A Young Woman with an Old Soul
Ginger Doyel, historical author and columnist for The Capital newspaper, is 25 years old yet she speaks with the tranquility of a woman three times her age. Her words come out slowly but eloquently and with confidence.
"I have often been told, 'Ginger, you have an old soul,'" she says.
She may still be young but as the daughter of a Naval dentist she has seen more of the world than many people her age, having moved seven times before her family settled down in Annapolis in 1991. She believes her childhood travels are the root of her love of history - she loves history because she often lived in places where she had none.
"History isn't transient," Ginger says. "When you read about history, you get the sense of something permanent."
Ginger has made a name for herself in the Annapolis community through her popular weekly history column titled, "Annapolis: From Past to Present." In her column, she will often tell the history of a property or entity that is well known to the community today. Or, she will look at problems plaguing the city today - such as parking - and research how they were dealt with in the past.
"I try to relate history to current experience," she says.
The idea for the column came about over a competitive game of Scrabble with her father, Chris Doyel.
"We had noticed that there wasn't a history column in the paper," she says. "For the first time in our Scrabble rivalry, we stopped in the middle of the game and came up with a list of 200 topics."
She then wrote three sample articles - about governor mansions, bygone movie theaters and the Annapolis Dairy Product Company - that she submitted to The Capital. Within a few months, she was hired as a columnist, despite the fact that she had no journalism experience.
"What I saw in Ginger was something I had not seen from other history writers - an ability to tell a story interestingly," says Tom Marquardt, executive editor of The Capital. "I liked her samples immediately. A recitation of historical facts can be very boring, but she brings history to life by giving today's readers something they are able to relate to - the Market House and Main Street, for instance."
Suddenly, Ginger had to redefine herself. Until then, she had been an illustrator and artist who studied leadership at the University of Richmond.
"I was actually on my way to Florida to join the PGA Tour as a golf artist," she says. "I had planned to move back to Annapolis just for a few months before heading to Florida; however, I realized my hometown was changing and not necessarily for the better. There was so much development going on and I was hoping I could do something to help preserve the history."
Now, two years later, she no longer has to come up with her own story ideas. Her column is so well read, people often come to her with ideas of their own.
"I've been blessed," she says. "I get many letters from people offering their story ideas."
Much of the information for her stories comes from oral history and the friends of her grandparents, who also grew up around Annapolis. Ginger also haunts the Maryland State Archives, the Nimitz Library at the Naval Academy, the Historic Annapolis Foundation and the Anne Arundel County Public Library on West Street.
"The Quiet Room in the West Street library is a true gift to the community," she says. "There is so much to learn about Maryland history there."
Despite the city's richness in history, Ginger does not limit herself to its boundaries when in search of a story. She once traveled to Charlottesville, Va., to find a relative of the owner of Pete's Place on Main Street, now occupied by Acme Bar & Grill.
"Putting together a story is like putting together a puzzle and it's a lot like painting - both require patience," she says.
Ginger likes to tell the story of Alfred Schanze, a Naval Academy graduate from the Class of 1908 who wrote more than 400 letters to his family while at prep school and at the academy.
"His letters provide a glimpse into life in our city and nation a century ago in terms of race relations, economy, politics, social norms, the Academy's relationship to the city, and simply what young men and women did back in those days," Ginger says. "It was fascinating to read about his transformation from a teenage boy into a patriotic young man with strong ideals and a desire to serve his country."
The midshipman's words inspired Ginger to turn his letters into a book, which she plans to submit to the Naval Institute Press this summer. It is the fourth book she is working on. She is also putting a collection of her columns into a book and has been commissioned by Annapolis Mayor Ellen O. Moyer to write a book about the history of the Market House and by The Annapolitan Club to write a book about its more than 100-year history.
"Ginger's biweekly history columns in the Capital were a favorite of mine from the very beginning," the Mayor says. "Her column, with her witty observations and conversational narrative, were a good basis for the kind of history that appeals to people who otherwise consider history to be dry and uninteresting."
A resident of Prince George Street in the historic district, Ginger says she couldn't imagine living anywhere else. In her home, she is surrounded by history. From her front door, she can see the Naval Academy Chapel and the William Paca House and out her back door she can see the State House. "I also wanted to feel connected to the community," she says. "In the suburbs, I would feel removed."
When not writing or illustrating, Ginger often likes to spend time with her family, play golf at the Naval Academy course or go running along the streets of Annapolis.
"If I want to be anonymous, I'll run at the Academy or at the Naval Station," she says. "But mostly I prefer to run along the streets of downtown so I get a chance to see people I know and say hello.
"Some of the people I interview say the city has changed so much and that no one knows anyone anymore, but I don't think that's true. I think you can still get to know your neighbors, you just have to make an effort. Annapolis is still a small town in which one feels you can still make a difference."