Annapolis town crier grabs visitors' attention

By Carrie Donovan
Thursday, April 15, 2010

Fred Taylor's the guy sometimes seen walking around downtown Annapolis in a caped coat, breeches and plumed tricorn hat.

To one passerby wearing sandals, he says, "Perhaps you could get a man to buy you a proper pair of shoes."

To an out-of-towner requesting directions to Francis Street (naturally, while standing under a Francis Street sign), he says "if you were any closer it would bite you."

Taylor describes himself as "historical eye candy" and, in June, will compete against 39 others from nine countries in the World Town Crier Tournament in Chester, England.

When Taylor retired from his Defense Department job in 1996, he put his history degree to work giving tours of Annapolis and became fascinated with Maryland history. About that time, he took up acting in local theater productions. A friend helped him make a town crier outfit, and he took on the role of Squire Frederick. He started making Colonial-style announcements at grand openings and embarrassing his children by wearing his breeches to the grocery store.

The thing about being a town crier, though, is that an official appointment is needed before joining the club. It took two years of community outreach to gain enough support for then-Mayor Ellen Moyer to approve his appointment in 2006. There hadn't been a town crier in Annapolis since Colonial times, but a declaration signed by Moyer made it possible for Taylor to keep the title as long as he remains in good health and wants to do the job.

"We, of course, were thrilled to recommend Fred. He's a great human being," said Connie Del Signore, president and chief executive of the Annapolis and Anne Arundel County Conference and Visitors Bureau. "He absolutely adds color to a destination like ours."

Last year, County Executive James T. Smith Jr. also appointed Taylor town crier to help celebrate Baltimore County's 350-year anniversary.

After competing in his first tournament in 2007 in Milford, Ohio, Taylor hosted criers from throughout North America in Annapolis in 2008 for a championship during the 300th anniversary of the Annapolis charter. It was a huge success, Del Signore said.

"That drew the largest crowd of any event or activity we had throughout the year-long celebration," she said.

Over the course of a week in Chester, the contestants will belt out a cry about their home town, one advertising something and one using the word "coach." Those who are best at each cry will be deemed winners, and an overall winner will be chosen. Prizes will also be awarded to criers with the best costumes.

A previous competition there in 2001 generated an overwhelming amount of media attention, which got the town of Chester thinking: Let's offer a Media Prize. Criers can spread the word to newspapers, radio and TV stations and even Facebook and Twitter accounts. Taylor's "favorite son", Matt, a journalist, created for him about his competition in Chester.

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