Maryland has a handful of nicknames and just as many reputations. The state is a study in contradictions—cramming crabcakes, trash-talking, jousting, and the greatest TV show of all time into 12,407 square miles.
1. The colony of Maryland was founded by Sir George Calvert, also known as Lord Baltimore, in 1632. Calvert left his stamp all over the territory, from the state flag that includes his family colors to the city of Baltimore itself.
2. The state seal of Maryland was taken from the aforementioned Lord Baltimore’s family crest. As such, it includes his weird family motto: Fatti Maschii, Parole Femine. Literally translated, this means “Manly deeds, womanly words”—a statement that doesn’t really go over too well these days. Maryland tourism information often rephrases the motto as “Strong deeds, gentle words,” which seems to miss the point. Historians and translators have condemned the motto as “sexist in any language,” and note that “traditions can become embarrassing.”
3. Maryland takes its noble roots seriously. In 1962, Maryland became the first state to designate an official state sport. The selection: Jousting. And it’s not just a formality; to this day, the Maryland Jousting Tournament Association is going strong. Horses not your thing? Maybe you’d prefer lacrosse, the official state team sport.
4. Only in Maryland are members of the Court of Appeals (the state's highest court) called judges; elsewhere, they’re justices. And only in Maryland do those judges wear red robes [PDF]—another throwback to the state’s British roots.
5. Baltimore-based TV series The Wire is widely accepted as one of the best shows of all time. It’s also a favorite of President Barack Obama’s. Like most of us, the president’s favorite character is charming, principled gangster Omar Little. “That’s not an endorsement,” Obama clarified in the Las Vegas Sun.
6. Maryland is technically a part of the South. The Mason-Dixon line cuts right between Maryland and Pennsylvania, which didn’t seem like a big deal until the Civil War broke out. As a border state, Maryland’s loyalties were divided. Most citizens supported the Union, although a good number went to fight for the Confederacy.
7. The iconic Maryland blue crab (Callinectes sapidus) was named the official state crustacean in 1989. Only two other states have state crustaceans: Louisiana (crawfish) and Oregon (Dungeness crab). Maryland also has a state dog, the Chesapeake Bay retriever, and a state drink (milk).
8. The Baltimore Ravens were named in honor of famous (and famously miserable) Baltimorean Edgar Allan Poe. The team’s mascots, two ravens named Rise and Conquer, live at the Maryland Zoo, where their favorite hobbies include “stealing food from each other and hiding it” and “tearing up telephone books.”
9. Maryland’s state anthem is really something to behold. The song, which is sung to the tune of “O, Tannenbaum,” was written by a Confederate sympathizer during the Civil War and is essentially one long, bitter rant against Abraham Lincoln and the North. There’s no room for misinterpretation here: the lyrics call Lincoln a “tyrant” and the Union “Northern scum.” And there’s no arguing that it was just picked at a bad time; “Maryland, My Maryland” wasn’t named the state song until 1939. Much to the chagrin of Maryland’s children, the anthem—all nine verses of it—is still part of the public school curriculum.
10. Mother Elizabeth Seton was the founder of a number of Catholic schools and charity houses for poor girls in the 1800s. More than 150 years after her death, the Roman Catholic church canonized Mother Seton, which made her the first American-born saint.
11. Maryland was first called the “Free State” on November 1, 1864, after slavery was abolished within its borders. Nearly 60 years later, it was again referred to as the "Free State" because it refused to participate in Prohibition, and continued to permit the use and sale of alcohol even when it was illegal in the rest of the country.
12. An impressive 41 percent of Maryland’s land is covered by forest [PDF].
13. The first hot air balloon in the U.S. to carry a passenger launched from Baltimore on June 23, 1784. Tavern-keeper and lawyer Peter Carnes built the balloon based on French designs and sold tickets to the first launch. Carnes didn’t test his creation until the big day came, at which point Carnes learned that he was just too heavy. Thirteen-year-old Edward Warren stepped up and took the ride in his place.
Image Credit: Something Original via Wikimedia Commons // CC-BY-SA 3.0
14. The first Ouija board was invented in Baltimore in an apartment that is now a 7-Eleven. Creator Elijah Bond and medium Helen Peters asked the “talking board” what it wanted to be called. “O-U-I-J-A,” the board allegedly replied. Bond’s bond with his creation was so strong that it followed him into death; there’s a Ouija board engraved on the back of his tombstone.
15. In 1982, the community of Garrett Park became one of the first American jurisdictions to declare itself a nuclear-free zone. The move made headlines, even if the declaration didn’t change much in Garrett Park. “It was really a symbolic gesture,” town hall manager Elizabeth S. Henley told The New York Times. Garrett Park is still a pretty interesting place; its citizens have opted out of home mail delivery, which means that the community’s little post office sees nearly every adult citizen every day.
16. Boring, Maryland, lives up to its name: It's home to a post office, one church, a volunteer fire company and approximately 40 houses. Accident, Maryland, (population: 325), whose residents are called "Accidentals," has a slightly more interesting backstory.
17. Maryland crab cakes may be too popular for their own good. A recent study found that a full 38 percent of Maryland crab cakes contained imported crab. DNA tests identified eight non-Maryland crab species in crab cakes sold throughout the region. “This is kind of a not-so-secret secret in this area,” a representative for the Maryland Department of Natural Resources told TIME magazine. Maryland fisheries simply do not produce enough crab meat to keep up with the demand, he said, so local restaurants get their crab elsewhere. The crustacean fraud pays off—on average, “Maryland” crab cakes cost $2.12 more apiece than their unlabeled counterparts.
19. Baltimore’s National Great Blacks in Wax Museum is not your average wax museum. The exhibitions do celebrate the contributions and accomplishments of famous African Americans, but they also highlight overlooked or horrific moments in American history. Each year, the museum sees nearly 300,000 visitors.
20. “The Star-Spangled Banner” was written in Maryland in 1814. Francis Scott Key penned the song that would become our national anthem while watching British forces attempting to take the city of Baltimore.
21. Satirist and legendary grump H.L. Mencken called his home city of Baltimore “an immense protein factory” [PDF]. Other famous Baltimoreans include Frederick Douglass, Tyrone “Muggsy” Bogues, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, Adrienne Rich, Babe Ruth, Ira and Philip Glass, Henrietta Lacks, Jada Pinkett Smith, and Frank Zappa.
Image Credit: Eric Christensen
23. Maryland’s Smith Island used to be famous for one thing: the layer cake that bears its name. Smith Island Cake, which features between eight and 15 thin layers covered in thick frosting, was named the official state dessert in 2008. These days, Smith Island has a less-pleasant claim to fame: it’s sinking. Scientists estimate the island’s shores might be totally submerged by 2100.
24. The most famous Maryland island may be Assateague, where herds of feral ponies have lived for hundreds of years, eating dune grass and drinking pond water. Whether the animals are true ponies or small, strange horses is up for debate, but everyone can agree that they’re great.
25. Like a crunchy lovechild of Punxsutawney Phil and Paul the psychic octopus, a blue crab named Baltimore Bill had a brief run at psychically predicting the weather. The Old Bay spice company set up two chutes on a dock, one labeled “WARM FALL” and the other “EARLY WINTER,” then let Bill go. In 2012, his predictions failed; in 2013, he was closer to the mark.