We along the Mid-Atlantic were denied witness to the first full moon of September. But on that cloudy Friday evening, those who ventured to Bayside History Museum in North Beach to hear author Sandra Olivetti Martin went by an old but appealing mantra: “Relax. Enjoy yourself. Have fun.”
That was the inscription on a mid-20th century matchbook of the Stymie Club, the title setting of Martin’s newly published nonfiction book of stories.
That matchbook was recalled at the gathering by Joan Kilmon, the well-known retired librarian and member of the Donovan family, the restaurant and park entrepreneurs who have shaped Chesapeake Beach and surrounds for nearly a century.
“This is Sandra Olivetti Martin’s night,” said Kilmon (pictured beneath). She introduced Martin, who was co-founder and editor of Bay Weekly and now the publisher at New Bay Books.
“She has given us all so many pleasurable nights and days as we read her written words,” Kilmon said.
“Tonight, she will be talking about some of the Chesapeake
characters she wrote about. Well, I’m here to tell you, she is a Chesapeake Character herself—by way of St. Louis and other stops along the way,” Kilmon said.
Martin signed copies of her book, Fire at the Stymie Club: Stories from the Mississippi River to Chesapeake Bay.
Both Martin and Kilmon spoke of how growing up in restaurant families shaped their worldview.
Martin described her book as a retrospective of five decades in the writing life.
“It begins,” she told an audience of more than 40 people, “ just exactly where Joanie said: at the restaurant where, as a little girl, I learned to watch the play that was being acted each day, by people who were taking on roles—the waitress, the cook, the bartender, the glamor girl, the greeter.”
Kilmon recalled that her grandfather opened Stinnett’s Restaurant in Chesapeake Beach in 1936 — the name of the newest Donovan restaurant in town. Her brother, Gerald Donovan, who died in 2021, was a longtime mayor of Chesapeake Beach and operator of the landmark Rod ‘N’ Reel Restaurant and resort known for his generosity.
There were similarities in restaurants, especially hard-working family members in the business, Kilmon said.
“At Stinnett’s and Rod ‘N’ Reel, like the Stymie, they had the coffee always brewing, the juke boxes always blaring, whiskey flowing like buttermilk—and cash registers that did not tell you how much change to give. We had gambling, legal in Chesapeake Beach, not exactly legal in St. Louis,” she said.
Martin recalled Chesapeake Bay characters in her book and talked about each: “the mayor of a small town (Donovan), Mr. Maryland (Louie Goldstein), Vera Freeman the goddess of glamor, Bernie Fowler, who became famous for his sneakers, Dr. Frank Gouin, the Bay Gardner, and last but not least, a magic horse.”
She said she’d interviewed each of them, even the horse. “What a privilege to say, ‘I’d like to take 15 minutes of your time to find out everything that you could possibly tell me.”
If good advice does come from matchbooks, it’s too bad they’re not around much anymore. While the Stymie matches instructed people to relax, enjoy and have fun, the old Stinnett’s covers also had a suggestion, Kilmon recalled.
“Limp in, Leap out.”