LETTER TO THE EDITOR: Tourism efforts don’t amount to much in Delaware

I recently heard gubernatorial candidate John Carney state that tourism and development drive the economy of Delaware. Last week, I see a full-page article extolling how tourism is thriving here. [“Report shows Delaware tourism marketing is working,” Sept. 30] I don’t know what world these people live in, but it sure ain’t where I live.

Under [former] Gov. Pete DuPont, the eye-catching logo “Small Wonder” not only gave pride to the lifelong residents, it had a heartwarming appeal that was found advertised throughout the state. You could find it on shirts, on glasses and mugs, and even on license plates. Then some Einstein decided to change that. “It’s good to be first.” REALLY.

And aside from some history professor, who understands the meaning of that or what its intentions are, aside from braggadocio? I see in the article that even that goofy phrase may have changed to “Endless Discoveries.” I’m no mathematics whiz, but unless you go underground, the second-smallest state will have a difficult time proving that one.

If you need proof, I want you to tell me where I can find a “Delaware” T-shirt. Please don’t try to convince me the University of Delaware shirts do that. I’m speaking of something that addresses the state of Delaware. Find any of the other trinkets and baubles you find in all the other states. Show me a map of Delaware with key sites to visit or highways to take. The only ones I’ve ever seen include Virginia and Maryland, with no information on our state.

Let’s talk state heroes. The man whose name is extolled throughout the state is Caesar Rodney. It’s truly sad that the only monument built to honor him is in Wilmington, 60 miles from where he lived and died. Speaking of his death, no one seems to know where he is even buried. There is a memorial stone in a graveyard just south of Legislative Hall; there’s no significance given to it.

Yet, on top of this, the tourism department had no hint of hypocrisy in spending $350,000 to build a reproduction shack on the Capitol Green to signify what might have been there once without the heating and air conditioning systems.

Sadly, the Department of Education is just as culpable. Delaware history is not included in any mandatory curriculum. I’m a transplant here, and I can bet I know more about the history of this wonderful little state than 99 percent of high-school graduates.

How many know this area was originally called “Penn’s Woods” and Thomas Jefferson referred to it as the “Diamond State” because he considered it the jewel in the collection of colonies? Do you know how the Revolutionary War soldiers from Delaware gained the name “Blue Hens”? Did you know that the indigenous Native American tribe here was the Lenape (or Lenni Lenape) and not the Nanticokes, who were native to the southern Chesapeake and the western shore?

How many know that Delaware once had world-renowned beaches in Woodland Beach and Collins Beach that were visited regularly by European royalty? How many know that America expanded on the manufacture of gunpowder and explosives made by DuPont near Brandywine until 1910, and invention of smokeless powder? Did you know that, during World War II, with Japan controlling all silk manufacture, the discovery of nylon at the DuPont factory in Seaford became instrumental in the manufacture of parachute fabric for our military? How many know that at one time, every packet of Jell-O started here in Dover?

Though the lookout towers around Cape Henlopen have begun to be recognized, no one seems to know that they were vital as Nazi German subs often entered the bay, and there are accounts and memorabilia to verify these subs occasionally pirated water and food from Delaware watermen. (Many of us fondly remember when General Foods was cooking chocolate puddings and the smell permeated the city and surrounding areas.) Women all over the world celebrated the invention of the “Living Bra,” and every one made came from the Dover plant. Did you know that every astronaut who ever visited space or walked on the moon wore suits manufactured by ILC in Frederica?

Did you know that “market hunting,” which drove hunting seasons and bag limits, was a big moneymaker in Delaware? Did you know that Delaware once supplied the majority of fresh tomatoes and peaches to the larger northeastern cities? Did you know that during the holiday season, Delaware exported more holly, mistletoe and crow’s feet for holiday decorations than all the other states combined?

Yet, if I pick up the namesake “Delaware [Today]” magazine, I find it to be aimed at the ostentatious lifestyles of the rich and famous, with no mention of Kent County activities and very little Sussex County other than the high-end beach resorts, restaurants and businesses.

The most egregious lack of knowledge comes from our country’s most catastrophic time, the Civil War. Do you know exactly where the Mason-Dixon line is? Do you know that, though Delaware was considered both a Union and a Confederate state, it was neither? Do you know the most dynamic event of that war was the escape from slave states to the freedom of the northern territories? Did you know that, though Maryland heralds the virtues of Harriet Tubman and her “Underground Railway,” our tourism department completely ignores it?

The focal point of that system to aid slaves was here in Delaware. People were brought through Sandtown with the aid of Quakers in Camden, and then, spirited to the church in Star Hill to get on small boats, rowed down Tidbury Creek to the St. Jones River, where they could be put onto larger boats in the Delaware bay for their escape to freedom. And what does the state of Delaware do to extol this event? They put a simple historical marker in front of the church without any road signage to direct people to this extremely important sight.

I wonder how many tourism and historical events could have been printed on a viable map of the state, instead of wasting $350,000 on a shanty near the Capitol building? Worst of all, perhaps, is that a transplant such as myself would know such things, and natives of the Small Wonder don’t.

George Roof

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