One of the tests for an Eastern Shore connoisseur is their recommendation for the ultimate book that captures the real land of the Chesapeake. The region has had its fair share of remarkable narratives, including Chesapeake by James Michener, The Floating Opera by John Barth, Beautiful Swimmers by William W. Warner, and the talented short stories of Gilbert Byron, Sophie Kerr, and James B. Cain. But the hands-down favorite for many of these Shore lovers is one that many have never heard of Hulbert Footner’s Rivers of the Eastern Shore.
Hard to find and never published on Kindle, his account of the seventeen rivers of the Eastern Shore and the communities founded on their banks, nonetheless, has had legendary status since it was published in 1944. Footner, at the time, had reached literary notability with some 60 detective stories, as did highly popular travel journals by canoe in the Pacific Northwest and Canada. He also had decided that the state of Maryland was to be his home decades before the Eastern Shore project, and he realized, as did his publisher, that America was fascinated by the history and character of this very old part of the New World.
The book was a hit when it was published, but sadly Footner only had six months to experience that success before he passed away at 65 that November. And it has remained a hit as countless Eastern Shore fans have frequented used bookstores and eBay to locate their copy.
But last year, through the dedication of Footner’s granddaughter, Karen, and Schiffer Publishing, a second edition of Rivers of the Eastern Shore was related. Teaming up with one of the Shore’s current gifted writers of the Chesapeake, Tom Horton, who wrote the new introduction, the 2nd edition is an entirely faithful reproduction of the original, including the gifted and sometimes humorous pen-and-ink sketches of Aaron Sopher.
Karen Footner stepped by the Spy studio a few weeks ago to talk about her grandfather, his remarkable account of a pre-Chesapeake Bay bridge Shore, and his frank account of the white settlers and the scars left behind.