Saturday, December 1, 2012

Maryland Folklore - book review

Maryland, as readers of this blog know, has a rich history involving strange stories, characters, legends, and locations. It should come as no surprise that writers would seek to collect these tales and put them together in book form for the masses. One writer, George G. Carey, did this and did it well in his book, Maryland Folklore.
Published in 1989 by Tidewater Publishers, cheap copies of the book can be purchased online or sometimes found in used bookstores. I picked up my copy from Back Creek Books in Annapolis.
Carey, who was once Maryland’s State Folklorist, had previously written two books, Maryland Folklore and Folklife and Maryland Folk Legends and Folk Songs. At the request of his publisher, he updated both and combined them into this book.
Divided into six chapters, the author writes first about Folktales and Tall Tales, then Legends, Folk Heroes and Local Characters, Urban Legends, Shorter Forms, and finally about Material Culture. Each chapter is then broken down into different sections.
The first chapter on Folktales and Tall Tales is broken down into sections on Storytelling and Storytellers and then into Folk Narratives.
Carey wrote about the history of storytellers and about some individual storytellers from Maryland such as Captain Alex Kellam from Smith Island. Kellam was a waterman turned insurance salesman. He would hang out around local bars in Crisfield to tell stories and tall tales. “He often acted out his stories with facial grimaces, hand gestures, dialectical innovations, onomatopoetic sounds, voice alterations. He laced his yarns with jingles and rhymes, and would from time to time break into song.” Carey was so impressed with Kellam that he brought him to speak to undergraduates at Yale when he was teaching a course there in 1982.
In his Folk Narratives section, Carey wrote about several tall tales and stories that were told in the area. Some were fairly amusing with good punch lines. Others, less so. But Carey’s job as a folklorist is not to only preserve the amusing or good stories, but all that were being told.
The second chapter on Legends, Folk Heroes, and Local Characters is perhaps the most interesting part of the book. It is broken-up into sections on Places and Events, the Devil, Witchcraft, and Treasure Legends.
In the places section, Carey wrote about typical legends of bloody prints being left at places where people died, especially if they had been murdered. The stains could never be permanently removed. Ghosts also stalked houses were terrible events were said to have taken place. For example, he wrote that “[a] home in Midland afforded a much more gruesome tale. On Paradise Street there, a young husband took a butcher knife and killed his wife and children before he turned it on himself. As late as 1950, people in the area swore that a figure appeared night after night in the doorway of the room where the murders took place. The figure always carried a knife and his features seemed demonically possessed. Inexplicable screams also issued from the residence and startled nearby neighbors." Whether or not such a house exists or did exist or if anyone was murdered there, I have not yet been able to determine, but plan to work on finding out.
The section on the Devil dealt mainly with tales of people from Maryland who were said to have sold their souls for material gain. One such person was a man from Crisfield named Skidmore who not only prospered greatly, but was able to work magic against his enemies.

As the author of Witch Trials, Legends, and Lore of Maryland, I was most interested in Carey’s section on Witchcraft. Carey explained how social outcasts, especially if they were women, could come to be seen by society as being witches. He used this to explain the popular legend of Moll Dyer from St. Mary's County. Carey also told the story of a "typical" witch, this one from Crisfield, "Old Aunt Hanna". She threatened to put spells on people if they angered her. Another alleged witch, Henny Furr, was a black woman who lived in Mount Vernon on the lower Eastern Shore. She bewitched dogs that went onto her property, poisoned people, and engaged in other disturbing behavior until she met with a mysterious end. Carey also wrote about the methods that people used to protect themselves from witches.

The Treasure Legends section addressed the various stories about buried treasure, especially around the Chesapeake. It was thought that Captain Kidd may have buried treasure at any number of locations around the bay. Many others buried their fortunes as well. Sometimes a ghost would haunt the treasure to keep others away. These ghosts must be effective at their jobs because no large treasures are known to have been recovered in the area.

The chapter on Folk Heroes and Local Characters is about amusing local people of old, such as "Lickin' Bill" from the lower Eastern Shore. Bill earned his name because he tended to lick various things around town with his tongue. A large man who never lost a wresting match or game of strength, he was also known for being a devout Methodist and for his wit. An inability to get his clothing properly tailored resulted in the humorous scene of him "going to church with his pants legs just below his knees and his coat sleeves up to his elbows." Other tales are told about other amusing characters, most of whom must no longer be living and who would have been mostly lost to history, but for this book. 

Carey's chapter on Urban Legends starts off with some general stories about mishaps with fast food, trips to Mexico, escaped killers, and other tales that are not necessarily connected to Maryland, but are said to have also taken place here (and lots of other places). Black Aggie from Druid Ridge Cemetery in Baltimore is covered in some detail by the author. For a few decades in the 20th century, this ominous-looking statue invoked fear in the hearts of many. Children and college students would constantly trespass onto the grounds of the cemetery to sit on her lap, if they had the nerve, until it was removed from the grounds in 1967. The book's author would not have been aware of this, but for anyone seeking her, Black Aggie currently sits in the courtyard of the Federal Circuit Library, which is located here. Although there is no security to the courtyard, I'm fairly certain it is not a good idea to jump onto Aggie's lap. The US Marshalls inside might have some sort of a problem with that.

Carey's chapter on Shorter Forms is broken into sections on Traditional Speech and Names, Proverbs and Proverbial Speech, Riddles and Tongue Twisters, Children's Games and Traditions, Folk Belief, and Folk Magic. Many of the speech patterns and sayings have continued to today and some didn't seem especially connected to Maryland, such as the saying "as easy as pie." The sections on Folk Belief and Folk Magic could probably have been merged with the section on witchcraft in the previous chapter as the subjects are essentially the same.

Finally, Carey's chapter on Material Culture is divided into sections on Folklife, Foodways, Screen Painting, Rug Weaving, and Boatbuilding. Most of this book is focused on the eastern and western parts of Maryland, but the section on Screen Painting is exclusively about Baltimore City. Screen Painting became a popular form of art in Baltimore in the early 20th century. Although declining in popularity the last few decades, there is an organization dedicated to the art. Screen Painting may be on the way to making a comeback.

Maryland Folklore is a amusing book about Maryland's lost or forgotten art, culture, history, and beliefs. I recommend trying to find a copy.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Update on where you can buy Witch Trials, Legends, and Lore of Maryland

My book, Witch Trials, Legends, and Lore of Maryland is available now at several new places. Here is the full list, at this time.


The Annapolis Bookstore on Maryland Ave.
The Annapolis Cigar Company on Main St.
Back Creek Books on West St.


Atomic Books in Hampden.


Turn the Page Bookstore on Main St.


Kensington Row Bookshop on Howard Ave.


Fenwick Street Used Books and Music on Fenwick St.


Mystery Loves Company on S. Morris St.

 St. Mary's City:

Historic St. Mary's City Museum Shop

All copies should be signed and available for about $10.

You can also still purchase the book (unsigned) from Amazon and other online booksellers.


Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Tudor Hall, Leonardtown, St. Mary's County, Maryland

Currently owned and occupied by the The St. Mary's County Historical Society, Tudor Hall is located in Leonardtown, not far from the Circuit Courthouse.

The history of the mansion begins in 1742 when Abraham Barnes purchased the land and built a small house on the property. The current dwelling was probably built sometime after 1817 when the property was sold to Phillip Key of the famous Key family. The property was purchased by the historical society in 1984.

I cannot say that there is anything terribly interesting about the place. It appears to be well preserved and/or restored and feels like what a 19th century mansion probably would feel like (with modern conveniences such as indoor lighting and air conditioning).

It is free to visit. The staff of the historical society are helpful and might even tell you a few ghost stories about the mansion. If you are looking to do research on Maryland's early history or if you just happen to be in the area and are looking to see something interesting, Tudor Hall is worth a visit.

It is open Wednesday through Friday: 9:00am - 4.00pm.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Oxford, Maryland

Mystery Loves Company, Oxford
I have been contacting bookstores across the State to let them know about my book, Witch Trials, Legends, and Lore of Maryland. So far, Back Creek Books in Annapolis and Fenwick Street Books in Leonardtown have agreed to carry copies. Last week, Mystery Loves Company in Oxford also asked for a few copies. So, I got into my car, turned on my GPS, and drove out there.

Although I had looked on a map, I was surprised that my GPS took me to the Oxford-Bellevue Ferry in Bellevue. My initial reaction on seeing this was 'funny, I don't remember Oxford being an island on the map'. I purchased a ticket with a check and was bemused when asked if I wanted a return ticket. Did they think that I wanted to stay there and never leave? I thought. Of course, shortly thereafter I discovered what I had previously thought. Oxford was not an island, but the ferry was a "short cut". Although when you consider wait time, the ferry probably isn't much shorter. It is only a few extra miles to go by land. But it was sort of nice and I remembered being on this ferry many years ago with my parents. It was likely the same boat. I wouldn't take the ferry again to drop off books (it was $18 round trip), but it was sort of interesting.

Oxford is a nice little town. It was founded in 1683. In 1694, it and what would become Annapolis, were named the only official ports of entry for commerce in the then province. It was a prosperous port town, sending tobacco all over the world.

There are several places to eat in and around the town. I stopped at the Robert Morris Inn which bills itself as "America's Oldest Inn". They alleged that it started operations in 1710. I actually ate at the connected Salter's Tavern, which is for more casual dinning. The service was okay. The food was decent, but sort of overpriced. They only had two beers on tap and they too were overpriced. Other than that, I can't complain. If one wanted a cheaper and better meal, one could find a WaWa or Royal Farms up the street somewhere. But at these places you are paying for the history and atmosphere as much as anything. It seemed to have plenty of that. I'm sure there is probably a ghost story or two associated with the establishment as well. If not, then someone should invent one.

The streets of Oxford were pleasant to look at and enjoyable to walk. There was a small museum that might also be worth a visit and other small corners to explore. But after half a day, it would probably become rather boring to the average tourist. I would recommend a visit to the town, if it is not too much out of your way. And if you do visit, stop by the local bookstore to buy a few things, including a signed copy of my book.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Witch Trials, Legends, and Lore of Maryland

Witch trials took place in early Maryland. Few people are aware of this fact or of the other legends, myths, or lore associated with witchcraft in the Free State. My new book, Witch Trials, Legends, and Lore of Maryland, reveals this fascinating history.

Available through Amazon, Amazon UK, Barnes and Noble, and other online book sellers.

It is also available as a Kindle Ebook (free to Amazon Prime members right now), it will be available in other electronic formats later in the year.

You may also purchase copies at Back Creek Books in Annapolis, the Annapolis Cigar Company, Fenwick Books in Leonardtown, or directly through the books website -

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Chesapeake City, Cecil County, Maryland

Located on the eastern shore part of Cecil County, Chesapeake City's history is deeply linked to the building of the Chesapeake & Delaware Canal.

Named Chesapeake City in 1839, the town grew to its peek population in 1849. Today the city is rather small, but it is pleasant enough and worth a visit.

There is a museum dedicated to the canal. There are various bed and breakfast type places, small shops, and restaurants, including the Bayard House.

According to the bartender at the Bayard House, the city was founded by Irish immigrants who had built the canal. St. Patrick's Day was exceptionally busy at their bar. I visited there two days later, however, and the place was empty around lunchtime, the explanation given that the regulars were still recovering.

At the downstairs bar, the food was sufficient, the beer was not unreasonably priced (if you consider the typical prices today not unreasonable), and the staff was friendly and helpful. The view of the canal was also good. I would have no objection to returning and would not discourage others from eating or drinking there.

There is a large bridge over the canal that separates the two parts of the city. There are steps near the free parking lot to walk up the bridge. The bartender at the Bayard said he once walked over it, but swore he would never do it again as it unnerved him. After drinking some beer, I decided to give it a try.

Walking up the old stairs was a bit scary. Once on top there was a sidewalk for pedestrians. The bridge shook a little as cars, and especially trucks, drove by and parts of the bridge looked old and rusty, but I survived unharmed. Below are some pictures from this experience:

You might not want to step on this.

Other pictures from that I took of Chesapeake City can be found here.