Diving into the Past

A beach replenishment project in Lewes put scores of people in contact with a real shipwreck--and a good look at history.



 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 



Dan Griffith, the former director of the Lewes Maritime Archeological Project, displays artifacts recovered from the Severn, a British ship that sunk off the coast of Lewes in 1774. Photograph by Keith Mosher www.kamproductions.com

 

 

When an Army Corps of Engineers dredge hit a sunken 18th-century shipwreck in Delaware Bay while replenishing Lewes Beach in 2004, it sent 250-year-old debris onto the sand and waves of excitement across the country.

It wasn’t just the local beachcombers stumbling upon hundreds of artifacts who knew something significant had happened. The discoveries captured the imaginations of archaeologists, treasure hunters and history enthusiasts all over the world.

Dan Griffith, who once served as Delaware’s historic preservation officer and later became the director of the Lewes Maritime Archaeology Project, was no less than spellbound when he learned what had happened.

While doing a public presentation in October 2004 on the state’s previous pride-and-joy shipwreck, the HMB DeBraak, Griffith got a big surprise. News Journal reporter Molly Murray of Lewes brought a shoebox of curious items she’d picked up at Roosevelt Inlet. Griffith saw right away they weren’t the usual beachcombing finds. In fact, they looked like they could date to Colonial times.

“I said ‘These are pretty cool, Molly. Where did you get that?’ And then I immediately sent a crew out to report back to me,” Griffith says.

Finding a Colonial junk yard isn’t something that happens every day. It’s what historians live for. But it’s also something rogue treasure hunters can decimate in search of valuable items, a tragedy for archaeological research. So Griffith had to act fast.

“At the same time we were collecting artifacts on the beach, I was talking to the Army Corps of Engineers,” Griffith says. “We didn’t know what the offshore source was. We needed to learn how much was hit by the dredges, how much was on the beach.”

The first thing he did was close Lewes Beach at Roosevelt Inlet to control the loss of artifacts. Dozens of volunteers helped sift through yards of replenished sand to recover artifacts. Not only did they find ceramic and glass, but shoe and belt buckles, pieces of chamber pots, beads—even pewter toy soldiers that were actually parts of war instruction kits. There were pieces of products state archivists didn’t even know had made it to the colonies in the 18th century.

At first it was believed the items came from past land colonists and that the bay had eventually claimed the debris. Makers’ marks on clay pipes and other items dated the debris between 1770 and 1776. Army Corps of Engineers contract divers finally discovered the source of the debris in February 2005.

“We didn’t know until April how much [debris] was left,” Griffith says. “They showed that 20 percent was damaged and dredged up onto the beach. The dredge basically took part of the archaeological wreck through a blender and threw it a mile and a half. Then bulldozers spread it all over the beach.”

To date, 45,000 pieces have been collected from 199 donors and two dives. All of it had to be cleaned, cataloged and, when possible, reconstructed.

The next phase of collection meant going back to the source. The project demanded an experienced team. Diving at Roosevelt Inlet is like swimming through mud. Rapid currents create constant clouds of silt and murk, limiting visibility to a few inches. Despite the conditions, divers created a steel grid with one-foot squares that corresponded electronically with a scale map of the wreck, which allowed divers to pinpoint the location of each artifact.

The original dredging created a 400-square-foot trench at the south end, which made up about 20 percent of the wreck site. In September the divers studied several 300-square-foot trenches along the ship, which equaled another 20 percent of the total site. That meant an astounding 60 percent of the project was yet to be mined.

During the work divers uncovered two full utility jugs, a ceramic mineral water bottle, a few unused mill stones and, astoundingly, a nearly whole hand-painted plate, in addition to tens of thousands of fragments. “I think we’ve answered some of our significant questions right here,” Griffith says.

By the size of the debris site, the project team knew the general class of vessel. Through research in local archives and overseas, Griffith’s team was able to determine the ship’s identity. “We knew it was from between 1770 and 1776. We had a list of candidate vessels from reports of ships lost in Philadelphia waters,” Griffith says.

The best candidate was the Severn, a 200-ton ship with more than 100 tons of cargo capacity. Built in Bristol, England, in the mid-1700s, the Severn was no small sloop. It was a major transatlantic vessel. It turned out the wreck was the only British ship-class commercial vessel located and investigated in or near Britain’s American colonies.

The May 11, 1774, edition of The Pennsylvania Gazette reported the Severn took on water due to an unexpected nor’easter and was feared lost on May 4.

The Severn wreck is a mere 15 feet underwater, an indication that the vessel’s captain hightailed it to the nearest port when it became apparent the ship wouldn’t weather the storm. Because many Delaware Bay pilots made their homes in Lewes, the area was a well-known anchorage. “I think the captain intentionally grounded it because reports say all the crew was saved,” Griffith says.

The utilitarian nature and immensity of the Severn’s cargo told the story of young America’s purpose in the colonial British empire. It also illustrated Lewes’ prominence in the colonial economy.

The Severn was loaded with manufactured goods typical of the period. “The captain of the Severn reported he had too much glass and earthenware he could not sell,” Griffith says. Around the same time, frustration with British rule was building. In response to the Boston Tea Party, the British passed the Boston Port Act of 1774 and redirected a lot of trade to other ports. Philadelphia, upriver from the Severn wreck, was one of the those that benefited.

“Philadelphia was the capital and the largest import and export center in the colonies,” Griffith says. “The significance of Delaware is by the nature of the Delaware Bay as the gateway to the largest American port in the British colonies.”

Most colonial taxes were imposed on British produced goods. Consequently, there was some indication that colonists boycotted British-made wares to counter the perceived injustice. The Severn’s cargo was a perfect illustration of the ways merchants reacted to the shifting market and skirted British tariffs by transporting comparable untaxed Dutch and German goods. Recovered artifacts reflect considerable counts of Dutch spirits bottles and common tableware, as well as German mineral water bottles and crockery.

“There are all kinds of socioeconomic stories that this wreck is a part of,” Griffith says. “Lewes was part of a national redistribution network.”

Lewes Maritime Archeology Project team members aren’t the only ones who experienced the Severn artifacts. There was a community of people who regularly scoured the beach since it reopened in 2005, some even driving from Pennsylvania for no other reason than to hunt for treasure at the Roosevelt Inlet.

Jim and Wanda Berrigan have owned property on Pilottown Road for nearly 30 years. “We had neighbors who found things and told us about it. We went out there about a week before it went public,” Jim Berrigan recalls. “We found pieces of pipe stems, mostly Chinaware with blue designs, some with yellow flowers, green glass pieces, brown jug handles and tea cup handles.”

The couple was hooked. “Now we try to walk every Saturday and Sunday out there. Of course, it’s much more fun October to March, when no one else is out there,” Berrigan says

The wonder of finding artifacts is the personal connection with history it creates. “The real thrill is knowing you’re the first person to lay hands on an item that’s been hidden for nearly 250 years,” Berrigan says. “I find a piece and start thinking about how life was then. I just stand there thinking about what’s transpired over the last 250 years.”

The Lewes Maritime Archaeological Project ended with the closing of the Lewes lab April 13, 2007. Griffith hopes to see an extension of that personal connection with the wreck to a wider audience. A special exhibit is being developed at the Zwaanendael Museum in Lewes. Other state museums may also host exhibits or presentations. But the Berrigans say nothing will beat finding brightly painted pieces of 250-year-old China washing up at their feet.

Even after more than two years combing Lewes Beach for little historic gems, the couple is nowhere near finished. “It’s addictive,” Berrigan says. “It’s like being a kid on an Easter egg hunt two or three times a week. It’s just as exciting now as it was the first time we went out there and found a piece.”

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January 2017

January 3 - 28  “Winter Group Show” Rotating Group Show features a variety of art in different styles and media. Custom Framing & Gift Certificates are always available. Gallery Hours:...

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January 14, 15, 16 – Saturday, Sunday, and Monday – 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Invention Convention Lights, camera, action! This year’s Invention Convention features hands-on video...

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Belly Dance Classes with Zahra Beginner & intermediate classes open to teens and adults Sundays in January starting Jan 8th Beginner: 2:30-3:30 p.m. Intermediate: 1 - 2 p.m (must get...

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Take the Lead Studio
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Elements of Nutrition
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The Rehoboth Beach Film Society will present its popular What Makes Us Tick? program during the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday weekend, January 13-15. This analytical film and discussion series...

Cost: $9 - $10

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Cinema Art Theater
17701 Dartmouth Drive, #2
Lewes, DE  19958
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Sponsor: Rehoboth Beach Film Society
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Cost: $12 ADV- $14 DOS

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Delaware Museum of Natural History
4840 Kennett Pike
Wilmington, DE  19807
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January 3 - 28  “Winter Group Show” Rotating Group Show features a variety of art in different styles and media. Custom Framing & Gift Certificates are always available. Gallery Hours:...

Cost: free

Where:
The Station Gallery
3922 Kennett Pike
Greenville, DE  19807
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Telephone: 302-654-8638
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Cost: $20 for Members, $25 for Non-Members.

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Delaware Museum of Natural History
4840 Kennett Pike
Wilmington, DE  19807
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Science is for everyone! Join us for hands on crafts and activities that highlight science contributions to natural history from scientists all around the world. Learn how YOU can make a difference...

Cost: Free with Admission

Where:
Delaware Museum of Natural History
4840 Kennett Pike
Wilmington, DE  19807
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Telephone: 130-265-89111
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January 14, 15, 16 – Saturday, Sunday, and Monday – 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Invention Convention Lights, camera, action! This year’s Invention Convention features hands-on video...

Cost: $8 for adults, $6 for children between 4 and 14, and free for children under 4 a

Where:
Hagley Museum
201 Hagley Creek Road
Wilmington, DE  19807
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Sponsor: Hagley Museum
Telephone: (302) 65802400 x 238
Contact Name: Jessica Eisenbrey
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January 3 - 28  “Winter Group Show” Rotating Group Show features a variety of art in different styles and media. Custom Framing & Gift Certificates are always available. Gallery Hours:...

Cost: free

Where:
The Station Gallery
3922 Kennett Pike
Greenville, DE  19807
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Telephone: 302-654-8638
Website »

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Cost: see description

Where:
The Annex
501 Chandler Mill Rd
Kennett Square, PA  19348
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Sports Card & Collectible Show at Aetna Fire Hall on Jan. 22—sign up now! -Sports Cards McFarlane Figures Comic Books Non-Sports cards Wrestling Items Vintage Starting...

Cost: $2

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Aetna Fire Hall
400 Ogletown Road
Newark, DE  19711
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Cost: Free

Where:
East Coast Garden Center
30366 Cordrey Rd
Millsboro, DE  19966
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Telephone: 302-945-3489
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East Coast Garden Center
30366 Cordrey Rd
Millsboro, DE  19966
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Telephone: 302-945-3489
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Cost: $30

Where:
University and Whist Club
805 N Broom St
Wilmington, DE  19806
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Cost: $9

Where:
Cinema Art Theater
17701 Dartmouth Drive, #2
Lewes, DE  19958
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Sponsor: Rehoboth Beach Film Society
Telephone: 302-645-9095
Contact Name: Jeri Kaplan
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January 3 - 28  “Winter Group Show” Rotating Group Show features a variety of art in different styles and media. Custom Framing & Gift Certificates are always available. Gallery Hours:...

Cost: free

Where:
The Station Gallery
3922 Kennett Pike
Greenville, DE  19807
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Telephone: 302-654-8638
Website »

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Sports Card & Collectible Show at Aetna Fire Hall on Jan. 22—sign up now! -Sports Cards McFarlane Figures Comic Books Non-Sports cards Wrestling Items Vintage Starting...

Cost: $2

Where:
Aetna Fire Hall
400 Ogletown Road
Newark, DE  19711
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Contact Name: Bob Harper
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Legislative Hall Library
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Dover, DE  19901
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Cost: 45

Where:
Liquid Alchemy
28 Brookside Dr.
, DE  19804
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Sponsor: Rocker Soaps + Herbals
Telephone: 302-544-0391
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Do you want to learn how to make soap? This is your chance! Join me for a fun and informative class @ Liquid Alchemy. I will teach you how to create your own recipe and the in-and-outs of soap...

Cost: 45.00

Where:
Liquid Alchemy
28 Brookside Dr.
Wilmington, DE  19804
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Sponsor: Rocker Soaps + Herbals
Telephone: 302-544-0391
Contact Name: Rachel Binkley
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January 3 - 28  “Winter Group Show” Rotating Group Show features a variety of art in different styles and media. Custom Framing & Gift Certificates are always available. Gallery Hours:...

Cost: free

Where:
The Station Gallery
3922 Kennett Pike
Greenville, DE  19807
View map »


Telephone: 302-654-8638
Website »

More information

Tuesdays and Thursdays from 9:30AM-12:00PM Fall session: Thursday, Dec 1st thru Thursday, December 15th Winter session: Tuesday, January 17th thru Thursday, March 30th   Drop in on Nature is...

Cost: see description

Where:
The Annex
501 Chandler Mill Rd
Kennett Square, PA  19348
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Sponsor: The Land Conservancy
Telephone: 610-347-0347 ext.104
Website »

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Sports Card & Collectible Show at Aetna Fire Hall on Jan. 22—sign up now! -Sports Cards McFarlane Figures Comic Books Non-Sports cards Wrestling Items Vintage Starting...

Cost: $2

Where:
Aetna Fire Hall
400 Ogletown Road
Newark, DE  19711
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Telephone: 302-983-2636
Contact Name: Bob Harper
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Cost: Cost: $30 for TLC members / $40 for non-members

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Bucktoe Creek Preserve
432 Sharp Rd
Avondale, PA  19311
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Sponsor: The Land Conservancy
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Guest speakers Patty Dailey-Lewis, executive director of the Beau Biden Foundation, and Delaware Family Court commissioner Loretta Young will discuss how participation in social media can too...

Cost: Free

Where:
Wilmington University - Doberstein Admissions Ctr.
320 N DuPont Highway
New Castle, DE  19805
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Sponsor: Wilmington University College of Social & Behavioral Sciences
Telephone: 302-295-1164
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Cost: Free Admission

Where:
The 3rd Place
1139 W. 7th Street
Wilmington, DE  19805
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Sponsor: West Side Grows
Telephone: 302-690-9459
Contact Name: Delaware Permaculture
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Cost: $0

Where:
Copeland Room, Hagley Library
298 Buck Road
Wilmington, DE  19807
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Telephone: (302) 65802400
Contact Name: Carol Lockman
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The Resident Ensemble Players, Delaware’s professional acting company performing at the University of Delaware, presents The Bells by Theresa Rebeck. During the great Yukon gold rush of the...

Cost: $15 - $30

Where:
Thompson Theatre, Roselle Center for the Arts
110 Orchard Rd.
Newark, DE  19716
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Sponsor: Resident Ensemble Players
Telephone: (302) 831-2204
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Cost: $15

Where:
World Cafe Live Wilmington
500 N Market St
Wilmington, DE  19801
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Telephone: 215-222-1400
Contact Name: MP Intern
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January 3 - 28  “Winter Group Show” Rotating Group Show features a variety of art in different styles and media. Custom Framing & Gift Certificates are always available. Gallery Hours:...

Cost: free

Where:
The Station Gallery
3922 Kennett Pike
Greenville, DE  19807
View map »


Telephone: 302-654-8638
Website »

More information

Sports Card & Collectible Show at Aetna Fire Hall on Jan. 22—sign up now! -Sports Cards McFarlane Figures Comic Books Non-Sports cards Wrestling Items Vintage Starting...

Cost: $2

Where:
Aetna Fire Hall
400 Ogletown Road
Newark, DE  19711
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Sponsor: A2Z Promotions
Telephone: 302-983-2636
Contact Name: Bob Harper
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Where:
Tutto Fresco
514 Philadelphia Pike
Wilmington, DE  19809
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Cost: $10

Where:
World Cafe Live At The Queen
500 N Market St.
Wilmington, DE  19801
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The Resident Ensemble Players, Delaware’s professional acting company performing at the University of Delaware, presents The Bells by Theresa Rebeck. During the great Yukon gold rush of the...

Cost: $15 - $30

Where:
Thompson Theatre, Roselle Center for the Arts
110 Orchard Rd.
Newark, DE  19716
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Sponsor: Resident Ensemble Players
Telephone: (302) 831-2204
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Cost: $29-$59

Where:
OperaDelaware Studio
4 South Poplar St.
Wilmington, DE  19801
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Sponsor: OperaDelaware
Telephone: 302-442-7809
Contact Name: Mary Wilcosky
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Cost: 0.00

Where:
Bayhealth Kent General Hospital
640 S. State Street
Private Dining Room #3
Dover, DE  19901
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Telephone: 800-855-2CALLGA
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Amateur and professional creators from the Wilmington community and beyond will sketch, paint and sculpt side-by-side with DCAD students, alumni, faculty and staff as nude and costumed male...

Cost: $30 per person

Where:
Delaware College of Art and Design
600 N. Market St.
Wilmington, DE  19081
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Sponsor: Delaware College of Art and Design
Telephone: 302-622-8000 x 123
Contact Name: Mark Tajzler
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January 3 - 28  “Winter Group Show” Rotating Group Show features a variety of art in different styles and media. Custom Framing & Gift Certificates are always available. Gallery Hours:...

Cost: free

Where:
The Station Gallery
3922 Kennett Pike
Greenville, DE  19807
View map »


Telephone: 302-654-8638
Website »

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Cost: FREE for TLC members / $10 for non-members

Where:
Bucktoe Creek Preserve
432 Sharp Rd
Avondale, PA  19311
View map »


Sponsor: The Land Conservancy
Telephone: 610-347-0347 ext.104
Website »

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Sports Card & Collectible Show at Aetna Fire Hall on Jan. 22—sign up now! -Sports Cards McFarlane Figures Comic Books Non-Sports cards Wrestling Items Vintage Starting...

Cost: $2

Where:
Aetna Fire Hall
400 Ogletown Road
Newark, DE  19711
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Sponsor: A2Z Promotions
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Contact Name: Bob Harper
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Cost: Free

Where:
Executive Banquet & Conference Center
205 Executive Drive
Newark, DE  19702
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Cost: $15 - $25

Where:
Cape Henlopen High School Theater
1250 Kings Highway
Lewes, DE  19958
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Sponsor: Rehoboth Beach Film Society
Telephone: 130-264-59095
Contact Name: Jeri Kaplan
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Cost: $18-$20

Where:
Cinema Art Theater
17701 Dartmouth Drive, #2
Lewes, DE  19958
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Sponsor: Rehoboth Beach Film Society
Telephone: 302-645-9095
Contact Name: Jeri Kaplan
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Cost: $30. Ages 10-18 and one adult per youth.

Where:
Bethel United Methodist Church Fellowship Hall
Fourth & Market Streets
Lewes, DE  19958
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Sponsor: Coastal Concerts, Inc.
Telephone: 888-212-6458
Contact Name: Edna Ellett
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Cost: 45

Where:
Ballroom at University and Whist Club
805 N. Broom St.
Wilmington, DE  19806
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Cost: $20 General Admission

Where:
Frankford Fire Hall
7 Main Street
Frankford, DE  19945
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The Resident Ensemble Players, Delaware’s professional acting company performing at the University of Delaware, presents The Bells by Theresa Rebeck. During the great Yukon gold rush of the...

Cost: $15 - $30

Where:
Thompson Theatre, Roselle Center for the Arts
110 Orchard Rd.
Newark, DE  19716
View map »


Sponsor: Resident Ensemble Players
Telephone: (302) 831-2204
Website »

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Cost: $10 + FEES

Where:
World Cafe Live Wilmington
500 N Market St
Wilmington, DE  19801
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Telephone: 215-222-1400
Contact Name: MP Intern
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