History

The Day the Chesapeake Bay Went Dry

Happy Hour is Officially Over

By
Susan
Elnicki Wade

Beer riots in Baltimore federal agents attacked with bricks and a jar of mayonnaise  bottles of moonshine stashed at the bottom of oyster bushels  These are just a few snapshots of the mayhem that ensued on the Chesapeake Bay during Prohibition. On Jan. 16, 1920, booze was banned in America. Beer, wine, champagne, rum and other distilled spirits became illegal. The Chesapeake Bay, along with the entire United States, checked in for a 13-year stint in rehab.. The 18th Amendment allowed a few exceptions. Places of worship could pour wine for religious ceremonies. You could stomp grapes in the bathtub and make wine at home, as long as you didn't sell any of it. And if you felt sick, doctors could prescribe alcohol for medicinal purposes from liquor-dispensing pharmacies. This loophole grew so popular that by March 1920, 70,000 whiskey prescriptions in Maryland and Washington D.C., were filled. Otherwise, happy hour was legally over.

The movement to make America sober was championed by the Women's Christian Temperance Union (WCTU), The Anti-Saloon League, Methodist ministers and others who blamed demon rum for a menagerie of social ills.

For centuries, America's tradition of drinking beer and wine seemed manageable, but the influx of hard liquor caused a dramatic spike in alcoholism in the 19th century. Between 1800 and 1830, average annual intake was more than five gallons of hard stuff per American, a drinking level nearly three times that of late  20th- century America. Foreigners visiting the United States  noted with disdain that the whole country seemed to be on a national binge, says Eric Mills in Chesapeake Rumrunners of the Roaring Twenties.

Catch Me If You Can

Some people embraced a respite from rum. Others believed that the government had no business dictating morality or lifestyles. The Chesapeake Bay's 11,600 miles of shoreline -- with all its remote coves and inlets -- was a perfect setting for a cat-and-mouse game with Prohibition officers. When federal dry agents shut down saloons, speakeasies popped up all around the Bay.

Hundreds of moonshine stills appeared along the Eastern Shore, Southern Maryland and Virginia's Tidewater region. White lightning and other intoxicating liquors were secretly brewed in the Chesapeake countryside. Some was kept for local consumption, but thousands of gallons of hooch were transported to thirsty city dwellers. It's rumored that more than half of the Bay's population joined the moonshine bonanza during Prohibition.

The home-grown booze industry paled in comparison to imports from abroad. Americans never lost their taste for French champagne, British gin, Caribbean rum or Scotch whiskey. Ships from around the globe lined up along the Atlantic coastline from Virginia to New England, cautiously floating three miles offshore in international waters along a stretch called Rum Row. Sea vessels' bellies were filled with cases of fine imports, and crews eagerly awaited smaller speedboats to transport the liquid gold to shore. When they made it through the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay, rumrunners disappeared amid the isolated marshlands and hidden coves to unload their bounty.

Resourceful Chesapeake watermen souped up their engines to outrace the Coast Guard and rigged boats for carrying contraband. Fishermen hid Mason jars of booze in bushels under mounds of oysters or built false bottoms in boats to stash cases of hooch.

Say Goodbye to Southern Comfort

Even though Prohibition was the law of the land, the country was deeply divided over alcohol. Teetotalers heralded the Noble Experiment as the nation's salvation. Others refused to hand over their martini shakers. Attitudes varied from state to state, and the differences were clearly illustrated in the Bay's border states of Maryland and Virginia.

Along with 17 other states, Virginia went dry in 1916 and outlawed liquor sales four years before the rest of the country. Norfolk tried to stay wet, and many taverns stayed open, because they didn't feel the federal enforcement pinch until the 18th Amendment was enacted nationwide. When the clock struck midnight on Jan. 19, 1920, Norfolk's streets were flooded with WCTU leaders and other anti-alcohol revelers celebrating their victory.

Almost 15,000 jubilant teetotalers joined a parade spearheaded by a flamboyant Evangelist preacher named Billy Sunday, who had fought against demon rum for decades. Sunday marched through the town next to a 20-foot-long black coffin symbolizing the death of John Barleycorn. When the parade ended at a Methodist church, Sunday worked the crowd into a frenzy by jumping on top of the coffin, singing hymns and delivering a fire-and-brimstone sermon that rocked the rafters.

The next day, Virginia gave the official last call for alcohol. Norfolk's 115 bars were closed. Saloon signs and billboards promoting booze were pulled down and destroyed. Virginia would have its share of rumrunners, bootleggers and speakeasies, but as far as the state was concerned, alcohol in the Commonwealth was dead.

Naughty Bohemians Stand Their Ground

Maryland was a horse of a different color. As a young colony, its leaders tried to curb alcohol consumption, and in 1642 public drunkenness was rewarded with a fine of a 100-pound bag of tobacco. Three centuries later, when Congress tried to impose national anti-alcohol rules, Marylanders replied with a collective "mind your own business." Maryland was the only state that refused to ratify Prohibition and allocate funds to enforce the new laws.

Simply stated: Maryland was defiantly wet. Resistance to Prohibition started at the top in Annapolis and trickled down to police forces and average citizens. Alfred Richie, the four-term governor from 1920 to 1935, wasn't much of a drinker, but he believed the federal government had overstepped its bounds and was stomping on his state's rights. Nationally recognized for his anti-temperance views, he scoffed at squandering Maryland's funds or backing the 18th Amendment just because the feds wanted to eliminate booze. Law enforcement was lackluster at best. Tavern operators greased local policemen's palms so they'd turn a blind eye to thriving booze businesses.

Baltimore, the wettest of all cities, became a hotbed for importing alcohol. Speakeasies flourished in every neighborhood. The Horse You Came in On Saloon, which is still serving spirits in Fells Point, boasts that it operated before, during and after Prohibition. "The Horse was located next door to an alcohol-dispensing pharmacy back then," says General Manager, Trent O'Connor. "After people picked up their 'medicinal' Jack Daniels at the drug store, they'd walk through a secret door into our speakeasy for more liquid refreshment." John Stevens Restaurant, just a few blocks away, has been a favorite watering hole for sailors and watermen since the early 1800s. It stayed open throughout Prohibition by selling oysters and serving "soft drinks" to parched patrons.

Baltimore citizens were especially prickly toward Prohibition agents and infamous for disrupting enforcement efforts. A New York Times headline from March 1927 reported "MOB IN BALTIMORE ATTACKS DRY AGENTS: Crowd of 500 Wields Axes on Autos and Hurls Bricks at 16 Federal Men on Raid." A rowdy South Baltimore crowd swarmed the officers' cars, but no one was injured or arrested. "Only three agents were struck two by stones and one by a jar of mayonnaise which broke and injured chiefly his personal appearance."

Happy Days Are Here Again

While Baltimore's resistance to Prohibition took on a unique flair, the entire country shared its concerns about this great social experiment. Corruption ran rampant across the nation, and a sharp rise in alcohol consumption indicated that American temperance was a flop. The 18th Amendment was repealed on Dec. 5, 1933 -- just in time for Christmas festivities. America resumed its bottoms-up traditions, and Chesapeake watermen went back to carrying crabs and oysters in their boats.

Let's Party Like It's 1929!

During Prohibition, Americans were divided between dry and wet lifestyles. Scofflaws and other rule breakers invented delectable cocktails that are still worth sipping today. Here are three of that era's popular libations and the story behind their creation:The Gin Rickey - Gin was among the favorite intoxicating liquors. The Gin Rickey was first made in the 1880s with bourbon at Shoomaker's Bar in Washington, D.C., and was named after Democrat lobbyist Colonel Joe Rickey. While F. Scott Fitzgerald was writing "The Great Gatsby," he found inspiration in this crisp cocktail.

  • 2 oz. dry gin
  • ½ fresh lime squeezed and
  • dropped in the glass
  • 5 oz. soda water or sparkling mineral water

The Sidecar - During Prohibition, outrageous was the norm, and normal was so old-fashioned. The Sidecar epitomizes a grand entrance at a gin joint. It's named after a WWI army captain who liked to arrive at his local speakeasy in a motorcycle sidecar. Bet he also puffed on a Cuban cigar. Shake this mixture well with cracked ice and strain into a chilled, sugar-rimmed cocktail glass.

  • 3 oz. cognac
  • 2 oz. Cointreau, Grand Mariner or other
  • orange liqueur
  • 1 oz. lemon juice

The Bee's Knees - The Roaring '20s gave birth to a host of phrases that toasted the wild side of nature. The superlative Bee's Knees was reserved for flappers and dappers who had reached the height of excellence -- and mixed a little sting with their charm. Be sure to shake well with ice and serve in a chilled glass.

  • ½ jigger of gin
  • 1 teaspoon honey
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice
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Hurricanes are nature’s grandest, most ferocious storms. They fascinate us, and they repel us. As a radio news and weather reporter in Miami for 30 years, my grandfather was obsessed with hurricanes. (Confession: I am, too.) Using colored pencils and a wooden ruler, he meticulously plotted their paths onto an enormous paper map tacked up on the wall of his study. It was a beautiful and mesmerizing record of these ferocious and complicated storms that somehow feel alive as they zigzag and wobble across the ocean like drunken sailors.

Science has improved dramatically since my grandfather’s era. A fleet of Earth- observing satellites providing real-time data now help thousands of scientists around the world answer three age-old questions: Where and when will the hurricane hit and how strong will it be? Modern forecasts are pretty accurate. Long gone is the day when a storm could sneak up and hit without any warning. Here are the stories of three men who helped pave the way.

Three Who Paved the Way for How We Track & Predict Hurricanes Today

Father Hurricane

When the regime of Queen Isabella II of Spain collapsed in 1868, many who supported her thought it wise to flee the country. Father Benito Viñes, a Jesuit priest and educator, was one of them. He emigrated to Cuba and found a position as director of the meteorological observatory in Havana. Shocked by the damage hurricanes regularly inflicted upon the island, he made it his mission to learn everything he could about them.

Within five years of arriving, Father Viñes knew more about hurricanes than any living person. He was the first to discover that the cloud pattern and the behavior of the wind well in advance of a storm could be used to track it accurately. Using this information, he designed the “Antilles cyclonoscope,” a kind of slide-rule that could estimate from a considerable distance the current position of a hurricane and calculate its likely path. Up until then, weather observers could tell when a hurricane was coming but not where it was going.

His first forecast was published in a Havana newspaper on September 11, 1875 — two days before an intense hurricane ravaged the southern coast of Cuba. Many lives were saved because of the timely warning. Throughout the 1880s he exchanged hurricane information with other weather observers across the Caribbean via telegraph. It was the first hurricane warning system and a model the United States. Weather Service later emulated it. Father Viñes was so well-respected that for a short time hurricanes were even called Viñesas and identified numerically. The pronunciation, however, was difficult for Americans, so the practice ceased. Father Viñes died in 1893.

The Aerial Acrobat

Len Povey

Len Povey was a self-taught pilot who flew with the new U.S. Army Air Service until 1922 when he left to pursue a more “colorful” career testing race planes, flying bootleg liquor and barnstorming over the Great Lakes as a headliner with a flying circus. His aerial acrobatics at the All-American Air Maneuvers show in Miami in 1934 caught the eye of a Cuban Air Force official who hired him to train Cuban pilots and serve as the personal pilot for Fulgencio Batista, the chief of the armed forces and later president and dictator of the island nation.

When Cuba’s Weather Service detected a storm intensifying several hundred miles east of the island in early September 1935, Len Povey volunteered to help pinpoint the location and movement of the storm. He jumped in his Curtiss Hawk II, an open cockpit biplane, and flew over the Straits of Florida where he located the hurricane farther north than predicted and moving northwestward toward the Florida Keys. The Cubans dispatched a warning, but it was too late. Later that same day, the storm roared ashore at Islamorada, FL, with winds of 200 m.p.h. and a 20-foot storm surge that drowned more than 400 people, mostly Army veterans who were building the Overseas Railroad.

Povey later joined the faculty at Embry-Riddle, a private Florida college focused on aviation and aerospace programs, where he was a tireless advocate for aerial hurricane patrols. However, the type of reconnaissance mission he envisioned didn’t happen until July 1943, when Air Force Colonel Joe Duckworth flew a plane directly into the eye of a hurricane churning toward Galveston, TX. Len Povey died in 1984. His obituary claimed he survived a mid-air collision and an encounter with a turkey buzzard that sheared off a portion of his plane’s wing.

The Data Cruncher

One of the most recognized voices on hurricanes in the late 20th century emanated ironically from a mile-high lab at Colorado State University. That voice was Dr. William Gray, a professor of tropical meteorology from 1961 until 2005.

Bill Gray grew up in Washington, DC, wanting to be a baseball player. He was a standout pitcher for George Washington University until he hurt his knee. During service in the Air Force, he turned to a career in climatology. He once told the Los Angeles Times he was inspired to study hurricanes after he flew a plane through one off the east coast of Florida in 1958.

Dr. Gray was an outlier when it came to hurricanes. He eschewed computer modeling, focusing instead on observational science: historical storm data, old maps featuring storm patterns, and statistics on wind speed, water temperatures and other meteorological factors. He was the first to determine that the intensity and frequency of storms in the Atlantic was cyclical and that likelihood of a hurricane reaching the East Coast of the United States depended on a variety of factors including the amount of rainfall in Africa and the impact of El Niño (the periodic warming of the Pacific Ocean that produces powerful winds that shear off the tops of storms developing in the Atlantic). In short, he figured out Mother Nature’s recipe for powerful storms.

In 1984 Dr. Gray unveiled the first Atlantic seasonal hurricane forecast and quickly became a hurricane superstar and media darling. He, however, considered his greatest legacy the students whom he taught and mentored, many of whom went on to become leaders in weather research and forecasting. He died in 2016.

Check out Marinalife's recent article about How Hurricanes Get Their Names.

Hurricane Tracking Apps for Your Phone

You don’t need all six of these apps, but we’re certain you’ll find one here that you like. All are available on Google Play and the Apple App Store.

THE WEATHER CHANNEL

Rain radar, storm tracker and severe weather warnings help you prepare for hurricane season, as well as storms and heavy rain. Monitor live radar updates, an hourly rain tracker, storm radar news, and local weather forecast on the go. Free. Available in English and 30 other languages.

NATIONAL HURRICANE CENTER DATA

Official data, custom graphics, updates and maps from National Hurricane Center (NHC) experts. Considered the grandparent of all hurricane trackers. Free. Available in English and French.

WEATHER UNDERGROUND

Reliable, real-time and hyperlocal forecasts combining data from 250,000+ personal weather stations and a proprietary forecast model provide an incredibly accurate local forecast. Interactive radar and customizable severe weather alerts. Free. Available in English and 30 other languages.

CLIME

Previously called NOAA Radar, this is a good hurricane tracker app, because it lets you overlay rain, radar or satellite images on top of the tracker. This gives you a detailed look at what’s happening in the storm. Add multiple locations to the map to get alerted if you’re in the path of a hurricane. Free. Multiple languages. Paid upgrade packages available.

RADARSCOPE

If you’re willing to spend some money on an app favored by weather nerds and professional storm chasers, then check out RadarScope. The learning curve is steeper than with others, but it features high-resolution radar data sourced from NOAA’s next generation radar and Doppler Weather Radar. Available in English, French, German and Spanish.

HURRICANE – AMERICAN RED CROSS

Monitor conditions in your area or throughout the storm track, prepare your family and home, find help and let others know you are safe. Free. Available in English and Spanish.

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How Hurricanes Get Their Names
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Historically, hurricanes in the United States were referred to by their time period and/or geographic location, e.g., the Great Galveston Hurricane of 1900. In the West Indies, they were named after the particular saint’s day on which the hurricane occurred. A colorful Australian weatherman named Clement Wragge began assigning Greek and Roman mythological names to Pacific cyclones in the late 19th century. He later began naming them after politicians he particularly disliked.

During World War II, U.S. Air Force and Navy meteorologists plotting storms over the Pacific needed a better way to denote tropical cyclones while analyzing weather maps. Many began paying tribute to their wives and girlfriends back home by naming the cyclones after them. In 1954, the National Weather Bureau officially embraced the practice of giving hurricanes women’s names. Because America led the world in weather tracking technology, the practice was adopted elsewhere.

In response to pressure from women’s groups, the National Weather Service and the World Meteorological Association began using both men’s and women’s names starting in 1979. More recently, the lists of names, which are predetermined and rotate every six years, have been further diversified to reflect names used in the many regions where tropical cyclones strike. Names of devastating storms, such as Katrina in 2005, are permanently retired.

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The Fishy Side of Ocean City, MD
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With its sandy beaches and boardwalk attractions, Ocean City is the quintessential family summer vacation destination. It’s also a popular spot for sport fishermen and boaters traveling up and down the East Coast. But it wasn’t always that way. 

Ocean City was established on a barrier island called Assateague that extended 60 miles from the Indian River Inlet in Delaware to Chincoteague, VA. The section of the island belonging to the State of Maryland had no outlet to the sea, and early visitors came to bathe in the surf and take in the fresh ocean breezes. These travelers arrived by ferry boat from the mainland until 1876 when a wooden trestle train bridge was built. 

In its younger days, Ocean City was half resort town and half fishing village. The fishing was “pound fishing,” a style I’d wager few people today have ever seen. It was practiced originally by Native Americans and became popular in the 19 century along the East Coast from Maritime Canada to the Carolinas.

Pound fisherman used wide nets attached to wooden poles to catch fish. They drove these tall poles into the ocean floor about a half mile from shore, creating permanent structures called pounds. When fish entered the open end of a pound, they were then corralled by the nets and couldn’t escape. 

With no passage into the Atlantic, crews of Ocean City fishermen needed to launch 40-foot boats from the beach directly into the ocean and row out to the pounds. To harvest the fish, the crew would remove the ends of the nets from the poles and pull them up by hand. The fish were then brought back to shore, carted across the island, packed in barrels of ice and shipped via railroad to fish markets in Baltimore, Philadelphia and New York.

It was laborious work, and for years local businessmen petitioned state and federal agencies to create a manmade inlet to connect the bay directly to more fertile fishing grounds farther off the coast.

A Fierce Storm Carves Out a New Inlet

In August of 1933, a hurricane came ashore in Norfolk, VA, and then tracked up the center of the Chesapeake Bay, bringing up to 10 inches of rain per day and flooding the back bays to the west of Ocean City. Oceanside, wind and waves destroyed homes, hotels and businesses on the town’s boardwalk. 

When the storm subsided, the railroad bridge and fish camps had been washed away, replaced by an inlet 50 feet wide and eight feet deep that formed when built-up water driven by high tides rushed east over the barrier island from the swollen back bays to the ocean. Mother Nature did what governments wouldn’t do, and it changed Ocean City forever.

It didn’t take long for officials to take advantage of this event and enlarge the inlet to ensure its permanence. As a result, a commercial harbor, marinas and docks began sprouting up around the inlet and across the bay on the mainland. Most fishing was commercial in those immediate post-hurricane years, but a few captains realized the recreational fishing potential in the shoals and fertile canyons offshore that were teaming with billfish and other species. During World War II, a lack of fuel and the presence of German U-Boats in the Atlantic virtually shut down offshore fishing. Things picked up after the war, and by the late 1950s and 1960s more and more fishermen were coming to Ocean City. 

But it was the white marlin that really put Ocean City on the sport fishing map. A challenging fish known for its beauty, the white marlin wows anglers with its speed and jumping antics. These fish travel in packs and are prevalent in Maryland waters in late summer and early fall. 

Sport fishermen have been chasing white marlins off the coast of Maryland since 1934 when President Franklin Roosevelt visited and caught two of the feisty billfish. To celebrate this exceptional fish and attract more attention to Ocean City, local fishermen launched the White Marlin Open in 1974. Fifty-seven boats entered that first year. By contrast, the 2021 Open drew 444 boats, more than 3,500 contestants – including NBA superstar Michael Jordan – and awarded $9.2 million dollars in prize money making Ocean City the undisputed “White Marlin Capital of the World.”

Ocean City today counts eight marinas, 20 fishing tournaments and numerous charter boats. According to the city council, boating and sportfishing are significant economic drivers bringing tens of millions of dollars annually to the local economy. 

So, whether you’re a hardcore sport fisherman, casual angler or a boater who simply enjoys a cocktail dockside at sunset, there’s something for everyone “Goin’ downy O, Hon!” as native Marylanders like to say about a visit to their beloved Ocean City.

Check Out Three World-Class OC Fishing Tournaments

Ocean City Tuna Tournament
July 8-10, 2022

Entering its 35th year, this has become the world’s largest tuna tournament with more than 100 participating boats and a record payout that eclipsed $1 million in 2021. 

White Marlin Open
August 8-12, 2022

First held in 1974, the WMO is inarguably the highlight of the Ocean City fishing tournament calendar. Now the biggest and richest billfish tournament in the world, the WMO drew 444 boats and 3,500+ contestants last year.

Poor Girls Open
August 17-20, 2022
Launched in 1994, this is the largest ladies-only billfish release tournament benefitting breast cancer research. Despite its charitable overtones, the tournament is all about the fishing, and the hundreds of boats and hundreds of competitors take it very seriously.

The Orange Crush: A Cocktail Born on the OC Docks

Orange Crush | Susan Elnicki Wade

The Orange Crush is a staple cocktail in most Maryland bars. It’s basically a screwdriver with a shot of triple sec and a splash of lemon-lime soda. The secret to a good one, though, is fresh-squeezed orange juice. And there’s no place better to try one than the Harborside Bar & Grill in Ocean City where the cocktail is said to have originated on a slow night in 1995 when a couple of bartenders were bored and playing around with a bottle of orange-flavored vodka.

Harborside is a wooden establishment whose backside opens onto the commercial harbor in West Ocean City. Gritty is the word that comes to mind. As you would expect, the sign out front boldly announces the home of the Orange Crush, as do newspaper articles framed on the walls and t-shirts for sale. Inside, people pound crabs and watch the Orioles play baseball. Ceiling fans whirl, and it smells of Old Bay and French fries. White lights strung across the ceiling add a festive touch. It doesn’t get more Maryland than that. 

To try your first Orange Crush, visit Harborside Bar & Grill, in Ocean City, MD, 410-213-1846.

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