Eastport revolt lives in frivolity

Neighborhood ready to celebrate its unique perspective

January 28, 2000|By Amy Oakes | Amy Oakes,SUN STAFF

For folks living in Eastport, the view of the world is a little different.

They consider their close-knit neighborhood, which happens to be in Annapolis, just east of the downtown historic district, to be its own city -- the Maritime Republic of Eastport, or MRE. They have their own flag, their own parliament and their own mascot, a golden retriever. And they refer to that neighboring city, which happens to be the state capital, as "Westport."

Community pride runs deep in this working-class neighborhood, and it should be in fine form tonight as Eastport celebrates its third annual "Independence Weekend."

The festivities begin with the Ambassador's Ball at 7 p.m. at the Eastport Clipper.

The other events, from a dog-and-owner trick competition (best costume, best kisser) to a .05-K run across a short bridge, have been postponed to Feb. 5 due to the weather.

"It just keeps getting better and better," said Jefferson Holland, who has the distinguished title of Eastport's minister of propaganda.

The "secession" happened three years ago, when a group of business owners and residents were looking for ways to survive the State Highway Administration's plan to close Spa Creek Bridge for three weeks. The renovation project shut down the connection between downtown Annapolis and Eastport and had a severe impact on business.

Declaring independence

So, a revolution was born.

Cannons were fired, re-enactors fought and Annapolis Mayor Dean L. Johnson was "kidnapped" as Eastport declared victory and independence from Annapolis. Alderman Ellen Moyer, who represents Eastport on the Annapolis city council, was relieved of her former duties by the MRE and renamed "MRE Ambassador to the Mainland."

In May 1998, a fleet of 30 boats from the MRE Navy sailed up and down Annapolis Harbor, and the MRE renamed it the Gulf of Eastport. And in November, MRE and Annapolis residents held a tug of war on the bridge.

The festivities went over so well that MRE leaders -- with important-sounding titles such as the minister of hounds and the commandant of the Canine Corps of Engineers -- decided to do it again the next year.

More than 2,000 people attended and raised almost $8,000 in T-shirt sales and fees, mostly for charity, Holland said. Local restaurants and bars also got a boost.

A boon for business

Tom Jockel, operating manager of McNasby's Seafood, said the Independence celebration has helped business. The popular seafood house takes part in the celebration by flying the yellow Eastport flag and provides a stop on the restaurant and bar tour.

"It's a real boon for us," said Jockel, "because this is one of our slowest times of the year."

Rather than let a good thing die, MRE officials decided to celebrate independence again this year and for years to come.

Said Johnson this week: "They are still revolting."

Precedent in Key West

If the Conch Republic in Key West, Fla., is any indication, the celebration could last awhile.

The Conch Republic was established in 1982 when Key West officials "seceded" from the United States in response to a U.S. Border Patrol blockade on U.S. 1, north of the Florida Keys. The blockade clogged the only land artery between the Keys and the mainland.

Since former Mayor Dennis Wardlow read the proclamation of secession, Key West has celebrated its independence with 10 days of annual festivities. Thousands of people attend, including a small crew from Baltimore County.

For four years, Deputy Fire Chief Thomas D. Mack has been taking fellow firefighters, friends of the department and nurses to the celebration. The first year, six went, then 30, then 50, and now, 80 are scheduled to go in April.

"We're envoys of Maryland," said Mack, known as the undersecretary for conflagratory affairs in the Conch Republic.

Castaway Travel Crew

Members of the Baltimore County group, who call themselves the "Castaway Travel Crew," take part in the "bloody war" with the U.S. Coast Guard. From their "tall ship," a sailboat, they launch peeled, dyed hard-boiled eggs and slingshot other foods until the Coast Guard "surrenders" every year.

Mack said he and a few others have earned diplomatic passports from the Conch Republic for "their significant contribution to the republic."

It's all in good fun, said Sir Peter Anderson, the republic's secretary general. Anderson advises MRE leaders to keep their celebration fun and inexpensive, so it will never grow old.

"Frankly, they are the new kids on the block," said Anderson, who sent an emissary to Eastport last winter. "We're the most established and we feel we have a lot of advice to offer."

Added Mack, "I don't know what Eastport does, but they can have a lot of fun with it."

To help organize this year, the Eastport Republic enlisted the help of Laura Townsend. She serves as deputy minister of propaganda and Independence Weekend chairwoman.

"It's going really well, partly because the event has a history," Townsend said. "A lot of the work is self-performing."

Paw Crawl on Feb. 5

The events next week will begin with the walk/run across Eastport Bridge at noon Feb. 5 and will conclude with a "Paw Crawl" from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. for owners and their dogs to sample neighborhood restaurants and bars. Re-enactors will fire volleys across the harbor and the Eastport Aerial Reconnaissance Patrol plans a flyover.

The dog-and-owner competition will be held from 1 p.m. to 2 p.m. at Eastport Elementary School. Some of the events have registration fees.

Holland said everyone, even those who live in Annapolis, is welcome to attend the celebration.

"It's like not being Irish on St. Patrick's Day," Holland said. "Anyone can enjoy the fun."

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