Crazy for Crabs in Crisfield Festival: The National Hard Crab Derby and Fair exemplifies a Maryland tradition with a variety of crustacean sensations.


If there's one symbol that says Maryland more than any other, it is the crab.

Around the state, pictures of crabs adorn everything from coffee mugs to flags in souvenir shops. You don't have to drive too far in Baltimore to find a bushel of crabs, which is always around the corner at a shop or a stand on a country road. And conquering the fine act of getting the meat out of a crab is a Maryland rite of passage.

For some Marylanders, the question of "How is your summer?" is answered by how good or how big or how costly the crabs were.

For those who never get their fill of crabs and everything that goes along with them, the place to be tonight through Sunday is Crisfield. The National Hard Crab Derby and Fair, sponsored by the Chamber of Commerce, kicks off its 49th year in the Eastern Shore town.

It's become a Labor Day tradition.

"This is a unique thing," says Virginia Townsend, chairman of the event, who has volunteered for many years to help pull it together. This year, the hard crab derby, called the "Governor's Cup Race," takes on a political edge. All in good fun, of course.

"We are asking all of the counties to send us a crab for the race," Townsend says. And may the best crab win. The crabs "race" down a board that is slanted downward.

The "Governor's Cup Race" crawls off on Saturday at 2 p.m. The winning county will receive a trophy.

Townsend was understandably a little bit evasive on the fate of the crabby contestants who will be giving their all for their counties.

"I don't know if they are going to be steamed or whatever," she says. "I don't ask."

That brings us to another highlight of the fair -- the crab cooking contest.

There will be 16 contestants, each with his or her own recipe, Townsend says. The crab-cooking contest will take place on the first day of the fair, tomorrow, at 9 a.m. at Woodson Middle School.

Throughout the weekend, there will also be people races, beach volleyball tournaments, dancing, music, magicians, arm wrestling and more.

Rides and games will open at 6 p.m. tomorrow, 1 p.m. on Saturday and noon on Sunday. The festival ends with a fireworks display at 9: 30 p.m. on Sunday.

"There will be 10 to 15 food vendors and 10 to 15 arts and crafts people," Townsend says.

Crisfield, which is close to Smith Island, is a town of 2,500 on the lower Eastern Shore and is widely known for seafood. It's also the place that has given us the Miss Crustacean Pageant.

Our country may have its Miss America Pageant; the world has its Miss Universe Pageant. And we here in Maryland are proud to claim the Miss Crustacean Pageant, which will be held tonight at 7: 30 at Crisfield High School as part of the fair.

Last year, Miss Crustacean got the opportunity to appear before a national television audience. "The Late Show" with David Letterman presented a segment of different pageants around jTC the country, and Maryland was represented by the 1995 Miss Crustacean, Sara Cross.

The show featured Cross and seven others who held, well, unusual titles. Besides Miss Crustacean, the show included Miss Black-Eyed Pea, Miss Collard Green and Miss Drumstick.

There's no knowing if Letterman will come calling again, but this year's Miss Crustacean will still get to rub shoulders with the stars. At least one star.

On Sunday, singer Michael Bolton is scheduled to appear at a concert on the Eastern Shore. It is not affiliated with the fair, but Ms. Crustacean has been chosen to welcome him at the airport, says Paula Bishop, a longtime volunteer for the crab fair and organizer of the pageant.

This year, 15 young women between the ages of 15 and 18 will vie for the title, Bishop says. "We always have a big opening number. The theme this year is the Mardi Gras."

Just as in the Miss America Pageant, there are competitions in swimsuits and evening gowns. "Then we will choose five finalists," she says. Those five will have to answer a question spontaneously before the crustacean crown is awarded.

Besides being introduced to Bolton, Miss Crustacean receives a host of other prizes, Bishop says.

"Businesses in the town are real cooperative. She will get her hair done, have her nails done. She will receive a gift certificate from practically every business here," Bishop says. The winner also receives several savings bonds.

Of course, she has the honor of reigning over the fair as the Numero Uno crustacean and, a safe bet to say, the best-looking one on two legs.


What: National Hard Crab Derby and Fair

Where: Crisfield, on the Eastern Shore, at Somers Cove Marina and other locations around town

When: Miss Crustacean Pageant, 7: 30 tonight at Crisfield High School. Crab-cooking contest tomorrow at 9 a.m.; festival continues 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. tomorrow; Saturday 7: 30 a.m.-11 p.m.; Sunday 8 a.m. to 10: 30 p.m.

Tickets: Adults, $4 a day; children, $2 a day; two-day passes, $6

Call: (410) 968-2500

Pub Date: 8/29/96

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