Down the Bay

The Ghost of the "Emma Giles"

The Paul McGehee print "Down the Bay" shows the famous Chesapeake Bay passenger steamer "Emma Giles" in all her glory. This descriptive poem by the late writer and composer Charles Waldschmidt (a friend of the artist's) captures the atmosphere of an era now only a memory...

The Ghost of the "Emma Giles"

by Charles Waldschmidt

There are eerie sounds through the mists on the bay. There is something mysterious out there - Like the wail of a lone steam whistle - Like the laugh of a girl so fair.

The sounds come a little bit closer - The mists now begin to thin. There's the throb of an old steam engine - There's that unmistakable din.

There's the splash of the paddle wheels churning - There's the click of the walking beam - There's the flapping of flags and pennants - There's the hiss of escaping steam.

I'm amazed at these sounds in the stillness. Then I think I can see a light. More lights - then stevedores singing. Spirituals into the night.

I rise for a better advantage to look peeringly into the mists. The sounds and the sights grow clearer - More laughter, splash, lights and steam hiss.

Then suddenly in mists that are clearing I see plainly across the miles - The form of a white bay steamer. It's the ghost of the "Emma Giles".

The "Giles" was a sidewheel steamer - That plied the Chesapeake Bay. She'd leave Baltimore in the morning - Stop at Annapolis along the way.

Then down into West and Rhode Rivers - To Galesville, Shadyside and Chalk Point - Where she'd pick up tobacco and produce - From wharf to wharf her bow would point.

The stevedores rustled the barrels - The hogsheads, the sacks and the crates - On the wheeltrucks with rhythmic precision. They danced as they worked through the gates.

They harmonized when work was over. They evened the keel of the ship - By rolling full barrels of water - To one side when the other would dip.

The passengers enjoyed every minute. They enjoyed the salt air and the sun. They liked the kind words of the captain. They knew when the boat was well run.

They enjoyed the packed lunches brought with them. They liked the chef's dinners, of course. They liked the crab (deviled) brought on board the "Giles". While tied to Annapolis wharf.

At times, on board, there would be lovers - With arms about waists tight entwined - Looking out o'er the rail at the whitecaps. Who knows the thoughts each had in mind?

But it is known that some honeymooners - Short of cash for a honeymoon trip - Would do the next best thing they knew of - Take a cruise on this old wooden ship.

Back up the bay the "Giles" would steam - Passing Thomas then Sparrow Points. Then into the broad Patapsco she'd glide - Past Carroll and McHenry Forts.

Soon Baltimore stood there awaiting - For the passengers to disembark. They'd be tired but happy people - Who'd disperse there into the dark.

The "Giles" would be safely moored now - Her journey that day well done. The stevedores then brought her freight on the pier - Ere the last passenger had gone.

On board the pumps would be going - Deck hands hosing down the decks - For another long trip lay before her - Cambridge, Choptank, Eastern Shore next.

It went that way from day to day - For the steamboat "Emma Giles". Most days were uneventful - Others wrestling the Chesapeake's wiles.

Some days there would be a rescue - From a collision or fire on the bay. But most times it would be just pleasant - All sunny, calm water and spray.

You'd know her had you ever seen her - You'd have seen and have felt it, all. You would know the old white side wheeler - from keel to smokestack tall.

She sails again tonight all aglow - In the mists of the Chesapeake Bay - In the mind's eye of many a bay-man. I've seen her, that's how I know.