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Urgent News Break: Possible Tornado Slams Virginia Campground

Northampton County Board of Supervisors declared a local state of emergency

Cherrystone campground is shown Thursday morning in this photo posted on Twitter by Jordan Bertok.

Cherrystone campground is shown Thursday morning in this photo posted on Twitter by Jordan Bertok.

Two people were killed and more than two dozen were hurt at Cherrystone Family Camping & RV Resort on Virginia’s Eastern Shore, with injuries ranging from cuts to broken bones, officials said. In Virginia, State Police spokeswoman Corinne Geller confirmed the deaths. Geller said emergency personnel searched the area for additional casualties, and survivors got bused to a high school set up as a temporary shelter

At 8:38 am, the National Weather Service sent out a tornado warning for the area. The twister hit the Cherrystone Campground, near Cape Charles, shortly before 9:00 am.

About 1,300 people were at the campground, readying for a summer day of swimming pools, mini-golf, pier fishing and other activities at the 300-acre resort in rural Northampton County.

Peter Glagola, spokesman for Riverside Shore Memorial Hospital, said the hospital was treating more than two dozen patients as of Thursday afternoon, most of which were in fair condition with injuries ranging from cuts to broken bones. Glagola said more patients were expected to be brought to the hospital, which is about 30 minutes north of the campground. One patient in critical condition was flown to VCU Medical Center in Richmond, he said.

Hospitals in Virginia Beach and Norfolk had been preparing for mass casualties but had received just three patients, one of which was taken to a nearby children’s hospital, said Sentara Healthcare spokesman Dale Gauding.

Coast Guard spokesman Petty Officer 3rd Class David Weydert said crews also were responding to reports of boats overturned in the water in the area. Boaters pulled at least three people from the water, he said.

The Northampton County Board of Supervisors declared a local state of emergency later Thursday morning, shutting down regular county government functions to concentrate on storm recovery, said Janice Williams, assistant to the county administrator. With about 12,000 population, it is among the smallest of Virginia’s 93 counties.

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Otter Lending a Hand


The Calvert Marine Museum sent me a cute picture of their otter mascot taking a sledge hammer to a wall to showcase their new renovation. Due to the extraordinary growth of both the museum’s educational programs and the number of events taking place inside the museum, they are expanding their facilities.

Over the last 40 years, the Calvert Marine Museum has grown from a modest community-based operation created to preserve and celebrate Solomon’s history to a premier educational facility serving a regional and national audience. Since opening in 1970, nearly two million visitors have visited the museum, and they expect another million during the next ten years.

The museum and Museum Store are open and will remain so until January 1, 2014. The renovation is estimated to be completed in March 2014.

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Winter at the Beach: Part 3

Banff Merman on display at the Indian Trading Post: Wikipedia: InverseHypercube

While the coast of Delaware may have been treacherous, the Zwaanendael Museum celebrates the rich history of Sussex County by highlighting its maritime connections and stories of the people who lived and worked along Delaware’s southeastern coast.

I found the set of jaw molds altered to display the progress of scurvy particularly interesting, but then my sense of humor often devolves to the level of your average 10 year old. Similarly, the museum has one of two “authentic” mermen specimens in the state. This artifact is actually currently relevant.

Now referred to as Fiji mermen the objects are made up of the torso and head of a juvenile monkey sewn to the back half of a fish, covered in papier-mâché. It was a common feature of sideshows, which was presented as the mummified body of a creature that was supposedly half mammal and half fish, a version of traditional mermaid stories.

The exhibit which created the Fiji mermaid concept was popularized by P.T. Barnum, but has since been copied many times in other attractions, including the collection of Robert Ripley. The original exhibit was shown around the United States, but was lost in the 1860s when Barnum’s museum caught fire.

These events took place at around the time people discussed Charles Darwin’s 1859 book On the Origin of Species, as it was reviewed by Thomas Henry Huxley in the April 1860 issue of the Westminster Review. People from all stations of life began to question their place in the natural order. Hoaxes like the Fiji Mermaid were easily played on unsuspecting sea captains and visitors to the islands.

Welcome to the Zwaanendael Museum, a showcase for Lewes-area maritime, military, and social history

This story was first published in the News Journal in 2008, under the byline of Gail A. Sisolak. All copyrights reserved.

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Winter at Beach Part 2: Deep Sea Treasures

Coral encrusted china displayed as art object at Discover Sea Shipwreck Museum
© Gail A. Sisolak 2012

Objects recovered from lost ships can be viewed at the Discover Sea Shipwreck Museum, Fenwick Island, Delaware. An every changing display of coins, jewelry, china and ship artifacts, some recovered from the coast of Delaware and the Chesapeake Bay, tell tales of maritime history. You can try your hand looking for loot along Delaware’s Coin Beach, located north of the Indian River Inlet. The best time for beachcombing is after a nor’easter, said director Dale Clifton. If your hunt is unsuccessful you can always purchase recovered coins at the museum. (

Fabulous jewelry recovered from shipwrecks
© Gail A. Sisolak 2012

Explorer, diver; shipwreck historian Dale Clifton displays artifact prior to cleaning and identification
© Gail A. Sisolak 2012

This story was first published in the News Journal in 2008, under the byline of Gail A. Sisolak. All copyrights reserved.

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Sea-going Adventures Cruising the Chesapeake: Part 1

The foamy waters of the Chesapeake veil murder, mayhem and mystery.  About 10,000 shipwrecks sit at the bottom of the bay, of which approximately 2,500 have been identified by name or record, said Donald G. Shomette, acclaimed underwater archeologist and author of 14 books including “Pirates on the Chesapeake” and “Shipwrecks on the Chesapeake.”

Some may, or may not, be Spanish Ships of Exploration.  The Spanish sailed the Chesapeake since the 17th Century, with a mandate to wipe out all English settlers.

One persistent legend involves The Tangier Island Wreck, said Shomette.  In 1926 following a blowout of the bay, the exposed shoals revealed the skeleton of a shipwreck.  Was it a wooden sailing ship dating from the golden age of frigates or was it a fraud?  The oystermen of Tangiers Island quickly explored the buried shipwreck and found some copper things and an item identified as a “pillow sword.”

The Baltimore Sun picked up the story and rumors of the sword piqued the interest of collectors.  Yet it mysteriously disappeared, before its authenticity could be verified.

Shomette said the tale is not out of the realm possibility, there are indications the Spanish were on the Chesapeake in the early 1600’s.  However, replicas of these swords were popular during the Civil War and later during the 1880’s “Oyster” Wars when Chesapeake Oystermen used anything available.

The shipwreck disappeared again beneath the waters of the bay, keeping its secrets and waiting to be revealed again to future generations.  It shares the Chesapeake with wrecks from the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, the Civil War, and World War I.

The British fortified Tangiers Island during the Colonial period since they found brackish waters there.  There are at least 17 shipwrecks in the immediate vicinity of Tangiers Island, said Shomette, and one was used by the British as a navigational beacon during the War of 1812.

Pirates on the Chesapeake

Pirates sailed the Chesapeake from 1610 to 1807, said Shomette, and tobacco was their gold.  Piracy was a democracy, as portrayed in recent movies.  The crew voted where they wanted to go and left when they wanted.

There are legends of buried treasure on the Chesapeake, as there are anywhere pirates raided.  In one local story, said Shomette, the pirates sailed into port and began spending freely.  Since the Chesapeake is a fairly small body of water, everyone knew everyone else.  You were a sailor, a fisherman or a pirate.  Sailors were at the bottom of the social ladder; if someone showed up in port spending freely; with more money than he should have, then he was a pirate.

The officials arrested the pirates, but didn’t find all of their stolen goods.  The treasure was believed to be buried near the port the pirates where apprehended.

Not all pirates planned a life as outlaws.  Many Tories fled to Tangier Island and went a-pirating during the Revolutionary War.  Escaped slaves also joined pirate crews, often with dire consequences.

Oyster Piracy and Oyster War

Oyster Wars: Wikipedia

Crisfield, Maryland was not a pirate town in the traditional sense.  It was created for the support of the oyster and shellfish industries and by the late 1800’s, Crisfield was every bit as wild and dangerous as San Francisco in its hay day.  Gamblers, prostitutes and sailors roamed the waterfront in a port that had as many ships registered as Baltimore.  These ships plied the thriving oyster trade and the oysterman guarded their fields viciously.

Oyster Pirates: Wikipedia

Shomette said ships were armed with cannons and the oystermen fought in “knock down, drag out battles to the death” over their grounds.  Oyster pirates raided the grounds of rival oystermen at night, stealing the prized oysters from their beds. Crisfield became notorious for shanghaiing sailors.  Unscrupulous ship captains would meet the boats in Baltimore harbor, shanghaiing German immigrants for two years. The captains would pay off the sailor’s two-year contract “by the boom”—killing their men with a blow to the back of the head and dumping their bodies into the bay. Maryland and Virginia both maintained navies to protect the oyster ships and try to stem the tide of shanghaied sailors.

This story was first published in the News Journal in 2004 under the byline of Gail A. Sisolak. All rights reserved.