Old Line not worth two bits

July 04, 1999|By BARRY RASCOVAR

SURELY, Gov. Parris Glendening could have done better.

He takes his one chance to im-press the entire nation with this state's magnificence and he set-tles for "The Old Line State"?

Yes, that's what Maryland's 25-cent commemorative coin will read when it is released into circu-lation early next year. This is Maryland's moment in the nation-al spotlight -- and the governor has blown it.

Leave it to a bland ex-political science professor to come up with a bland commemorative quarter. True, the expression refers to the American Revolution, but it is not tied to the 223rd anniversary. Of the signing of the Declaration of Independence, which we celebrate today.

Delaware -- not Maryland --linked its commemorative coin to July 4 -- by portraying an ailing delegate, Caesar Rodney, riding from Dover to Philadelphia to cast a decisive vote in favor of the declaration.

Maryland's coined expression is linked, instead, to a remark supposedly uttered by George Washington about the sterling performance of Maryland's regular line troops during the war, especially during the defense of New York.

It's an obscure, and largely forgotten, footnote in American history. We could do better. Maryland's other nickname is much more widely known: "The Free State."

This is a 20th-century slogan. It refers to the stubbornly independent nature of Marylanders during the era of Prohibition.

While many states strongly backed the ban on alcohol, Mary-land and its politicians -- led byGov. Albert C. Ritchie -- were defiantly anti-Prohibition: They fervently believed in state's rights, letting each state make its own determination on how to handle the use -- or non-use -- of liquor.

A famed editor at The Sun, Hamilton Owens, came up with the nickname "The Maryland Free State" for a satirical editorial he was writing. He never published it, but he used the slogan in other editorials and columns.

The name stuck: Maryland, where people are determined to be free so they can make up their own minds on social issues of the day. "The Free State." It has a ring to it -- certainly more than "The Old Line State."

If that's not to your liking, here are some other possible expressions that would have been better choices for a Maryland coin:

* "The Star-Spangled Banner State." Put those words above a rendering of rockets a-glare over Fort McHenry and Mary Pickersgill's famed flag. It's patriotic. It has an instant connection to Maryland history. And it promotes Fort McHenry as a tourist destination.

* "Chesapeake Country." Picture this phrase with an engraved outline of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge and sailboats on the glimmering water. It would have put Maryland's best natural feature on the quarter.

* "The Blue Crab State." Tying Maryland and its people to a succulent and sought-after entree would surely have drawn public attention to this state. Think of the thousands of gourmands who would have glanced at their Maryland "crab quarters," started salivating, and booked a flight to Baltimore.

* "Fatti maschii parole femine." The founding Calvert family's motto inscribed on the 1632 Great Seal of Maryland. It's an Italian expression that stirs passions.

One dated translation -- "Manly deeds; womanly words" -- has prompted decades of arguments about its sexist connotations. The state's archivist, though, prefers a more modem (and politically correct) translation: "Strong in deeds, gentle in words."

Going with "Fatti maschii..." would have lent an air of mystery to the Maryland quarter. We'd be following the example of the Latin expression on the existing quarter, "E pluribus unum" -- which few readers can translate. (The correct response: "Out of many, one.")

* "Land of Pleasant Living." My personal favorite. Sure, it stems from a highly successful advertising campaign for National Bohemian beer. But it encapsulates what many Marylanders feel is the joy of residing here.

Our quality of life -- the temperate climate, mix of North and South, historic ties to this country's founding, ideal Mid-Atlantic location and wondrous natural resources -- is something we should tell the nation about. Especially on a 25-cent commemorative coin.

"The Old Line State"? It's hardly a quarter worth saving.

Barry Rascovar is a deputy editorial page editor.

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