Maryland helps local groups mark the War of 1812. And living without snark — or trying to.

Correction: An earlier version of this column had an incorrect last name for Amy Kossoff Smith. This version has been corrected.


Chad Baker, director of museums at the Maryland School for the Deaf, on Oct. 21 at the Madison House in Brookeville, Md. (John Kelly/The Washington Post)
John Kelly
Columnist October 21, 2013

For years, people had been tripping over a cannon at the Maryland School for the Deaf in Frederick. They have several cannons there — part of the school is in a Revolutionary War-era barracks — but this one is particularly large: 800 pounds.

“It was a big doorstop, to be honest,” said Chad Baker, director of museums at the school. “Wherever we put it, we seemed to walk into it.”

John Kelly writes "John Kelly's Washington," a daily look at Washington's less-famous side. Born in Washington, John started at The Post in 1989 as deputy editor in the Weekend section. View Archive

Just like every warship, every cannon has a story. But no one knew what the story was on this one. If it was engraved with information — where it was made, when — no one could find it. Whatever paperwork had accompanied the cannon had been lost.

Then in 2011, Chad ran across a 1914 magazine article that mentioned an unusual gift to the School for the Deaf in honor of the centennial of the War of 1812. When he consulted a Frederick newspaper from that year, he gleaned more information. It turns out the artillery piece is an American-made naval six-pounder, used in the War of 1812, later pulled from the bottom of Baltimore Harbor and given to the school in 1914.

On Monday in Brookeville, the Montgomery County town that has its own War of 1812 connection, the School for the Deaf was among 15 area groups receiving a total of $1.2 million to mark the war’s anniversary.

The cannon is rough and pitted. The $5,000 grant will allow it to be restored and studied. Other disbursements announced Monday included $250,000 to the Maryland Academy of Sciences to make a ­
3-D Imax movie about “The Star-Spangled Banner,” $20,000 to Frederick’s Mount Olivet Cemetery to put commemorative plaques on the graves of 103 War of 1812 veterans, including Francis Scott Key, and $20,500 to the Babe Ruth Birthplace in Baltimore.

Funny. I don’t remember the Bambino being that active in the War of 1812.

Americans “weren’t exactly playing organized sports back then,” admitted Tim Richardson, director of institutional advancement at the Babe Ruth Birthplace Foundation. “Except, what song is played at every sporting event in the United States?”

That would be “The Star-Spangled Banner,” which Tim said was first played in Game 1 of the 1918 World Series between the Chicago Cubs and the Boston Red Sox. And who was pitching for the Red Sox? You guessed it: George Herman “Babe” Ruth Jr.

“It’s not just a significant piece of U.S. history, but it’s also a piece of our sports landscape,” Tim said of the national anthem.

The anthem wasn’t played at the start of that game, but in the seventh inning. A player standing at third base dropped his glove, doffed his cap and stood at attention. Ruth, on the other hand, kept tossing balls to his catcher to keep his arm warm.

The Baltimore museum has already made a movie to show visitors about the connection of the anthem to sports. The new money from Maryland’s Star-Spangled 200 grant program will be used to bring in grade-school kids. Those who fill out work sheets and mail them in will receive a replica Babe Ruth baseball card from 1914 — the centennial year of the War of 1812 and the year Ruth made his professional debut.

So, a year before the 200th anniversary of when the War of 1812 was at its hottest in our area, things are starting to heat up. Brookeville, the town that James Madison stopped in for a night after fleeing Washington, got some money too: $98,550.

On Monday, representatives of the groups were invited into the historic Brookeville house where Madison stayed. I mentioned to Chad Baker that it was a good thing he was able to find the cannon’s War of 1812 connection in 2011, as opposed to, say, 2015, when all the hoopla would be over.

“This is a tremendous find,” he said. “We’re very fortunate.”

[Insert snarky headline here — or don’t]

Oct. 22 is the first Snark Free Day, a day to resist the urge to pepper your observations with sarcastic, cutting comments. If you don’t believe me, go to www.snarkfreeday.com, where you can watch a little video about how snark is detrimental to the workplace. The campaign is the creation of PR Consultants Group, a nationwide collective of independent public relations professionals.

“Snark is a little like spice,” the animated video explains. “Used sparingly, it can actually make things a little more interesting. But too much can really burn you.”

The message is that turning down the snark can make for friendlier, more productive workplaces.

Rockville’s Amy Kossoff Smith worked on the campaign. I pointed out that cynics might think she and her fellow flacks created a problem, looked for data to support it, then launched a campaign to get PR for themselves.

“That’s kind of snarky,” she said. “I think that it is an issue. I don’t think we looked for a problem. It’s all over the media that bullying is a crisis and that bullying never leads to good things.”

Frankly, if my co-workers suddenly stopped being snarky, I would worry they had been replaced by aliens. Can modern Americans really exist without snark, even for 24 hours? Yes, Amy said, but it’s hard.

“It’s like teaching yourself to write with the other hand,” she said. “It’s very unnatural for people to be only positive.”

john.kelly@washpost.com

For previous columns, go to washingtonpost.com/johnkelly.

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