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When Pa Was Young - Skating the Bay
Edward Sampson Phipps

Image: Rug 1 - When Pa Was Young - Skating the Bay
When Pa Was Young - Skating the Bay
Edward Sampson Phipps
Tell Me ‘Bout Series, 1993-1994.
Dimensions: 45" X 69", 21.5 square feet
Hooked on twelve thread count linen; Hand-dyed wool strips cut on 3/32", 5/32" and 6/32" wheel.
Views: 800px - 1024px - Zoom

Commentary by Mary Sheppard Burton

My Grandpa (whom everyone called "Pa") would don his ice skates in the early morning hours, pick up his flask of corn whiskey, and step out on the icy Wicomico River at Salisbury, Maryland. Strong as an ox, he'd head downstream for the river's mouth, where he entered the Chesapeake Bay. Sunrise over the marshlands brought sounds of teeming marsh life to a shrill pitch. These sounds matched the rhythm of his blades as they etched across the ice. This was a beautiful, happy time broken occasionally by a brief rest and a little swig of corn mash. On he glided out into the bay past the Watts Light. His eyes and heart set the pace and he made his course up the eastern edge of the bay--past the Little Choptank and Big Choptank Rivers and through Kent Narrows.

Pa passed many lights (lighthouses) along the way. Most of the old ones are long gone beneath the sea, bent crooked by tides, or even destroyed by fire! All the lights he passed and their dates are seen on this rug. When Pa got to Love Point, he turned due west and skated across deep ice. No ships could break through this ice. Those that waited too long were ice­bound. Sea captains seldom ran such a risk.

The Bay was just 'bout four miles across. On a clear day Pa could see Greenbury Point Light on the western shore near Annapolis. A small whale shaped weathervane was attached to the top of the lantern. Pa knew he was making great progress when he reached Greenbury Point. Sometimes, if night was near, he'd "hole in" with watermen friends along the way. Wouldn't it have been fun to listen to their stories?

After leaving Greenbury Point, Pa headed up the western edge of the Bay past other beautiful lights -each one closer to Fells Point, and good eating, warm fires, stories to tell, and beautiful ladies.
 
One time when Pa arrived almost blue with cold in his bones, there were two handsome gentlemen awaiting him. They wore velvet coats and beaver hats. As engineers, they were charged with the task of building the first railroad bridge across the Susquehanna River. It was to be at the very spot where George and Martha Washington crossed on their way from Virginia to Philadelphia. Having learned of Pa's great strength and skating feats, they wished to hire him to dive into the river's treacherous waters. His job would be to retrieve the tools lost in the Susquehanna as the bridge was being built from shore to shore. Now, can you believe this? I should have loved to know my Grandfather Phipps.

It's all true and Pa lived to tell 'bout it to his two daughters, Alice and Carrie. This "Tell Me 'Bout" happened sometime between 1867 and 1873. You had an incredible Great Grandpa Phipps. He was 6'6" tall and had a wonderful handlebar mustache, thick dark brown hair, and black eyes. His muscles hung together in smooth movement. All who knew him were in awe of the gentle giant.

"Footsteps on History: Tell Me 'Bout Series"
Family Portraits by Mary Sheppard Burton. Undated

 

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   January 5, 2012
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