While this mystery is just the latest Chesapeake City-centric book, the town has appeared in or helped to inspire more than one book before.
Chesapeake City or “Canal Town” actually has quite a literary history, starting with 19th century journalist and folklorist George Alfred Townsend. A friend and contemporary of Mark Twain, he was sort of the Charles Kuralt of his day. Though nationally famous, he had roots in Cecil County and based many of his stories and books around the Delmarva region.
Later on, Edna Ferber wrote a book called “Show Boat” that became a celebrated Broadway musical. That story was based on the James Adams Floating Theater, whose owners liked Chesapeake City so much that they retired here.
Bestselling author Jack D. Hunter lived in town and his old house is now a bed and breakfast named after his book “The Blue Max” that was made into a movie starring George Peppard, James Mason and Ursula Andress. More recently, poet Erin Murphy lived in town for several years and many of her poems are inspired by the setting.
Local authors such as Kevin Titter, Karen Morgan and Robert Hazel have written some great books about town history.
While no characters are based on actual folks in town, Chesapeake City does star as itself in this mystery novel, starting with Franklin Hall and Pell Gardens. These are real landmarks in town and some of the clues in the mystery come from the historical files found in Franklin Hall. Pell Gardens plays a role. It’s very scenic now, but in the old days it was more of a working waterfront with piles of produce and lumber, along with outbuildings and a watering hole for canal workers.
The characters in the book often refuel at Carl Batzer’s cafe, which is a lot like the Bohemia Cafe at the corner of George Street and Second Street. It’s a gathering spot for locals and visitors, and they have great coffee.
Finally, the Captain Cosden House in the book is actually a Sears house. These houses were mail order kits that you could get shipped to you and then build on your lot. There is at least one rather grand Sears house in town on Bohemia Avenue. Many of the “working class” houses in town were pieced together in the 1850s or earlier out of salvaged materials from old wooden barges or from the lumber mill on the banks of Back Creek.
Hopefully, some of the town history in the mystery can be a jumping off point to learn even more about Chesapeake City’s historical narrative.