July 21, 2017
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  • Ralph Crosby, author of “Memoirs of a Main Street Boy,” has spoken at venues around Annapolis promoting his memoir, which weaves personal memories with Annapolis history.
    Gracie Fairfax
    Ralph Crosby, author of “Memoirs of a Main Street Boy,” has spoken at venues around Annapolis promoting his memoir, which weaves personal memories with Annapolis history.

“Memoirs Of A Main Street Boy” Reflects On Local History

Gracie Fairfax
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May 3, 2017

In a third-floor apartment above 183 Main Street in 1930s downtown Annapolis lived a young boy named Ralph Crosby. Crosby was born in Annapolis in 1933 and left only for his college years to study journalism at the University of Maryland and for work commutes to Baltimore and Washington, D.C., where he worked as journalist. Persuaded by a friend, Crosby left journalism and opened Crosby Marketing and Communications in Annapolis in 1973 — a company close to his heart that allowed Crosby to be a different kind of storyteller. Despite his career switch to marketing, he has always seen himself as a writer.

In his new book, “Memoirs of a Main Street Boy,” Crosby writes about his boyhood adventures in Annapolis during what he describes as a “very dynamic and a very disastrous period” in American history – from the Great Depression, through World War II and the Cold War. But the memoir is not limited to Crosby’s personal history.

“I use my experiences as a youth to go back into history and Annapolis’ colonial history, which is rather remarkable,” Crosby said. “So I tie and blend the Annapolis history with my history, and that’s the premise of the book.”

He uses the front windows of his third-floor apartment as a literary device to explain how he saw Annapolis and what he would have seen had he been alive in colonial times.

Compiling stories and history for his memoir required extensive research and fact-checking.

“I had to go back to the playgrounds of my childhood to make sure I remembered it correctly. I had to talk to other people who were alive during that period to make sure my facts were correct,” Crosby said. “I luckily had a friend, Jane McWillams, who is the historian of Annapolis, to check my facts out so I got my Annapolis history right.”

While researching in the Maryland Archives, he came across a book titled “Colonial Families of Anne Arundel County Maryland” through which he learned of his direct ancestor, Burden Crosby, who died in the 1730s. He writes about this discovery briefly in his book.

Other memories include stories of his mother and father – a sheet metal worker at the Naval Academy, the library he frequented in what is now Reynolds Tavern and recollections of the pizza shop on Main Street, where he took his now wife of almost 58 years on their second date.

Crosby said the storefronts on Main Street remain basically the same as they were in his childhood, but the businesses he frequented are gone.

“When I was a youth, Main Street had three grocery stores, two 5-and-10-cent stores, a baker, a butcher, no candlestick maker, a hat shop, clothing stores,” Crosby said. “It really had everything you needed to live, so we didn’t own cars usually.”

Several lectures and discussions about his book in the Annapolis area have allowed Crosby to share his history with the community and learn from others who have a personal connection to the history of Annapolis.

On April 27, Crosby held one of these discussions at the Broadneck Library. He shared pictures, read excerpts from his book, answered audience questions and signed books. As Crosby and his audience members exchanged stories, one woman mentioned her mother was an airplane spotter on top of the Maryland Inn during World War II.

“I can tell you that I enjoyed it as much as the audience did because what I enjoy is the repartee after I talk,” Crosby said. “People bring up interesting questions and sometimes tell me things that I didn’t know, so I enjoyed it very much tonight because I had a very responsive crowd.”

One of his most-asked questions at his lectures is, “What is the biggest change in Annapolis from the time you were a youth until now?” to which he always replies, “the City Dock area.” Today, the area is full of tourists, yachts and people eating ice cream. In contrast, the City Dock of his childhood had a stench resulting from the seafood houses along the side of the dock where fish and crabs were cleaned. The offal was then thrown into the dock.

Jim Merna, an audience member at Crosby’s talk at the Broadneck Library, enjoyed learning about the history of Annapolis from Crosby’s perspective.

“I’ve lived in Maryland a long time, since I got out of the Marine Corps in 1953. He’s an institution. He’s an original. It’s great to learn the history of Annapolis, this quaint city, from someone like him,” Merna said. “He’s one of the rare Annapolitans. Many of us are transient, people who come from elsewhere and move to Annapolis.”

Pam Atkinson, who both attended the lecture and read Crosby’s book, particularly enjoyed the photos that went along with the stories.

“I loved how personal it was … how he tied in his personal stories and experiences to the Annapolis history and I think the photos were fantastic and bring it to life,” Atkinson said. “During the talk, we can actually point to a photo and then the people sitting and enjoying would have a question – ‘Oh, are those the train tracks?’ ‘What used to be there?’ It just made the whole thing very engaging.”


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