Wednesday, May 12, 2010

J. Millard Tawes Historical Museum Photography Exhibit and Crab Shanty Dedication

"Keep your eyes on the future, but never forget your past."

Last week, I attended the  J. Millard Tawes Historical Museum open house. Crisfield has a rich heritage and thanks to the Crisfield Heritage Foundation, that history is being kept alive. There's nothing worse than progress erasing or filing away a town's history in some dusty bin. The old and the new must go hand-in-hand. We are lucky to have dedicated people who work tirelessly to make sure that our history remains in the forefront.

At the open house, guests were treated to two new exhibits that were a direct result of the strong partnerships between the Crisfield Chamber of Commerce, The City of Crisfield, Crisfield Events, The Somerset County Arts Council, the Lower Eastern Shore Heritage Council, Somerset County Tourism, Somers Cove Marina, and the Community Foundation of the Eastern Shore.

The two exhibits were 72 years apart...One a black and white photography exhibit - read the interesting history below about how the museum acquired the photos - and the other a high tech view of the very basis of Crisfield's maritime heritage - a Crab-Cam! 

Visitors can now view crabs and other bay-critters in a crab shanty from inside in the museum, on the Internet, or walk outside and see them up-close and personal. There are also live demonstrations by Austin Cox, Sr. 

The photos - Crisfield comes home...
 "In August of 2009, the museum was contacted by Mr. John LeBaron, a retiring photography instructor at Santa Rosa Junior College in Santa Rosa, California.  He wrote that he had a number  of photographic negatives containing historical images of Crisfield, Maryland.  A student had passed the negatives along to him in 1970, after purchasing them at a Sonoma Valley yard sale.
The images are on 4 3/4 x 3 1/2 nitrate cut film.  This type of film predates safety film and the base that supports the film's emulsion is highly flammable.  Nitrate based films have been the source of many movie theatre fires including the Crisfield fire of 1928 that began in the Arcade theatre and eventually destroyed ninety buildings in the downtown business area.

Mr. LeBaron freely donated the entire lot to the Crisfield Heritage Foundation, as he desired to see the negatives go into hands where their historical value was appreciated. utilized, and researched.

In May of 1938, Crisfield was in the grip of the Great Depression as well as a city wide strike by 600 crab pickers.  Citing competition from other areas, some crab house owners had reduced wages for the hand picking of crab meat from $.07 to $.05 per pound.  While one crab picking house had unionized the previous year, Michael Howard, representative of the Congress of Industrial Organizations and secretary of the Baltimore Industrial Council, attempted to organize the remaining workers under the United Cannery, Agricultural, Packing, and Allied Workers of America.

The potential for violence was great.  With the oyster season ending in April, oyster houses closed idling shuckers and two garment factories had shutdown indefinitely.  In all, about 1200 workers were unemployed.  A National Labor Relations board representative was evicted from a local hotel and escorted out of town and a CIO organizer's automobile was overturned and burned.

The images seem to have been created with a purpose.  While documenting Crisfield and the seafood industry they also expose the difficult living conditions of some of the industry's workers and the striking contrast between rich and poor.  While reports of the strike appeared in the Salisbury Times, Baltimore Sun, and Washington Post, none of the photographs did.  To date the foundation  has not established who created the images or why."

If anyone has any information on the photos please contact the museum.

You will have to visit the museum to see all the photos.

But I can show you the fun...

That's Austin Cox Sr., on the right, with Steve Marshall.

Camera stand off...

People love to cut up with me...

 Crisfield Mayor P.J. Purnell, left, and Terry Pehan.

Charlie Adams has a long history with Crisfield, so much that he has his own corner in the museum. One day, I will do a post on Charlie.

Crisfield Heritage Foundation Executive Director Chris Tyler shows off the Crab-Cam.

Outside the museum...

Dedication of the Austin Cox Crab Shanty.

Thanks to Curator Tim Howard for all his hard work. 

*Copy detailing history of photos are property of the Crisfield Heritage Foundation and the J. Millard Tawes Museum.

1 comment:

Lew said...

It is nice that those old negatives returned home to Crisfield and they look like they yielded good prints.