ST. MICHAELS, Maryland There are motorcades of black SUVs
on Talbot Street, buzzing Chinooks overhead and a no-flight zone that has private
pilots in an uproar. But Vice President Dick Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald
Rumsfeld have found peace and quiet in their new weekend hawks' nests, even
if their presence in this Chesapeake Bay retreat causes a racket in town.
"It gives you something to talk about," said Norm Tuer, a project
manager for one of the area's busy construction companies. "Good for real
estate values, too."
As anybody would tell you last week at the Carpenter Street Saloon, St. Michaels'
unofficial town hall, two years ago Rumsfeld paid $1.5 million for Mount
Misery, a former bed and breakfast with a checkered past. (The 19th-century
red-brick house on 4.5 waterfront acres, or 1.8 hectares, was built by Edward
Covey, a notorious breaker of rebellious slaves who beat the abolitionist Frederick
Douglass on and off there in 1834.)
Cheney, Rumsfeld's friend of three decades, followed this autumn with
his own weekend purchase, Ballintober, a sprawling $2.6 million Cape Cod on
nine waterfront acres just minutes from the defense secretary. Cheney's house,
built in the 1930s, has formal gardens, a wisteria arbor and a 150-foot, or
45-meter, dock reaching out into San Domingo Creek, an inlet of the bay.
Both places are a few miles from town in the Church Neck area of big houses
with merry names (The Tuck Box, Baybury Bank Farm), and just down the road from
Southwind, the onetime home of James Michener, who chronicled the area in his
This is the un-Camp David of duck decoys and oyster fests, a place where the
two prosecutors of the war in Iraq amuse each other and seem poised to retire
after 2008. Neither is part of President George W. Bush's regular Camp David
court, like Andrew Card Jr., the chief of staff, or Harriet Miers, the White
Instead, Cheney and Rumsfeld keep company here with their own, like Nicholas
Brady, the Treasury secretary under the first President Bush who has a farm
along the Choptank River near the town of Trappe. Locals recall seeing Cheney,
Rumsfeld and Brady strolling along the open roads here a few Thanksgivings ago
with Justice Antonin Scalia, a hunting buddy of the vice president.
Cheney, as it happens, likes to shoot the local geese and ducks, and caused
a minor ruckus when he stopped in this autumn for shotgun shells at Albright's
Gun Shop in nearby Easton.
"Very personable," said Larry Albright, the owner, echoing other locals
in this Republican nook of blue-state Maryland who strike an attitude of benevolent
nonchalance about the cabinet members in their midst.
After all, they say, St. Michaels is used to the rich and famous, from the retired
financiers of New York and Washington living near Cheney and Rumsfeld to visiting
celebrities like Jane Seymour and Vince Vaughn, stars in the movie "Wedding
Crashers" that was filmed at the Inn at Perry Cabin in St. Michaels in
the summer of 2004.
Locals say that they see Rumsfeld at the ice cream parlor and in restaurants,
and that he signs autographs, poses for pictures and tries to blend in.
"He doesn't mind anyone coming to talk to him," said Lesley Sprinkle,
a bartender during the season at the St. Michaels Crab and Steak House, where
the defense secretary has dined twice. "In fact, his head of security is
one of my regulars."
The main discordant note in the cheery local patter comes from private aircraft
pilots, who have bitterly protested to the Federal Aviation Administration about
a no-flight zone over Ballintober that extends out a nautical mile in radius
and up 1,500 feet.
The no-flight zone, imposed last month, is in effect even when Cheney is not
there, a security measure the pilots call extreme. Their chief objection is
that it is easy to make a mistake and stray into the zone, which can result
in a license suspension.
"Enough is enough," said Phil Boyer, the president of the Aircraft
Owners and Pilots Association. "What does one mile around his house and
1,500 feet do anyway? It is just nonsense."
Although Rumsfeld already has two other houses (Washington and Taos, New Mexico),
friends say that his wife, Joyce, wanted a weekend place that would force the
workaholic defense secretary away from the Pentagon, giving his staff a chance
to rest. She also oversaw the renovations of Mount Misery, where last year workers
discovered two cannonballs from the War of 1812; Rumsfeld displayed them indoors
by his fireplace until a security guard told him they were probably still alive.
The Cheneys, who already have a vacation home in Wyoming, followed in the wake
of their longtime friends. Locals say the second couple arrives via a short
flight to Easton (avoiding the traffic over the Chesapeake Bay Bridge) and then
rumbles through town in a caravan of SUVs.
One local who finds the presence of the two hawks disconcerting is Joe Trippi,
who was the campaign manager for Howard Dean, the antiwar Democrat who ran for
president in 2004. "I moved here to get away from this stuff," said
Trippi, who has a 47-acre farm a few creeks over from the vice president and
the defense secretary. "For the first four or five years it was pretty
peaceful, and then Cheney and Rumsfeld showed up."