Of history and local tradition, by rail and by sea

BOOKS & AUTHORS

February 23, 1992|By James H. Bready

Look about you, riders on the upper stretches of tomorrow's Central Light Rail System: What you behold was once a greater glory, the Northern Central Railway. When rails were the path of empire, that line from Lake Ontario to the Canton waterfront added cubits to Baltimore's stature.

To the Northern Central, at last, has come full and proper homage in "The Story of the Northern Central Railway," by Robert L. Gunnarsson of Hampstead (Greenberg Publishing, Sykesville, $39.95). A researcher's long toil has culminated in good words, maps, photos and data.

The line was founded one year after the Baltimore & Ohio, as the Baltimore & Susquehanna. For decades, it transported Pennsylvania anthracite to piers at either end -- the Great Lake and the Chesapeake -- plus grain, lumber and passengers. It carried Abraham Lincoln, in life and in death; its Parkton Local carried thousands of Maryland commuters, offloading them first at Calvert Station and later in the 1865 freight station that now is the Downtown Athletic Club.

Pennsylvania capital and capitalists early entered the operation; the Northern Central helped the Pennsylvania Railroad build its Baltimore tunnels and in 1872, shafting the B&O, enter Washington. By 1914, the Pennsylvania Railroad had taken over NC; by 1991, the line was reduced to a 13-mile Conrail industrial spur. But Mr. Gunnarsson, with Herbert Harwood Jr. as editor, carries us (past such railroad towns as Blue Mountain, Md.; Bodine, Pa., and Bellona, N.Y.) along the full Northern Central right-of-way.

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Other Marylanders, always, would rather be sailing. For that feeling of wind and wave, a frozen-in navigator need only turn to the words, pictures and boat-name lists of Geoffrey M. Footner's "The Last Generation: A History of a Chesapeake Shipbuilding Family -- M. M. Davis and Son" (Calvert Marine Museum Press, $37.50).

Five generations of Davises fashioned hulls and rigging, first on that side of the bay (St. Michaels) and then on this (Solomons). Bugeyes, sloops, tugs, trawlers, yachts, America's Cup defenders -- M. M. Davis and Son built the Manitou, on which John F. Kennedy, while president, got in some sailing.

Family, indeed. Hulbert Footner (1865-1944) of Charles County wrote extensively of old Maryland; now his Talbot son, Geoffrey, turns an inheritance into a tradition.

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Shakespeare refers several times to the plague, the rat-flea disease that perennially swept Europe. Presumably he himself escaped infection but, Leeds Barroll maintains, his output was affected. When an epidemic struck (at least 15,000 died, of 1593 London's 120,000 inhabitants), authorities shut down all theaters; Shakespeare, it appears, stopped writing plays. His adrenalin flowed only when new-play demand was immediate?

It's not easy finding an aspect of Shakespeare that earlier savants have passed by, but Dr. Barroll, who is professor of English at the University of Maryland Baltimore County, has hold of one. Beneath the medical and other theater stoppages lies a larger issue: the plays' ever-controversial dating. Dr. Barroll's calculations are in "Politics, Plague and Shakespeare's Theater"

(Cornell University Press, $34.95).

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Chatter: Paule Marshall, whose novels have won many awards, will speak at Pratt Library's 1992 Black History Luncheon, noon, Feb. 27, at the Hollyday Room, Cross Keys. Tickets, $23. . . . "Manuscript Preparation" will be the Baltimore Writers' Alliance topic March 11, 7:30 p.m., Grace United Methodist Church, Charles Street and Northern Parkway.

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