February 2019 Sky-Watch


Looking due south on clear winter nights in February, sky-watchers can find 6 bright constellations and see 8 of the top 20 brightest stars, as seen from Earth. These include the brightest of all, SIRIUS, the “dog” star, in the constellation Canis Major. Also by 9:00 pm local time in mid-February, the first sign of approaching spring is heralded by the appearance of Leo the lion, rising above the eastern horizon.

Start half-way up to the zenith (top of the sky), looking south for the “hour glass” shape of Orion the hunter. Three equally bright stars in a neat line in the center of Orion mark the “belt” around the waist of this mighty hunter. Red giant star BETELGEUSE (upper left corner), and the blue giant star RIGEL (lower right corner), are two of the eight 1st magnitude stars of winter. Orion also boasts 5 bright 2nd magnitude stars, which include the three belt stars.

Moving one’s eyes through the belt stars, down and left, points us to SIRIUS, twinkling near the southern horizon. Using the belt stars of Orion again to point up and to the right brings us to red-orange ALDEBARAN, brightest star in Taurus the bull. The bull’s head is made of stars forming a distinct V-shape in this Zodiac constellation.

Above Sirius, and slightly to its left is Canis Minor, a constellation of only 3 stars, that represents the smaller or Orion’s two hunting dogs. Brightest of the 3 stars is PROCYON. Just above this is the Zodiac constellation GEMINI, the twins. The two stick men formed by Gemini’s stars are headed by two more of winter’s brightest stars, POLLUX and CASTOR.

Above Gemini and nearly at the zenith is Auriga, the goat herder constellation, which has a pentagon shape. The brightest star in Auriga is CAPELLA, a yellow star like our Sun, but much larger.

Leo the lion is also a part of the Zodiac and one of the brightest of the spring constellations, but in February Leo introduces itself as a sure sign that spring is coming by rising above the eastern horizon then. Leo reaches its peak in April and May. The bottom star at the front of Leo is yet another 1st magnitude star to be seen in February it is called REGULUS.

Mars, among the planets, remains easy to see in the evening southern sky, but it fades in magnitude from +0.9 to +1.2 through February. Is continues to move further away from us in its orbit. even telescopes will not bring in much surface detail now because of this distance.

Mercury will give us its best views of 2019 from February 15th to February 26th. On the 15th Mercury, at magnitude –1.1, may be seen left of where the Sun set 30 minutes afterwards. But it will only be 5 degrees above the western horizon then. However, Mercury rises higher each day until by the 26th it will be 18 degrees left of the Sun, which will translate to 11 degrees of altitude, 30 to 45 minutes after sunset.

The pre-dawn eastern sky features 3 planets this month. The first up (around 4:00 am) will be Jupiter (-2.0 magnitude). On the morning of the 27th, the waning crescent Moon will be just 2 degrees above Jupiter. Venus comes up some 30 minutes after Jupiter in the East, and be even brighter at –4.2. Venus will appear in almost the same spot in the sky as Saturn on the morning of the 18th. Venus then will be only one degree above the ringed planet Saturn, which will be at magnitude +0.6. Find a good clear view to the eastern pre-dawn horizon all month to watch all 3 of these planets in the one to two hours before sunup.

Full Moon for February is on February 19th.

Mt. Harmon Wins Chestertown Horsemen’s Cup


Steve and Holly Isaacson from the Friends of Mt. Harmon (left) are receiving the Kent County Cup from last year’s winner, Chestertown horseman and this region’s fox hunting master Ed Fry

Attracting large numbers of horseback riders to historic Mount Harmon Museum Farm on the Sassafras River has drawn national attention to this rural tourism destination site and earned its owners the Kent County Cup from the Chestertown Horsemen’s Club.

Steve and Holly Isaacson from the Friends of Mount Harmon have been recognized for adding horse activities to the estate’s many tourist options. “At a time when museum farms face dramatically declining visits by younger Americans, the Isaacson’s have provided U.S. historic preservationists with a new “best practice” option, says Dave Turner, founder of Chestertown Horsemen’s Club in Kent County, Maryland. “Horseback riding definitely enlivens such sites. “It’s tragic when museum proprietors fail to promote horseback riding at their sites,” says Turner, “or, worse when they ban horses from properties where horses were a key feature for hundreds of years.”

In particular, the 269-year old estate hosts a wintertime “paperchase” event. More than 150 equestrians ride trails and jump obstacles along a path laid out by Mount Harmon organizers. In addition, Friends of Mt. Harmon offers special Equestrian Memberships to the public, which allow people to ride at the estate between May and October. “Such rides add to the spectacle for regular tourists,” says the group’s President Steve Isaacson. The Friends host regional and national military re-enactments that feature dragoons (Calvary units). “This year’s Paperchase raised $4,500 for the group,” says Isaacson, who is also a local farmer. “The Paperchase is my wife Holly’s brainchild.”

Friends of Mount Harmon, Inc., is 21 years old and is credited with restoring and maintaining the colonial Georgian home, which is on the National Register of Historic Places. The group has approximately 900 members, a number of whom participate in the unique Equestrian Membership option. The group depends on fundraising to keep the site available to the public. Like a growing number of other museum farm, Mt. Harmon provides river kayaking, nature trails for birders, and opportunities to help with locating Native American camps, slave cemetery sites, and slave dwelling footprints. Currently, Mt. Harmon has located one such locale and is in process of rebuilding the slave house. The effort is to show visitors a hands-on replication of an 18th century tobacco farm in the mid-Atlantic region. The Tockwogh Tribe inhabited the area when Captain John Smith visited in 1609.

Future equestrian projects for Chestertown Horsemen include assisting with the development of a full-scale equestrian park in the vicinity, a Heritage Horse Day Celebration in cooperation with the Historical Society of Kent County, and the establishment of a riding trail alongside Kent County’s railroad tracks. A course on Chestertown’s recreational horse activities was offered in this season’s WC-All curriculum. The group’s Kent County Cup is maintained in the council chambers at Chestertown Town Hall. Previous winners were Mr. Harry Sears and Master of the Foxhounds Ed Fry.

For information about joining Chestertown Horsemen contact Turner at dathistory@gmail.com.

Holidays Bring Hope and Help to the New Year


Rev. Jim Van de Wal of Chester Valley Ministers Association watches as a Salvation Army brass band plays in the sanctuary of First United Methodist Church during the Community Sing-Along, Dec. 16.  –  Photo by Jane Jewell

The holidays–from Thanksgiving through New Year– bring joy, fun, parties, giving and getting, family reunions, lots of music — and help for the needy.

One such holiday tradition in Chestertown is the Feast of Love, held Christmas day at First United Methodist Church on High Street.  A full Christmas dinner, featuring turkey and a wealth of tasty side dishes and desserts, the Feast originated in 1984. Discontinued after about 10 years, it was revived in 2007 by then-pastor Rick Vance and has carried on ever since under the guidance of Yvonne Arrowood. Christmas music, including the singing of “Happy Birthday” to Jesus, is a part of the tradition. The meal is open to all, without reservations or payment — donations are accepted to help defray the costs, though many of the dishes are donated. Volunteers do the cooking, serving, and clean-up.

Volunteers on the serving line at the Feast of Love Christmas Dinner at First United Methodist Church on Dec. 25, 2018 – a twenty-plus year tradition.    –   Photo by Bill Arrowood.

Entertainment at the Feast of Love Christmas dinner.  (Sam Scalzo, center on alto sax with Yvonne Arrowood on his right)  –   Photo by Bill Arrowood.

This year’s feast drew a full house — around 200 attendees. They included college students, seniors, singles and family groups — in short, anyone who has no local family to join for the holiday meal, or who would like to spend part of the holiday with a larger “family.” It’s not unusual for families to bring out-of-town relatives to the feast.  The church also sponsors a free community dinner every Monday at 5:30 pm except holidays.

Stephanie King was the pianist for the Community Sing-A-Long. –  Photo by Jane Jewell

This was the second year that the Chester River Valley Ministers’ Association (CMVA) organized a community caroling event. The CVMA is a group of local ministers and lay people organized to support a variety of programs for the needy in Kent and Northern Queen Anne’s Counties. Last year well over 100 people came together in Fountain Park.  This year, on account of rainy weather, the event was moved indoors to First United Methodist Church.  But despite the drizzle, about 50 people came out to raise their voices in joy for the season.  Stephanie King accompanied on piano, and a brass quintet from the Salvation Army played several carols. In addition to the Christmas carols and songs, the program included three Hanukkah songs, led by Cantor Gary Schiff, and two texts for Kwanzaa read by Reverand Bobby Brown.

In addition to bringing people together to sing, the event also helped to raise money for the CVMA’s Good Neighbor Fund. The Good Neighbor Fund makes one-time grants to residents in need of emergency funding to cover an unexpected expense such as emergency housing, medical bills, utility bills, or working with landlords to avoid evictions. The fund is partially funded by a grant from United Way of Kent County.

Audience at the First United Methodist Church for the Community Sing-A-Long. –  Photo by Jane Jewell

Sponsors of the Community Sing-Along were the Chestertown Spy, the Peoples Bank, the Kent County Arts Council, Tidewater Trader, Kent County News, WCTR Radio, Kent Printing, the Town of Chestertown and JBK Hardware.

The Good Neighbor Fund is also a community partner of the Samaritan Group, which operates a winter homeless shelter, open January to March in three local churches. The shelter opened Jan. 2 at the Church of the Nazarene in Kingstown, with 15 beds available. It will move to First United Methodist Church at the beginning of February, and on to the Presbyterian Church of Chestertown for March. The shelter is open every day from 5 p.m. to 8 a.m., at which time guests must vacate the shelter unless the weather makes that inadvisable. James Diggs, the pastor of the Nazarene Church, is the shelter coordinator.

Cantor Gary Schiff spoke about Hanukkah and sang several traditional songs. –  Photo by Jane Jewell

Shelter guests are referred by local churches, the Salvation Army, the Good Neighbor Fund, or the Kent County Department of Social Services, which screens all the guests. Guests must remain alcohol- and drug-free during their stay. Community volunteers remain at the shelter overnight to make sure everyone’s needs are met. They also prepare meals – a hot dinner, a breakfast, and a bag lunch – for guests. The Samaritan Group also tries to help guests who need to attend school or get to work while staying at the shelter. This year, the shelter has all new cots, mattresses, pillowcases and sheets, thanks to generous support from donors.  Donations are still needed to get through the winter season.

During the remainder of the year, the Samaritan Group finds accommodations in local motels for those in need of emergency shelter. For information on the shelter, or to volunteer or donate, call 443-480-3564 or email samaritangroupkent@gmail.com.  Checks may be sent to Samaritan Group or Good Neighbor fund care of Chester Valley Ministers ‘Assocaiton at PO Box 227, Chestertown, MD 21620.   More information and the volunteer form can be found at the Samaritan’s website.

Feast of Love Christmas dinner. at First United Methodist Church, Dec 25, 2018  –   Photo by Bill Arrowood.


Rev. Bobby Brown read the main tenets of Kwanzaa.

Salvation Army solo-ist, Jason Collier.  –  Photo by Jane Jewell

Washington College Donates $43K to United Way of Kent County


Washington College will donate $43,130 to United Way of Kent County this year, a sum made possible through payroll deductions and donations from 89 participating staff and faculty and a match from College President Kurt Landgraf.

“I want to thank all of the staff and faculty who have stepped up to donate even a small amount, and in the coming year I hope we can top 100 employees who are donating,” Landgraf said. “I know that it’s not always easy to choose how you’re going to give back to your community, but I can’t think of a better organization to support. United Way can lift up whole segments of our community’s population that need help the most, and that in turn helps us all.”

Landgraf also specially thanked Adam Goodheart, the Director of the College’s Starr Center for the Study of the American Experience, who on his own made a substantial one-time gift. Including that gift, staff and faculty raised $18,130, which Landgraf “matched” with a donation of $25,000.

Members of Washington College’s staff and faculty stand in Martha Washington Square to celebrate the United Way contribution this year.

“If United Way of Kent County can meet its $220,000 campaign goal, Washington College will have accounted for 20 percent of that total,” said Sarah Feyerherm, Vice President of Student Affairs and Dean of Students, and a member of United Way of Kent County’s Board of Directors. “Combined with all of the ways members of the College community support the United Way in other capacities, this really illustrates the College’s commitment to the greater community.”

Landgraf energized the College’s giving to United Way last year, when he asked employees to consider signing up for a payroll deduction and pledged to match whatever they raised. The total donation in 2017 was $28,154, which included $14,154 from staff and faculty, and $14,000 from Landgraf.

United Way of Kent County raises and distributes funding to multiple organizations, with a focus on improving the health, education,and financial stability of Kent County residents. In addition to the College’s donations through the workplace campaign, the College has directly supported or provided resources for many United Way member organizations including Character Counts! Kent County, the Kent Center, St. Martin’s Ministries, the Community Food Pantry, Camp Fairlee/Easter Seals, Horizons of Kent and Queen Anne’s Counties, Girl Scouts of the Chesapeake Bay Council, Kent Forward, For All Seasons, Echo Hill Outdoor School, and the Mid-Shore Council on Family Violence.

About Washington College

Founded in 1782, Washington College is the tenth oldest college in the nation and the first chartered under the new Republic. It enrolls approximately 1,450 undergraduates from more than 35 states and a dozen nations. With an emphasis on hands-on, experiential learning in the arts and sciences, and more than 40 multidisciplinary areas of study, the College is home to nationally recognized academic centers in the environment, history, and writing. Learn more at washcoll.edu.

Remembering Judy Kohl


As reported by the Chestertown Spy a few days ago, local Kent County philanthropist and arts leader Judy Kohl passed away at the age of 79 on December 4th. Through the Hedgelawn Foundation, Judy, and her family, have given generously to the region’s nonprofit organizations and schools, leaving a extraordinary legacy in helping our treasured arts and cultural institutions.

In response to public interest, the Spy is sharing two video interviews with Judy Kohl as she talks about her life and steadfast commitment to education, music, and art in Kent County.

Margie and Mickey Take A Bow: The Elsburgs Acknowledged at MSCF Awards Program


It seems like it was a combination of appropriately acknowledging Marge and Mickey Elsburg for their two decades of volunteer work on the Mid-Shore and some very good luck yesterday as the Mid-Shore Community Foundation awarded the couple their highest honor on Friday afternoon.

The Elsbergs received the Town Watch Society Award for countless hours of service to nonprofit organizations in Kent County and throughout the Mid-Shore since they moved to Chestertown in 1993. From leading roles with the Sultana Education Foundation, Chester River Health Foundation,  Horizons of Kent and Queen Anne’s, Junior Achievement, the Mid-Shore Community Foundation, and a host of other nonprofits, large and small, they both have personified  the best examples of volunteerism on the Eastern Shore.

The good bit of luck was due to the fact that the Elsbergs recently made the decision to leave the Shore to be with their son and family in Hanover, New Hampshire. With their home sold in Chestertown, they will be heading north soon. The Spy suspects we have not seen the last of them, but it seems like the perfect time for Margie and Mickey to take a bow from a grateful community.

This video is less than a minute in length. For more information about the Mid-Shore Community Foundation please go here


Chestertown Stages a Dickens of a Weekend


Chestertown’s second annual Dickens of a Christmas weekend, happening December 7-9 in the historic downtown district, promises non-stop entertainment, authentic British foods, hand-crafted gifts, a holiday house tour, and a Victorian streetscape that transports visitors back to 1840s London.

A fundraising preview party, Ebenezer’s Soiree, will fill The Bank, 211 High Street, with Victorian holiday spirit Thursday evening, December 6, from 6:30 to 9:30.  Mr. Scrooge, himself, will host, and Queen Victoria is expected to attend. Victorian garb or festive cocktail attire are encouraged. Tickets, $85, are available on the event website (dickenschestertown.org).

The weekend kicks off Dec. 7 at 5 p.m. with a fabulous First Friday celebration. In addition to extended shopping hours, there will be horse-carriage rides past 18th and 19th century homes, firepits with caroling and storytelling, a fiery performance by the DC-based Pyroxotic dance troupe, and live music by international Celtic favorite The American Rogues

The venue for Friday night’s special entertainment is the 300 block of High Street adjacent to Fountain Park. Fires will offer warmth, and the Community Food Pantry will sell S’mores and hotdogs to cook over the flames.  From 5:00 to 6:30, Marcia Gilliam and friends will lead caroling, and master storyteller Jake Swane will weave original tales.

The Pyroxotic dancers, who bewitched crowds at last year’s festival with their flaming dance routine, will be back in greater number this year, and with the addition of fire-eating and fire-breathing performers. Their show is set to begin at 7:30 p.m.

The Garfield Center for the Arts presents Tiny Tim’s Christmas Carol, playwright Ken Ludwig’s charming retelling of Charles Dickens’ classic tale, three times during the weekend: Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 3 p.m. To reserve tickets, visit garfieldcenter.org.

This year’s carriage rides will offer three experiences: an elegant two-person carriage ($5 per person), a six-person vis-à-vis ($2 a person), and a vintage wagon that seats 10 to 12 (free, donations welcome).

The fun continues Saturday morning from 10:00 on, with a London Row of artisan-made products and a full schedule of entertainment.  The Main Music Stage will include two sets by the American Rogues (10 and 3), plus popular regional groups Dovetail, Harp & Soul, and River Voices.

Street performers include the Big Whimsy stiltwalkers from Baltimore, Phydeaux’s Flying Flea Circus, juggler, stiltwalker and comedian John Hadfield with his mind-reading dog, Reggie, and  minstrel Jerry Brown.

Educator and performer Terry Borton brings his authentic American Magic Lantern Show to the Garfield Theater for three free holiday shows, at 11:00 a.m., 1:00 p.m. and 2:30 p.m.  The precursor to motion pictures, the Magic Lantern shows delighted Victorian audiences with beautiful projected images, live drama and music, and boisterous audience participation.  Borton, a fourth-generation lanternist, and his pianist will recreate holiday stories, both comic and poignant, in a show recommended for ages 6 and up. Reservations are requested via DickensChestertown.org.

A tour of eight historic homes near the river will take place from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. There will be live music at several of the houses, along with the holiday decorations. Tickets, $30 a person, are still available at dickenschestertown.org. Last year’s tour was a sell-out.

Food vendors will offer everything from traditional Scotch Eggs, Fish ’n Chips, and oysters to sausage rolls and hand pies. Beer, wine and mulled wine will be available along with apple cider and hot chocolate. Local restaurants and pubs will have special Dickens menu items, from gin-punch bowls to Beef Wellington.

Saturday night, 6 to 9 p.m., the casual Beers and Bonfires party at the foot of High Street offers craft beers, firepits and fish and chips  by the River Packet. Weather permitting, the American Rogues will provide an acoustic musical backdrop from 7 to 8.

Sunday morning, starting at 8 a.m. (registration opens 7 a.m.), participants in the Run Like the Dickens 5K run and walk will course through downtown, looping into the Chester Cemetery to awaken the ghost of Marley, and returning along the rail-trail.  Participants can register online at dickenschestertown.org.

WC’s Caring for Kids Club Helps Local Youngsters Who Need Extra Food


It’s Wednesday evening, and the Student Events Board resource room looks a little like a grocery store stockroom as about half a dozen students pull foodstuffs from cardboard boxes, stacking them neatly on the tables in the center of the room and counting as they go.

Sophomores Zachary Blackwell and Hanna Flowers count out cans of food.

Chicken noodle soup, tomato soup, ravioli, fruit cups, juice boxes, milk boxes, cereal, macaroni and cheese—all get stacked and counted. And then begins the coordinated ballet of bagging, as the students circle the table over and over, filling small back plastic bags with one of each item.

“It’s a pretty whirlwind kind of a thing,” says sophomore Hanna Flowers of the weekly job of the College’s Caring for Kids Club. “You just come in and get stuff done.”

On Friday morning, two of the club’s representatives will deliver the bags to Maureen Ranville, the guidance counselor at Garnett Elementary School, who will then distribute the packages to students from pre-K through fifth grade who qualify for the Weekend Backpack Program.

“Right now we have 65 students on the program,” Ranville says. “They are free- and reduced-lunch students or students who are homeless … who have a need for extra food on the weekends.”

: Sophomores Jada Aristilde and Hanna Flowers share a laugh as they fill food bags

For senior Courtney Vicisko, a biology major and French minor who is co-president of Caring for Kids, it’s something that she’d never even thought about until she joined the club as a freshman. Now, she says, “It’s become something I care so much about.”

“It really puts things into perspective for people,” she says. “It’s really hard to wrap your head around the idea that this could even be a problem, that there are kids in Chestertown without enough food to eat.”

Ranville says there’s definitely a need. Garnett has 370 students, and although 65 are signed up for the program this fall, that number is frequently higher. The limit the school can manage, she says, is 75.

“Most of the kids’ parents receive assistance for food stamps or food assistance, but this just helps give them extra for the weekend,” she says.

The club coordinates with the Maryland Food Pantry, which provides the food. The students meet to pack that week’s delivery, also stockpiling bags for the weeks when they are gone over winter break. Sometimes, the WC students throw a little something special into the bags, like cookies or notes.

“It may seem like a small thing,” Vicisko says of the backpack program, “but it’s a huge deal to the people it’s helping.”

December 2018 Sky-Watch


Astronomical conjunctions are events that bring two or more objects together into the same area of the sky, as seen from us on Earth. Conjunctions of 2 or 3 planets, 1 or 2 planets and the Moon, or a planet and a bright star can provide sky-watchers with memorable sights. Two fine planetary conjunctions will grace our December night skies this year.

The first involves Mars and Neptune. Mars is conspicuous at magnitude 0.0 among the dim stars of Aquarius in the southern sky. Neptune, on the other hand, is so far away and thus so dim, that we cannot see it at all without optical aid. But the two planets will appear so close that Mars will point the way to see Neptune —- provided we use binoculars.

On December 1st, Neptune’s dim bluish light may be seen just slightly above and left of Mars. Five days later on the 6th, Mars’s faster orbital speed will have closed the gap between them even more, so that Neptune will appear nearly on top of Mars! The next night, December 7th, the two will have switched, with Neptune then seen just below and right of Mars. It is rare to have the great guide, such as Mars is providing, to find something so faint as Neptune (magnitude +7.9). Indeed, it will not be until October 19, 2210 that Mars and Neptune will again appear this close together to us!

The second conjunction occurs in the pre-dawn southeastern sky between Jupiter and Mercury. Mercury reaches its greatest western elongation from the Sun on December 15th, which puts it 10 degrees above the southeastern horizon, 45 minutes before sunrise, at magnitude –0.4. Jupiter’s orbit is making it appear to rise higher each day in December, and after the 15th, Mercury will appear to descend toward the giant planet. On December 21st, Mercury and Jupiter will be seen less than a degree apart, about 8 degrees above the horizon and 45 minutes before sunup.

Meanwhile, Venus is rising around 4 am in the eastern sky and is at maximum brightness, –4.9 magnitude on December 1st; fading only to –4.6 by December 31st. Look at Venus especially on the morning of December 3rd, when the waning crescent Moon will hang just 5 degrees above it. (another beautiful conjunction!) Saturn is losing altitude in the southwest evening sky, but can be seen in twilight on December 8th, 7 degrees above the horizon, with the waxing crescent Moon sitting just above it.

Despite these wonderful conjunctions, perhaps December’s best event is the annual Geminid Meteor Shower, which peaks on the night of December 13/14. The Geminids are one of the three best meteor showers of the year and this year the Moon will have set when it is at its best for viewing —– between 1 am and 5 am. Up to 120 meteors per hour may be seen from this shower, which appears to come from the constellation Gemini. Gemini is nearly overhead by 1 am on December 13th, and over toward the western sky until 5 am. To spot the longest meteor trails, look 30 to 50 degrees away from Gemini itself —– and dress warmly. December nights are cold.

Finally the 32nd Annual Planetarium Xmas Program; this year titled —- “What Christmas Means to Me” —– will be presented by the Kent County High School Planetarium and Radio Station —– WKHS FM 90.5 ——– beginning at 7:00 pm on December 14th, and continuing on December 17th, 18th and December 20th and 21st. As usual our program blends a good dose of stars and astronomy with the rich traditions of Christmas. We welcome all 1st-time visitors and all sky-watchers, and others, who have made our show an annual event for themselves.