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Alta Awards Honor Pillars Of Maryland Heritage
Ceremony and concert link Marylanders to living cultural traditions
ALTA awards are presented annually to an individual or group, a place and a tradition that embody and help to preserve Maryland’s cultural heritage. The 2012 ALTA Award recipients are: The Carroll County Ramblers (People), Sparrows Point Steel Mill and its Communities (Place), and J. Gruber’s Hagerstown Town and Country Almanack (Tradition).
“In this global age, it is important to connect with the cultures that make Maryland a truly distinct place,” said Maryland Department of Business and Economic Development Secretary Christian Johansson. “The ALTA Awards honor and celebrate the deep roots of our past and the people, places and traditions of today that keep our heritage alive.”
In addition to the ceremony, this year’s ALTA Awards includes a special tribute in honor of Mike Auldridge, a co-founder and former member of the Bethesda-based bluegrass band The Seldom Scene. A lifelong Marylander, Auldridge is known internationally for his distinctive style on the Dobro. He was awarded a 2012 National Heritage Fellowship—the nation’s highest honor for traditional arts—by the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) for his role in pioneering contemporary bluegrass and country music.
There will also be a musical celebration in honor of the longstanding contributions of Joe Byrne to the traditional Irish music communities of Maryland and beyond. Byrne, the late proprietor of J. Patrick’s Irish Pub in Baltimore, received a 2008 ALTA Award in the category of Place. Traditional Irish musicians from the Baltimore and DC area will come together to celebrate the legacy of J. Patrick’s.
For tickets to the ALTA Awards Ceremony, call the box office at (240) 567-5775. The event is free of charge, but tickets must be reserved.
PEOPLE: The Carroll County Ramblers are a bluegrass group based in Taneytown, Maryland (Carroll County). Founded by Dottie and Leroy Eyler in 1961, the group has mentored generations of bluegrass musicians throughout the Maryland/Pennsylvania/Virginia/West Virginia quad-state region. For more than a decade they have been hosts and featured performers of an ongoing music series at the Arcadia Volunteer Fire Company Hall near Westminster. Their style is best described as “traditional bluegrass” and their original songs chronicle local history and the everyday fabric of family life (“Grandma’s Sewing Machine”). When Leroy Eyler passed away in 1995, and Dottie Eyler retired from performing in 2010, leadership of the group passed to daughter Bonny Eyler (bass, vocals) and son Dale Eyler (fiddle, vocals). For 51 years, the Carroll County Ramblers have been staples of bluegrass festivals throughout the mid-Atlantic region.
PLACE: Sparrows Point Steel Mill and its Communities are being honored as a vital ‘place’ of enduring importance in the industrial heritage and story of Maryland. For 125 years, tens of thousands of steel workers and associated personnel have known Sparrows Point Steel Mill (Baltimore County) not only as a place of employment, but as the center of community life, with special importance in the company towns of Dundalk and Sparrows Point. Created by the Pennsylvania Steel Company in 1887, and taken over by Bethlehem Steel in 1916, the mill became the world’s largest center for producing steel – evident in the girders of the Golden Gate, George Washington, and Bay Bridges – and for shipbuilding. As a key production site during both World Wars, Sparrows Point peaked during the 1960s and saw a gradual decline in the decades that followed. Though today it faces permanent closure, the mill remains a significant place that grounds a living heritage amongst former workers and community members, as well as a site that is deeply associated with a constellation of collective and personal memories. Accepting the award on behalf of the mill’s community are two Baltimore County oral historians, Louis Diggs and Elmer Hall, as well as the Dundalk-Patapsco Neck Historical Society. Researching the history of African-Americans in Baltimore County for 17 years, Louis Diggs has also focused on the African-American neighborhood of Turner Station in Dundalk. His book, From the Meadows to the Point, is a compilation of memories and personal photographs of Turner Station residents, many of whom had worked at the mill over the course of the 20th century. Elmer Hall, who grew up in the company town of Sparrows Point, is also instrumental in recording the stories of local residents and steelworking families, as well as establishing a popular Sparrows Point reunion picnic for the past 7 years. As a key community repository, the Dundalk-Patapsco Neck Historical Society, located in the center of Dundalk and run by dedicated volunteers, serves to safeguard the heritage and living memories of the mill and its surrounding areas through its extensive archives and exhibitions on local history, annual train gardens and other public events.
TRADITION: J. Gruber’s Hagerstown Town and Country Almanack, or The Almanack, is the oldest almanac in the United States that is still produced by heirs of the original founder, John Gruber. Established in Hagerstown (Washington County), it has been providing agricultural, meteorological and astrological information for the Mid-Atlantic region since 1797. The Almanack, which also contains folk remedies, local poetry, and other forms of traditional community wisdom, was printed in German for its first 25 years, reflecting the fact that the language was still heavily used in the region. In 1822, as readership increased, an English language version of The Almanack was printed and the publication of both German and English editions continued for 100 years. It is the English version of the original publication that has continued through to today. Currently edited by the great-great-great-great great grandson of John Gruber, Charles W. Fisher, Jr., millions of copies have been sold and distributed, impacting a significant amount of farming families and agricultural communities. It is said that The Almanack has made Hagerstown widely known throughout the US and has given Maryland an ‘epicenter’ of farming and agricultural life. At its core is the tradition of forecasting next year’s weather, down to the very day, by using centuries-old astrological calculations, a process that is still continued by mathematician, Professor William O’Toole III of Emmitsburg. In recent years, other traditions have developed in association with the almanac, such as the annual Woolly Bear Contest, where caterpillar-like woolly bears are collected in large quantities so that a “complete and thorough analysis of their distinct markings can be made to determine how severe or mild the coming winter will be.”
The ALTA Award was created in 2007 to honor the work of Dr. Alta Schrock (1911-2001). Dr. Schrock, a native of Garrett County, taught biology at Frostburg State University. She was the force behind The Spruce Forest Artisan Village, Penn Alps, The Journal of the Alleghenies and the Springs Festival, to name a few of her achievements in cultural conservation.
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