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Chloe Effron
Chloe Effron

25 Not-So-Crabby Facts About Maryland

Chloe Effron
Chloe Effron

Maryland has a handful of nicknames and just as many reputations. The state is a study in contradictions—cramming crabcakes, trash-talking, jousting, and the greatest TV show of all time into 12,407 square miles.

1. The colony of Maryland was founded by Sir George Calvert, also known as Lord Baltimore, in 1632. Calvert left his stamp all over the territory, from the state flag that includes his family colors to the city of Baltimore itself.

2. The state seal of Maryland was taken from the aforementioned Lord Baltimore’s family crest. As such, it includes his weird family motto: Fatti Maschii, Parole Femine. Literally translated, this means “Manly deeds, womanly words”—a statement that doesn’t really go over too well these days. Maryland tourism information often rephrases the motto as “Strong deeds, gentle words,” which seems to miss the point. Historians and translators have condemned the motto as “sexist in any language,” and note that “traditions can become embarrassing.”

3. Maryland takes its noble roots seriously. In 1962, Maryland became the first state to designate an official state sport. The selection: Jousting. And it’s not just a formality; to this day, the Maryland Jousting Tournament Association is going strong. Horses not your thing? Maybe you’d prefer lacrosse, the official state team sport.

4. Only in Maryland are members of the Court of Appeals (the state's highest court) called judges; elsewhere, they’re justices. And only in Maryland do those judges wear red robes [PDF]—another throwback to the state’s British roots.

5. Baltimore-based TV series The Wire is widely accepted as one of the best shows of all time. It’s also a favorite of President Barack Obama’s. Like most of us, the president’s favorite character is charming, principled gangster Omar Little. “That’s not an endorsement,” Obama clarified in the Las Vegas Sun.


HBO


6.
Maryland is technically a part of the South. The Mason-Dixon line cuts right between Maryland and Pennsylvania, which didn’t seem like a big deal until the Civil War broke out. As a border state, Maryland’s loyalties were divided. Most citizens supported the Union, although a good number went to fight for the Confederacy.

7. The iconic Maryland blue crab (Callinectes sapidus) was named the official state crustacean in 1989. Only two other states have state crustaceans: Louisiana (crawfish) and Oregon (Dungeness crab). Maryland also has a state dog, the Chesapeake Bay retriever, and a state drink (milk).

8. The Baltimore Ravens were named in honor of famous (and famously miserable) Baltimorean Edgar Allan Poe. The team’s mascots, two ravens named Rise and Conquer, live at the Maryland Zoo, where their favorite hobbies include “stealing food from each other and hiding it” and “tearing up telephone books.”

9. Maryland’s state anthem is really something to behold. The song, which is sung to the tune of “O, Tannenbaum,” was written by a Confederate sympathizer during the Civil War and is essentially one long, bitter rant against Abraham Lincoln and the North. There’s no room for misinterpretation here: the lyrics call Lincoln a “tyrant” and the Union “Northern scum.” And there’s no arguing that it was just picked at a bad time; “Maryland, My Maryland” wasn’t named the state song until 1939. Much to the chagrin of Maryland’s children, the anthem—all nine verses of it—is still part of the public school curriculum.

10. Mother Elizabeth Seton was the founder of a number of Catholic schools and charity houses for poor girls in the 1800s. More than 150 years after her death, the Roman Catholic church canonized Mother Seton, which made her the first American-born saint.

11. Maryland was first called the “Free State” on November 1, 1864, after slavery was abolished within its borders. Nearly 60 years later, it was again referred to as the "Free State" because it refused to participate in Prohibition, and continued to permit the use and sale of alcohol even when it was illegal in the rest of the country. 

12. An impressive 41 percent of Maryland’s land is covered by forest [PDF].

13. The first hot air balloon in the U.S. to carry a passenger launched from Baltimore on June 23, 1784. Tavern-keeper and lawyer Peter Carnes built the balloon based on French designs and sold tickets to the first launch. Carnes didn’t test his creation until the big day came, at which point Carnes learned that he was just too heavy. Thirteen-year-old Edward Warren stepped up and took the ride in his place.

Image Credit: Something Original via Wikimedia Commons // CC-BY-SA 3.0

14. The first Ouija board was invented in Baltimore in an apartment that is now a 7-Eleven. Creator Elijah Bond and medium Helen Peters asked the “talking board” what it wanted to be called. “O-U-I-J-A,” the board allegedly replied. Bond’s bond with his creation was so strong that it followed him into death; there’s a Ouija board engraved on the back of his tombstone.

15. In 1982, the community of Garrett Park became one of the first American jurisdictions to declare itself a nuclear-free zone. The move made headlines, even if the declaration didn’t change much in Garrett Park. “It was really a symbolic gesture,” town hall manager Elizabeth S. Henley told The New York Times. Garrett Park is still a pretty interesting place; its citizens have opted out of home mail delivery, which means that the community’s little post office sees nearly every adult citizen every day.

16. Boring, Maryland, lives up to its name: It's home to a post office, one church, a volunteer fire company and approximately 40 houses. Accident, Maryland, (population: 325), whose residents are called "Accidentals," has a slightly more interesting backstory.

17. Maryland crab cakes may be too popular for their own good. A recent study found that a full 38 percent of Maryland crab cakes contained imported crab. DNA tests identified eight non-Maryland crab species in crab cakes sold throughout the region. “This is kind of a not-so-secret secret in this area,” a representative for the Maryland Department of Natural Resources told TIME magazine. Maryland fisheries simply do not produce enough crab meat to keep up with the demand, he said, so local restaurants get their crab elsewhere. The crustacean fraud pays off—on average, “Maryland” crab cakes cost $2.12 more apiece than their unlabeled counterparts.

18. The first-ever six-pack of beer was sold in Maryland by the National Brewing Company. That company would later become Baltimore’s iconic National Bohemian, or Natty Boh, as the locals call it.

19. Baltimore’s National Great Blacks in Wax Museum is not your average wax museum. The exhibitions do celebrate the contributions and accomplishments of famous African Americans, but they also highlight overlooked or horrific moments in American history. Each year, the museum sees nearly 300,000 visitors.

20. “The Star-Spangled Banner” was written in Maryland in 1814. Francis Scott Key penned the song that would become our national anthem while watching British forces attempting to take the city of Baltimore.

21. Satirist and legendary grump H.L. Mencken called his home city of Baltimore “an immense protein factory” [PDF]. Other famous Baltimoreans include Frederick Douglass, Tyrone “Muggsy” Bogues, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, Adrienne Rich, Babe Ruth, Ira and Philip Glass, Henrietta Lacks, Jada Pinkett Smith, and Frank Zappa.

22. Maryland is home to the country’s first railroad station (1830), first umbrella factory (1828), first telegraph line (1844), and first dental school (1840).

Image Credit: Eric Christensen

23. Maryland’s Smith Island used to be famous for one thing: the layer cake that bears its name. Smith Island Cake, which features between eight and 15 thin layers covered in thick frosting, was named the official state dessert in 2008. These days, Smith Island has a less-pleasant claim to fame: it’s sinking. Scientists estimate the island’s shores might be totally submerged by 2100.

24. The most famous Maryland island may be Assateague, where herds of feral ponies have lived for hundreds of years, eating dune grass and drinking pond water. Whether the animals are true ponies or small, strange horses is up for debate, but everyone can agree that they’re great.

25. Like a crunchy lovechild of Punxsutawney Phil and Paul the psychic octopus, a blue crab named Baltimore Bill had a brief run at psychically predicting the weather. The Old Bay spice company set up two chutes on a dock, one labeled “WARM FALL” and the other “EARLY WINTER,” then let Bill go. In 2012, his predictions failed; in 2013, he was closer to the mark.

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Art
5 Things You Might Not Know About Ansel Adams

You probably know Ansel Adams—who was born on February 20, 1902—as the man who helped promote the National Park Service through his magnificent photographs. But there was a lot more to the shutterbug than his iconic, black-and-white vistas. Here are five lesser-known facts about the celebrated photographer.

1. AN EARTHQUAKE LED TO HIS DISTINCTIVE NOSE.

Adams was a four-year-old tot when the 1906 San Francisco earthquake struck his hometown. Although the boy managed to escape injury during the quake itself, an aftershock threw him face-first into a garden wall, breaking his nose. According to a 1979 interview with TIME, Adams said that doctors told his parents that it would be best to fix the nose when the boy matured. He joked, "But of course I never did mature, so I still have the nose." The nose became Adams' most striking physical feature. His buddy Cedric Wright liked to refer to Adams' honker as his "earthquake nose.

2. HE ALMOST BECAME A PIANIST.

Adams was an energetic, inattentive student, and that trait coupled with a possible case of dyslexia earned him the heave-ho from private schools. It was clear, however, that he was a sharp boy—when motivated.

When Adams was just 12 years old, he taught himself to play the piano and read music, and he quickly showed a great aptitude for it. For nearly a dozen years, Adams focused intensely on his piano training. He was still playful—he would end performances by jumping up and sitting on his piano—but he took his musical education seriously. Adams ultimately devoted over a decade to his study, but he eventually came to the realization that his hands simply weren't big enough for him to become a professional concert pianist. He decided to leave the keys for the camera after meeting photographer Paul Strand, much to his family's dismay.

3. HE HELPED CREATE A NATIONAL PARK.

If you've ever enjoyed Kings Canyon National Park in California, tip your cap to Adams. In the 1930s Adams took a series of photographs that eventually became the book Sierra Nevada: The John Muir Trail. When Adams sent a copy to Secretary of the Interior Harold Ickes, the cabinet member showed it to Franklin Roosevelt. The photographs so delighted FDR that he wouldn't give the book back to Ickes. Adams sent Ickes a replacement copy, and FDR kept his with him in the White House.

After a few years, Ickes, Adams, and the Sierra Club successfully convinced Roosevelt to make Kings Canyon a national park in 1940. Roosevelt's designation specifically provided that the park be left totally undeveloped and roadless, so the only way FDR himself would ever experience it was through Adams' lenses.

4. HE WELCOMED COMMERCIAL ASSIGNMENTS.

While many of his contemporary fine art photographers shunned commercial assignments as crass or materialistic, Adams went out of his way to find paying gigs. If a company needed a camera for hire, Adams would generally show up, and as a result, he had some unlikely clients. According to The Ansel Adams Gallery, he snapped shots for everyone from IBM to AT&T to women's colleges to a dried fruit company. All of this commercial print work dismayed Adams's mentor Alfred Stieglitz and even worried Adams when he couldn't find time to work on his own projects. It did, however, keep the lights on.

5. HE AND GEORGIA O'KEEFFE WERE FRIENDS.

Adams and legendary painter O'Keeffe were pals and occasional traveling buddies who found common ground despite their very different artistic approaches. They met through their mutual friend/mentor Stieglitz—who eventually became O'Keeffe's husband—and became friends who traveled throughout the Southwest together during the 1930s. O'Keeffe would paint while Adams took photographs.

These journeys together led to some of the artists' best-known work, like Adams' portrait of O'Keeffe and a wrangler named Orville Cox, and while both artists revered nature and the American Southwest, Adams considered O'Keeffe the master when it came to capturing the area. 

“The Southwest is O’Keeffe’s land,” he wrote. “No one else has extracted from it such a style and color, or has revealed the essential forms so beautifully as she has in her paintings.”

The two remained close throughout their lives. Adams would visit O'Keeffe's ranch, and the two wrote to each other until Adams' death in 1984.

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presidents
George Washington’s Incredible Hair Routine

America's Founding Fathers had some truly defining locks, but we tend to think of those well-coiffed white curls—with their black ribbon hair ties and perfectly-managed frizz—as being wigs. Not so in the case of the main man himself, George Washington.

As Robert Krulwich reported at National Geographic, a 2010 biography on our first president—Washington: A Life, by Ron Chernow—reveals that the man “never wore a wig.” In fact, his signature style was simply the result of an elaborately constructed coiffure that far surpasses most morning hair routines, and even some “fancy” hair routines.

The style Washington was sporting was actually a tough look for his day. In the late 18th century, such a hairdo would have been worn by military men.

While the hair itself was all real, the color was not. Washington’s true hue was a reddish brown color, which he powdered in a fashion that’s truly delightful to imagine. George would (likely) don a powdering robe, dip a puff made of silk strips into his powder of choice (there are a few options for what he might have used), bend his head over, and shake the puff out over his scalp in a big cloud.

To achieve the actual ‘do, Washington kept his hair long and would then pull it back into a tight braid or simply tie it at the back. This helped to showcase the forehead, which was very in vogue at the time. On occasion, he—or an attendant—would bunch the slack into a black silk bag at the nape of the neck, perhaps to help protect his clothing from the powder. Then he would fluff the hair on each side of his head to make “wings” and secure the look with pomade or good old natural oils.

To get a better sense of the play-by-play, check out the awesome illustrations by Wendy MacNaughton that accompany Krulwich’s post.

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