War Games

Annual Eastport-Annapolis Tug of War contest pulls out all the stops.

By Amy Mulvihill - November 2015

Eastport-Annapolis Tug of War Contest Pulls Out All Stops

Annual Eastport-Annapolis Tug of War contest pulls out all the stops.

By Amy Mulvihill - November 2015

-Illustration by Meen Choi

It was the fall of 1997 and Josh Cohen and Sam Shropshire were at Rams Head Tavern in downtown Annapolis discussing the impending—if temporary—closure of the bridge over Spa Creek for repairs. Erected in 1946, the bridge connects the village of Eastport to downtown Annapolis, and its closure would leave the Eastport peninsula almost completely isolated.

“Sam and I were just brainstorming goofy ideas about what if Eastport seceded from Annapolis,” recalls Cohen, who would serve as mayor of Annapolis from 2009 to 2013. As amusing as the idea was, Cohen figured it was just talk, but Shropshire wouldn’t let it go. He rallied support and, a few weeks later, the Maritime Republic of Eastport (MRE) was born.

The impish act of defiance suited the community, which has only been part of the capital city since 1951 and still views itself as culturally distinct from Annapolis. “It’s a deck-shoes and shorts kind of a culture,” says Jefferson Holland, a longtime Eastport resident who served as the MRE’s “Minister of Propaganda” during its formative years. “We like to think of ourselves as underdogs.”

The friendly rivalry soon found an outlet in the Tug of War, a tradition that marks its 18th occurrence on November 7.

“[Shropshire] was talking to [then-Annapolis Mayor] Dean Johnson, and, in a tongue-in-cheek moment of bravado, challenged the mayor to a tug of war across Spa Creek,” recalls Cohen of the contest’s origin.

But there was a problem: A rope of extreme length, strength, and buoyancy would be necessary to withstand the strain that teams of tuggers would exert on it from their positions more than 1,500 feet apart on opposing banks of Spa Creek. But thanks to some clever NASA engineers, a design was soon in hand.

That’s where another MRE founding father, Chris Kellogg, came in. He convinced an executive at Yale Cordage, the venerable rope-making company, to manufacture a rope to those specs and then donate it.

“If we had paid somebody, it would have cost tens of thousands of dollars,” says Cohen. “Without that rope, it never would have happened.”

Now, organizations and businesses sponsor teams of tuggers, raising money for charity. MRE Ambassador to Cyberspace Elvia Thompson estimates the Tug has raised more than $100,000 since it began.

Thompson is part of a new generation of civic leaders overseeing the Tug, but the old guard remains proud and invested, if not quite as involved.

Holland will be there this year, playing his baritone ukulele with Them Eastport Oyster Boys, but you won’t catch him gripping the rope. “I’m not that crazy!” he cracks. “People come off that Tug shaking. It’s a massively strenuous event.”

Shropshire, who now lives in Saudi Arabia, won’t be there, but sent an email saying, “The MRE forces are fully capable of taking on the Annapolis insurgents.”

Cohen, who moved from Eastport to West Annapolis in 2011, will likely take his two young daughters. “It’s become such a tradition,” he says. “It should be on the bucket list of any Annapolitan.”





You May Also Like

The Birds Nest

Remembering Orioles Legend Frank Robinson, The Reticent Pioneer

The Baltimore sports icon passed away Thursday at age 83 after a long battle with cancer.

The Chatter

Manny Machado Signs Record-Breaking Deal With San Diego Padres

The 10-year, $300-million contract has us relieved he isn’t a Yankee.

Arts District

Lineup for Preakness Stakes 2019 Announced

Diplo, Kygo, and Logic will headline this year’s InFieldFest on May 18.


The Chatter

Maryland’s “Bmore Guys” Welcome Us to March Madness

Mount Saint Joseph’s alums Jalen Smith and Darryl Morsell powered the Terps’ first-round NCAA win.

The Birds Nest

Could an Adam Jones-Orioles Reunion Be Possible?

Fantasy or reality, there’s precedent for the idea if you’ve read this book about the Orioles front office.

On The Town

Fancy Clancy Pilsner to Debut at Sliders on Opening Day

The beloved beer vendor finally gets a brew to call his own.

-Illustration by Meen Choi

Connect With Us

Most Read


Catherine Pugh Resigns From UMMS Board Amid $500,000 Book Deal Controversy: Baltimore mayor earned $100,000 in profits in burgeoning ethics scandal.

Five Things to Know About Broadway Market in Fells Point: For starters, one of the stalls officially opens today.

Fancy Clancy Pilsner to Debut at Sliders on Opening Day: The beloved beer vendor finally gets a brew to call his own.

March Madness Food and Drink Specials That Are Slam Dunks: Fill out your bracket and head to these local watering holes for NCAA games.

Ronald McDonald House Charities Maryland Prepares to Open in Jonestown: We chat with president and CEO Sandy Pagnotti about the new Baltimore facility.