Way outside the Beltway, bigwigs from D.C. retreat to St. Michaels

October 01, 2005|By CHRIS GUY | CHRIS GUY,SUN REPORTER

ST. MICHAELS -- So that might have been the secretary of defense who just strolled by with a security detail following at a discreet distance. It might even have been the vice president of the United States out shopping or dining along Talbot Street, the main drag in this 300-year-old Eastern Shore village.

Most likely, it was a foursome of friends - Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney and their wives - enjoying an outing during a weekend getaway at the waterfront second homes the couples have bought just two miles apart on the outskirts of town.

Anybody caught gawking is a tourist.

Not that folks in this little town of 1,200 on the Miles River are oblivious. They've seen the two stalwarts of the Bush administration plenty of times now.

Rumsfeld came about two years ago, buying a $1.5 million vacation home. The Cheneys are probably still getting settled in the $2.67 million place along San Domingo Creek they bought a couple of weeks back.

It takes more than a convoy of black sedans or SUVs with tinted windows rumbling into town or a Marine Corps helicopter setting down on the lawn of the elegant Inn at Perry Cabin to impress the local residents.

Take Paula Hodges. At 54, she's semi-retired (she works when she wants to) and a veteran of 20 moves in 28 years, following her husband's job demands.

One of those stops happens to have been in San Clemente, Calif.

"I lived two houses down the beach from Nixon," Hodges says. "These guys put their pants on one leg at a time just like everybody else. I guess I'm not impressed by celebrity. This is no big deal."

Rumsfeld and his wife, Joyce, have become familiar figures in upscale restaurants, shops and boutiques of St. Michaels. Two years ago, they bought a historic 4.4-acre waterfront estate on Broad Creek called Mount Misery. You can see a little of the house past a metal gate that blocks the driveway.

Most folks, says store clerk Gloria Luksch, take the occasional hoopla of a visit in stride. Some - herself, for instance - might want to consider curbing their enthusiasm for the two Cabinet members.

It was about a month ago that Luksch, 67, spotted the Rumsfelds as she drove past Audrey Julian and Co., the home furnishings shop where she works part time. Luksch pulled alongside the couple, lowered the passenger side window and gave the defense chief a jaunty thumbs-up sign.

It wasn't until later that she thought how the gesture might have looked to the two burly security types walking behind Rumsfeld: "I guess it could've looked like I was pointing a gun. I pulled up right beside him and yelled, `Hello, Mr. Secretary,' out the window."

The Cheneys have been frequent guests in the area in recent years, turning up with the Rumsfelds in town or eating out at some of the ritzier restaurants here or in nearby Easton.

The couple also has spent time at the farm of former Treasury Secretary Nicholas F. Brady along the Choptank River near the town of Trappe. The defense secretary has hunted there. For months, rumors flew in the Talbot County real estate community and among in-the-know Republicans that the couple was also looking at a farm near Brady's.

Cheney apparently drove a hard bargain on the 9-acre property near St. Michaels. It is a three-bedroom home but is said to have several large rooms for entertaining.

Of course, it features expansive views of San Domingo Creek from the 75-year-old Cape Cod that was listed at $2.9 million. No word on where the Secret Service bunks.

Solitude is pretty much guaranteed by a quarter-mile gravel drive with a sign that reads "private road." Then there's a tree-lined drive behind white brick pillars and a white wooden gate.

Chief Ed Henry, who heads the seven-member St. Michaels police force, says federal authorities usually advise him when Cheney or Rumsfeld is in town. It's a courtesy call, he points out, since both houses are a mile or two beyond the town limits and the men bring their own security.

Bob Snyder, the real estate agent who sold the Cheneys their house, doesn't think there's any tangible boost to St. Michaels in being known as a fun spot for famous rich people. After all, Talbot County's 600 miles of waterfront are already loaded with the anonymous well-to-do.

"I just don't buy it that people are going to drive two hours from Baltimore-Washington down here on the off chance that they'll see somebody famous without makeup," said Snyder, who is vice president of the Town Council.

Nearby residents say Rumsfeld enjoys walking winding roads in his neighborhood, surrounded by marshes and cornfields, goldenrod and soybeans that make the area seem far from the bustle of touristy St. Michaels. The Cheneys, so far, are said to be occupied with renovations to their place.

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