A mystery behind the history

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June 15, 2008|By LAURA VOZZELLA

Yes, they started with a costume ball and Queen Anne impersonator, but Annapolis is serious about its history. Maryland's capital has been marking the 300th anniversary of its 1708 charter since September. Last weekend, nine months into the yearlong celebration, it got around to a scholarly symposium on the subject.

The upshot, from an expert in Colonial legal history brought in from New York:

The city has exaggerated the importance of the charter and the role of Queen Anne, who had "little or nothing" to do with the document, said C. Ashley Ellefson, emeritus professor of history at the State University of New York at Cortland.

Yet there's a tribute to Her Majesty, calling her "the mother of elected, democratic government here in Maryland" on the Annapolis Alive! Web site.

Where'd the city get that idea?

That bit was written by "writer and historian Joseph Meany of Samuel Hutton Associates." He had a hand in several aspects of the charter celebration, including arranging for Ellefson and other symposium speakers to come to town.

Where'd the city find Meany?

I tried to ask Karen Engelke, the city's special events coordinator. I never heard back from her, but it seems she didn't have to look far to find Meany.

Samuel Hutton Associates is based out of a Cornhill Street house listed in state records under her name.

Engelke is listed as a "principal" in the two-person firm on a company profile posted on the Web.

Is it really possible that someone in charge of special events for the city could hire her own firm to do work for those events? The Annapolis Alive! site describes how Meany wrote up some history that was posted on a kiosk in the Clay Street neighborhood. "The kiosk project manager was Karen Engelke," the Web site notes. The site makes no mention of Engelke's connection to his firm.

Engelke and Meany did not respond to phone messages seeking comment. Her city voice mail indicated that she was away but would be checking e-mail. She did not reply to an e-mail message.

City spokesman Ray Weaver said he did not know how much Samuel Hutton Associates had been paid. He referred me to the finance department, which was not able to determine Friday how much money, if any, the firm received.

Weaver said he was unaware of any business relationship between Meany and Engelke. Weaver referred me to Engelke and expressed surprise when I said she was away. He wouldn't necessarily know her whereabouts. Seems she mostly works from home.

A historic landmark for democracy - or not

So just what is Professor Ellefson's beef with how Annapolis has been celebrating its charter?

First, he said, there were two charters that year, not one. While they elevated the place to a city, neither established the right to vote nor the first local government in Annapolis, he said. (The "Act for keeping good Rules and Order in the Port of Annapolis" beat the charters to it in 1696.)

The first 1708 charter was a "reactionary" power grab by Colonial Gov. John Seymour and actually took away voting rights, he said. Under protest, Seymour backed down and issued a second charter, which restored voting rights.

Ellefson says the battle that wrought the second charter was important because it set a precedent for limiting executive power. But he calls it "a very small step in increasing the participation of the people in the government."

"They say [on the Annapolis Alive! site] something like, '300 years of democracy,' " Ellefson said. "Well, that's nonsense. The right to vote granted by the second charter was very limited. A great stretch."

As for the queen, there might be a little half-empty, half-full thing going on.

Meany writes on the Web site that Queen Anne "gave her ascent" to the second charter. I think he meant "assent," a royal thumbs-up for democracy. Ellefson only gives her credit for "failing to disallow" the document.

City spokesman Weaver said if there are some historical inaccuracies, they shouldn't get in the way of a good time.

"Well, yeah, there are a whole host of celebrations and days of recognition in America that may or may not be 100 percent based in absolute, engraved-in-stone, historical fact. ... You're going to have Thanksgiving this year. Every year you see the articles about how there was no Thanksgiving, it's in the wrong month, it didn't happen, no turkey. But we still celebrate the spirit of the event, the intent. And the 1708 document was a progressive document, an influential document, I mean as far as the idea of the rule of law. If it's shrouded in some sort of controversy, so is pretty much all of American history."

Connect the dots

Some South Baltimoreans are blaming their new neighbor, Jenna Bush, for shrinking parking options, the Baltimore Business Journal reports. They suspect the president's daughter is the reason why several "no parking" signs have sprouted near her rowhouse. The BBJ wasn't able to reach police spokesman Sterling Clifford, but I did. His initial response: laughter. Then: "If it were true, I couldn't tell you it was true." ... Outside the state agriculture building near Annapolis, The Sun's Larry Carson spied two cardboard traps at either end of the lobby doors. Intended to capture any insects unauthorized to enter the premises, they read, "Ehrlich." The extermination firm is no relation to the former governor. ... Herbert D. Andrews of Baltimore writes: "Apparently sex is simply all over the place. As evidence, I enclose my ticket stub for a viewing of 'Sex and the City' last night at the Rotunda." The stub reads:

"SEX AND THE

Rotunda."

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