From the Susquehanna River headwaters to the lighthouse at Cape Charles, and from the Bay Bridge to the Atlantic Ocean, the Chesapeake Bay’s Eastern Shore is a place alive with stories.
Technically Oral History is a recorded firsthand spoken word account of a life, an event, a time, or place.
To me Oral History is storytelling at its most ancient and most personal level.
It’s history with tradition.
It’s history with emotion.
It’s history with a voice.
For over 10 years, I conducted an oral history program under the auspices of the Kent Island Heritage Society. Supported and inspired by the Heritage Society’s mandate to “discover, identify, restore and preserve the heritage of Kent Island,” I interviewed scores of senior members of our community, among various walks of life, all who I came to think of as friends, and many who have since passed away. I collected the personal stories of all kinds of local people, watermen and farmers, of course, but also those of business leaders, preachers, music teachers, and volunteer firefighters, to name just a few of the perspectives covered over the course of the project.
The inhabitants of the Chesapeake Bay region, particularly those on the Eastern Shore, are known for the unpolished candor and eccentric saltiness that sometimes comes natural to people whose livelihood is connected directly to earth and the sea.
I’ve been honored to be able to help record a people’s history, a history that otherwise might be lost, washed away from any hope of posterity like an eroding Chesapeake shoreline.
One of the things I like best about oral history is the fiction of individual perspective, the element of embellishment, of the teller improving the story, not letting the facts get in the way of a good story. Facts don’t always tell the whole truth.
For instance, an accomplished local tall-tale raconteur once told me that when he was discharged from the Army after World War II, “The guy at Fort Meade came along and said reenlist, and we’ll make you a corporal.” The local character, his voice all 12-grit sandpaper and distilled crick water, replied “If I get back across this bay and get to my boat I’ll be a captain.”
Since I first heard that story, at least two other friends have laid claim to it.
One of my favorite quick stories, one that always reminds me to lighten up, is what Mr. Jimmy Ewing, one of the Island’s favorite sons,once told me about worry:
“The Circle (restaurant) wasn’t always a success. I spent many sleepless nights, and more than once decided to close the place and go to work for somebody else. One man changed my mind for me, and I’ve been grateful to him ever since. Dr. (Theodor) Sattelmaier stopped by one day for a sandwich. I told him some of my troubles. He listened until I had finished pouring out my heart and then in his familiar accented English said…”Stick it out Jimmy. It won’t always be this bad. Tomorrow is going to be better, you’ll see.” Though I still had my doubts, something about his encouraging and sincere remarks stuck with me. And from then on things kept getting better and better. I’ll always be glad for the day old Doc stopped by and gave a worried man a much needed shot in the arm. He taught me not to worry. “Worry,” Doc Sattelmaier said, “is a bad disease.”
Some of the other friends I’ve interviewed over the years include:
Joe Thompson (1926-2006)
Wes Thompson (1924-2014) & Bobby Thompson (1926-2014)
Mary Jones White (1914-2011)
Capt. Melvin Clark (1922-2008)
Wilbur Garret (1914-2016)
Capt. Billy Harris (1922-2006)
Capt. Billy Hoxter (1922-2010)
Capt. William ‘Billy B’ Baxter
Dr. Gill Dunn (1918-2015)
Dr. Harry Rhodes (1914-2014)
Rev. Roy Phillips (1927-2008)
Capt. George Walters (1920-2012)
Capt. Guinea Legg (1937-2014)
Roger Lewis (1927-2016)
Elizabeth Reamy Haddaway (1908-2013)
Capt. Gordon Crouch
Capt. Eldridge Meredith
Alvin ‘Babe’ Grollman
Capt. Harry Davidson
Capt. Charles Bryan
Cousins Jack Coursey and Capt. Charles Bryan with family
Karen Harris Oertel
Capt. Jerry Harris
Capt. Montro Wright
Capt. Lewis Carter
Capt. Bluey Thomas
Capt. Bobby Timms & Delores Timms
Ray Baker (1933-2014)
Billy Lane (1921-2011)
IT’S NATIONAL TELL A STORY DAY
GO LISTEN TO SOMEBODY’S STORY
OR TELL YOUR OWN!!!