phrase "skates and rays" make you think of roller blades and sun
bathing? If so, you really need to visit the Calvert Marine Museum in
Solomons, at the southern tip of Calvert County. And take the kids!
Even if you, and your kids, already know that skates and rays are
sharks' harmless little cousins, and you've spotted their fins breaking
the surface of the Chesapeake Bay, you'll learn much from a visit to the
museum's current exhibit, "Secrets of the Mermaid's Purse: Skates and
Rays of the Mid-Atlantic." No, a mermaid's purse doesn't carry
waterproof lipstick for a goddess of the deep. It's the case enclosing
the eggs laid by a skate. Often it can be found at the high tide mark on
a beach. (The chief difference between skates and rays is that skates
lay eggs while rays bear their young.) If "The Mermaid's Purse" sounds
familiar, that might be because it's the title of a book of poems about
the sea by Ted Hughes, the former British poet laureate.
Like that collection of Hughes' poems, the Calvert Marine Museum has a
special appeal to children, with a number of interactive exhibits and a
hands-on "Discovery Room" where kids can search for sharks' teeth and
climb inside a miniature replica of the Cove Point lighthouse.
Lighthouses play a big role at the museum, along with marine life,
historic boats and restored fossils.
"Lighthouses, boats and fossils and fish-what a weird combination,"
muses museum Director C. Douglas Alves. "But that's the life of the bay
and the Patuxent River."
The museum also owns the full-size Cove Point lighthouse, although that
structure remains at Cove Point, eight miles north of Solomons. The U.S.
Coast Guard still runs it, but museum patrons can arrange a visit. More
familiar to museum visitors- and to almost everyone who comes to
Solomons- is the restored Drum Point Lighthouse. Its distinctive
house-on-stilts shape stands on the museum grounds, just two miles from
the shoreline it guarded for 80 years until it was decommissioned in
History is a constant presence at the museum, from 20-million-year-old
fossils to 20th-century boats and artifacts. On view this summer is "'It
Ain't Like It Was Then'- The Seafood Packing Industry of Southern
Maryland." As the name suggests, the exhibit commemorates the mostly
vanished world of regional seafood processing.
Once, Southern Maryland boasted hundreds of seafood plants. Solomons was
a center of the industry and home to an oyster plant founded by Isaac
Solomon, the town's namesake. The exhibit includes photographs, oral
histories and artifacts, among them a collection of 19th century oyster
cans, some acquired through 21st century means.
"We check E-Bay once a week," said Alves. "We find oyster cans from
Kansas and California. They wound up in people's closets and for sale on
This unconventional approach typifies Alves' determination to reject the
concept of a "dusty old museum." While the Calvert Marine Museum
conducts world-class research, it also sponsors big-name rock concerts,
organizes an annual "Sharkfest" and calls its newsletter the Bugeye
Times (A bugeye is a sailboat used in the 19th century as an oyster
dredge; it was eventually succeeded by the skipjack. The museum owns a
restored bugeye, the William B. Tennison, which offers Patuxent River
cruises every weekend in July and August.)
Some 60,000 people visit the museum each year, about half on group
tours, including school field trips from as far away as Delaware. Most
patrons come from a 100-mile radius, but Alves says about 5 percent are
foreign. Australia, Japan, Germany and Great Britain send the most
visitors, he reports.
Perhaps Director Alves' favorite visitor is the one who left this
comment: "I'm 12 years old and easily bored, but this place is great and
I'm glad my mother made me come."
Your kids won't be bored either. Neither will you.
Information about the Calvert Marine Museum's summer programs, an online
edition of the "Bugeye Times" and much more is at