Pride of Baltimore
Adam Goodheart (one of the great names of all time, right up there with Buzz Aldrin) is a Maryland historian who works out of a 1740s waterfront house on the Chester River.
If Goodheart had been looking out his window this past fall with the ability to be in two places at once (a trick every successful historian needs to perfect), he would have seen Adam Goodheart sailing down the Chester River on the Pride of Baltimore II.
“As I'm working at my desk—often thinking and writing about American history—it's a gift to be able to look out the window and see a waterman tending his pound nets just as people have been doing on this river since prehistoric times,” said Goodheart, author of the bestselling 1861: The Civil War Awakening.
When imagining the difficult lives of the long-dead gets the best of him, Goodheart takes to the Chester.
“No better therapy than to take out my little Boston whaler for a run downriver on a summer afternoon,” he said. “Just to feel the sun and wind on my face and watch the eagles and the ospreys.”
Just before Halloween last year, Matthew Sweet—true heir to the melodies of Carole King, Brian Wilson, and Todd Rundgren—played songs of heartbreaking pain and beauty at the Avalon Theater in Easton to celebrate the 20th anniversary of his “Girlfriend” album.
That same weekend, Goodheart and about 30 others, including some of his Washington College students, sailed the Pride down the Chester as part of an annual downrigging ritual.
Downrigging, which marks the end of the sailing season, is the letting loose of the lines—ropes, rigging, and, thus, the sails—for another year. On October 28, the ritual took place in Chestertown for the Pride II, a retro 1812 topsail schooner, as genuine a Baltimore Clipper as Brooksie was the Duke of the Hot Corner.
One of the Washington College students on board was Henry Eschricht, enrolled in Goodheart’s “Study of the American Experience” course.
“When it comes to the Pride of Baltimore or any other ship, you can read as much as your heart desires and look at endless pictures, but that only does so much,” said Eschricht, an aspiring historian.
“There is no substitute for being on board. Seeing a crew work her ropes, climb her masts, chant her songs, and fire her guns was humbling.”
In an observation wise beyond his 20-odd years, Eschricht noted that there isn’t much about classroom experience—not the subject, but the manner in which the subject is absorbed—that is humbling. (As opposed to humiliating, which many an unfortunate student has endured since the days of Plato.)
And then young Henry launched into as fine a testament to the good work taking place at Washington College as any PR brochure for prospective students.
“I have blood that belongs on the water, my father a sailor, my grandfather a naval captain, and my ancestors pirates and marine biologists,” said Eschricht.
“On numerous sunny days, I’ve biked down to the docks with my laptop and textbook to do homework with my feet dangling over the river, just collecting myself before diving into one of Adam Goodheart’s daunting reading assignments.
“One day, I thought of all my friends who are at prestigious Ivy League schools and imagined them studying in the grandiose libraries of Penn and Yale, surrounded by thousands of old books in the same spot as some of the greatest minds have been.
“They could in no way be as happy as I was with my open-air library.”
For, on the Eastern Shore, said Goodheart, history is in the air.
“The past,” he said, “is a palpable presence.”
Contact Rafael Alvarez at email@example.com.