Wye neighbors uneasy over possibility of Gonzalezes' arrival

News crews anticipate arrival of Elian, father at historic Shore site

April 24, 2000|By Scott Calvert | Scott Calvert,SUN STAFF

QUEENSTOWN -- Just before 3 p.m. yesterday, the ABC News crew got a hot tip: A motorcade shuttling Elian Gonzalez and his father from Andrews Air Force Base to a secluded Eastern Shore retreat had reportedly reached the Chesapeake Bay Bridge.

Satellite dishes on TV trucks whirred skyward, and video cameras swung into place at Wye Plantation.

But as the minutes passed, there was no trace of 6-year-old Elian or Juan Miguel Gonzalez at the Aspen Institute's Wye River Conference Centers. The closest thing to a motorcade was the herd of Black Angus cattle lumbering across a nearby field, mooing all the way.

And so, the small cluster of media types kept waiting for Gonzalez.

If the famous Cubans ever arrive, as it has been reported they eventually may, the bucolic grounds in the middle of nowhere will be thrust into the world spotlight for the third time in recent years.

In the fall of 1998, President Clinton orchestrated a high-profile Middle East peace summit on the property. And in 1995, Israeli and Syrian negotiators met there.

While news operations geared up for Elian's latest uprooting -- this one apparently designed to give father and son space while a federal appeals court decides the boy's fate -- neighbors expressed unease.

Rather than feel pride at the prospect of another 15 minutes of fame for their community, many worried about losing, even temporarily, the peace and quiet that attracted them in the first place.

"We'd rather they didn't," said Rose Hemsley, who lives with her husband on Wye Island, just over the bridge from the retreat's stately Colonial brick buildings.

"We hope they got him out in California or something," said her husband, William Hemsley III, laughing as he smoked a pipe and waited for steaks to cook on the grill.

The sentiment was the same at Old Wye Church, where parishioners at the Easter service buzzed about Elian.

"I think the consensus is, the less visitors the better," William Hemsley said.

Some residents' opinions were driven in part by their view of the larger picture regarding Elian. One man who did not want to give his name said, "I think he should go back to Cuba."

Down the road at a state wildlife area, Chris Smigo of Queenstown returned from a long walk with his wife, Andrea, and their dogs. He had heard through friends at Aspen that Elian was coming. But by midmorning yesterday, the trip had been canceled, according to his sources.

That would probably be just as well, he said. During the Middle East peace talks, Smigo gazed in fascination at the array of military aircraft hovering overhead. But the intense security -- Secret Service agents on boats, sharpshooters in the woods -- ruined his day off from work.

"We couldn't go to our favorite fishing area," he said.

If the Aspen Institute was preparing for the Gonzalezes yesterday, it did so in stealth. The property looked largely deserted, giving a lonely feel to the brilliant red and yellow tulips swaying in the chilly breeze.

Occasionally a car would venture down the narrow lane graced by split-rail fences. Observers would search for any indication of a 6-year-old boy inside, but each time the occupants appeared to be just tourists taking a short detour off Route 50.

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