Delaware filmmaker Michael Oates has a new story to tell about Delaware's changing coastal life. One hundred years ago, the First State was home to flourishing maritime communities, whose huge harvests of Delaware Bay oysters created local legends of ship captains who lit cigars with $100 bills and bought new Cadillacs every year. Yet today's annual oyster harvest is limited to less than 15,000 bushels, with oyster beds decimated by a succession of deadly diseases and all but one of the sailing schooners gone.
Oates' film tells the story of one couple's attempts to keep some of that history alive by restoring the oyster schooner Maggie Myers. Frank Eicherly and his wife Jeanne Friend have been lovingly restoring the schooner, without the help of grants or any real outside financial contributions.
Berkana Center for Media and Education President Jeanne Covert said that each screening of the film finds people engrossed in the personal story as much as the factual history of the documentary.
"The response has been positive and at each screening and audiences have really responded to the people of the film," said Covert. "A big part of it is probably that they recognize the people and places that Michael [Oates] chronicled."
The film is 60 minutes long, which Middletown Historical Society President Terry Markisohn said coincides perfectly with the group's normal meeting times, adding that she's excited to share the documentary with other locals.
"The whole state reaps the benefits of oyster harvesting but it's becoming a lost art," Markisohn said, explaining why Middletown residents should check out the documentary. "Then, you are introduced to these two people who have this mission and this dream to save this old schooner. Both make for a compelling story."
Like all MHS events, "White Gold: Delaware's Oystering History" is free and open to the public. For more information, visit the historical society's Facebook page.