The Navy is more famous, but folks in these parts say the oyster business is the true pride of Annapolis, and today seven oyster lovers set out to prove it.
The mollusks were the center of attention at the city dock, where the contestants sought to set a new record by eating hundreds of the slimy delicacies in less than three minutes. The winner, Muskrat Greene, of Deale, Md., seemed none the worse for wear after beating out his competitors by eating six pounds of oysters.
Why did he do it? "I like the challenge. I like oysters," he said with a disapproving scowl, as though the answer was obvious.
Other contestants were less upbeat, including second place winner Buddy Breen, who ate nearly four pounds of oysters. "I love oysters. Not this much."
Greene, 45, came ready for the challenge as he sailed into the harbor on his boat, the Miss Concrete, with a large banner proclaiming, "Muskrat, the oyster monster." Once seated at the contestants' table, he slurped and swallowed, but did not chew, 288 of the raw, pale gray oysters -- minus an occasional clump of slippery oyster gunk out the side of his mouth -- in 1 minute and 33 seconds -- enough, officials said, to set the world's record for oyster eating. Contestant judges will now submit records of the event to the Guinness Book of World Records in the hopes of being listed.
While some in the crowd of several hundred outside the Middleton Tavern in the Annapolis harbor were left a bit queasy by the esthetics of Greene's achievement, no one was denying the impressiveness of his gastronomic feat. The crowd cheered wildly as each additional jar of oysters in front of Greene disappeared.
"He blew the old record away. This is amazing," said Marty Bass, a Baltimore television weatherman and one of the event's judges. The oyster eating contest was the idea of Jerome Hardesty, owner of the Middleton Tavern, who said the event was to raise money for the Annapolis Department of Parks and Recreation.
But others at the event had different motives. "We have to bring the record back to Maryland. We're going to do it," said Mike Baulsir, one of the seven contestants, before the event.
Since 1981 the world record holder had been a New Zealander, who ate four pounds of oysters in less than 3 minutes. This rankled many in this city, where skipjacks haul tons of oysters from the Chesapeake Bay each year.
It was a tense atmosphere, therefore, just before the gluttony began at 3 p.m. "I hope no one gets sick. I know I would. This is disgusting," said spectator Debbie Sherlock. A five-piece band played in the background trying to take the people's minds off just such a prospect while cheerleaders from a local high school rallied the crowd with oyster cheers.
One of the contestants used the time to psyche up on his technique. "Just swallow and breathe through the nose. It won't get me the record but it will get me some free oysters," said Larry Griffith, who works at the tavern.
After the contest, Greene, who carries the kind of ample girth that befits a world oyster eating champion, gloated over his victory at Middleton's bar. "I told you I was going to win. I did it," Greene said.
Greene, who took home $500 for his victory, said he is flying to London next month to defend another title: the Guinness world record for snail eating.