Solitude and Standing Alone
Maryland's conflicted landscape
This week, I’m hiding away at a cottage on Solitude Creek in Maryland working on my next book. Yes, Solitude Creek is a real place. This is my writing view! Beautiful, isn’t it?
Because I’m wrestling my way through the book proposal — and have been ignoring the news — there’s no extended midweek post this week.
But I do want to invite you into the project I’m working on. The book is tentatively called Empty Altars. It is an exploration of the public stories we tell about ourselves — the people and events and places that shape our common life.
Solitude Creek is near the town of Easton, Maryland, the seat of Talbot County. Talbot County is the birthplace of Frederick Douglass. In 2011, the county finally honored Douglass with a public memorial outside of the Easton Courthouse.
As you might imagine, there’s a story behind the statue. For years, it was deemed a controversial installation, fought by those who insisted the courtyard should only memorialize members of the military who had died in American wars.
And, since this was Talbot County, before Frederick Douglass was erected, the most significant memorial at the courthouse was to the “Talbot Boys,” the county’s Confederate dead. You can see the list of names in the photo below. Fourteen of those honored on the statue were enslavers — and the memorial itself stands on the grounds of a market (outside of the courthouse) that once sold human beings. The Talbot Boys statue was erected in 1916 by a Confederate sympathizer.
For eleven years, the two statues stood on either side of the main entrance to the courthouse, in a kind of uneasy homage to the schism in the American soul around race, slavery, and white supremacy.
When I visited on Tuesday, however, the Talbot Boys memorial was gone. It was finally removed in March 2022 — the last Confederate monument on Maryland state land to be taken down. The statue will be relocated (with private funds) to a battlefield in Virginia where the Talbot regiment fought on behalf of the Confederacy.
A new memorial — on the far side of the courtyard — honors Talbot County war dead from 20th century wars: WWI, WWII, Korea, and Vietnam.
It was good to see Frederick Douglass — who was once held in the jail at the courthouse — finally stand proudly ALONE in the center of Easton as Talbot County’s most famous son.
I looked up at him, orating to future audiences unseen, and felt his prophetic power. And I felt oddly hopeful, despite the backlash now happening in American politics. Change can happen.
You can read more about the statue and the conflict of Confederate history in Easton in this excellent New Yorker article.
HERE’S YOUR PART: TELL ME ABOUT A MONUMENT OR MEMORIAL THAT GIVES YOU HOPE FOR THE FUTURE. IT CAN BE ANYWHERE — IN THE UNITED STATES OR ANOTHER NATION.
When it is finally ours, this freedom, this liberty, this beautiful
and terrible thing, needful to man as air,
usable as earth; when it belongs at last to all,
when it is truly instinct, brain matter, diastole, systole,
reflex action; when it is finally won; when it is more
than the gaudy mumbo jumbo of politicians:
this man, this Douglass, this former slave, this Negro
beaten to his knees, exiled, visioning a world
where none is lonely, none hunted, alien,
this man, superb in love and logic, this man
shall be remembered. Oh, not with statues’ rhetoric,
not with legends and poems and wreaths of bronze alone,
but with the lives grown out of his life, the lives
fleshing his dream of the beautiful, needful thing.
— Robert Hayden, “Frederick Douglass”
THE MAY SPECIAL CONTINUES
HAPPY 3rd BIRTHDAY TO THE COTTAGE!
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May’s THIRD THURSDAY is NEXT WEEK on the FOURTH THURSDAY (because of my writing retreat) MAY 25.
We’re having a live lunchtime (Eastern time zone lunchtime!) gathering with Jeff Sharlet, author of The Family and the new book, The Undertow: Scenes from a Slow Civil War. You may have also seen his Netflix series, The Family — or heard him interviewed on major news networks and radio shows.
These are the kinds of first-rate author discussions hosted by The Cottage. A recording of the conversation will be sent to paid subscribers who can’t make it to the live session. Details will follow next week.
Richard sent me this picture of Paddy with a wet beard (slurping water after a puppy playdate!) so I wouldn't fell quite so lonely while away. Glen of Imaal Terriers are famous for their penetrating gaze!