History & Politics

Beach Music

Scenes from the Reginald F. Lewis Museum, Maryland Science Center, and White Marlin Open.

Beach Music

Pratt Street
August 5, 2017

In 1892, Charles Douglass and his wife, Laura, were refused service at the Bay Ridge resort just south of Annapolis. “As they walked away, eventually crossing a channel bridge, they encountered a black farmer named Brashears,” historian Patsy Mose Fletcher, author of African American Destinations Around Washington, D.C., recounts before a packed audience at the Reginald F. Lewis Museum. Turns out, that farmer owned a small tract of bayfront land between Black Walnut Creek and Oyster Creek.

A conversation ensued and, soon enough, a deal was struck between the farmer and Douglass, whose family purchased the breathtaking, beach-accessible property—leading to the creation of a hassle-free vacation destination for African-Americans.

“Charles Douglass happened to be the son of Frederick Douglass, who later built a house there so he could look across the water and reflect upon his Eastern Shore origins.”

By the following August, Highland Beach had been formally established and Charles Douglass’ young son was writing his famous grandfather, telling him he was “going out fishing and crabbing every day” and that he “can swim over 100 yards without stopping to rest.”

Residents and guests would eventually include Paul Robeson, Booker T. Washington, W.E.B. DuBois, Langston Hughes, and Paul Laurence Dunbar.

Highland Beach did not remain the only beach for Maryland, D.C., and southern Pennsylvania African-Americans during segregation, however. In 1909, Frederick Carr, who had been born into slavery and spent decades working as a waiter and cook at the U.S. Naval Academy, purchased 180 acres of farmland, also on the Annapolis Neck peninsula, that his family later turned into Carr’s Beach. Over time, Carr’s Beach and nearby Sparrow’s Beach evolved into huge summer attractions, with Carr’s Beach becoming a major stop on Chitlin’ Circuit, attracting the likes of Little Richard, Sarah Vaughn, Billie Holiday, the Shirelles, James Brown, Otis Redding, and the Drifters.

Fletcher notes with a wry smile that while Highland Beach remains active today, the Bay Ridge resort is long gone. On the downside, after the civil rights victories of the mid-1960s, many black-owned businesses and destinations such as Carr’s Beach suffered as white businesses finally opened their doors to everyone.

“The last big crowd at Carr’s Beach was 1973. New owners were trying to make it a more integrated place and booked Frank Zappa, who was from Baltimore. The cover was $5 and he drew 7,000 people,” Fletcher says. “But that was it.  All those years, it wasn’t like black people said white people couldn’t come.”

Sun Block

Inner Harbor
August 21, 2017

Rider Fulks, 7, wearing a T-shirt that reads “Big Dreamer,” patiently awaits a break in the afternoon cloud cover from atop the Maryland Science Center, where he’s hoping to glimpse the first eclipse in nearly a century to sweep across the U.S.

Suddenly, at 1:15 p.m., the sky breaks.

The awestruck Parkton resident, donning safety glasses, tries to describe the rare celestial occurrence to his mother and 5-year-old brother: “It looks like the moon is taking a bite out of the sun.”

The line outside the science center began forming a couple of hours before the Inner Harbor institution opened in anticipation of the eclipse, which turned night into day across a stretch of the U.S. from Oregon to South Carolina over the course of 90 minutes. In Baltimore, the eclipse wasn’t total, but estimated at 80 percent—though that hardly dimmed enthusiasm for the historic alignment.

“We sold out all 300 tickets for each of our five rooftop viewing slots,” says science center staffer Samantha Blau.

The day included an exhibition on the sun at the science center, which also had safety glasses and unused pizza boxes on hand to assist visitors in making their own pinhole viewing devices. Many families came equipped with their own pinhole devices as well, made from Corn Flakes and Cheerios boxes—which worked better for some than others.

“The tin foil got wrinkled on the drive over here,” says one mother, smiling as she shares safety glasses with her 5-year-old daughter. “Apparently, I needed to keep a better eye on the cereal box in the car.”

Lucky Catch

14th Street, Ocean City
August 11, 2017

“You’ve seen Jaws, right?” Frank Massa asks a pair of crewmates with a mischievous smile, as he cranks a big reel in super-slow motion, imitating the foreboding click-click-click from the grizzled fictional fisherman Quint’s first encounter with the infamous movie shark. In the film, of course, that click-click-click, is the ever-so-subtle indication the killer fish has taken the bait and is readying for an epic run.

Around Massa’s boat, however, all is still. “That’s fishing: hours of boredom, interrupted by moments of chaos,” one of his crewmates says with a laugh.

Massa and his buddies are one of 353 teams, here this week for the 44th annual White Marlin Open, hoping to win a cut of the $5 million in prize money from the largest billfish tournament in the world.

Massa had hooked a thick, 64-inch white marlin this morning, but the ocean quickly turned quiet again—which it would remain for most of the tourney. On Wednesday, when a Delaware fisherman delivered an 86-pound white marlin to the dock—one of the biggest ever landed in White Marlin Open history—the competition for first place was believed over. If no one brought in a bigger white marlin, he stood to go home with $2.6 million.

“I had coffee with about 12 guys and offered a $100 bet no would top that fish over the next two days,” one local journalist commented later. “No one took me up.”

But on Friday, 40 minutes after the daily evening weigh-in begins at the Harbor Marina, Glen Frost, a Stevensville tax attorney, unloads the third largest white marlin—a 95.5-pounder—ever caught in the tournament. “Hooked it at 12:50 p.m.,” Frost says of his million-dollar-plus catch, noting it bit less than four hours before the official end of the tournament.  “First white marlin I ever caught.”