How Delaware Are You?
61 Things Every Delawarean Must Do (and a whole lot more)
by Maria Hess Published October 20, 2006 at 12:00 AM
Can you really claim youre from the First State if youve never seen pumpkins blasted into the November sky? If youve never stalked a legislator? If youve never seen
the inside of Winterthur? Do you deserve a Delaware pedigree?
Order chickenndumplings at the Smyrna Diner before the classic trailer is moved to Nebraska. While you can, shoot the breeze with longtime waitresses Charlotte Bleen and Mary Anderson, whose combined tenure equals 70 years. Expect tears from manager Jamie Compton, who pretty much grew up at the place; her mother, Sandra Margist, owned it for 34 years. Compton promises the same homey food and feeling when the new Smyrna Diner opens a mile farther south on Dupont Highway, but she and Margist are already making reservations for those who want to visit the original when it reopens in the heartland. It was always the intention that one day we would rebuild, says Compton. But that doesnt make it any easier.
Its hit or miss, but theres real treasure to be found at Spences Bazaar in Dover. Vendors hawk everything from Engelbert Humperdinck vinyl to food processors, and they will do anything for return businesseven layaway. Martha Morgenstern of SeafordEverybody calls me Martyrules a southwest corner of the warehouse, where she sells Vaseline glass pieces. Uranium makes them glow under black light, but not enough to hurt ya, she says. Spences attracts a colorful cross section of humanity. On one recent afternoon, a woman wearing Betty Boop pajama bottoms passed another in a blue power suit who smiled at a stroller-bound toddler who couldnt keep his eyes off a 50-something man with a handlebar mustache and a Chihuahua. See the show on Tuesdays and Fridays.
Learn about your past. Pay closer attention to Delawares significance in American history, says James Newton, professor emeritus of Black Studies at the University of Delaware, not only to the Underground Railroad, but to our series of firsts: first to start the nation, first cradle of black religious freedom, first to conduct a trial by a jury of peers, So head to the Delaware Historical Society in Wilmington or, for gosh sake, any local public library, to brush up. Note that trial, Neal vs. Delaware, when attorney Anthony Higgins defended a black man unjustly accused of rape. Pay attention to the lore in Delaware, like Judy Johnson, Delawares only black person to be elected to Delawares Sports Hall of Fame through the Negro Leagues, Newton says. (Visit the hall at Frawley Stadium.) Lets also pay attention to this upstate-downstate mentality. We need to rid ourselves of this schizophrenic personality. The answer, according to Newton: a County Exchange Day.
Experience Fort Delaware, a restored encampment that once held 33,000 prisoners of the Civil War. Take the Delafort ferry from Delaware City to Pea Patch Island, pick up a jitney for the mile-long jaunt to the fort, then admire the 30-foot-thick granite walls, gun emplacements (including an authentic Columbiad cannon in position in the northwest rampart) and the slimy moat. About 3,200 of 33,000 Confederate prisoners held there during the Civil War diednot to mention the Union men and their families who perished from diseases like malaria, dysentery and small poxand their spirits are said to linger. If you get an eerie sense that someone is watching you, rest assured that other visitors have had the same feeling. Other forts and sites to see: nearby Fort du Pont, Fort Miles at Cape Henlopen and Fort Saulsbury near Slaughter Beach.
If you prefer to pass on another sequel to the slasher-flick favorite Halloween, Delaware offers great independent film alternatives such as Wilmingtons Theater N, the Newark Independent Film Festival in September, the Rehoboth Beach Independent Film Festival in November and the Hearts and Minds Independent Film Festival in Wilmington each March. WHYY-TV film critic Patrick Stoner says that indies are made by some of the best and brightest. Not only do they provide and protect a level of quality seldom found in movies designed to attract the largest audience, he says, but also they serve as a stimulus and example to those who sometimes green light a wider release, as was the case with Crash, Brokeback Mountain and Capote. Were not quite up to the Philadelphia Ritz standards yet, but if we continue to patronage our indie houses, Delaware can become a contender.
We dont know how anyone could possibly have escaped Punkin Chunkin, Millsboros annual pumpkin-throwing contest held the first weekend after Halloween. We get a rush when pumpkins are blasted, sling-shotted and catapulted thousands of feet, then splattered into dirt. It sure aint the besotted backwoods spectacle it was nearly 20 years ago, but its just as much fun as ever.
Ride the Woodland Ferry. With a capacity of three cars, its not the Twin Capes or any of the ships that sail the Cape May-Lewes route, but it is a lot older. Since the 1740s a ferry has operated on the Nanticoke River at Woodland, just west of Seaford. Travelers can enjoy the timeless pleasure of a slow trip across one of our states most scenic waterways free of charge, says Russ McCabe, director of the Delaware Public Archives. The boat runs from early morning to dusk every day. The 17-mile cruise on the Cape May-Lewes Ferry offers it owns charms (including a cabana bar).
Birders from around the world know more about Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge than Delawareans do. You can change that by visiting now, which is prime time for observing Canada geese, snow geese, northern shovelers and other waterfowl during their annual migrations. On the 12-mile auto tour, linger at stop 4, Shearness Pool, to see the largest of four freshwater impoundments. On stop 13, which contains the freshest water of all, you could see beaver, muskrats and, occasionally, a river otter. All of the five walking trails, which range from a ¼ mile to a mile, are worth a ramble, but the Boardwalk Trail is especially nice. Bring binocularsor if youre a birder in the know, your Konus Vista 80 spotting scope. In December youre likely to see a few bald eagles. Time your visit to avoid high water on Delaware 9.
Enjoy the decorated evergreens of Rodney Square during the holidays. City-employed Scrooges who ordinarily rejoice in writing tickets are forced to relax: Motorists get the gift of free parking at metered spaces. Its a great time to stroll Market Street, do lunch at Cavanaughs or have a cup of coffee at the Bean Bag Café.
Savor a scrapple-and-egg sandwich at Wilsons, a small country store on Route 30, south of Milton. Such stores were once common in southern Delaware, but only a handful remain. Open at 6 a.m., Wilsons serves breakfast and lunch to farmers and other regulars. Grab a bite and pick up supplies for the morning hunt. Other breakfast classics: Helens Sausage House near Smyrna for terrific sandwiches ofwhat else?and Kozy Korner on Union Street or Angelos Luncheonette on North Scott Street in Wilmington for good food and a regular sighting of local movers and shakers.
Old New Castle, established in 1651, is a three-mile long anachronism. But to get the real history of Delawares second-oldest town, convene with The Senate, an assembly of New Castle-born war veterans who hold court under the large elm tree at the foot of Delaware Street in Battery Park or at the Banks Building on The Wharf. Bob White, 81, the youngest and most outspoken member (hell be wearing a Notre Dame baseball cap) will share everything you need to know about New Castle, not to mention how he used to drink everyone under the table at The Green Frog on Delaware Street (now the considerably swankier Jessops Tavern.) The only senator who knows more is 100-year-old John Ryan. We resuscitated him twice, says White, but hes got a mind better than any. Ask any one of them about the long-gone factories and fiber mills in town, long-dead and-or crooked politicians, ferryboats and hangings at the Market Green. What theyll offer is far better than anything youll find in a history book (if a bit tainted by memory and romance). All are welcome. The more, the merrier, Ryan says.
Explore Delawares Spencer churches, and learn about Peter Spencer. Born a slave in Kent County in 1782, Spencer became a pivotal figure in black religious history by founding the first independent black Christian denomination in the country, the African Union First Colored Methodist Protestant Church and Connection, more commonly known as the A.U.M.P. church. Spencer chartered the first A.U.M.P church in Wilmington, the Union Church of Africans, in 1813. Conflict in the congregation led to the formation of two more denominations: the African Union Methodist Church (A.U.M.) and the Union American Methodist Episcopal Church (U.A.M.E.) Leaders of both the A.U.M. and the U.A.M.E. denominations hope their congregations will reunite as one A.U.M.P. church by their 200th anniversaries, seven years from now. The annual August Quarterly in Wilmington, the nations oldest African-American religious festival, celebrates Spencers work.
Order a Kitchen Sink at the original Charcoal Pit on Concord Pike in North Wilmington. The 20-scoop mountain of vanilla, chocolate and strawberry ice cream is covered with banana spears, chocolate syrup, pineapple, cherries and wet walnuts, then slathered with enough cream to make a whipped cream bungee. (Dont ask.) The Charcoal Pit celebrated its 50th birthday in September, and though its showing its age, it looks just as good as ever. There is an old-fashioned counter with red vinyl-topped stools, black-and-white checkered floors, and jukeboxes on every table. Some work, some dont, but they still take quarters. Diners pant for flame-broiled burgers and hand-dipped shakes served in frosted containers. Its our answer to Arnolds of Happy Days. Locations in Pike Creek and near Prices Corner serve the same great food, but without the retro vibe.
Head to Main Street in Newark for hip shopping, adventurous dining and, yes, Saturday-night cruising. Browse record shops such as the iconic Rainbow and Wonderland. Grab some Sicilian pie at Margheritas Pizza or a slice of everyones favorite at Grotto. Theres trendier fare at Caffé Gelato and a bit of the exotic at Ali Baba. And the classic National 5&10 offers bargain buys on just about everything. Homegrown and Crystal Concepts let you indulge your inner hippie. And if you need to be well informed, hit Newark Newsstand, which carries 5,000 periodical titles and more bestsellers than ever. Tom and Carla Guzzi, owners of Bings Bakery, just across from Newark Shopping Center, create single serving confections for hungry yet calorie-conscious shoppers. And the Deer Park still reigns supreme as a classic. Of course, theres far more. Visit any time, but join townies for the Newark Night street fest in June, when most UD students have absented themselves for the summer.
Go Hens. Under the home stands of Delaware Stadium, take in a private performance by the awesome UD drumline. The fun begins at the start of the third quarter of any h