Rock Hall embraces its waterman’s heritage at Christmas

ROCK HALL — In one of the most memorable lines from the 1964 animated television special “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” prospector Yukon Cornelius grumbled about the fog being as thick as peanut butter.

That would be a fair comparison to what Santa Claus and his mates faced Saturday night, Dec. 2 as they navigated the waters of the Chesapeake Bay into the Rock Hall harbor.

A parade of eight boats, with a Maryland Department of Natural Resources vessel in the front and Capt. Don Pierce’s Bri-Steff bringing up the rear, safely made the trip from outside the jetties to the county-owned bulkhead on Caroline Avenue.

As has become tradition, Greg Jetton, captain of Blind Faith, was entrusted with transporting Santa on the first leg of his journey that would culminate on Rock Hall’s Main Street visiting with area children.

Frosty the Snowman was aboard Capt. Lance Rowe’s Rowe Boat.

Captains Kenny Fletcher, Chuck Woodfield and Chuckie Price also were part of the convoy, with each of their workboats lit up and dressed up for the holidays.

Once he had disembarked from Capt. Greg’s Blind Faith, and after too-numerous-to-count high fives, hugs and photo ops at the bulkhead, good ol’ Kris Kringle hopped aboard a Rock Hall fire truck for the short trip to town.

Main Street was blocked off at the intersection with Rock Hall Avenue to ensure the safety of the large crowd that had gathered to chat up Santa and to see the display of Christmas trees made out of crab baskets, crab pots and crab buoys.

There was heavy foot traffic, understandably so, given the obvious attractions.

Plus, it was about 50 degrees — balmy for this time of year, though there were still patches of fog inland.

Another reason for the big turnout was that Get The Scoop proprietress Kendall Manning was giving away single servings of ice cream as this was the final night before she closed up for the winter.

At about 7 p.m., following a welcome from Mayor James Cook and Raum Chapel Pastor Steve Leonard’s blessing, Santa (Nevin Steffy) counted backward from 10 before flipping the switch to light up three Christmas trees.

The first tree was fashioned out of 123 crab baskets, each wonderfully hand-painted in memory of a loved one.

More than 50 crab pots were used to build the second tree, which paid tribute to 90-plus watermen and captains who are no longer with us. Also included were the names of their workboats.

A smaller third tree was made out of crab buoys.

Patti Edwards Williams headed up the all-volunteer committee that put on Saturday night’s events.

At least three generations of her family on the Edwards side — grandfather Bud, father Pete, uncle Glyn and brother Petie — are among those honored on the crab pot tree.

Patti, who ascended to a leadership role after having helped with the crab basket trees last year, acknowledged that she copied the crab pot idea from a tree she had seen in Tilghman.

The crab buoy tree looked “unique,” she said, and added the “wow factor” to Rock Hall’s celebration.

This was the first year for the crab pot and crab buoy trees.

The crab pots are on loan from Capt. Hubbard “Hubby” Kendall and the crab buoys — 90 on the buoy tree and 50 more on the crab pot tree — are on loan from Capt. BJ Mitchell.

Capt. Greg Jetton, who also is a metal fabricator/artist, built the frame for the tree made from buoys.

This Christmas tradition was started in 2016 by Sheila Strong Lingerman, her sister-in-law Nikki Strong and Beth Councell in memory of their little angels Luke Abbott and Kirby Councell.

Their poem titled “The Spirit of the Tree” reads:

The Spirit of the Tree lies within you, and lies within me.

It brought us together, from the very start with Kirby and Luke deep in our hearts.

Little did we know what it would become, a friendship, a family, all because of our sons.

It is a gift, a blessing to many, a Tree to give peace where there might not be any.

A Tree to remind us that we all can stand tall, when we have the support of a community like Rock Hall.

As word spread that first year, the idea of painted crab baskets in memory of family and friends to “build” Christmas trees took off in this tight-knit community of watermen.

All the work that is involved was more than just Sheila, Nikki and Beth could manage, so after a couple of years they pitched the idea of this becoming a program for the town’s Parks and Recreation Board as a fundraiser for youth activities.

Sheila, Nikki and Beth remain steadfast supporters; every year they donate all the crab baskets and attend the tree lighting ceremony.

Sheila said she likes the addition of crab pots and buoys as a tribute to the watermen.

Another seven small trees decorated by Rock Hall Elementary School students — originally planned for the public lot also — are under roof in one of the adjacent Village’s small buildings to protect them from inclement weather.

This year’s display was put up Nov. 29. Patti Williams, Kate Mayberry and half a dozen other volunteers, and Rock Hall town employees led by Joe Rittenberry did the roll-up-your-sleeves work.

The trees will stay up through the second week of January, according to Patti.

Meantime, she’s already started to make make notes for next year. 

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