Today's Sock Apocalypse Brings Spring to the Bay (BLOG)

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Burning your socks… Sounds a bit like the 1960s feminist movement’s rebellious act of burning bras, doesn’t it? Sure, there’s rebellion involved in the uniquely Bay Country tradition of burning one’s socks on the first day of spring, but it’s an uprising against the cold grips of winter, not athlete’s foot or stinky shoes. It’s also not a bad excuse to throw back a sudsy pint or two and slurp back a pile of Chesapeake oysters. We're doing it today.

Before we get into the actual ingredients of a spring equinox sock burning and why to do it, it’s good to know where the tradition got its start. Sock cremation has its roots in Eastport, a section of Maryland’s capital city of Annapolis. Eastport is situated on a peninsula that is bounded to the north and separated from Annapolis-proper by Spa Creek, to the east by the Severn River, and to the south by Back Creek. It’s a community with long-standing maritime influences. Today its shores are lined with marinas, boatyards, sail makers, marine engine shops, and all manner of boating-related businesses.

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Back in 1998, when the Maryland State Highway Administration closed the Eastport Drawbridge (the only road link between downtown Annapolis and the Eastport Peninsula), Eastport residents decided to secede from Annapolis and form the Maritime Republic of Eastport with the motto “We like it this way.” Spa Creek was renamed the Gulf of Eastport and a makeshift air force was assembled and an official flag was even made. While all of this has little to do with sock burning, it gives you a good idea why such an eccentric practice originated in this particular neighborhood.

 Roasting oysters is a fine supplement to sock-burning festivities. (Photo by Gary Reich)

Roasting oysters is a fine supplement to sock-burning festivities. (Photo by Gary Reich)

Legend has it that the first sock burning happened at Annapolis Harbor Boatyard in Eastport, organized by yard owner Bob Turner. It was symbolic in that no self-respecting boat bum would ever be caught wearing socks with their Docksiders (or any other footwear) after the first day of spring. While I can’t pin down that first date or even get confirmation from Turner that it was truly his idea, I can confirm that he never wore socks after the spring equinox during my 11 years of working at Fawcett Boat Supplies, where Turner was a daily visitor for shop supplies.

The fact that Eastport celebrity Travelift operator Budweiser Dave worked there only adds credibility to the legend. The rest is history, and today yacht clubs, marinas, boatyards, and maritime museums all over Bay Country use the ritual to ring in spring.

The recipe for a good sock burning includes a waterfront locale (a run-down old boatyard is preferable), a roaring fire (an old 55-gallon drum is the quintessential burning vessel), a pile of smelly old socks (freshly removed from the attendees feet, not fresh out of your sock drawer), and of course, beer (there’s no precedent here, but National Bohemian is a safe bet). I get thirsty just thinking about it, and am proud that I live and work in the community where it started.

Sure, burning those smelly socks may have absolutely zip point squat net effect on spring weather in Bay Country, but it’s not a bad excuse to get out of the house, down a few pints, and slurp back some oysters in the company of good friends. You might get funny looks if you perform the ritual outside of Bay Country, but who cares? Spring is on its way.

 The official flag of the Maritime Republic of Eastport. (Photo courtesy of mre.org)

The official flag of the Maritime Republic of Eastport. (Photo courtesy of mre.org)

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