Success with secession

Eastport: A year later, the `revolution' to be free of Annapolis' control has brought pride, commerce and a party.

January 29, 1999|By Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan | Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan,SUN STAFF

The revolution began with a poet, a barber and a motley crew of Eastport residents conspiring over a couple of beers in a secret meeting room on the second floor of the neighborhood watering hole.

From that gathering at Marmaduke's stemmed a full-fledged Eastport revolt, a dramatic secession from Annapolis a year ago with cannons blasting, re-enactors charging and the friendly kidnapping of Mayor Dean L. Johnson -- leader of the stodgy "those people" from the other side of the Spa Creek Bridge.

Establishing the farcical parliamentary democracy dubbed the Maritime Republic of Eastport last January has been one of the most lucrative and imaginative marketing ploys the state capital has seen in more than 300 years of commerce, bringing in thousands of dollars to community businesses and raising $12,000 for local charities.

More important, "Eastportericans" say the secession and revolutionary activities staged since have brought together a community that lost its individuality when Annapolis annexed it in 1951. No longer is Eastport the mere stepsister to Maryland's state capital.

So this weekend, in a re-enactment of the secession on its first anniversary, Eastport plans to revel in its separateness again -- and bring in even more money, of course.

The revolution "has raised the awareness level of Eastport to an all-time high," said Andie McCullars, president of the Eastport Business Association. "People are realizing that there's another side to Annapolis than the historic side."

Roots of a revolution

The inspiration for the revolution was a State Highway Administration announcement that the Spa Creek Bridge would close for three weeks for renovation early last year. With that connection between downtown Annapolis and Eastport shut, businesses worried about losing customers.

The loony secession saved dollars but, more, it gave vent to some frustrations about the many differences between cozy Eastport and "Annapolis proper," as they call it.

"Over there, you have a lot of lawyers, doctors, people in paper-shuffling kinds of businesses," said Tracey Voorhees, owner of Eastport Copy -- otherwise known as the official government printing office. "Here, it's more physical. People are more into boats; they're down to earth."

The long-standing rivalry has been especially real among the testosterone set. Since the turn of the century, men from the two sides of the bridge have competed ferociously at baseball -- and for women. In the 1900s, legend has it that sport for Eastport men was to intercept midshipmen who'd crossed the bridge to date peninsula women, and hurl them into Spa Creek.

And then there was that annexation business.

The revolt, finally, was a chance to reclaim Eastport's honor and show Annapolitans how to have a good time.

That one-time event ended up increasing Eastport restaurant patronage during the bridge-closing after predictions of a 20 percent dip. The revolt has snowball- ed since into a zany, never-ending party that spawns occasional outbursts of revolutionary pride.

Just after their revolt, MRE leaders plundered City Hall on Duke of Gloucester Street, presented a Declaration of Independence to Mayor Johnson, "relieved" Alderman Ellen Moyer, who represents their community, of her duties, and renamed her the "MRE Ambassador."

In May, the MRE Navy sent a flotilla of 30 boats up and down Annapolis Harbor to conquer and rename it the Gulf of Eastport. And in November, a tug of war between the MRE and Annapolis on the bridge "pulled the city dock 3.5 feet closer to the community as legend has it, but I don't know if it's true. It's not been documented," said Jefferson Holland, the Minister of Propaganda and poet laureate of Eastport.

"It was like, `That's crazy, that'll never work, let's do it!' And then, `That's crazy, OK, we'll do that, too,' " Holland said. "We decided to keep it going because we were just having too much fun."

The fun hasn't ceased. Revolutionaries have bestowed titles upon almost everybody. Leon the Barber is Prime Minister and his hodge-podge of ministries covers Glamour Trash, Reproduction and Beer. MRE leaders even gave Mayor Johnson an honorific.

"I officially hold rank as Minister of Fires, Floods and Pestilence," Johnson said in mock seriousness. "We had the [five-alarm Main Street] fire just after I took office, and they figure the biblical phrase is fires, floods and pestilence so I could have that title."

Anniversary celebration

In addition to the re-enactment Sunday, this weekend's festivities include a Daughters of the Eastport Revolution ball and an 0.05K walk and run across the bridge -- with one water-stop -- and a ceremonial fly-by by an MRE Air Force fighter plane "disguised as a Piper Cub," according to Premier Jeff Collins, who also is executive director of the nonprofit Christian AIDS group Love & Action.

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