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King No More: Tobacco's Legacy in Southern Maryland

Baumann is the 1995 winner of the beauty contest held at the annual Charles County Fair in southern Maryland. The pageant title is indicative of the important role tobacco had in the region's development. Seventy-two years ago, the Charles County Fair was founded as a tobacco festival. "At that time, tobacco was still king, still the staple of the local economy," says Ann Davis, president of the Charles County Fair Board. The fair initiated a beauty pageant, the winner of which was to be crowned Queen Nicotina. "Both the fair and the pageant title reflect the county's tobacco heritage," adds Davis.

Times have changed, however. In recent decades, booming regional development, declining governmental support for their product, and changing social attitudes have combined to put the squeeze on local tobacco growers. New residents who have moved into the county in recent years have even begun to question the appropriateness of the Queen Nicotina crown.

The weed becomes king

It's late on a September afternoon when Eddie Bowling arrives back at his farm in Newburg in southern Charles County. After checking on farmhands who are hanging tobacco to dry in the barn and quickly changing his clothes, Bowling sets out for the tobacco field adjacent to his house, ready to continue harvesting his crop.

A part-time farm...

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