Capital Gazette wins special Pulitzer Prize citation for coverage of newsroom shooting that killed five

Celebrity rumors draw a yawn

The Baltimore Sun

ST. MICHAELS -- Residents in this Eastern Shore tourist town seemed to collectively shrug their shoulders yesterday at reports that pop star Michael Jackson has been house-hunting, apparently shopping for a secluded waterfront mansion.

The village of 1,200 earned its blase attitude with the arrival in recent years of a vice president, a former secretary of defense, two presidential press secretaries and other national politicos who have bought homes in or near St. Michaels.

Add the actress who occasionally visits family here or the celebrity sailor who ties up his yacht and dines in dockside restaurants, and it's easy to see how often folks bump into the rich and famous.

Up and down Talbot Street, the crowded main thoroughfare of the 300-year-old community, merchants and shoppers exchanged rumors about Jackson yesterday. In a waterside restaurant in nearby Oxford, a beauty salon in Easton and in real estate offices throughout the county, people speculated about the eccentric singer.

The Easton Star Democrat reported yesterday that unnamed sources confirmed that the "King of Pop" stayed Thursday night at the opulent Inn at Perry Cabin.

John Volponi, the inn's general manager, refused to comment on Jackson, but rumors had Jackson checking out one house in Queen Anne's County and two waterfront estates near St. Michaels in Talbot County.

The notoriously reclusive entertainer was said to be traveling with a small entourage that included bodyguards. Jackson spokeswoman Raymone K. Bain did not return a call to her Washington office.

Merchants and others said they weren't much concerned about their possible future neighbor. They were a little uneasy, however, about a helicopter that hovered nearby for a good part of the afternoon.

Some speculated the chopper could not come closer to seek photos of Jackson because of a no-fly ban that has been in effect for all aircraft since Vice President Dick Cheney bought a house here in 2005.

"Maybe the helicopter has nothing to do with [Jackson], but if he has a house here, how long before the rest of the world finds out and finds us?" said Rodney Whitacre, who owns a women's clothing store on Talbot Street.

Sharon Crawford, who manages a gift shop on Talbot Street, said she didn't think Jackson's presence would make much difference in the bustling town.

"You'd think a guy like that is going to stick pretty much to himself," Crawford said. "My God, we've got the vice president here."

Jackson's arrival and his rumored house-hunting tour set off speculation that other big-name entertainment figures have also discovered the charm of the community and miles and miles of meandering shoreline in Talbot and Queen Anne's counties.

"Periodically, we'll hear about a big celebrity like this prowling around," said John Coile, an Annapolis real estate broker who also has offices on the Eastern Shore. "Lately, the name that's been circulating is Oprah. That's one that'll get your attention."

One real estate agent said St. Michaels offices have been abuzz with talk that actress Julia Roberts might be considering buying property here.

Coile, who is certain he has seen guitarist Eric Clapton's sailboat moored in local waters several times, says the celebrity-spotting can become comical. "My dentist alleges that his hygienist has seen Clapton playing guitar on deck."

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