Updated: Sep 14, 2021
Booker’s latest book, Cove Point on the Chesapeake: The Beacon, the Bay, and the Dream, released this week, tells of the heroes, scoundrels and families who populated a remarkable place along storied waters. With fetching stories and deep reporting, Booker, a seasoned journalist, chronicles how a tiny community known for shipwrecks and treacherous waters became a World War II training ground, a magnet for profiteers and later a player in the global energy trade with its natural gas plant.
In an interview with New Bay Books, Booker talks of what prompted her to write about Cove Point and lessons from all that has happened there over the years.
Q: What prompted you to write this book?
A: Cove Point has a unique and somewhat bizarre history. During the almost forty years since my husband and I bought our cottage here, I heard many fascinating stories. Some involved people and events that simply begged to be memorialized for posterity. But there were also conflicting accounts, suggesting that some had to be wrong. I decided to research this history, using the most reliable sources available, obtained from national and state archives, judicial databases, land records, newspapers dating back to the 1700s, and wherever possible, eye-witness accounts. What I found ranged from moving to mind-blowing. From there, the history almost wrote itself.
Q: There are so many good stories in the book. Do you have any favorites?
A: Yes, several. One is the fairy tale-like story of the Orthodox chapel that once drew Russian emigres from as far as Washington, D.C. to pray among the pines of Cove Point, hosted by a princess, who, like her guests, had fled their homeland after the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917.
Another follows the wide-eyed, and sometimes hilarious, accounts of three Calvert countians who were young children in the mid-1940s when the Army landed in force on Cove Point Beach, belched from the bows of amphibious landing craft, in practice maneuvers for the real thing.
Everyone in Cove Point seemed to have heard that there was a titanium mine on the beach north of the Lighthouse in the 1950s. What we didn’t know was that it was either a scam or a gross fiasco that not only suckered hundreds of thousands of dollars out of Maryland investors but also contributed to a savings-and-loan scandal that sent a banker and his insurers to jail for fraud.
Another part of Cove Point history that literally gripped my soul, and was probably the hardest to write, was the terrible toll of human life taken by the treacherous rip current on the Lighthouse beach. As the Japanese proverb warns, “it’s always darkest under the Lighthouse.”
But the stories of the Lighthouse keeper’s life—with adventure looming on even the best days—these are in a category of their own.
Q. The rip currents and storms you write about are truly frightening. Have you had any moments of fear yourself?
A. Yes, a few. You always have to be aware and prepared when you’re on the water. I was trying out a new canoe (my first) one Easter Sunday when the off-shore wind was just too strong and swept me out into the Bay. A couple of neighbors saw my peril and headed to my rescue, which was completed by a tow boat from Solomons that happened by. I lost no time trading that canoe for an ocean kayak.
Q. Is living in Cove Point any different since the arrival of the gas plant, described in the book?
A. During construction, when the plant was being expanded and converted for exports, traffic on our only road out, which runs past the plant, was sometimes halted for fifteen minutes or more while some huge piece of equipment was being hauled onto the grounds. The dust was so bad, Dominion distributed free tokens for the car wash in Solomons. Since then, the biggest complaint is the noise, particularly on nights when instead of the symphony from the marsh, we hear the groan of the plant or the rumble of a tanker at the offshore platform.
Q. Cove Point: The Beacon, the Bay, and the Dream is one of several books you’ve written, and you’ve also worked in high-level national journalism. Do you enjoy writing? Some of us think it’s pretty hard work.
A. It’s work, and sometimes hard work. But then there are times, as when writing this book, that the effort is so fulfilling, you don’t want to do anything else.
Q. Writers sometimes imagine talking to people as they compose. Are there certain kinds of readers you imagined when you wrote this book?
A. I imagined readers with a sense of humor as well as history; people who love nature and the beauty of an unspoiled landscape—and perhaps even more, an unspoiled seascape.
Q. What does having this book out mean to you?
A. I think the Russian proverb that opens the book sums it up: “The past is a lighthouse, not a port.” Whatever the future holds for Cove Point and its residents, this book means the lessons of the past will always be there, like a beacon, for anyone anywhere facing decisions affecting their future. This applies to simple questions such as where to swim safely, as well as to more complex ones, such as industrialization versus natural preservation.