The recent vote in the Maryland General Assembly to abolish, but not replace, the offensive state song, “Maryland, My Maryland” has, for the time being, finally put that long-debated issue to rest (unless Gov. Larry Hogan vetoes the legislation, which is an unlikely prospect).
The song — written as a pro-secessionist tract by the poet and Maryland native James Ryder Randall — was originally adopted in 1935 by a Democratically controlled legislature (certainly a different brand than today). But it was vetoed by Republican governor Harry W. Nice because lawmakers refused to delete “objectionable verses” about Abraham Lincoln, the Union Army and Northern citizens. After Nice left office, the next governor, Herbert R. O’Conor, signed the song into law in 1939.
Since then, periodic attempts have been made to change the words and even the tune; it’s sung to the Christmas song “O Tannenbaum.” Notable legislators of the past who sought change on the state song included J. Joseph Curran and Clarence Blount.
None of those efforts have been unsuccessful, but that won’t stop me from offering my own suggestion for the state song as a native Marylander and historian. It’s maybe not new, bold or creative, but it is different and certainly in keeping with the 21st century American tradition of corporate naming of everything under the sun, as well as providing levity to a subject taken a bit too seriously at times (compared to the many challenges we face today).
My suggestion is simply to adopt as the official Maryland state song, the long-departed TV jingle for National Bohemian Beer.
For the non-native, National Bohemian — known in local “Baltimorese” as “Natty Boh” — was once one of Maryland’s most recognizable exports. The National Brewery, under Jerrold Hoffberger, once also owned and operated the Orioles during the baseball team’s heyday of the 1960s and 1970s.
The television commercials — which featured a turn-of-the-century (19th to 20th), one-eyed saloon keeper named “Mr. Boh,” a deep-voiced pelican known as “Chester Peake” and a singing troubadour — extolled the virtues of the beer brewed “on the shores of the Chesapeake Bay” in the “Land of Pleasant Living.” Over 50 years ago, when school kids were asked what Maryland’s state motto was, they replied “Land of Pleasant Living” rather than “The Old Line State” or “The Free State.”
Now, doesn’t an upbeat jingle that hails Maryland as “The Land of Pleasant Living” and visualizes summer evenings “on the shores of the Chesapeake Bay” (our proudest natural resource), eating crabs and enjoying a favorite beverage, preferable to a ranting diatribe by an angry expatriate poet who “disses” Lincoln as a “despot,” “tyrant” and “vandal?” Not to mention his digs against the Sixth Massachusetts Regiment (who were only trying to get from one train station to the other) for committing “patriotic gore that flecked the streets of Baltimore” and the Northerners he referred to as “scum.”
Besides, the Star Spangled Banner, our national anthem, penned right here in Baltimore Harbor by Francis Scott Key, was adapted to the tune of an old English drinking song. So rather than the anthem being adapted to the drinking song, the drinking song would be adopted as the (state) anthem.
Other possible choices from this author’s youth were rejected, including the Esskay hot dog jingle (“Taste the Difference Quality Makes”) and the Parks Sausage ditty (“More Parks Sausages Mom, Please?”). No, the National Boh jingle is a fine idea, and an old recording of the song should be made available immediately to the General Assembly, so lawmakers can take action in short order in these final weeks of the session, and if necessary next year, have the discerning voters of the “Land of Pleasant Living” approve it in referendum. Doing so would thereby throw out, once and for all, the song of sedition and restore “O Tannenbaum” to its rightful place: Christmastime.
William J. Thompson is a Baltimore historian, teacher, and writer. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org.