Break from the ordinary Secession: Eastport, a small Annapolis neighborhood, uses the temporary closure of a bridge to declare its independence, and promote its businesses.

January 26, 1998|By Laura Sullivan | Laura Sullivan,SUN STAFF

On the edge of the city dock in downtown Annapolis yesterday, while pausing momentarily from a walk near the water, Annapolis resident Eilis Cancel shaded her eyes to read the banner of a plane flying overhead.

"Eastport is revolting," it declared in large red letters. "Join us."

"What the ?" Cancel said, rereading the sign, as cannon fire sounded in the distance.

"Oh, that's just Eastport," said her companion, Brendan Beer, pulling her along. "They're a little different over there. Let them secede. It might be better for Annapolis."

It is just that attitude, Eastport residents say, that stirred their revolutionary urges in the first place.

But while many Annapolitans laughed yesterday at the pseudo-secession, Eastport, the small Annapolis neighborhood comprised largely of transient sailors, hermit artists and poets, pulled off one of the quirkiest events and cleverest marketing ploys since Annapolis laid claim to the boat show 30 years ago.

More than 400 of the community's residents dressed in homemade battle gear, joined nine Revolutionary War re-enactment groups and about 40 dogs at the foot of the Spa Creek bridge to celebrate what would in most places be a mundane exercise in public works -- the tearing down of a bridge for three weeks of repairs.

The secession was largely an effort to promote Eastport bars and shops, letting visitors and Annapolitans know the businesses will be open while state workers replace worn pieces of the two-lane, metal-frame bridge. It will just take longer to get there.

In a manner decidedly normal to the small peninsula -- Eastport brought the world "Winter Sock Burning Day" 20 years ago to mark the first day of spring -- conspirators declared their independence the only way they knew how: with pints of beer, a marching band and four cannons.

"No one will believe this anywhere else if I tell them," said 66-year Eastport resident Tom Kelly, as he stood amid the crowd, chuckling at the line of costumed men firing gunpowder in the direction of Annapolis. "This is just wonderful."

As part of the secession, Eastport coffee shop owners threw tea into the creek, three decorated Eastport planes flew reconnaissance overhead and dozens of residents held flags with the Maritime Republic of Eastport's recently created yellow and black crest. The revolutionaries appointed a lifelong resident and the most widely respected eccentric of the lot, Leon the Barber, known on the other side of the creek as Leon Wolfe, prime minister of the republic as he stood outside his barber shop on Fourth Street. "Welcome to the Republic of Eastport," yelled Minister of Propaganda and event organizer Jeff Holland.

The crowd erupted into wholehearted applause.

"Two score and seven years ago, we, the people of Eastport, were annexed against our will into the city of Annapolis," he said, reading from the Eastport Declaration of Independence, "and ever since have suffered second-class status at the snobbish hand of Annapolis Proper.

" We declare we have full power to levy war, conclude peace, establish commerce and do all the other neat stuff which independent states may of right do, especially throw really big parties."

Like most Eastport traditions, this one began over a beer in early November when a handful of residents discussed the inconvenience of shutting the bridge. That handful ballooned into 40 volunteers, quickly garnering the attention of local restaurants and shops eager to make up expected losses of revenue from the closure.

City public works officials took all of a week to throw in their support, anxious to steer attention away from what many say could become a traffic nightmare. Thirteen thousand cars a day will have to be diverted from the bridge, officials said.

Yesterday dozens of "foreigners" milled about in Eastport shops and pubs, vowing to return before the bridge reopens and Eastport rejoins the union. Organizers handed out "passports" to the visitors, filled with coupons good for discounts at local businesses while the bridge is down, and the city's transportation department will jump in with its secession festivities today when it kicks off ferry service across Spa Creek.

"This is one of the most fascinating marketing concepts we've come up with," acknowledged Shell gas station owner Mike Miron, who helped organize the festivities along with Eastport Business Association. "It really grew into a way to encourage people to come to Eastport while the bridge is closed."

City Department of Transportation officials couldn't be happier residents threw a party, rather than bombarding their office with complaints, said Paul Foer, marketing specialist for the department. Buses that normally carried people across the bridge have been rerouted around the peninsula, a ride that takes 20 minutes longer, even in good traffic conditions.

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