- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 31, 2004

The Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum is one of those rare places a toddler, Daddy and Grandma all will enjoy.

“We seek to convey themes about how the Chesapeake Bay has shaped our culture,” says Pete Lesher, curator at the museum, “and we hope that we can engage people of all ages at some level.”

A waterfowl exhibit, for example, showcases hundreds of duck decoys, which are fun for children to view, while it also highlights the more serious theme of the history of duck hunting, which in bygone eras could be gruesome.

The museum sits on 18 beautiful acres in St. Michaels, Md., and consists of 10 exhibits. They include a boatyard where visitors can watch as boat builders restore Bay boats, and a huge interactive exhibit on oystering.

The Eastern Shore museum also houses exhibits on historic boats, corncribs, Bay history, steamboat construction, small boat sheds and a favorite, the Hooper Straight Lighthouse, which sits on the edge of the museum campus.

The lighthouse gives a thorough look at what it was like to be a lighthouse keeper in the 1800s.

Features for youngsters include an old chest that holds lighthouse-keeper garb children can try on. The exhibit also displays all the things that made up the daily life of a solitary lighthouse keeper: his bed, stove and outside privy.

Artifacts also include maps and a huge Fresnel lens, a highly efficient design that made it possible to shine light as far as 20 miles.

The museum’s newest exhibit, “Oystering on the Chesapeake,” is crammed with fun facts. It is housed in a building of its own, as are all the exhibits.

In the building sits an oystering boat surrounded by informational plaques, oystering equipment, cans of oysters and pictures of workers shucking oysters.

Also featured is a steady flow of the recorded sounds of oystering: the whipping water, the strong winds and oystermen talking about the weather conditions and the catch.

Amusing oystering tidbits are offered, such as the fact that George Washington enjoyed pickled oysters, that one Roman emperor was known to eat 1,000 oysters in a sitting and that 100 years ago, young children shucked oysters for a living, making less than the $1.50 a day of their grown-up colleagues.

Examples of oyster-speak also are on display: “Two to two” means 12 bushels of oysters, and a “jag” means a big catch of oysters. Oysters are “arsters.”

The distinctive language and dialect were developed because the Chesapeake Bay helped isolate the Eastern Shore, Mr. Lesher says. This isolation also led to a unique culture. Some styles of boats, for example, are unique to places such as Tilghman Island.

Museum personnel recommend spending up to three hours at the museum, but visitors could stay busy and entertained a lot longer. Aside from the exhibits, the museum also features picnic tables; old, wooden on-land boats where children can play; a bandstand; and lovely views.

“In spite of how hard we try, sometimes it’s the simplest things that kids and other visitors enjoy,” Mr. Lesher says. “Just being able to go aboard the boats and climb around or visit the lighthouse and get the most beautiful view of St. Michaels.”

Once visitors are finished at the museum, all the talk of oysters might induce some hunger pangs. As if on cue, the Crab Claw, a restaurant right next to the museum, serves them raw or deep-fried.

Also available next to the museum are boat tours.

Another popular St. Michaels attraction is Justine’s ice cream parlor, across the street from the museum. Justine’s serves malts, sundaes, scoops and creamy milkshakes.

So, is the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum and St. Michaels’ quaintness worth the 1-hour trip from the Washington area? It is for families interested in well-produced, educational museum exhibits; fresh seafood; gorgeous views; boat trips and milkshakes.

WHEN YOU GO:

LOCATION: The Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum is located at Mill Street, Navy Point, St. Michaels, Md. The museum is about 1 hours from the District.

Directions: Take Route 50 east toward Annapolis. Follow Route 50 through Annapolis and across the Bay Bridge toward Easton, Md. Just after passing the Easton airport on the right, exit right onto the Easton Bypass/Route 322 south. There are signs for the museum and St. Michaels. At the fourth traffic light, turn right onto Route 33 west to St. Michaels. After about nine miles, Route 33 becomes the main street of St. Michaels. The museum entrance is on the right about half a mile into St. Michaels.

Hours: The museum is open from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. June 1 through Sept. 30; 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Oct. 1 through mid-November; 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. mid-November through Feb. 28; 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. March 1 through May 30. It is closed Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s days.

Admission: $10 for adults, $9 for seniors, $5 for children ages 6 to 17. Children 5 and younger are admitted free.

Information: 410/745-2916 or www.cbmm.org

Note: The museum will host its 22nd annual Crab Days from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. today featuring food and educational fun, including trot lining, chicken necking, crab-pot making and crab picking. A special Kidstown area will provide plenty of activities for children, including the crab toss, the touch tank, face painting and a scavenger hunt. As for food, naturally, crabs will be the fare of choice, with steamed crabs, crab cakes, crab soup and more. Crab Days festivities are included in museum admission. Food and beverages cost extra.


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