Al Hammond

Catching up with Al Hammond: The Life of a Science Writer and the Death of Bay Broadband


In the Chestertown Spy’s continued effort to explore the nooks and crannies of our community, and the people that live here, a few weeks ago we caught up with longtime science writer Al Hammond, who is slowly but surely devoting most of his time these days on the Eastern Shore. It seemed like a good time to talk to Al.

While Hammond is well known as an editor of one of Science Magazine’s most successful publications, his name might also sound familiar for another reason; namely, the founder of the local and now deceased internet provider, Bay Broadband.

Before our readers start sending poisoned emails expressing anger on the subject of Bay Broadband and its bankruptcy, throwing hundreds of its customers off the internet for months, it’s important to note that while Al invented the concept and secured the $4 million needed to start the company, he was forced out of his own company only six months after operations began in 2004.

What is remarkable however was Al’s original idea, which planned to provide most of the Eastern Shore with high-speed internet connections twelve years ago.

This video is approximately six minutes in length 


Move Over Jason Bourne; Author Robert Whitehill Plots a Hollywood Future for Eastern Shore Action Hero


If author Robert Whitehill has anything to say about who the next Jason Bourne will be, that new action hero will be none other than his character, and Eastern Shore native, Ben Blackshaw.

For the last four years, Whitehill, who grew up in Chestertown, has carefully crafted his main character with all the skills needed fo saving the world from nuclear bombs and evil psychotics, including being a former Navy SEAL. The added twist to Blackshaw however is his Chesapeake Bay roots and his Smith Island background that brings a certain Eastern Shore intelligence to his capers. And to add to the complexity of the character, Blackshaw is, above all else, a celebrated decoy carver in the tradition of the Ward Brothers of the lower Shore.

In his Spy interview, Robert talks about his character and the four books he has already completed in a series of ten.  He also talks about the business of spy novels as he prepares to move Ben Blackshaw’s stories to Hollywood.

This video is approximately six minutes in length

Over Water by Jamie Kirkpatrick


Screen Shot 2016-05-03 at 9.08.34 AMThe fourth hole at the little golf club I belong to in Chestertown is a par three over water.  It’s not a long carry, but no short shot survives; misjudge the wind, under club, or hit it fat and you are doomed. You can make a mistake long…but never short. Yet another life lesson on the links: take an extra club; if you’re long, you’re still in the game. Hit it short and you’re wet…and dead.

I’ve hit it short a few times: a bonehead mistake in high school that haunts me to this day; a failed first marriage; a job that was so wrong that I was fired within a year (or would have been if I hadn’t quit). But I’ll say this for myself: I learn my lessons. Now, I always choose a longer club. I might not hit the green every time, but if I err, it’s not because I’ve underestimated the wind or all the water that lies between me and the green. I’ve just failed to execute. Strangely, I can live with that.

In today’s analytical world, the problem often lies in some perceived misconstruing of data—at least that’s where we aim to place the blame. We rarely accept responsibility for our faults and as a result, lessons that might be learned go their carefree way. Far better to be accountable: that way, lessons can be learned, errors can be corrected, obstacles can be overcome.

When I struggle on the golf course, I go to the range or the practice area or if I’m really wise, I seek help from the club pro. He’s a perceptive and unassuming young man who teaches or corrects with a gentle hand. But change never comes easily. I’ve learned that after a lesson, my game doesn’t improve overnight. It takes time to incorporate a new skill or to “unlearn” a bad habit. There’s even a lesson in that, too: I don’t expect miracles or immediate results. I’ve learned that progress takes two things: sweat and time.

Now I’m not suggesting that golf is all about struggle or overcoming obstacles.  On number four, for example, the sound of a ball landing softly on the green instead of splashing in the pond is something to savor, a moment of pure auditory bliss. The same is true about life. Many sages—Nietzsche, Frederick Douglass, Pope Paul VI, and Oprah Winfrey, to name just a few—have encouraged us to find beauty in the struggle or that without it, there can be no progress. I don’t disagree, but sometimes I believe progress can be evolutionary, not revolutionary. We only have to let progress happen, to let it unfold like a blossom in spring. The Eagles reminded us to “Take it Easy” while Gabriel Garcia Marquez, one of the greatest writers of our time, put it this way: “Don’t struggle so much. The best things happen when not expected.”

So: back to the tee on number four. It’s a beautiful day, the course is practically empty, the breeze is gentle. It’s early in the round but I’m with my friends and my swing feels fluid and easy. The pin is forward. I select a 7 iron and settle in over the ball. Everything is as it should be. I take the club away in a long, graceful arc; a breath of a rest at the top; a descending blow…

What sound did you just hear?

Jamie Kirkpatrick is a writer and photographer with homes in Chestertown and Bethesda. His work has appeared in the Washington Post, the Baltimore Sun, and the Philadelphia Inquirer. “A Place to Stand,” a book of his photographs, was published by the Chester River Press in 2015. He is currently working on a collection of stories called “Musing Right Along.”


Ruth Starr Rose: The Importance of the Artist


In the third and last special coverage segment of the art exhibition Ruth Starr Rose (1887-1965): Revelations of African American Life in Maryland and the World, the Spy continues with a discussion of the artist herself.

While Rose exhibited at institutions including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, she remains in relative obscurity. The Spy spends time in this segment talking to art conservationist Ken Milton, who was the first to discover Rose’s work, and the descendants of her subjects, to understand how remarkable her work has become over the years.

This video is three approximately minutes in length


Donald Trumps The New Yorker by George Merrill


I subscribed to The New Yorker, recently. I’d let my subscription slide some years ago and when I saw a good subscription deal, I took it. I received my new copy, and thumbed through the pages looking at cartoons.

To my surprise, all the cartoons in this edition were, as Trump himself is, all about Donald Trump. The New Yorker cartoons, as I recalled, were usually random, going from one social, religious, and political issue to another. Trump had clearly trumped all the cartoon selections appearing in April’s edition of The New Yorker.  

I counted no less than seventeen cartoons making oblique or direct references to many of Trump’s signature features. Among them included Trump’s vanity, his buffoonery, and his grandiosity. One cartoon sketched facial grimaces in which he appears to be having excruciating gas pains and another in which he looks petulant like a child whose mother just told him no, he couldn’t. Another targeted his folksy verbiage, “really terrific,” another his divisive rhetoric; still another his bizarre selection of advisors, and his naïveté around world issues.  While not everybody’s Renaissance man, he is every cartoonist’s bonanza. He remains, as with most narcissists, blissfully self-confident. For some, this is an attractive attribute. For citizens scared witless for their country and feeling powerless to do anything to make it safer, a presidential candidate with an aura of confidence, even bluster will give heart to some.

Comedians and cartoonists love prickly personalities. They are the mother’s milk of satire. Years ago Jon Stewart on the Daily Show aimed almost all of his spoofs at George W. Bush’s malapropisms and his administration that included the hawkish figures of Cheney and Rumsfeld. He’d also given President Obama a rough ride at times.

Trump presents as the archetypal adolescent. He loves shattering boundaries, demanding the center of attention, talking tough and name-calling. Some Americans confuse his provocative demeanor with credible political vision.

It turns out that his persona is similar to the “Ugly American,” a term that first appeared in the 1958 novel of that name by authors Lederer and Burdick. The book highlighted the political and diplomatic types during the cold war. It revealed how isolated, arrogant, loud and insensitive American diplomats and politicians – Americans in general – were in contrast to those of the Soviet Bloc. Soviet diplomatic teams were careful and sensitive in dealing with the subtleties of the people they wished to influence. The Soviets were superior diplomats. The book was a critique of American attitudes of superiority and entitlement that undermined our diplomatic and political activity.

Today’s climate is like the one in 1958 when the book ‘The Ugly American” was written. Then the cold war was in full force.  Nuclear arms race was underway, and Vietnam had been brewing on the horizon. The Russians launched Sputnik in 1957, casting doubts on America’s technological proficiency. Today, terrorism, gun violence, racism, bullying, immigration, economic inequity and unrest are our hot button issues.

Trump is so unapologetically self-referential, I wonder whether he could actually do the work required to meet the needs of others, and be able to engage in the give and take essential to the democratic system. Whatever happens, it seems for Trump, is all about him.

I don’t think Trump is the issue, however. He represents the shadow side of the American psyche that many find glamorous. He’s the straight man for one of America’s claims to entitlement, usually phrased, ‘we’re the greatest and most powerful country in the world.’ Our cowboy mentality is alive and well.

After 9/11 America joined the rest of the world as one nation among others as vulnerable as the rest of the world had been for centuries. It was humbling, but it led to a more thoughtful way of understanding just what our greatness is about. It’s not that we are the best, the most powerful, but that we have been singularly blessed. A need to be first, often breeds exceptional and entitled attitudes.  Those who understand how much they are blessed, act gratefully and with a measure of humility.

Compared to Trump, political figures like Secretary of State John Kerry who actually serve our country have far lower visibility in the media. Grandstanding is not going to create a better world.  If there are still inspiring images out there that can define what’s best about America, and many Americans, I’d vote for the one I saw on TV recently. Secretary John Kerry was signing the climate agreement he helped broker at the U.N. While signing the treaty, he is holding his granddaughter in his arm. It’s a powerful statement, a hopeful one about responsible world leadership and of serious and dignified diplomacy. I see in the image of Kerry one profile of those who work selflessly to insure a safe world for our children and grandchildren.

The picture may have included Kerry but was not all about him.  It was about the world that he, among others, cares about and works with quiet dignity to heal.

That trumps all.

Ruth Starr Rose: Spirituality on the Eastern Shore


As part of the Spy special coverage of the art exhibition Ruth Starr Rose (1887-1965): Revelations of African American Life in Maryland and the World, we continue with a discussion of spirituality on the Eastern Shore and a primary theme of her work.

Ruth Starr Rose not only documented the spirituality of her subjects through her artwork but was an active member of the St Stephens AME Church in Unionville herself after moving to Hope House. And it was through this church connection that Rose was befriended by Unionville and Copperville residents and who eventually became subjects of her art.

Over the last six months, the Spy interviewed a few current and former Unionville residents to understand the importance of spirituality in these small communities and its role in the daily life of African-Americans on the Eastern Shore.

This video is approximately three minutes in length

Ruth Starr Rose: Revelations of African American Life in Maryland and the World
April 30 to June 16
The Waterfowl Building
40 South Harrison Street
Easton, Maryland


Ruth Starr Rose: The Importance of Unionville


As part of the Spy special coverage of the art exhibition Ruth Starr Rose (1887-1965): Revelations of African American Life in Maryland and the World,  we begin with a discussion of Unionville, Maryland, the source of her work and one of the great historic communities on the Eastern Shore.

Founded by eighteen African-Americans after returning to Talbot County at the end of the Civil War in 1865, Unionville still remains today an exceptional close-knit community that inspired Rose both spiritually and artistically while she raised her family at Hope House.

Over the last six months, the Spy interviewed a few current and former Unionville residents to understand the specialness of this small town, and its sister town, Copperville, to capture this powerful sense of community and pride that Rose depicted in her work.

This video is approximately three minutes in length

Editorial: The Importance of Ruth Starr Rose


Some thirty-five years ago, the stepson of a deceased local artist stepped into the Chestertown studio of art conservationist Ken Milton with the idea that Ken may have some interest in his mother’s work. Ken agreed to look at the art, and a few weeks later, Ken and Dick Rose met at Rose’s Colchester home to look at Ruth Starr Rose’s portfolio.

Remarkably, the artwork was not protected inside steel cabinets, or even carefully stored in an attic, but instead on Rose’s back porch. It was quite apparent that the paintings had been exposed to the elements for many years, but as Ken began pulling the art into the daylight, it didn’t take him long to realize he had come across something quite amazing.

Screen Shot 2016-04-26 at 10.59.16 AM

Ruth Starr Rose

One by one, images of beautifully dressed children, handsome men in suits, pretty women in dresses, all African-Americans, started to emerge while Dick Rose slowly recalled his mother’s love for her neighbors in Unionville, who had become Ruth Starr Rose’s subjects for most of her career.

Over the next three decades, Milton would painstakingly repair and restore a significant number of her work, but it wasn’t until art historian Barbara Paca noticed one of them in his studio a few years ago that a unique partnership formed to find and protect Ruth Starr Rose’s work and the legacy of the families of Unionville and Copperville.

The cumulative effect of that hard work has finally emerged, and starting Friday, through the generosity and vision of the Dock Street Foundation, it will be on display at the Waterfowl Building for the next seven weeks. It might be the most important art exhibition ever to be shown on the Eastern Shore.

That may be in part due to Ruth Starr Rose’s skill as an artist. Trained at the Maryland Institute College of Art in the early 20th century, Rose quickly adopted a form of portraiture that demonstrated superior ability. But to place emphasis exclusively on the artist’s mastery would tragically misunderstand why Ruth Starr Rose’s art is so relevant. As competent an artist as she was, it was her subject matter that makes this exhibition the powerhouse that it is.

When she moved to Talbot County after her marriage, Rose rejected the temptation to continue her artwork with drawings of the Chesapeake Bay landscape or waterfowl in flight, and instead chose to concentrate on human portraits. But rather than work on traditional subjects of the times, like wealthy estate owners and their children, Rose instead was drawn into the community and its church that lay just outside her door.

And it is this cumulative impact of art, community, and spirituality that Rose brought to her portraits of African-Americans that makes this so invaluable to the Eastern Shore and its history. At a time when racial tensions still remain high, Rose’s work brings into focus a different kind of world of beauty, pride, and humanity.

From documenting families to finding visual imagery for traditional spirituals, Rose depicted the quiet dignity and historical relevance of Unionville and its residents in ways rarely seen. It was through this artist’s eye that one is reminded of the real Eastern Shore, and its African-American communities of strong families, local heroes, and breathtaking history.

Over the next few days, the Spy will be sharing some of that history with its readers to entice many on the Shore to make the trip to Easton to see Ruth Starr Rose: Revelations of African American Life in Maryland and the World. This once in a lifetime event not only brings to life a part of the Eastern Shore too often ignored or misunderstood. but it will remind us again of what a special place it truly is.

Ruth Starr Rose: Revelations of African American Life in Maryland and the World
April 30 to June 16
The Waterfowl Building
40 South Harrison Street
Easton, Maryland

Swimming Laps by Jamie Kirkpatrick

Arturo Alfonso Sandoval  is the artist who painted The Swimmer

Arturo Alfonso Sandoval is the artist who painted The Swimmer

Friends of mine recently redecorated the living room of their condo in Florida. They have wonderful taste in art and to my mind, the centerpiece of the room is a large painting that hangs over the fireplace (yes, they have a fireplace in Florida) in which a swimmer in a pool is headed out of the image. All you see are calves and ankles and the shimmering water. I love it!

I wonder where she is going. (I can tell it’s a female swimmer because of the shape of her legs and the delicate rendering of her ankles.) Maybe she’s swimming laps or just taking a quick dip or even skinny dipping. I like that possibility best. The pool looks clean and serene, the most private of places.

Two other elements of the painting captivate me: the play of light on and in the water and the pool’s ladder, reaching up and down simultaneously. The ladder is both a way in and a way out of the water..and of the painting. My swimmer didn’t just dive into the pool; she slipped into the water. There are only gentle ripples around her, not much more of a disturbance than that. Also, she is moving away from the ladder as though she changed her mind : maybe she has decided to swim just a little while longer; maybe she’s avoiding some task that awaits outside the languid comfort of the pool; maybe she’s exercising or just daydreaming. Can’t tell.

All I know is that she’s not out of the water yet; she’s choosing her element. There’s something else about my swimmer: she’s underwater. I imagine she’s holding her breath, her cheeks are puffed out, her eyes bulging as she breaststrokes her way toward the other end of the pool. Maybe it’s just a game (can she make it all the way to the other end?) or maybe she just loves the silence of the underwater world. I know I do.

So what’s the big deal? It’s only a painting. No, it’s more. There’s a life here and a story to go with it, a life and a story stretching far beyond the frame of the canvas.

The painting gives us a glimpse of that story—a ladder going down into its depths, if you will—but at the borders of the painting, it’s my imagination that takes me the rest of the way. I don’t ask much more from art than that.

Or from writing. Sometimes when I write, I feel like that swimmer in the painting. I’m in a silent place, a world unto myself, a world that buoys me up and makes me feel lighter than my considerable earthly pounds. My stories are my laps. Sometimes they are wholly contained within the framework of a few paragraphs, but at other times, they extend far beyond a few hundred words on the page—at least I hope they do. Sometimes, like the swimmer in the painting, I too am holding my breath, eyes bulging, lungs about to burst, and I wonder if I’ll make it to the far end of  story before I drown. But somehow I do. I break the surface and gasp for air, happy to be refilling my lungs again.

And then I turn, push off the wall, and do it all over again.

Jamie Kirkpatrick is a writer and photographer with homes in Chestertown and Bethesda. His work has appeared in the Washington Post, the Baltimore Sun, and the Philadelphia Inquirer. “A Place to Stand,” a book of his photographs, was published by the Chester River Press in 2015. He is currently working on a collection of stories called “Musing Right Along.”