Here's your own $5 million private island.
Well, not quite your own. There's one other family living on the 16-acre island, a short hop from Annapolis, Md., and less than 20 miles from D.C.
St. Helena Island has stunning views, nearly seven acres just for you, a huge swath of beach, a Federal-style main home, a guest house, a water tower that's been converted into an office, birds and wildlife aplenty -- and one really odd story.
Legend has it that the island was named in the 1920s after the former partner of a Maryland lawyer, a distant relative of Napoleon Bonaparte, who was exiled to a far flung volcanic island called St. Helena, in the South Atlantic. (Other accounts have the Maryland island carrying the name St. Helena in the mid-1800s; and some contemporary British newspaper writers say Napoleon's St. Helena Island is now a lovely place to take a vacation.)
In the 1940s and early '50s, the island was later reportedly home to an illegal casino that may have hosted members of congress, and likely got shut down by the cops. Decades after that, the island's then-owner tried to turn the house into a venue for parties and weddings, but that got shut down by litigious neighbors across the river who complained about "blaring" versions of the song "Louie Louie" disturbing their quiet.
But these details, interesting as they may be, aren't part of the odd story.
In 1955 -- two years after a county administrators suggested turning the island into a refuge for the criminally insane -- a note was found in a pickle jar on a beach. The note read: "Help. Am On St. Helena Island, Severn River. Am being chased by crazy occupant who eats people alive. Get police and come quick." The note was signed "Arthur Smite," according to an Associates Press report from the time, and inspired a police search of the island. The search turned up no people-eating occupant, and was eventually called off.
The current owners, Edward and Debbie Hartman, don't mention any cannibalistic residents -- nor pickle jars, gambling or "Louie Louie" -- in their online brochure; they've got a much more peaceful, but still slightly mystical, description of what's in store for the lucky buyer of St. Helena and its houses:
Life on the island is what you make it. Splitting and hauling wood for the ﬁreplaces and stoves, catching and cooking your own meals, meandering through the island isolation, secure from intrusion, enjoying peace and total quiet other than birds and waves, all in a world of your own beauty, yet in the middle of eight million busy souls and minutes from every need, can be achieved nowhere else but St. Helena Island. If this is your desire, the Cottage is priceless. If not, it is worthless.
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