The actors will answer your questions about everything related to the property. You will find out how people became indentured servants, how they could eventually own their own land, the origin of the term earmarks, or anything else that you wanted to know about 17th century farming. Around the plantation there are also lots of trails that will take you around the surrounding woods.

Parking at the location is free and there are plenty of available spaces. It closes down in the winter, but opens back up in the spring. Check the Historic St. Mary's website for details. Entry to the State park was $10. There was a nice gift shop there as well, although I didn't buy anything.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Mount Calvert, Prince George's County

During the summer I took a drive over to Prince George's County to see the historical and archaeological park at Mount Calvert.

Mount Calvert, as the name suggests, was originally part of Calvert County, when it was established as a town in 1684. It had a vibrant trading community. It later became part of Prince George's County when it was formed in 1696. Renamed Charles Town, it became the county seat. It remained so until 1721 when the seat was moved to the nearby town of Upper Marlboro (which is not worth a visit, trust me). Mount Calvert is today considered part of Greater Upper Marlboro.

Indictment of Fowler.
In the 1680s, two witch accusations were made in this area.
In 1685, a former indentured servant, Rebecca Fowler, was indicted for using witchcraft at Mount Calvert and surrounding areas. Arrested, tried before a jury at the Provincial Count in St. Mary's County, and convicted, she was hanged on October 9, 1685. Less than a year later, Hannah Edwards was also accused of using witchcraft at Mount Calvert and other places around the county. She was also tried, but later acquitted. I am currently working on a book about alleged Maryland witches.

Dig site at Mount Calvert. Covered due to a brief rain storm.
On the site of the park there is an archaeological dig taking place. The supervising archaeologist there when I was visiting indicated that they were looking for (among other things) witch bottles, but so far had not found any.

In the 1780s a tobacco plantation was built on the grounds and today a mansion stands facing the Patuxent River. The mansion was damaged during the earthquake and is not currently open to the public. If it ever reopens, it is worth a visit inside. There is a brief outline of Maryland history and exhibits showing some of the items recovered from the grounds, including this collection of tobacco pipes.

Entry to the grounds and mansion was free and the archaeologists working there seemed reasonably happy to answer questions about the history of the place. I recommend visiting, especially if the mansion ever opens up again.

Additional pictures:

The mansion at Mount Calvert  

An exhibit in the mansion.

A view of the Patuxent River from the grounds.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Assateague Assault Sprint Triathlon

I completed the Assateague Assault Triathlon last weekend.

The event starts and ends on the Maryland portion of Assateague Island, which is located in Worcester County.
This is a Sprint Triathlon, which means that it is half the distance of an international level triathlon.

The event was reasonably well organized. It was easy to sign-up online and one could pick up the race packet either the Saturday before or the morning of the race. The packet contained the leg-band with the RFID timing chip, the colored swim cap, and numbers for your shirt, bike, and helmet. You also got a nice t-shirt. Race number body markings were put on the morning of the race by the staff.

The transition area did not have assigned rows and I'm not sure if that was better or worse, but it didn't seem to cause any problems. The entrances and exits for the different events were well placed so as to avoid running into anyone or getting in the way (I mention this because another triathlon I was at years ago only had one exit/entrance and it was impossible to enter or exit the transition area after the race without getting in the way or being yelled out by the staff. I haven't done that event since and likely never will again).

The swim was a half mile in the Atlantic Ocean with a running start from the beach. I was in the first wave and thankfully it wasn't too crowded, so I didn't really have to worry about getting kicked. Getting past the rough water to get to the first buoy, however, was a bit of a challenge. The waves were a bit rough. But once out there it wasn't bad at all. At times the swim was even a bit enjoyable. This was my first ocean triathlon and I wasn't used to swimming out that far from the shore, so I appreciated seeing all of the lifeguards in their kayaks just beyond me. At the last buoy I turned to swim back to shore, where I was again battered by waves.

The bike was fairly uneventful. It was about 14 or so miles. There was one hill, over the bridge, but otherwise the course was very flat. The impact on traffic appeared to be minimum, although police were at at least one intersection helping us to get through faster.

The run was only 5k, or 3.125 miles, but it felt much longer than that. There were people giving out water at the start and at the half-way point, or so, but they probably could have used another water stop. The sun was beating down fairly hard on everyone. The course was very flat, but also sort of boring. We did run through two areas with campers and many of the people there were out cheering us along, which is generally encouraging.

The after-race party was okay. Because it was a Maryland State Park they couldn't serve alcohol, but they had sufficient food and drink available. I really appreciated being handed a bottle of water at the finish.

There are a few suggestions I would make. There was only one bathroom, a park bathroom which wasn't too big, and there were lines in it. Portable toilets in the transition area are always nice. Most athletes consume a good amount of caffeine and water (not to mention the water that you swallow after a wave slams you in the race). Also, it would have been nice to get a small finishers metal or some other object that I could nail to my wall to show off to my colleagues. Another water stop on the run and perhaps one on the bike would have been good. At some races the water stops have Gu or PowerBar Energy Gel for the taking which is helpful. And some beer at the end would be nice as well, if they could get the proper waivers from the State.

But, on the whole, I really enjoyed the race. The people were great and the event was both challenging and fun. I recommend it and encourage others to sign-up for next year's race.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Annapolis Triathlon 2011

I completed the Annapolis Triathlon this morning.
Despite the fact that it was a Sprint and the swim was only 500 meters, it was the most difficult one I have ever done. The water was cold and extremely choppy. It was difficult to catch my breath and for the first half we were swimming directly into the tide. I almost gave up and called for help, but managed to press through, despite swallowing a ton of water.

The bike wasn't too bad, but the space was limited. Most of my time was spent trying to figure out how to pass others or trying to let others pass me without going outside the cones and into the rest of the street, where there were cars. The rain didn't help either. It was also very hilly.

The run was only a 5k, but the first mile was uphill and felt longer than 1 mile.

Overall, I really enjoyed the experience and hope they hold another one next year. I did the 2007 Olympic length triathlon in Annapolis, which was sponsored by a different group. This one was much better in they had more and better food after the event. Also, since it ended downtown, we could go to the local bars. The Federal House had drink specials for finishers. The place was packed with people.

As expected, some locals complained about the event. It was moved from a Sunday start to a Saturday one to aaccommodate the local churches that complained so bitterly about the 2007 one. The guy who runs Storm Brother's Ice Cream was complaining about the event, but he didn't open his store until after 11am, when the race was over and traffic was back to normal. Had he opened up early he would have made more money. He certainly alienated many local athletes with his complaining.

Thank you to the volunteers, especially the ones from the Annapolis Triathlon Club who watched bikes, including mine, while I was the bar. The co-owner of the Annapolis Running Shop was also out there volunteering and cheering everyone on.

While there are certainly drawbacks to a large event downtown, the businesses that were open seemed to be doing very well. And the race was over by the time that most people woke up. Events like this are good for the community and ought to be encouraged.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

400 years later socialism still doesn't work

I recently started reading History of Maryland  (also available on Amazon) by John Thomas Scharf, published in 1879.

This passage regarding the problems faced by the early settlers of Virginia caught my attention:
But a still more formidable enemy assailed the colonists, born of their own improvidence. Famine, and its accompanying diseases, soon set in, and in one year from the time of their landing, their numbers were reduced from 100 to 38; and these, too, would have perished but for timely supplies of corn, which Smith had procured at great risk from the Indians. Among those who perished was Bartholomew Gosnold, the originator of the expedition; and we can but regret that he did not live long enough to see even the first glimmering success in that adventure he had been the earliest to advocate. The cause of this calamity lay partly in the provision of their charter, which required that the product of the united labor of the emigrants should be brought into the public stores, and that all should draw their supplies from thence. For nearly five years was this provision enforced; and during that time, with the exception of the short period of Smith's administration, the condition of the colony was most wretched. It is difficult to conceive a state of things more propitious to the theories of Communism or Socialism, and yet the failure was most signal. A productive soil invited cultivation, while rapidly diminishing stores admonished to industry and labor, and yet, in the face of certain ruin, the large majority wasted their time in idleness, relying for subsistence upon the stores provided by the industrious few. In this they were encouraged by the censurable course of their officers who controlled the supplies, and feasted abundantly, while others had doled out to them a pint of damaged wheat or barley.
I would imagine that the political leaders of the day justified this policy by citing the Bible. Today, in our less religious society, our leaders rely on the more general themes of compassion. But there is nothing compassionate or wise about this sort of theft. And I do not assume that our leaders today have good motives for their actions either. They suffer from what Augustine called libido dominandi, the lust to dominate. They know that socialist schemes do nothing to help the poor or society as a whole, but they sure like the power that comes from having your money.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Katie Coburn, witch of Plain Dealing Creek, Talbot County, Maryland

I came across a story recently regarding an alleged witch in Talbot County, Maryland. I can find no mention of any court cases involving her or any information about when she allegedly lived. The only information is that she lived in the area of Plain Dealing Creek, so-called because the area was settled by Quakers who dealt plainly with the Indians of the area (as opposed to the Catholics, Anglicans, and everyone else who had no qualms about ripping them off). I did drive to the area and found that the creek is now surrounded by private homes and there did not appear to be a suitable place to get out and search around. There was an old church nearby, but it was in disrepair and appeared to be part of a private residence. If any locals would like to provide me with additional information or point me in a better direction I would appreciate it.

The main source for the story appears to be a book published in 1898, Land of Legendary Lore: sketches of romance and reality on the eastern shore of the Chesapeake, by Prentiss Ingraham.

According to Ingraham:
It was the ideal spot for spooks to haunt, while to enhance the dismalness of the old abode, it became the dwelling place of an old woman known as "Katie Coburn, the Witch." This "witch," the last of her kind known in Talbot, was old, deformed, hideous, and was guilty of diabolical ways and impish incantations to make herself feared. That she was dreaded by all, especially the children and negroes, there was no doubt, for the former were kept out of mischief by being threatened with her, and the latter felt that the sight of her was a hoodoo upon them. The negroes accordingly gave Witch Katie a very wide margin of room when they met her, and wore charms to counteract her spells, the "left hind foot of a rabbit, killed at the dark of the moou," doubtless being in great demand after a meeting with the "Witch of Plaindealing."

Not far from Plaindealing there lived a farmer whose cows pastured near the old burying-ground. One afternoon the boy whose duty it was to drive the cows home had to go near the lonely spot, and beheld to his amazement a stranger there ;—a man tall, stately, in the ancient garb like that worn by those whose portraits were in the deserted mansion. The man spoke to the boy, but the latter tied for home, told his story, and it was not believed. Again he saw the same man, and again, until at last he spoke to him, and for response saw him walk to a certain spot in the burying-ground and point downward, at the same time stamping his foot. This same performance was gone through with several evenings after, between the boy and the silent spectre in quaint old time costume.

On one occasion the spectre led the boy, now no longer afraid of him, into the old home and pointed to a portrait on the wall. The boy saw that the "ghost" was strangely like the portrait, dress and all. Then he was led back to the grave yard and the spectre pointed downward and stamped his foot, as before. As it was growing dark, and the cows had gone on ahead, the boy suddenly decided to go home, and he lost no time in doing so, his parents again laughing at his story. But then came the rumor that "Witch Katie" had not only disappeared from Plaindealing, but also from the country. The boy had not seen her since the coming of the quaint man of the grave-yard.

A similar version of the story is told in an 1876 edition of McBride's Magazine.
According to McBride's:

It [Plain Dealing] was the very place for a first-class ghost story, and its fitness was heightened by the residence on the premises of Katie Coburn, the last witch of Talbot. This poor old creature, lonely, deformed, repulsively ugly and wretchedly poor, was a terror to negroes and children far and near, who had marvelous tales of her impish ways and diabolical cantrips.
It seems reasonable to think that at least part of the legend is true. A deformed woman may have lived in the area and some, especially the young and uneducated, may have believed that she was a witch. Whether or not she actually was or really wanted others to think that is anyone's guess. But as I argued in Justice At Salem: Reexamining The Witch Trials, there could be certain advantages to having other people think that you were a witch. Others might think twice about harming or taking advantage of you because they fear your supernatural ability to seek revenge. For a poor defenseless woman who no power in her society, this could have been her only means of self-defense against the the unthinking rabble.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Maryland Day, March 25

Happy Maryland Day.
There was a campaign recently to try to change the lyrics of the official state song because it is anti-Lincoln and pro-Confederacy.
Regardless of one's views, we should resist the urge to engage in such revisionism.
The song is what it is. And I think there is something to be admired in its rebellious lyrics, even if the cause was not so great.

Monday, March 21, 2011

The "witch's grave" in Truxtun Park, Annapolis, MD

According to a local legend a witch once lived in what is now Truxtun Park in Annapolis and/or was hanged in the area.
The legend also says she she is buried there.
This, of course, is widely believed to be untrue. The grave likely belongs to a Methodist, which might make the story close enough.

There does appear to be a small graveyard just on the outskirts of Truxtun Park where one crypt appears to have survived. I had to do a little searching around to find it as all the sources on the internet only give vague directions.  In case you want to visit it, here is the location on GPS is 38 57 44.03 n, 76 30 07.50 W.

Here are some pictures I took of the alleged witch's grave:

I did not do any digging on site to investigate further because I didn't have a shovel. Also, digging without permission would be illegal.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

More on Maryland witches

My previous post involved witch lore on Maryland's eastern shore.
Looking at Studies in philology by University of North Carolina (1793-1962) I came across some more information on witchcraft in Maryland.

According to this author, to keep out witches, "In many sections, including the highlands of the South, a broom laid across the doorway is sufficient protection,2" the true explanation of its value being that offered in Maryland: the witch cannot enter until she has counted all the straws of which the broom is made."

The main fear relates to sleep paralysis. "Human beings are, of course, often "ridden" by witches, and it is recorded that a girl in one of the mountain districts of the South was 'pressed to death' by a witch who came night after night in the form of a black cat and sat on her chest."

Witches could also enter and leave a house through a keyhole. "A miller in Frederick County, Maryland, who was troubled with nightmare, decided that his nocturnal visitor was a witch and accordingly one night stopped the keyhole of his room." Strangely, not only did the nightmares end, but the next day he "found a beautiful girl cowering in the cupboard." He forced her to become his servant and then eventually married her. However, when the man eventually unstopped the keyhole, she escaped. It is hard to imagine that this actually happened, but may have been inspired by a true story. If he believed that taking this action would prevent future nightmares it is possible that it did. Perhaps shortly thereafter, after getting a good night's sleep, he met a young woman who he later had a nasty break-up with. I don't know, but that is my theory.

There are stories from western Maryland that involve witches killing cattle. The author wrote "Among the white population of the Alleghany Mountains witches kill cattle by shooting them with balls of hair,174 and in western Maryland 'witches' bullets' of pith or hair are often found in the bodies of dead animals." I wonder if this could be produced by cats or other animals eating some of the dead cattle and coughing up hairballs? Either that, or there really are witches out there killing cattle by this strange method.

Killing or harming witches appear to be the same on both sides of the Chesapeake Bay. The author notes that "[i]n western Maryland shooting the hag's picture with a bullet made from a silver coin is an effective means of retaliation."

If you are not wealthy enough to have silver, a cheaper method will provide you with some protection. "In western Maryland a witch is rendered powerless if salt is sprinkled under her chair . . . ." Apparently the Devil doesn't like salt.

Witchcraft traditions in Maryland - Dorchester County

I ran across this passage from History of Dorchester County, Maryland by Elias Jones.
The book was published in 1902.

Dorchester County  is located on Maryland's Eastern Shore. I am not aware of any witch trial originating out of the county, but would be happy to be corrected if wrong. It is of interest that the author advises the use of witchcraft to kill a witch. Of course, the author may not have been completely serious.

A broomstick laid across the doorway will prevent a witch from entering the house.

If a witch sits down in a chair in which is sticking or is afterwards stuck a fork, she cannot rise as long as the fork stays there. An example of this was tested at the "Dr. Johnson" place in "Lakes" with old "Suf," who was said to be a witch.

A witch can take a horse from a locked stable and ride it all night; the evidence of this being the foaming sweat on the horse and the witchknots tied in its tail and mane, often seen the next morning.

A witch can turn people into horses and ride on them. One man in Dorchester County died from the effects of such a trip, the clay being found under his finger and toe nails. He had refused to let the witch have his horse to ride, so she rode the owner instead.

If a witch is about to turn a sleeping person into a horse and the sleeper awakes in time, seizes the witch and holds her without speaking until daybreak, she will assume her proper form.

A witch can also turn herself into any animal she pleases for hunter's dogs often trail and tree witches at night that take the form of some animal to avoid detection.

To kill a witch, draw a picture of her and shoot at it with pieces of silver instead of lead, bullets or shot; just where the picture is shot the witch will be wounded; if in vital parts of the body, she will die from the effects.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Tobaccoland 2.0

Readers of this blog (all ten of you) might have noticed that I have been posting less often.
I just haven't had the time or interest recently.
Most of my posts have just been links to other sites.
I've written a number of original posts over the years, but just don't see the point of putting in so much effort when so very few actually read them.

I started this blog with a focus on smoking laws and quickly moved into issues. I hope I made some good points and contributed to the debate. I was usually serious, although sometimes I attempted to bring some humor into my posts. Sometimes that may have been misunderstood. I'm not sure.  I've removed most of my old posts and hope to start again with a different focus.

The name of the blog is Tobaccoland, so I thought it might make sense to blog about the history and culture of Maryland and, if I am able, other tobacco producing lands. This will involve fewer posts, but better ones. There should be more pictures as well.  

It may take a while for me to really get going with this plan. But watch this space.