Sunday, December 6, 2015

My interview with the Annapolis Podcast

The other day I had a chance to sit down with Scott MacMullan, who runs a popular podcast called the Annapolis Podcast.

Scott asked me about my work with Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, my views on some local issues, and then quizzed me (unexpectedly) on Roger B. Taney and the Dred Scott case. I got a few of the details about the Scott case wrong (for example, it was a 7/2 decision, not 6/3 as I said), but I was close.

I enjoyed talking to Scott and wish him good luck with his podcasting.

You can listen to the show here:

Drugs and Dred Scott in Annapolis

The Exorcist Steps

There is plenty of real history in Washington, DC, but in the Georgetown neighborhood, there is movie history as well. The Exorcist Steps are worth a quick visit. Everyone who has seen The Exorcist, remembers the scene where the priest fell out the window and down these steps.

This tourist attraction is located at the corner of Prospect St NW and 36th St NW in Georgetown. It is not uncommon to find people exercising on the steps. When I visited, there were two people running up and down the stairs non-stop. Another woman was walking them as exercise. She seemed annoyed to be in one of my photos, but that's what you get for exercising on the Exorcist steps. It is a popular site and people love photographing them. People also love going up and down them. So good luck getting a decent photo without people on them.

The Exorcist was based, somewhat, on an alleged case of possession of a boy in nearby Maryland. Whether the boy was actually possessed, is a matter of debate. Of course, this location has nothing to do with any real exorcism or haunting, but it is still pretty interesting to visit.

Across the Bay 10k

The Across the Bay10k is a running race across the Chesapeake Bay Bridge. Often called on the scariest bridges in the world, the Bay Bridge can be unnerving to drive across. Depending on who you are, the idea of running across it can either be appealing or terrifying or both. It is appealing to enough people that they have to limit registration to 20,000 people.

Regarding the race itself, I paid $70, because I signed up late (I think it was $60 before a certain deadline) and then spent another $10 to park at the Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium on the day of the race. Most 10ks are much cheaper than that. I had to pick up my race number and t-shirt the day before the race at the same stadium. Picking up my race number tag was tedious as it was not organized by name and I had to wait in a line to look up my number on a computer, so that I could go to the right table to get it. I would have used my cell phone, but the battery was dead. At most races, when you pick up your number, you also get your shirt. However, they decided to make it more difficult. I had to walk all the way over to the other end of the stadium and then up to the top of that side just to get the race shirt. The purpose of this seemed to be to force you to walk through their expo where vendors were selling things. However, as it was at the end of a long day and a long week and I was in my suit, I didn't appreciate having to go through the extra effort.

I parked at the stadium on the race day and got on a bus to head to the start at the Northrop Grumman location near the bridge. The run itself went well. During the first half I stopped every five minutes to walk and take some pictures. During the second half, which was mostly downhill, I didn't stop at all. I finished with a time of 58:11, which I was satisfied with. After the race, there was beer and food for sale. Buses were running all day to take people back.

Overall, I was happy with the race and, despite my complaints, plan on signing up to run again next year. It is difficult to organize a race this large, but they did a sufficient job.

Harpers Ferry, West Virginia

Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, is a quick drive from most parts of Maryland. For example, leaving from Annapolis, it takes less than an hour and a half, assuming traffic is reasonable. Parking there can be a bit of a challenge. You can try to park on the Maryland side near Sandy Hook and walk over the footbridge into the town, but there are few spots at this location and they are almost always taken. There is some parking in or near the town, but free spots are hard to come by. Although it takes a few minutes longer, your best bet is to drive through the town to the visitor's center, which is about two miles away. Parking is plentiful there, but it costs $10 (at the time of this writing). The Park Service runs buses all day to bring people into town. It costs nothing more to ride the bus. You can also run/walk into town on a trail.

As the name would suggest, Harpers Ferry was first founded in 1734 by a man named Harpers who later ran a ferry at the location. The town was officially established and named by the Virginia Assembly in 1763. Located on the Appalachian Trail between the Potomac and Shenandoah rivers, the scenery is unmatched. Thomas Jefferson, when passing through the area, remarked, in part, “This scene is worth a voyage across the Atlantic.”

They couldn't put up a memorial like this today
When most people think of Harpers Ferry, they think of John Brown's ill-fated raid in 1859. Before the Civil War, West Virginia was still part of Virginia and part of the slave-holding south. Brown was a radical Christian who was opposed to slavery. He could easily be called a terrorist. Brown and his followers attempted to seize the arsenal at Harpers and then start a slave revolt. It was an insane plan that had no chance of succeeding. It was a suicide mission for Brown and most of his 21 followers. Many died in the raid. Brown and the other survivors were captured and most were later executed by the Commonwealth of Virginia. Five men escaped and were never captured.

West Virginia succeeded from Virginia after Virginia succeeded from the Union. Nevertheless, there were still mixed feelings in the area. A historical marker there claimed that the Catholic Church in town, St. Peter's, which had an Irish pastor, flew a Union Jack during the war to avoid taking a side. Ireland, at the time was in union with Great Britain, so that would have been the priest's national flag.

Today things are much more peaceful in Harpers Ferry. During the summer, people enjoy tubing and boating in the area. In the town there are living history exhibits. There are more than a few places to enjoy a drink, including at The Town's Inn, where they have some local microbrews on tap. There is also a ghost tour that runs at night. I would have taken more pictures, but I was enjoying the view too much to be bothered.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

The Maryland Watermen's Monument

If you have ever driven down Route 50 on Maryland's Eastern Shore, chances are you have seen the road sign for the Maryland Watermen's Monument. You probably glanced briefly at it and then continued without stopping to get to Ocean City or home. The other day, I happened to be in the area and stopped by to finally see what the memorial was about.

Located in Kent Narrows, this memorial was, according to the Chesapeake Quarterly, constructed in 2003 with private funds to honor those who work as commercial fishermen, or Watermen, in Maryland. Commercial fishing is considered one of the most dangerous jobs in the United States. In fact, it typically ranks as the most dangerous every year.

Although being a waterman on the Chesapeake may not nearly as dangerous as being an Alaskan fishermen, the job still carries inherent risks. In addition, it is not as financially rewarding as it used to be, thanks, in part, to government regulation. As State Senator Hershey said at the monument's rededication in 2013, “[O]ne of Maryland’s most traditional industries is under attack, from quotas and harvest limits to increased fees and regulations.”

It is interesting to note that while there are no shortages of public memorials to government employees and officials who perform less dangerous and generally less important work and often for better pay and benefits, the humble watermen who risk their lives to provide us with food must be content with their own small, but dignified, private monument. I suppose that is the way it has always been and always will be. Still if you are driving through the area and have some extra time, stop and take a look at the monument and remember those in all sorts of jobs who work quietly every day, often in dangerous conditions, to keep you happy, healthy, and well-fed.

Monday, June 8, 2015

Boonsboro, MD and the real Washington Monument

Boonsboro is a small town located in Washington County, Maryland, just off the South Mountain. According to Boonsboro's official website, the town was "[f]ounded in 1792 by George and William Boone, cousins of Daniel Boone . . ." With a population under 4,000, the town is fairly small. Nevertheless, it is steeped in the history of the Revolution, the Civil War, and the culture of the South Mountain.

Arriving over the weekend, the first place I visited was Dan's Restaurant and Tap House, which boasts of having 24 craft beers on tap. I had a few of the beers, including their Dan's Gateway Gold Lager, which is brewed exclusively for them. The beer was great. So was the atmosphere. I had no complaints about the service or the food. The prices were about what you would typically expect from a craft beer bar. While there were other places around to eat, this appeared to be the popular watering hole.

Leaving the bar, I made my way over to the Turn the Page Bookstore. The bookstore is owned by the husband of best-selling novelist, Nora Roberts and thus has a many copies of her books for sale. It also has a wide selection of books about Maryland history and folklore. I purchased a copies of South Mountain Magic: Tales of Old Maryland and Haunted Ocean City and Berlin. They also sell copies of my book, Witch Trials, Legends, and Lore of Maryland. I mail them copies a few times a year and they mail me back checks. They are nice to deal with. In addition to books, they also have, to quote their website, "jewelry, soy candles, handmade soaps, gifts and Organic Fair Trade coffee beverages" for sale.

They got everything covered.
Doug Bast, museum owner
I would say that the main attraction in the town is The Boonsborough Museum of History. This private and free museum offers a unique collection that covers almost everything including mummified birds, religious relics, and weapons from ancient history to confiscated shivs from the State prison in nearby Hagerstown. The owner, Doug Bast, will happily give you a free tour where he will proudly show you the items he has acquired over the years. Despite the fact that he is badly suffering from Parkinson's Disease, he is extremely enthusiastic about his collection, especially his many macabre items, including a severed arm from the Civil War, children's coffins from the Victorian period, and a desk made out of wood from the scaffold John Brown was hanged on. Tours are generally given on Sundays, but you can call ahead to schedule one. Donations are greatly appreciated.

Size doesn't matter. It came first.
On your way out, or into, town, there is the real Washington Monument just a few miles away. First completed in 1827, before Baltimore's Washington Monument was built and well before the one in DC was even conceived, this monument was allegedly built in one day on July 4, 1827, by the citizens of Boonsboro in a patriotic fever. Of course, the original structure had some problems and was worn down over time. In the 1930s, the structure was mostly rebuilt and that is what you see today. Located along the Appalachian Trail, on the South Mountain, it is only a very short hike from the parking lot. A few steps on the inside will get you to the top where you will have an amazing view of the surrounding area. This area is a State Park and there was a small admission fee based on the honor system, which most people appeared to happily ignore.

There are other attractions in the area, such as the Antietam Battlefield, South Mountain Battlefield, and Gathland State Park.

Gathland State Park
Mysteries and Lore of Western Maryland - book review

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Flying over Maryland's Eastern Shore

I took a flight yesterday out of the Bay Bridge Airport for an aerial tour of Maryland's Eastern Shore. We took off from Kent Island and flew over Poplar Island, Cambridge, Oxford, St. Michaels, and other areas. I had a GoPro camera on my head and shot this video. It was shot in HD, but Youtube may switch you to a lower quality version depending on your internet speed.

I flew with Trident Aircraft in a Cessna. I was very happy with the flight and the professionalism of the pilot.

Watch below or click here.

YouTube - Flying over Annapolis
Oxford, Maryland
Witchcraft traditions in Maryland - Dorchester County 
Katie Coburn, witch of Plain Dealing Creek, Talbot County, Maryland

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Kensington Day of the Book

Two Sundays ago on April 26, I was in Kensington, Maryland for their Day of the Book festival. The event is related to World Book and Copyright Day, which was created by the UN to encourage literacy.

Mainly authors, book dealers, artists, and other vendors line the roads in Old Town Kensington to sell their products. I had a table where I sold copies of my books, including Witch Trials, Legends, and Lore of Maryland.

As you can see on my sign (if you click to enlarge it), I offered to accept payment in cash, by check, through paypal, and Bitcoins. I can accept Bitcoins through an app on my phone. Since I was in the "People's Republic of Montgomery County" home to the most pro-big government population this side of North Korea, I wasn't expecting many to be supportive of the decentralized electronic currency. One old guy felt it necessary to try to argue with me about why he thought Bitcoins are a scam. I just smiled and said I wasn't worried about losing a few dollars in Bitcoins if they are. Others seem amused by the concept and engaged me in conversation about it. It brought people to my table and maybe helped me sell a few books.

The festival was well attended. The picture from the left is from right after the event started. Soon the street was filled with people and I was too pre-occupied with my table to take more pictures.

The event lasted from 11am to 4pm and thankfully this year we had good weather. About two years ago we had heavy rain all day and it ended early.

The festival is organized by Elisenda Sola-Sole, owner of the Kensington Row Bookshop. If you are ever around the area, be sure to visit her shop. It carries many unique books and other items. She has also been supportive of my books and always has signed copies of Witch Trials, Legends, and Lore of Maryland for sale.

Selling at book fairs wouldn't pay my mortgage. Nevertheless, I always enjoy going to these events, especially as it gives me a chance to meet other writers. This year my table was between authors J.D. Brayton and Matthew Kastel. I also had a chance to speak to Susan Elnicki Wade, co-author of Crab Decks & Tiki Bars of the Chesapeake Bay. I encourage you to take a look at their work.

If you are an author and want to sell your books, you should consider signing up for a table at next year's event. If you enjoy reading books, you should visit next year. There is a wide selection of books for sale. Many are quite good ones that you may never see in Barnes & Noble or featured on Amazon. If nothing else, you will have a nice day walking around the area.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Governor's Bridge - Bowie, MD

The Patuxtent River is the dividing line between Anne Arundel County and Prince George's County. Governor's Bridge, which just so happens to be located on Governor's Bridge Road, crosses the river and connects the two counties.

According to the State of Maryland, "the site of the bridge has been used as a crossing since the mid-eighteenth century."  The name, they speculate, may come from the fact that Governor Ogle, in the mid 1700's, used a bridge that was previously at this spot to commute between his home in Bowie and Annapolis. That bridge no longer exists.

The current metal truss bridge was built sometime between 1907 and 1912. It is a single lane bridge on a two lane road, so care must be taken when using it.

A simple unassuming little bridge like this really shouldn't attract much attention. Yet rumors about the supernatural have turned this structure into a local legend.

The mysterious Goatman of Prince George's County is said to inhabit the area. This half-man, half-goat beast is thought by many to live in the woods around the bridge. Jimmy Tupper VS The Goatman of Bowie is a 2012 movie about this creature. It was shot in and around the area. You even see the bridge in at least one scene, although it is never mentioned by name. The movie was clearly inspired by the Blair Witch Project and was sort of slow at times. It got much better near the end. A sequel was hinted at and I hope it gets made.

There are also stories about it being haunted. Another blog tells a popular story:
a young unmarried teen-aged girl that became pregnant. Afraid to tell her parents, the girl took her newborn baby and dropped it over the side of the bridge. Realizing what she had done, the girl jumped from the bridge and fell to her own death. According to many eyewitnesses, one can see the woman standing in the middle of the bridge, frightening drivers.

Of course, the biggest problem with this story is that while the baby would have drowned, the jump is not high enough to kill a person. I suppose the girl could have also drowned, if she didn't know how to swim. There is, however, no record that I can find of an incident like this ever taking place at the bridge. Crybaby bridge legends are fairly common all over the US and are not to be taken too seriously.

There are stories about terrible car accidents over the years at or near the bridge. It is a one lane bridge on a two lane road that is curvy and not well lit, so the fact that there have been accidents nearby is not surprising. Throw in the fact that teenagers and other young people are visiting the bridge, often at night and under the influence, and, of course, there are going to be deaths. People like to visit the bridge and post videos of it on Youtube. These people got out of their car and walked on the bridge, on a foggy night.

One benefit of these types of adventures is that sooner or later some of the people involved are going to get killed. So if the bridge wasn't haunted before, it will soon be.

Of course, while it is quite reasonable to be concerned about homicidal satyrs  and ghosts, there is another reason to be worried while travelling over Governor's Bridge. According the the Maryland Historical Trust, "When the bridge was surveyed in 1995, it was closed to traffic. However, it has since been re-opened, although no significant alterations are evident." Well, maybe the Goatman fixed whatever was wrong.

Maryland Folklore - book review
In search of Anne Arundel County's "Midgetville"

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Baltimore County Campaign for Liberty and the war on drugs

In January 2013, I spoke to the Baltimore County Campaign for Liberty about the war on drugs. I am a member of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP). I should also include this disclaimer:
LEAP speakers come from a wide divergence of political thought and social conscience and recognize that in a post-prohibition world it will take time to strike a proper regulatory balance, blending private, public and medical models to best control and regulate “illicit drugs.”  LEAP speakers are free to advocate their view of better post-prohibition stratagems without towing a LEAP “party line.”

Thanks to Rick Saffery for taking and sending me this video.

Dr. Dean Ahmad, Islam and Liberty at the Anne Arundel County Campaign for Liberty meeting
Graveside Service for H.L. Mencken

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Grain Alcohol in "The Free State"

One of the things that I really enjoy is Everclear Grain Alcohol. I don't drink it often, but I like to have it around for special events. It is a conversation starter. How many beverages do you know of that warn you to keep it away from open flames? And at 95% alcohol, they aren't joking.

Last year, a bunch of busy-bodies petitioned the State of Maryland to prohibit this drink because it is allegedly abused by some. According to the Baltimore Sun:

The grain alcohol ban, backed by a group of university presidents as a safety measure, comes amid a growing focus on rape and drinking to excess on campus. Del. Charles Barkley, a Montgomery County Democrat, said increased awareness of the risks associated with grain alcohol bolstered support for the bill he sponsored.
"Getting it off the market will maybe reduce problems at the college level," Barkley said, adding that students have used it to get "bombed out of their mind," putting themselves in danger.

In the 2014 Session of the Maryland General Assembly, State Senator Richard S. Madaleno, Jr. (Democrat, Montgomery County - of course) proposed SB0075 which stated:


A great deal of energy was expended by our legislators in this debate. In the end, the bill was passed by both houses in the General Assembly and then Governor O'Malley signed it into law. I suppose that they were proud of their work and believed that they made the State a safer place.

Of course, that is nonsense. I know from my training, knowledge, and experience, that it is easy to get piss drunk off of vodka, wine, or beer. Aside from thinking that the law was stupid and not likely to change anything, I resented it as an infringement on my freedom. I resolved to drive to Delaware, where it can still be legally purchased, to stock up on the banned substance. I was going to be a modern day boot-legger.

All of those plans changed today. I was at Bay Ridge Wine & Spirits and spotted a bottle of Everclear. I was surprised. I assumed it had to be a mistake. I picked up a bottle to purchase, thinking I was going to get away with it. Then I looked more closely. It wasn't 95% alcohol. It was 94.5%! I couldn't help but laugh. Here all those busy-bodies spent all that time during the legislative session thinking that they were doing something good. And by a mere half a percent, they were defeated. The free market won! Then I got angry. The time that they could have spent figuring out ways to fix the budget, or to improve education, or reduce crime, or extend freedom was wasted on trying to ban grain alcohol. And they ended up achieving nothing. Who cares about half a percent?

To end on a positive note, I was happy to see that my State Senator, John Astle (D) and my Delegate, Herb McMillan (R), both voted against this law. I was happy to return the favor by voting for both of them in the last election. They both won re-election.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

DC Memorials on the Tidal Basin

A memorial can often tell you more about the people who built it then it can
about the person it is dedicated to. The other day I ventured into Washington, D.C. to visit three memorials near each other on the Tidal Basin.

Construction of the Jefferson Memorial began in 1938. FDR laid the cornerstone. Well, not physically, but he is still given the credit. It may strike a reasonable person as odd that Roosevelt, a president who did more to undermine the Constitution and traditional American values than perhaps any other, would have even been associated with a memorial to a champion of individual freedom and limited government. But by linking Jefferson to himself, FDR could give legitimacy to his regime and ideas. Sure, he confiscated people's gold, threatened dramatic changes to the judicial branch when they refused to uphold his novel constitutional theories, and imprisoned citizens merely on account of their ethnic background, but hey, he was just a modern day Thomas Jefferson.

In fact, on the walls there are various quotes from Jefferson. One reads:
I am not an advocate for frequent changes in laws and constitutions, but laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind. As that becomes more developed, more enlightened, as new discoveries are made, new truths discovered and manners and opinions change, with the change of circumstances, institutions must advance also to keep pace with the times. We might as well require a man to wear still the coat which fitted him when a boy as a civilized society to remain ever under the regimen of their barbarous ancestors.
In other words, what was appropriate for the people in Jefferson's time (limited government and individual rights) is not what we need in the modern world. We need this new socialist scheme called the New Deal and other restrictions on our freedom because the world is much more complex and dangerous. Jefferson was an intelligent man who knew what was best for his time and would understand what we are doing now is what is best today.

I had a feeling of disappointment and despair as I explored this memorial as it was painfully obvious what the intent of the designers was. A simple farmer who fought for human freedom had been deified and his words and image had been taken to support an ideology and a leader he would have been appalled with. I was happy to find later that I was not the only one who felt this way. For example, the now late Professor Ronald Hamowy wrote:
Perhaps the most egregious examples of invoking Jefferson for purely transient political purposes are the inscriptions on the Jefferson Memorial in Washington, D.C. Planned and built during the administration of Franklin D. Roosevelt, the walls of the memorial are adorned with quotations from Jefferson’s writings, many of which suggest that Jefferson advocated positions consistent with the aims of the New Deal—with which he would, in fact, have had little sympathy. Thus, Jefferson’s admonition that an educated electorate was essential if liberty were to be preserved is transmuted into a call for universal public education. And his caution that man, as he advances in his understanding of the world, must accompany his greater enlightenment with changes in his social institutions becomes a justification for a new theory of government in keeping with the social-democratic principles that animated the New Deal.
Of course, do not attempt to voice any objections in the memorial itself. Political discourse is forbidden. So is any artistic expression, no matter how quiet or undisturbing. Armed thugs who work for Federal government will assault and arrest you. It is impossible to imagine that Jefferson would have approved of anything about this memorial. I suppose it is worth a visit just to say that you have been there. Tears over the fate of the nation are the price of admission. It is otherwise free.

A short walk from the Jefferson Memorial is the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial. It is a sprawling, confusing, and ugly display fitting to the memory of the leader who brought so much confusion to our constitutional order. Various quotes from FDR are inscribed on the walls. One ironic one reads, "We must scrupulously guard the civil rights and civil liberties of all our citizens, whatever their background." Japanese Americans might wonder about that one.

This memorial takes up way too much space. It is spread out over 7.5 acres. It is appropriate that it was constructed during the Bill Clinton regime as he was known for giving speeches that were way too long. Wasting people's time seems to have been part of the Zeitgeist.

The final memorial I visited was to George Mason, one of the founding fathers.
Mason was an anti-Federalist who never signed the Constitution because he feared that it did not provide enough protections against the Federal government. In retrospect, he had a point, but the fault may not be with the Constitution itself, but with those charged with upholding it. Paper constitutions are of limited value.

This memorial was completed in 2002. It is rather simple and small. The quotations on the walls have mostly faded, just as the memory of Mason and his ideas have all but faded from the consciousness of most Americans. Nevertheless, it stands as a tiny reminder of his life and work.

All of these memorials are free and are located in the West Potomac Park, which also has free parking. There were plenty of spots on the lot when I visited on a weekend. So even if you aren't excited to see these particular memorials, it is a good place to leave your car if you otherwise want to explore the city and don't mind a little bit of walking.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Gathland State Park

Out in western Maryland, just next to Burkittsville, Maryland, sits this little state park on the Appalachian Trail. Gathland State Park opened to the public in 1949, but previously was the home of George Alfred Townsend, a noted war correspondent and novelist. Townsend was better known by his nickname "Gath", thus the name of the park.

Gath was born in 1841 in Georgetown, Delaware. By 1861, he had already been working as a journalist when the Civil War broke out. After the war ended, he continued to work as a reporter and also authored several successful novels.

In 1884, Gath bought property on the South Mountain in western Maryland, to build an estate. Among the various structures built, he constructed a memorial arch to all journalists who died in combat. Over fifty feet high, this impressive stone monument called the National War Correspondents Memorial, was the only such memorial until recent history. During the Civil War, the site was part of the Battle of Crampton's Gap, thus making the location very appropriate.

Another interesting fact about his estate is that it contains his empty tomb. No, Gath wasn't a vampire or a deity. In his later years, Gath moved from his estate to New York City, where he died in 1914. He was buried in Philadelphia. The tomb was never used. Despite this, Susan Fair, author of Mysteries and Lore of Western Maryland, suggested that Gath's ghost haunts his old home.

Gathland State Park is free and open to the public. Details on visiting can be found at the official park website. In addition to seeing the memorial arch and surviving buildings, the spot is a good location to start a day hike on the Appalachian Trail.

For additional information about Gath or the area, be sure to pick up George Alfred Townsend and Gathland: A Journalist and His Western Maryland Estate by Dianne Wiebe. Wiebe also happens to work at the museum on the property and can answer any of your questions about Gath or his property. The previously mentioned Mysteries and Lore of Western Maryland, by Susan Fair also provides alternative information about the property and other locations in western Maryland. Finally, you may view my photographs of the Gathland here.

Mysteries and Lore of Western Maryland - book review 
Maryland Folklore - book review