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Earl A. Brannock, noted Eastern Shore maritime historian and author, dies

Earl A. Brannock established the Brannock Maritime Museum in Cambridge and helped bring the tall ships to Baltimore in 1976’s Operation Sail.
Earl A. Brannock established the Brannock Maritime Museum in Cambridge and helped bring the tall ships to Baltimore in 1976’s Operation Sail. (Baltimore Sun)

Earl A. Brannock, an historian, author and maritime expert who established the Brannock Maritime Museum in Cambridge and helped bring the tall ships to Baltimore in 1976's Operation Sail, died Oct. 8 of kidney failure at the Bayleigh Chase retirement community in Easton.

The Cambridge resident was 91.

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"Earl was an interesting character who ran his own private maritime museum in Cambridge for years," said Pete Lesher, a noted Chesapeake Bay maritime and boat-building historian who is curator of the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum in St. Michaels.

"He was particularly interested in making the maritime connection to Dorchester County and had collected shipbuilding tools, models and trailboards," he said. "It was an eclectic collection, and it was all tied together by the sea and its connection to Dorchester County's past."

The son of Samuel E. Brannock, a schooner captain, and Mary Elizabeth Creighton Brannock, a department store clerk, Earl Edwin Brannock was born on Hoopers Island and moved with his family to Cambridge as a young child. His family's Eastern Shore roots go back to the 1660s

Mr. Brannock's love of ships and the sea began when he was very young. After his father died when he was 10 years old, an uncle, Capt. Amos Creighton, who was commander of the old Maryland Fishery Force, now the Natural Resources Police, took an interest in raising his nephew.

When he was 13, his uncle assigned him as a merchant seaman to the DuPont, "which was the flagship of the state's fisheries enforcement fleet," wrote Susan M. Bautz, an Eastern Shore writer, in a profile of Mr. Brannock.

He was a graduate of Cambridge High School and enlisted in the Navy in 1942. After completing training, he was assigned to the heavy cruiser USS Chester, and because he had served earlier on the DuPont, he was nicknamed "Oyster Pirate" by his crewmates.

Mr. Brannock served in the Pacific. By the war's end in 1945, he had participated in nine major battles including Saipan, Iwo Jima and Okinawa, and 39 bombardments.

The Chester was at Kulak Bay in the Aleutian Islands when news of the end of the war reached the ship. "You could feel the ship vibrate with the news," wrote Mr. Brannock, with his co-author, C. Kay Larson, in "Marylanders All: Ten Unsung Heroes of Dorchester County," published in 2013.

After the war ended, Mr. Brannock returned to Cambridge, where he established an interior design firm, closing it during a recession in the late 1950s.

Mr. Brannock married Shirley Sullivan, a Dorchester County art instructor, in 1951.

He later studied planning and engineering at the Johns Hopkins University and went to work as a draftsman for Anne Arundel County. He was named the county's first director of economic development in the late 1950s, a position he held until the mid-1960s.

Two of his major projects while director of economic development included conversion of the Army's Ordnance Road Depot into an industrial park and the Westinghouse Industrial Park near what is now Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport.

"As economic development director with the county, he brought five industrial parks and 27 industries to the county; 22 of which were Fortune 500 companies," wrote Ms. Bautz.

Mr. Brannock purchased a 91-acre parcel on Kent Island where he laid out a subdivision, a shopping center, an industrial park and a residential area adjacent to the airport that was built on the island.

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In 1964, he joined the Maryland Port Administration as the representative for Anne Arundel County and was also the county's representative to the Baltimore Maritime Exchange. He also served on the Maryland Travel Council, the 1964 New York World's Fair Commission and Industrial Workers Council of Baltimore, and was secretary of the Anne Arundel Aviation Commission.

Mr. Brannock led Operation Sail, an effort that culminated in tall ships from all over the world visiting Baltimore during the U.S. bicentennial in 1976.

He led the Maryland delegation to Connecticut for the Aug.10, 1991 christening of the USS Maryland, an Ohio-class ballistic submarine, that was built at the General Dynamics Electric Boat plant in Groton.

Mr. Brannock earned his pilot's license in 1958 and continued flying for 22 years until he suffered two heart attacks.

After he sold his interest in the Kent Island projects, he and his wife purchased an 18-room house in Cambridge and called it Commodore's Cottages Bed and Breakfast, which they operated for a number of years.

In 1984, the couple opened the Brannock Maritime Museum in a building behind their home on Glenburn Avenue and filled it with maritime memorabilia they had collected through the years that related to the Eastern Shore. it included 42 years of records from the Maryland Fishery Force, or Oyster Navy, that dated to 1910.

"It is a rich collection and the largest Oyster Navy collection outside of the Maryland State Archives," said Mr. Lesher.

The collection outgrew the couple's home and moved to a larger facility on Talbot Avenue in Cambridge. In 2013, the Brannock Education and Research Center moved to new quarters on the second floor of the old Ruark Boatworks on Maryland Avenue in Cambridge.

"We collected all of this until my wife died, then it was kind of like, 'Where the hell am I going from here?'" Mr. Brannock told The Banner newspaper at the time the museum opened in 2013. "I had offers from two universities and three museums, but I did not want it to end up anywhere but in Dorchester."

Because of his vast knowledge of Eastern Shore maritime history, Mr. Brannock was named to the National Maritime Hall of Fame Selection Committee.

The couple also operated a summer sailing camp for teenagers.

In addition to "Marylanders All," Mr. Brannock was the author of "Queen of the Chesapeake and Hudson," a biography of Marine Brig. Gen. William Sulivane Muse, and "Warship: USS Chester Heritage."

When Mrs. Brannock was asked if she ever considered divorcing her husband because of his numerous activities and busy schedule, she told Ms. Larson with a laugh, "Divorce no. But murder, many times."

She died in 2006.

Funeral services will be held at noon Thursday at St. Paul United Methodist Church, 205 Maryland Ave., Cambridge.

Mr. Brannock is survived by a nephew and two nieces.

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