Searching for the Ghost of Sidney Lanier during a Plowshares trial
By Max Obuszewski
We were hoping to leave Baltimore for Brunswick, Georgia on Saturday, October 19 so that we could attend the Festival of Hope for the Kings Bay Plowshares, scheduled at 4 PM on October 20. However, Janice Sevre-Duszynska had some health problems, and we delayed our departure. Unfortunately, she was unable to go.
So David Eberhardt, a member of the Baltimore Four, and I took to the highway at 8:45 AM on October 20 in the midst of Tropical Storm Nestor which made its way up the coast. We endured rain all through Maryland, Washington, D.C. and Virginia. Finally, in North Carolina I turned off the wipers.
We saw two accidents on Route 95, and I speculated that the cars involved hydroplaned, which occurs when a tire is separated from the road surface by a thin film of water and loses traction. I am a very careful driver in heavy rain.
Most of my friends from our East Side neighborhood in Erie, PA attended Cathedral Preparatory School for Boys. Possibly the school’s most famous graduate was Tom Ridge who was the first Secretary of Homeland Security. One of my friends was Tom Kalista who eventually became the baseball coach at our high school. He was driving to Cleveland in the rain on Route 90 to see a baseball game. Unfortunately, he lost control of his vehicle, probably because of hydroplaning, and was killed in the crash.
After about 800 miles and twelve hours, we arrived safely in Brunswick, located on a harbor of the Atlantic Ocean, approximately 40 miles north of and about 80 miles south of . The population is about 15,000 people. We eventually found Camp Glynn amongst the marshes on Blythe Island where we would stay during the trial.
Patrick O’Neill, one of the defendants, told me that the camp was primitive, a bit of an understatement. We were allocated a cabin with a set of bunkbeds and lots of graffiti, probably the work of some bored boys scouts. There was a common bath area for the men, and the showers were without hot water. Since the camp was by the marshes, I presumed that is why the water was suffused with sulfur. There was also a building where campers could get breakfast. In solidarity with the Plowshares, especially Rev. Steve Kelly who has been imprisoned since April 4, 2018, I was pleased to be at Camp Glynn.
The next morning, we arrived at the Frank M. Scarlett Federal Building on Gloucester Street to join the daily vigil. Remarkably, I parked for free just across the street from the courthouse. It was charming not to see any parking meters. Coming from Baltimore where drivers pass you on the right and the left on narrow streets, I found the drivers in Brunswick to be very polite.
Just before we left for Brunswick, there was a pretty toxic road rage incident in Baltimore’s Seton Hill neighborhood. Two drivers failed to go through a light quickly enough when it turned green, and this exasperated the driver of a vehicle behind them. So he drove around the vehicles and fired his gun and struck a two-year old passenger in the stomach. Fortunately, the alleged shooter was taken into custody.
While we were vigiling outside, jury selection was taking place inside the courthouse. I wanted to get a sense of the city, so I walked around and noted the palm trees and the Spanish moss. There was a historical marker which caught my eye outside the FIRST UNITED METHODIST CHURCH OF BRUNSWICK. The Union Army occupied Brunswick in 1862, and the people fled. The church did not re-open until after the Civil War.
The original inhabitants of Brunswick were the . Spanish adventurers started to arrive in the mid-16th century, and the demise of the population soon followed. Eventually, the British drove off the Spanish early in the 18th century.
At lunchtime on October 21, we gathered at St. Athanasius Episcopal Church which was in an African-American neighborhood ten minutes from the courthouse. Near the church, I saw another historical marker, which indicated that Sidney Lanier was Georgia’s greatest poet. I mentioned this to Dave, who is a poet, and he knew Lanier’s story, and his 1878 poem “The Marshes of Glynn.”
“The wide sea-marshes of Glynn;--
“Beautiful glooms, soft dusks in the noon-day fire,--
“Wildwood privacies, closets of lone desire,
“Chamber from chamber parted with wavering arras of leaves,--
“Cells for the passionate pleasure of prayer to the soul that grieves,
“Pure with a sense of the passing of saints through the wood,
“Cool for the dutiful weighing of ill with good;--“
Lanier contracted tuberculosis while a captive Confederate soldier at Point Lookout, Maryland. Some years later, the poet sought relief from TB in Brunswick's climate, and wrote the poem based on the salt marshes that span Glynn County. Eventually, he moved to Baltimore, where he accepted a position as first flutist for the Peabody Orchestra. Then he became a lecturer at the Peabody Institute and then at Johns Hopkins University. Lanier's health continued to worsen, however, and in 1881 he was dead. His body lies in rest in Baltimore’s Greenmount Cemetery. This is the same cemetery where John Wilkes Booth is buried in an unmarked grave in the Booth family plot.
In 2019 some 100 supporters of the Plowshares descended on Brunswick hoping to find peace with justice. However, we were informed that the local library had denied space to the Plowshares and their supporters. Also, the local newspaper rejected an ad from the support committee. So that Southern hospitality only goes so far.
A long time ago, after my first visit to the South, I was informed as a Yankee, I was welcome to visit. Y’all come back, but don’t stay.
After lunch at St. Athanasius, Patrick provided us with a detailed report about the court’s attempt to seat a jury. First, he informed us that he tangled with Judge Lisa Godbey Wood about his right to urinate. He had avoided ingesting any fluids, but Nature called during voir dire. He then asked for permission to seek relief. The judge refused his request. Seeking the advice of a lawyer, he left the courtroom for the rest room. However, the judge sent a marshal to bring him back. This seemed to be an indication that the presiding judge was very insecure, and felt a need to impose her will on a defendant. This was not a good sign for the defendants.
As to jury selection, Patrick indicated there were 72 prospective jurors, and Judge Wood asked them THE question: “Do you have an opinion about nuclear weapons?” Not one raised a hand. This was foreshadowing as to what would come late on Thursday afternoon.
Surely many of the jurors had an opinion on these weapons of mass destruction. Surely some believed in deterrence or mutual assured destruction or saw the film ON THE BEACH. Presumably, some of the potential jurors did not want to reveal their bias against defendants who professed that their religious beliefs recognized nuclear weapons as illegal and immoral.
Sidney Lanier came to Brunswick, and did not find any relief. Best I know, I did not encounter his ghost. But like Lanier, I would not find what I came looking for. Perhaps, I was a bit naïve to think that maybe there would be a juror willing to accept the wisdom of the seven Plowshares prophets.
To be continued
Donations can be sent to the Baltimore Nonviolence Center, 325 E. 25th St., Baltimore, MD 21218. Ph: 410-323-1607; Email: mobuszewski2001 [at] comcast.net. Go to http://baltimorenonviolencecenter.blogspot.com/
"The master class has always declared the wars; the subject class has always fought the battles. The master class has had all to gain and nothing to lose, while the subject class has had nothing to gain and everything to lose--especially their lives." Eugene Victor Debs