From Walter Chrysler in the 1930s to Mohamed Hadid today, the owners of Pokety Farm in Maryland are turned into hunting enthusiasts.
WINTER’S DAWN DOES NOT COME quietly to Pokety Farm, developer Mohamed Hadid’s exquisite sporting lodge. Thousands of ducks and geese honk, sheep bleet, horses stamp, and waking larks sing out, while far off in the woods an owl hoots its final warning.
Down the lane to the big house like a dark shadow comes Hadid’s farm manager, gamekeeper, and hunt leader, James “Jimmy” Jones. His wooden duck calls bump against each other, and 12-gauge shells rest comfortably in their case on his shoulder. The morning is darkly fresh and blinking cold. Jones slips into the side hall of the lodge, his boots clumping over pine floors that feel like waxed leather and smell ever so faintly of resin and old age.
The restless early-morning stirrings have not yet penetrated inside. The silence is shattered now as Jones, duck call to his lips, capers down the long hall, frantically quacking to wake the guests for the morning’s hunt.
One floor above, Hadid and his wife, Mary, are spared the first assault. Hadid, who will hunt this morning, sits up in bed and stares out at the blackness of the bay beyond huge poplar trees; into the room which faces east, will later creep the first rays of light.
Mary Hadid does not usually arise at the dawn reveille; she prefers to practice her shooting at the clay-target range. And Hadid, who’s well known for his aggressive deal-making, large ego, and showy trappings, admits that he’s got much to learn about wing shooting. But he approaches the sport with the passion of a man who has discovered a secret treasure.
Below, in great house that was built by auto magnate Walter Chrysler in 1929, guests are awake and talking excitedly. Men pull on thick socks and rough shirts to ward off the cold, while the Hadids’ cooks prepare a simple prehunt meal of coffee, toast, and rolls that will be served in the house’s small north ‘”oak” dining room.
The kitchen, wide and spare, is equipped with a huge blacK gas stove ana the same heavy refrigerators that it had when it was built.
The rest of the house is calm and traditional. Heart pine boards with no visible knots were used for the trimwork, floors, doors, and details. Oils hang on the walls, Oriental rugs rest on the shining boards, and mahogany 18th-century furniture is everywhere. Pokety is nothing if not authentic.
Mary Hadid has seen to that. She’s selected each piece so carefully that some say Pokety looks as good or better than it did under the former owner, Colonel Edgar Garbisch, the husband of Walter Chrysler’s daughter, Bernice, who’d kept a notable collection of art and antiques.
The six men that will form the hunting party gather. Their eyes glitter as they contemplate the game ahead. Jones, who has been up preparing for the hunt since 3:00 A.M., consults with his boss. They talk about the weather, the numbers of ducks and geese that have been seen, the placement of decoys, the time (a half-hour before dawn) when legal shooting may begin, and the blind assignments, all carefully arranged so that newcomers will always be backed up by experienced hunters.
Hadid now greets his guests. He’s dressed in camouflage pants, a chamois shirt, and a sturdy leather belt. He announces the locations of the blinds and who will occupy them. The group takes a few more sips of coffee and they’re off, donning canvas jackets and stepping out onto the icy flagstones in total darkness.
They walk swiftly to the waiting Jeeps to move down a network of muffled dirt roads to the blinds. For hunting ducks, geese, or deer the routine varies, but only slightly.
Behind them, the house again falls silent, its water-front facing the pearly dawn. LeCompte Creek and Choptank River seem oceans wide. It is so quiet inside that you can hear a clock tick in the large front room. Soon someone will light a fire.
Hadid is no modernist. To hunt at Pokety is to step back to at least the 1930′s, when Chrysler hunting parties would roll down on special trains from New York and Philadelphia to Cambridge, Maryland. They’d stay for a week or two in a paradise of cornfields and arable land, of mixed hardwoods and pine.
The sense of the place is even older. The game-rich Eastern Shore, with its isolation and agricultural heartbeat, is a sort of Scotland for America’s shooting gentry. A place such as Pokety brings to mind the grouse and stag seasons of Britain. Of course, there are no grouse, and hunting quail is not encourages. Mallard, black, and wood ducks, white-tailed deer, and Canada geese are fair game, but Hadid will not permit rabbits to be shot on the estate. He still has some ambivalence about hunting. “I realize after a while,” he says, “that the game is really here for us to use, as long as we do use it, and everything we hunt is destined to be eaten.”
As hunting estates go, Pokety is small, about 980 acres. But it is artfully designed and has almost nine miles of shoreline. Chrysler built the house and grounds with intense attention to detail. He placed wooden bulkheads to maintain the shoreline that are still doing their job a half-century later. Elaborate poured-concrete drains and waterways provide fresh water to ponds. And Chrysler installed luxuries such as a full-length bowling alley, a two-story guest house, a stable with eight huge box stalls, and a 100-foot fully enclosed boat house. And although Pokety also boasts a pool, cabana, sauna, and waterworks, Chrysler clearly cared nothing for pomp; the main house, with its wings and slate roof, is low and modest.
Though the hunting season is now the focus, Hadid, his wifer and their two daughters use the place year-round-—far more frequently than did the Chrysler family. With the luxury of a two-prop aircraft, Hadid’s Washington office becomes a half-hour commute.
HADID HAD NEVER HUNTED before he decided 10 years ago to buy the place, which was then valued at about $3.5 million. Bernice Chrysler Garbisch had died, and the next generation of Chrysler heirs didn’t want to continue their interest, so, in 1979, Hadid bought Pokety and an adjacent farm to provide more protection and arable acreage. Then he allowed himself to fall in love with the practice and style of hunting.
Hadid’s approach is particularly American. He owns no pricey English double-barreled sidelock guns (for duck hunting he has a workmanlike Valmet 12-gauge over-and-under, and for goose hunting he has a Smith & Wesson pump); he doesn’t really like dogs in the house (though Jones keeps a pair of black Labradors for retrieving); and he chooses to dress like a waterman, right down to the angular canvas hunting hat. There is no elaborate gun room at Pokety, although trophies of the hunt, including stuffed ducks of every type commonly met on the Chesapeake, are displayed on the walls of the first floor.
In effect, Hadid bought himself a rich man’s gunning estate and, little by little, discovered what makes it tick. For Chrysler, a free-spending perfectionist, knew hunting inside and out. He built Pokety (the name is that of a legendary local Indian sept) around field sports: elaborately diking and bulkheading shore outlines, placing fields of corn and soybeans and the farm roads strategically, maintaining his woodland, and building an oval sheltered flighting pond to attract migrating ducks. He placed his house—-a hunting lodge of ducal dimensions but no pretense-—at the center of the hunt.
Hadid immediately grasped the plan, but the hunt itself would be a discovery and a revelation for him. “Before this,” he says, “I hated hunting—even so much as killing a bird.” Skillfully coached by Jones, who learned at the knee of his father, Jimmy Sr. (who was the gamekeeper and manager for Garbisch), Hadid learned the narcotic beauty of duck hunting.
Jimmy Jones, who lives a short distance from the main house in a sturdy 19th-century farmhouse that’s surrounded by water, has done his subtle tutoring well. Hadid instantly becomes an English squire at Pokety—-a jut-jawed, square-bodied, jump-on-a-horse type, leading the hunts with unfeigned enthusiasm, sometimes revving the farm equipment to dig a pond or to move earth or timber. He has constructed a Japanese garden, an English flower garden, and a small duck-flighting pool. He is going ahead with plans to build a small golf course. He builds and plans ad hoc—the Squire Headlong of Dorchester County.
NATURALLY GREGARIOUS, HADID welcomes company, makes friends easily, and clearly adores his role as host. In his battle to become accepted as a Palestinian-American millionaire, he has chosen to use the fabled Arab hospitality to good advantage. “I like the camaraderie,” hesays, “as much as the hunting. You’re not constantly pulling the trigger. You’re with friends in a confined area with a lot to say and sometimes nothing to do.”
Hadid is not fond of dropping names, but his hunting companions have included actors George Hamilton and Don Johnson, and singer John Denver, as well as important figures in the construction, brokerage, banking, and investment worlds of Washington real estate, where he’s made his fortune. But he hasn’t missed the point that many a good deal is conceived among rich men sitting in a dirt pit in a cold cornfield with loaded shotguns; he’s set aside one duck blind for VIPs. Located close to Jones’s house, it features carpeting, a coffee maker, and a telephone. “You get close to the people you are with. You talk about a lot of things besides business,” Hadid says. “In a duck blind at that early time of day, you become philosophical.” By 11:00 A.M. the morning hunt is over, and the watery light of the Chesapeake wobbles through bare limbs, across perfectly shorn lawns and elaborate brick walls, and over dark cedars and white-fenced gardens that are folded in for the winter. The hunters return, guns in hand, to the vehicles that will carry them to a vast buffet-style breakfast. Hadid prefers to use as much food from the farm as possible, so that his guests may be greeted with local eggs, corn bread, mountains of fruit, home fries, and even venison.
Once again the spirit of the breakfast is almost 18th century, as a groaning board is rapidly emptied by red-faced sportsmen with the chill of dawn still clinging to their clothes. So what if their pilots stand ready to whisk them away? The theme of the hunt at Pokety is timelessness.
NOONTIME IS NAP TIME FOR A HADID hunting party. But by two o’clock, the hunters have revived enough to gather. Some have already been discreetly steered by Jimmy Jones to the skeet range, to polish their shotgunning skills at the well-arranged and beautifully sited regulation clay-target throwing area. Others play billiards or take walks about the level, view-filled fields.
Along the Eastern Shore, with its gentle creeks, wind-breaking coppices, and wide expanses of plow land, winter’s icy grip is easily broken by an hour of sun. One of the chief joys of such an atmosphere is to remove outer coats on a day when water freezes at dawn. Lunch is provided late, but as Jones is fond of saying, “No one’s ever hungry for it.”
At 3:00 P.M. the shadows begin to lengthen, and it’s time to return to the blinds for the duck and goose activity that accompanies the beginning and end of the day. Dusk thunders down as the wings of thousands of fowl whistle unseen. The hunters hope that one or two will come close enough for a shot.
The evening meal takes place in the house’s large, stately dining room, a place where a roaring fire, candles, and shining glasses create magic. “The idea is not to tamper with the design, the elegance of the old Georgian house,” Hadid says. “This was not planned to be a mansion but a home. They [the Chryslers] wanted it to have the warmth of a home.”
POKETY DINNERS TEND TO be rich and fabulously local. Hadid takes pride in presenting the farm’s own oysters, fish, clams, and crabs-—and the best vegetables that Jones and his crew of five groundskeepers can produce. In winter-—from the freezer or the cold rooms—-they can bring a whole sheep, a haunch of venison, a dozen ducks, two dozen doves, or a pair of geese. And although Hadid himself does not drink, he presents to his guests the farm’s own wine, produced and bottled on the premises.
“But there isn’t such formality,” Hadid says. “Sometimes I create a dish myself, while we all stand around the kitchen.” He is known to be an imaginative and capable cook. When dinner’s over, guests either wander over to the bowling alley, where a billiard table waits, or gather in the den or the living room.
And then the hunters leave. But the winter cycle of long nights and hurrying days continues. It will be a year before it’s time for Jones to amble once more down the guest wing with his calls blaring.
“People keep coming back,” says Jones. “We must be doing something right. When Mr. Hadid first came here, he simply asked me if I thought I could keep things the way they had been. It’s been that way ever since.”