Laurel Regional Hospital… Closing?

For the past few days, I’ve been excited about the very real prospect of seeing a fitting, lasting tribute to Stefanie Watson at Laurel Regional Hospital. The former emergency room night admissions clerk who was murdered in 1982 was originally honored by having the lobby’s family room officially dedicated in her memory; but sadly, that seems to have fallen by the wayside in the subsequent decades as the hospital expanded under new management. (That’s not the least of which has fallen, but we’ll get to that in a moment.)

After my Laurel Historical Society program on the cold case being solved, I wrote to Laurel Mayor Craig Moe and City Council Member Fred Smalls about an idea I had to rectify this. Rather than another lobby plaque which may once again be misplaced with future expansion, I proposed that the street behind the hospital—the as-of-yet-unnamed road that leads to the emergency room; the very road that Stefanie used to drive to and from her work shift—be officially named “Stefanie Watson Way”.

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I added that the street name dedication ceremony would also be an excellent opportunity to commend the Laurel and Prince George’s County Police Departments for having the foresight to preserve the evidence that ultimately solved her murder 31 years later. Moreover, it would bring great closure to Stefanie’s family and the community, as the original tribute was also made at the beginning of what would become an agonizing 30-year cold case.

That case has now been solved, and I can think of no better way to reinstate the lost tribute to a much-loved hospital employee who brought so much comfort and kindness to emergency room patients and families in her short time here. I think it would also be a tremendously positive story for the hospital itself—which, let’s face it, needs all the positive press it can get. (It’s currently a 2-out-of-5-star facility on Google Reviews, and most of the stories you hear from patients are literally the stuff of nightmares.)

That being said, I was thrilled when I received replies from both Mayor Moe and Mr. Smalls this week—and they’re in favor of the street naming idea!

Mr. Smalls has sent my request to Laurel Regional Hospital President John Spearman and Dimensions Healthcare Chairman Judge Phil Nichols for review.

Well, imagine my surprise when I saw this headline today:

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Um, what?

Evidently, that was the reaction of Laurel’s city leaders, as well. This “decision” was apparently made unilaterally by Dimensions Healthcare without any notice to the community at large. That includes Mayor Moe, who responded with this assessment:

 Laurel Mayor Critical Of Plan To Close Laurel Regional Hospital

Today the City of Laurel government along with residents and businesses of the Laurel-Beltsville area learned of a decision to close the full service Laurel Regional Hospital. This decision was made in closed door sessions with no community involvement and without discussions with local elected officials. It was based on a consultant’s report that contained no evaluation of the potential to sell the hospital and the campus.

As the Mayor of the City of Laurel, I am deeply concerned about the tremendous impact on the safety and well-being of the residents of northern Prince George’s County and surrounding areas, and I am also troubled by the loss of many jobs for Prince George’s County/Laurel residents that would follow this closure. I believe this action is a direct result of poor leadership and management on the part of Dimensions Healthcare System.

Dimensions Healthcare System is a not-for-profit hospital system that was formed in 1982 to serve the residents of Prince George’s County and surrounding areas. Throughout its history, Dimensions has been plagued by financial and operational issues that the leadership failed to address. The decision to close this full service hospital is yet another failure of Dimensions executives to operate their facilities in an efficient manner. I question why the Dimensions leadership failed to provide the public with full disclosure of the information contained in the consultant’s scope of work. Why was the local Laurel Regional Hospital Board of Directors kept out of the discussions regarding the future of the Hospital? Was the closing of the full service Laurel Regional Hospital part of the justification of need for the new regional medical center?

We understand that the plan of Dimensions Healthcare leaders is to re-open the facility as a limited service facility. Until the Dimensions Healthcare System is replaced I believe this poor substitute will fail as well. Turning this hospital into a limited service facility will also adversely affect the already stressed ambulance service in the region. Ambulances will be required to go out of service for significantly longer periods of time to transport patients to other facilities.

I support the Prince George’s Regional Medical Center plans but not at the expense of closing the full service Laurel Regional Hospital. The Laurel-Beltsville area and Prince George’s County residents deserve better. I call upon all affected residents, employees and businesses to contact County Executive Rushern Baker, County Councilmember Mary Lehman and Dimensions Healthcare Board of Directors to express dissatisfaction with this tragic decision and request that the hospital be sold to another hospital management organization, either for profit or not-for-profit, or even look into bringing  more specialized healthcare to the current hospital.

I look forward to future discussions about OUR regional hospital.

Craig A. Moe

Laurel Mayor

Needless to say, it was like a punch to the gut. I expected to encounter some red tape in my quest for “Stefanie Watson Way” to become the newest street in Laurel; I did not expect the very hospital itself to suddenly announce its intent to cease operations (no pun intended).

Granted, this is all very new information, (much like the recent and ongoing snafu with Laurel’s historic Main Street train station) but from what I’m hearing, the hospital as a whole isn’t planning to completely disappear—but it is proposing to drastically downsize and essentially change to an outpatient only facility. According to the Laurel Leader, the Dimensions board voted to replace the hospital with a new, $24 million ambulatory care center by 2018:

“The change is an effort to curb the multi-million dollar losses Laurel Regional has seen in recent years, and will result in limited hospital services as well as considerable job loss in Laurel as the new facility will only provide 30 inpatient beds.”

“The move is part of a state trend to move health care out of inpatient hospitals and into outpatient facilities, Dimensions said. The new Laurel facility would continue to provide emergency services, outpatient surgery and diagnostic services currently offered by Laurel Regional. The county has plans to create a Prince George’s Regional Medical Center, which would provide the full-service medical support no longer found in Laurel.”

Nope. That doesn’t make any sense to me, either.

Admittedly, I don’t know the first thing about hospital administration, health care, or any of that stuff. But I do know this: you don’t close a functioning hospital in a growing town for any reason. What they’re proposing sounds like a glamorized urgent care center, which Laurel doesn’t need. What it does need, evidently, is a complete hospital overhaul to weed out the people who’ve steadily ruined this once proud facility.

Stefanie Watson moved to Laurel in 1981 in order to work at what was then called the Greater Laurel-Beltsville Hospital. The hospital, which had just opened in 1978, was a much different place back then—before Dimensions Healthcare would take over, and change the name to Laurel Regional. In hindsight, that was probably the first clue that things weren’t going to get any “greater”.

Ballpoint pen, circa 1980s.  (Lost Laurel collection)

Ballpoint pen, circa 1980s.
(Lost Laurel collection)

Obviously, the first priority is to ensure that Laurel’s hospital retains its complete functionality. Not only that, but it must improve its quality of care across the board. Its mismanagement cannot be allowed to continue to the point where it’s only serving patients in an ambulatory, outpatient manner. Remember—urgent care centers are terrific in a pinch, when you want to avoid the emergency room; (heck, there’s a brand new one at the new Towne Centre at Laurel) but they’re no substitute for a real, bona fide hospital if, God forbid, you should ever need one.

Regardless of what happens with the hospital itself, it would be a shame if the consideration for “Stefanie Watson Way” now gets overlooked in the wake of this larger dilemma. Let’s name that street after Stefanie Watson already, and keep it there throughout whatever changes come. Let her name serve as a constant reminder of the way Laurel’s hospital should be run.

As the September 30, 1982 Laurel Leader reported—at the time of her original memorial:

“The memorial, said a staff physician who worked closely with the murdered woman, was fitting, for she considered her job as an admitting clerk as more than filling out insurance forms. Watson never failed to take the time to console families of the sick and injured, bringing them coffee while she worked throughout the night shift and giving them a chance to talk about their anxiety and grief.”

She was “…always caring and concerned for all the people she met… ingenious and never cynical, even when patients or their families seemed undeserving of her patience and thoughtfulness.”

Contacts for both the hospital and street naming issue:

RUSHERN L. BAKER III, County Executive
Office of County Executive
County Administration Building, Room 5032
14741 Governor Oden Bowie Drive,
Upper Marlboro, MD 20772 – 3070
e-mail: countyexecutive@co.pg.md.us

MARY A. LEHMAN, Prince George’s County Council, District 1
County Administration Building, 2nd floor
14741 Governor Oden Bowie Drive
Upper Marlboro, MD 20772 – 3070
e-mail: malehman@co.pg.md.us

DIMENSIONS HEALTHCARE SYSTEM
Board of Directors
Prince George’s County Hospital Center
3001 Hospital Drive
Cheverly, Maryland  20785

Additional sources:
http://www.baltimoresun.com/news/maryland/howard/laurel/ph-ll-laurel-regional-replaced-by-outpatient-facility-20150731-story.html

http://www.nbcwashington.com/news/local/Laurel-Regional-Hospital-Downsizing-to-Become-Ambulance-Care-Center-320317391.html

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Deerfield Run + Laurel Centre Mall, early 1980s

Recently, one of my dearest friends from elementary school, Sherry (Green) Wetherill, surprised me with a wonderful package in the mail. Inside was a treasure trove of photos dating from 1982–84—our final years as students at Deerfield Run Elementary.

The photos include some shots from a 1982 square-dancing performance the school put on at the center court of Laurel Centre Mall, as well as our 1984 class “graduation” ceremony. Fortunately, I was spared from having to do the square-dancing thing in public. Sherry and some of our classmates made the best of it, however; and thanks to her mom, we’re now seeing some rare color photos of the original center court—which was located just above the rotating carousel shops.

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Sherry wisely opted for a visit to Time-Out Family Amusement Center after the performance. This is only the second photo I’ve ever seen taken inside the popular Laurel arcade, as well as a bonus shot of Teeser’s Palace directly next door—where many an airbrushed t-shirt was sold over the years.

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Note also the original brown marble floor tiles and wooden storefront accents. These would all be replaced in the early 1990s when mall management deemed it “too 70s-looking”.

Other photos in Sherry’s collection date to June 1984, when our 6th grade class graduated from Deerfield Run. The ceremony took place in the school’s cafeteria/auditorium—which (and I’m not kidding) they literally named the “Cafetorium”. I still remember the sign above the double doors.

The program opened with Scott Miller carrying the flag on stage, and that’s me in the blue suit with Justine Kim leading the Pledge of Allegiance.

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Keep in mind, these aren’t necessarily in their proper order; but there’s one I should get out of the way right up front. Remember when I said that I was fortunate to have avoided the whole square-dancing thing at the mall? In hindsight, that probably would’ve been the wiser choice. Yes, that’s me in the center (with the blue striped Nikes)… breakdancing. At least I had the presence of mind to strike a pose that hid my face.

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But in all seriousness, these photos are remarkable in that they provide an almost tangible sense of Deerfield Run at that time. It’s hard to believe this was more than 30 years ago; and the images transport you back there immediately. The earthy colors of the smooth cement walls… the flecks in the tile floors… the texture of the glossy wooden stage.

Without further ado, here are the rest of the photos along with a few general comments.

* * *

The school band gets ready to assemble along the far wall to the left of the stage, as people find their seats. Anyone who ever attended Deerfield Run (or any Prince George’s County Public School in the 1980s, probably) undoubtedly remembers those molded plastic multicolored chairs:

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A couple of these images are bittersweet, because they feature some folks who are sadly no longer here. In this first one, Sherry and Julie Douglass pose for a photo on stage before or after the program, while Lafayette McCray debates photobombing. Lafayette was funny and was one of the most gifted young athletes I’ve seen on any level. Unfortunately, he was murdered shortly after high school in a Largo parking lot.

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Here’s a pair of pics with our beloved 5th & 6th grade teacher, Mrs. Hortense Adams (far left). I can just hear her now, asking for a second photo to be taken without her glasses… She’d earned them as a child, avidly reading books in the dark after bedtime. Sadly, Mrs. Adams passed away in August 2013 after a battle with cancer. She was 67.

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I can’t recall why we had Prince George’s County Police officers on hand, but they presented some sort of awards to select students. One of them was the incredibly smart Stan Angus, who’s sitting in the chair on stage in this first photo. Stan lived on Irving Street and rode my school bus.

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Principal Michael J. Lapriola also distributed certificates to the highest achievers in our group, among them Jennifer Jacobs, (partially hidden behind Mr. Lap) Tanika Jolly, Sherry, Wayne Bailey, Justine Kim, and Mona Frastaci. I’m sure Stan Angus got one, too; but I’m not sure what the deal is with him still sitting in that chair on stage…

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The school’s band performed on the far end of the cafetorium, just in front of the “in” and “out” doors where hot lunches were served. I don’t recall the band teacher’s name, (and I regret not learning to play an instrument back then) but I recognize a few faces. Directly to his right is Tanika, Melissa Woody, Scott Miller, and Sherry waiting for her violin solo:

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There were a few solo performances, including Sherry on violin. I see Ms. Littleford, our music teacher, standing near the doorway. Stan, meanwhile, is still sitting on stage…

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This was an all-girls’ dance number, apparently. I only recognize Julie Douglass, who grew up in my Steward Manor neighborhood:

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This, I’m guessing, was a chorus performance. Jason Brockenberry, with the white shirt & black tie in the back row, was one of my best friends at the school—and the first to introduce me to the fantastic Choose Your Own Adventure books. (House of Danger, the first one I ever read, is still my favorite.) But I digress.

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Jennifer Jacobs and Wayne Bailey, both of whom were exceptional students, spoke at the podium:

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Okay, seeing Stan and Mona both sitting on the stage makes a bit more sense to me now. I’m pretty sure they were the Master and Mistress of Ceremonies, respectively. (I was seriously starting to worry that Stan might still be inexplicably sitting up on that stage, 31 years after the program ended…)

These next two photos are a bit dark, and appear to be from a different assembly (note the “Follow Your Dream” theme in the background. Our graduation theme was “Up, Up, and Away to New Horizons.”) I’m not entirely sure, but the blonde kid in the white t-shirt just below the word “YOUR” might be me:

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Likewise, Sherry’s wearing a different outfit here—and that blue wall looks like the Deerfield gym rather than the cafetorium:

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Speaking of different outfits… (and gym) she included this photo from the following year—when we all had to wear these blue & gold gym uniforms at Eisenhower Middle School. Or, as her Post-It Note puts it, the “Dreaded EMS gym attire.”

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By the way, Sherry’s handwriting is exactly the same as it was in elementary school, when she constantly won penmanship awards.

Last but certainly not least, this was the rising 6th grade class—who were apparently forced to sing a “farewell” song for us. I recognize James McNeirney on the far left and Mike McNeal on the far right; and Chad Caffas in the back row near the center. And of course, Kevin Buter in the red shirt.

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I can remember drinking chocolate milk out of those little paper containers at lunch with Kevin and several of the kids in these photos in this very room, (sorry—”cafetorium”) and I have to say, it warms my heart to know that I’m still in touch with so many of them today. In fact, I’m looking forward to having a few drinks with some of them next weekend. Hmm… Maybe I’ll bring some of those little chocolate milk containers for old times’ sake.

My thanks again to Sherry for sharing these wonderful photos, and for allowing me to post them here. Hopefully some of our other classmates will recognize themselves, and experience the same amazing flashbacks.

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Stefanie Watson Program: Recapping a Special Night

This past Thursday night, July 9th, I had the honor of giving a special presentation on the Stefanie Watson cold case, describing Lost Laurel‘s role in helping to reignite the investigation into the 30-year-old crime—which finally yielded an arrest. Nearly 33 years after her murder, the case is slated to go to trial next month.

The program was part of “The Rest of the Story: a series based on “Ripped from the Headlines, Laurel in the News”—the current exhibit at the Laurel Museum, which focuses on local and national stories and how they were covered locally. The Stefanie Watson case is one of the stories. The exhibit runs through December 21, 2015, and visitors to the exhibit can browse the Laurel Leader from 1897-2008.

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Presented by the Laurel Historical Society and hosted by the Laurel Police Department at their beautiful Partnership Activity Center, a good turnout braved some heavy rains to hear the program—including Mayor Craig Moe and Chief of Police Rich McLaughlin. My thanks again to all who came out, especially in that weather.

The highlight for me was one special surprise attendee—Christy Torres, who made the drive from Pennsylvania. Chris is the cousin and best friend of Stefanie Watson; the same cousin who had the unfathomable task of reporting her missing back in 1982, when she failed to show up for their planned trip to Ocean City.

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(Photo: Donnie Conty)

Rich & Christy

(Photo: Lindsey Baker)

I’d spoken to Chris at length on the phone and by email, but hadn’t met her until Thursday night. After the presentation, she said, “I have something for you,” and pulled out a beautiful, hand-carved wooden box. “This belonged to Stefanie.”

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It’s an incredible gift that I will truly never forget, and it will always occupy a special place on my desk. Despite having never known her, Stefanie’s memory was never far from my mind, all these years. I’m happy that it will be even closer now.

For those who weren’t able to attend, the entire program was filmed, complete with a question and answer session. You can watch directly on the link above, or view it here on YouTube. I’ll also be focusing my next episode of Lost Laurel for Laurel TV on this story, where you’ll be able to see the aerial photos, maps, etc. that were used in the program in more detail.

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(Family photo)

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Stefanie Watson Program Tonight

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(Photo: Laurel Leader, 7/1/82; Laurel Historical Society archives)

Laurel’s 4th of July Celebration in 1982 fell on July 3rd that year, which happened to be Stefanie Watson‘s final birthday—she’d go missing less than 3 weeks later. This banner, coincidentally, also faced her apartment on 8th Street.

Her tragic story is filled with some bizarre and amazing coincidences—join me tonight as I’ll share some fascinating information about one of Laurel’s most notorious cold cases, including some recent revelations that have never been published.

This free program is sponsored by the Laurel Historical Society, and is tonight, July 9 at 7 p.m. at the Laurel Police Department’s Partnership Activity Center, 811 Fifth Street.

More information:
http://www.baltimoresun.com/news/maryland/howard/laurel/ph-ll-stefanie-watson-program-20150706-story.html

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Racing… to close Laurel Railroad Station?

There’s a rather unlikely story in the local news this week—a head-scratcher, really. It concerns two of Laurel’s historic landmarks, and how they’re supposedly at odds all of a sudden. I’m speaking of Laurel Park Racecourse and the Laurel Railroad Station.

I’ll get right into it: Laurel Park, which after decades of hard times is finally seeking to turn the corner with an ambitious plan to build “a transit-oriented development with retail and residential space near the racetrack,” has requested the state Department of Transportation open a commuter train stop in Laurel closer to the track.

Photo: Wikipedia

Photo: Wikipedia

Because that would just be too easy, state Department of Transportation officials have said that it is unlikely the state will consider a “dual stop” at both the Laurel MARC station and the racetrack. A train platform is already at the racetrack, mind you, but is listed as a flag stop (where trains will only stop when there’s a specific request) on the MARC Camden line schedule.

So, here comes the head-scratcher: the idea being proposed is that the DoT would close the Laurel Station—which is on the National Register of Historic Places—in favor of building a new stop at the racetrack, a mere 2,500 feet away. Where, again, there is already a train platform in place. I’m not sure there’s a more polite way to put this, so I’ll just ask: Are you f***ing kidding me?

Photo: Wikipedia

Photo: Wikipedia

Don’t get me wrong—I’m a huge supporter of both places. More than anything, I’d love to see a resurgence of horse racing in Laurel, and have Laurel Park once again become the premier venue that it can be. But certainly not at the expense of endangering what might be the town’s most recognizable landmark—a landmark that, frankly, has been more functional than the track itself in recent years.

Granted, I can’t see anyone in their right mind coming out and proposing that the old train station be demolished—to my knowledge, nothing like that has been discussed. But what would happen if/when the historic station ceases to be an active stop on the MARC line? We already know how vulnerable the city’s old buildings tend to be, especially when they’re vacant.

Lest anyone forget, Laurel came dangerously close to losing the station to fire in January 1992. John Mewshaw recently shared these photos with me—sobering reminders, all:

Photo: John Mewshaw, 1992

Photo: John Mewshaw, 1992

Photo: John Mewshaw, 1992

Photo: John Mewshaw, 1992

Photo: John Mewshaw, 1992

Photo: John Mewshaw, 1992

With the expectation that cooler, more rational heads will ultimately prevail in this, let’s look at some more reasonable options.

First, there’s the basic issue of supply and demand. If enough people genuinely start taking the train to the races again, as they did back in the early-to-mid-20th century, there’s no reason why the Department of Transportation shouldn’t reinstate Laurel Park as an active stop on the MARC line. But even then, closing the town’s historic station wouldn’t make sense, logistically, especially as it relates to everyday commuters with no interest in visiting the race track.

The current station sits in the heart of Laurel at the base of Main Street and provides easy access. From a marketing standpoint, its historic qualities also benefit the commuter rail industry—the classic, Queen Anne styling of the station literally makes you want to take the train… in a way that a new, more modern facility probably wouldn’t.

And marketing is something that Laurel Park obviously needs to do a better job of, too, if it hopes to reinvigorate the track to the point of needing an exclusive train stop to accommodate the masses. For the record, I’m not a fan of their newest logo:

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As a graphic designer myself, I have serious doubts that it was created by a professional. It’s poorly executed for a number of reasons, but I digress. Their logo problems aren’t the main concern here.

But what they should be focusing on—instead of this new train station folly—are unique ways to maximize their exposure (regardless of that hideous logo). And ironically, the old train station is a perfect opportunity for them. I’m just going to offer this up, so Laurel Park Powers That Be, do with it as you please:

Imagine seeing a row of shuttle buses lined up as you get off the train… buses that are whimsically adorned with thoroughbred horse artwork (or, to go even further, imagine the entire bus being decorated to look like a race horse itself…) A row of buses, each designed as an individual race horse, complete with saddle cloth number…

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Much like the old train station invites you to ride the rails, wouldn’t that pique your interest in going to the race track? And imagine the exposure the buses themselves would get just being spotted going back and forth on Route 1—especially when two or three at a time are “racing” there. (Not to encourage gambling, but you could even place bets on which “horse bus” arrives first…)

Keep in mind, I did this in about half an hour. Imagine what could be done with proper time and exploration. (And I’d be more than happy to design it for you, Laurel Park. I assure you, it’d be cheaper than a new train station, too.)

And from a practical standpoint, (e.g. the number of people actually going to the race track from the train station) wouldn’t shuttle buses also just make more sense? At least until Laurel Park starts generating the types of crowds that might require more drastic measures?

For the record, I do hope those crowds eventually return, but only after the race track (and the city) has solid plans in place to accommodate them. First, they need a plan to actually draw them. To paraphrase the Field of Dreams mantra, “Build it, and they will come.”

Source:
http://www.baltimoresun.com/news/maryland/howard/laurel/ph-ll-marc-station-moves-20150616-story.html
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Laurel TV: Date Night in Laurel

Episode 6 of Lost Laurel for Laurel TV has aired, and its theme is Date Night in Laurel—a look at some of the favorite date night destinations Laurelites have enjoyed over the years, including movie theaters, restaurants, and special events.

One such special event was the landmark Laurel Pop Festival at Laurel Race Course in 1969. Kevin Leonard wrote a fantastic account of it for the Laurel Leader recently, and I had a blast accompanying him for an interview with Bruce Remer of e-rockworld.com at the site of the legendary concert. Bruce had been there as a high school student along with friend and fellow photographer Tom Beech—and the two easily mingled backstage with the performers, snapping photos with a Kodak Instamatic. Some of their photos and artifacts can even be seen on Led Zeppelin‘s website, on a page devoted to their Laurel performance.

This being a “date night” theme, I had hoped to have this episode ready in time for Valentines Day… but better late than never. ;) Hope you enjoy it!

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Little Tavern Etching

Yesterday, I had the pleasure of meeting up for breakfast at Laurel’s legendary Tastee Diner with Michael Stewart. Michael is an award-winning photographer and artist, and also happens to be the father of one of my favorite bloggers—Diner Hunter, Spencer Stewart.

Spencer had alerted me to some wonderful new etchings his dad had recently produced, capturing Laurel’s Little Tavern in its heyday. (Spencer has done by far the most meticulous research on Little Tavern I’ve ever seen—be sure to check out his extensive site!)

Michael has been getting back to his illustrative roots with a printmaking class at Montpelier, and he really caught the essence of the memorable little white building with the green roof.

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1997. (Laurel Historical Society archives)

1997. (Laurel Historical Society archives)

Of course, the building is still there at 115 Washington Boulevard—just across the street from the Tastee Diner. In fact, since it reopened as Laurel Tavern Donuts in 2008, it’s the only known establishment that still makes the famous Little Tavern Sliders from the original recipe, which was handed down by a former manager at the restaurant. Laurel’s Little Tavern first opened in 1939, and was among the very last to close its doors.

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(Photo: © Michael G. Stewart)

After a great meal and wonderfully nostalgic conversation, (both of which are always enhanced by the Tastee Diner’s one-of-a-kind ambiance) I had my original etching framed before I even made it back home!

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If you’d like one of your own, contact Michael at michephoto@msn.com or through Facebook.

Here are a few more photos from Michael’s archive, that he shot of the Little Tavern and Tastee Diner between 1987 and 2008:

Inside the Little Tavern in 2005. (Photo © Michael G. Stewart)

Inside the Little Tavern in 2005. (Photo © Michael G. Stewart)

Little Tavern 2007 photo Michael G. Stewart

(Photo © Michael G. Stewart)

2008, after closing. (Photo © Michael G. Stewart)

2008, after closing. (Photo © Michael G. Stewart)

An aerial view above Washington Boulevard. (Photo © Michael G. Stewart)

An aerial view above Washington Boulevard. (Photo © Michael G. Stewart)

1987. (Photo © Michael G. Stewart)

1987. (Photo © Michael G. Stewart)

The Tastee Diner's Washington Boulevard sign in 1987. (Photo © Michael G. Stewart)

The Tastee Diner’s Washington Boulevard sign in 1987. (Photo © Michael G. Stewart)

Oh, and I almost forgot—you can’t go to the Tastee Diner without enjoying copious amounts of good, strong coffee and a slice of pie, even it’s for breakfast.

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(Photo: © Michael G. Stewart)

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The Rest of the Story: Stefanie Watson

It’s still over a month away, but I hope you’ll mark your calendar and join me for a special presentation on July 9th. I’m honored to be part of the Laurel Historical Society’s summer program called “The Rest of the Story | A Series Based on Ripped From the Headlines: Laurel in the News”. It’s a companion series to the current exhibit at the Laurel Museum, which highlights some of the biggest stories that have ever graced the pages of the Laurel Leader (among other publications).

I’ve been asked to give a talk on a subject that’s particularly important to me—the Stefanie Watson cold case.

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I first wrote about the brutal 1982 murder of Stefanie Watson here in 2012, to mark the 30th anniversary of her death and to hypothesize a theory. I was a 9-year-old kid at the time of her disappearance; and while I’d never met her, the sheer horror of the crime—and the fact that virtually nothing had been written about it in the media in the three decades since—had always stuck with me. I decided to write something in the context of Lost Laurel to mark the occasion, never imagining that it would not only have a hand in reigniting the investigation, but that a DNA match would finally lead to her killer’s arrest after all these years.

It was a unique chance for me to reminisce about the people and places of Laurel in 1982, while exploring territory that was entirely new to me: discussing an unsolved murder with the Chief of Police in my hometown… retracing Stefanie Watson’s last known footsteps… comparing notes with Prince George’s County homicide detectives… becoming friends with Stefanie’s family, and ultimately getting that amazing call from her cousin that an arrest had been made.

I’m putting together this presentation to tell the full story in person. It’ll be hosted by the Laurel Historical Society, and for the first time, will be held at the Laurel Police Department‘s spacious Partnership Activity Center—which many of you will remember was originally the First Baptist Church of Laurel.

(Photo: Sgt. Don Winstead, Laurel Police Department. Courtesy of policestationpictures.wordpress.com)

(Photo: Sgt. Don Winstead, Laurel Police Department. Courtesy of policestationpictures.wordpress.com)

If any of Stefanie’s former co-workers at the Greater Laurel-Beltsville Hospital (or anyone else—friends or neighbors—who knew her personally) are interested in attending and possibly sharing your memories of her, that would be wonderful. Likewise, any current or retired police, fire, and rescue personnel who may have had some connection to the case—we would love to hear from you.

This summer will mark 33 years since Stefanie Watson’s murder. It will also mark the beginning of John Ernest Walsh’s trial for this crime that has haunted Laurel now for more than three decades.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Stefanie Watson: Reigniting One of Laurel’s Most Notorious Cold Cases

PRESENTED BY RICHARD FRIEND

Thursday, July 9, 2015
7PM
Laurel Police Department | Partnership Activity Center
811 Fifth Street, Laurel, MD

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My Main Street (Festival) Moment

It’s hard to believe a week has already passed, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t post a short update about what was, for me, the most memorable Main Street Festival of all. For the 35th anniversary, I got the chance to ride in the parade—and not in just any vehicle…

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(Photo: John Floyd II)

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(Photo: John Floyd II)

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That’s Mike Templeton‘s 1956 Chevy Bel Air, and it is all kinds of awesome.

Before we get too far into this, let me introduce you to Mike:

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The idea actually came from Pete Lewnes, whose enthusiasm for the history of all things Laurel is unmatched. Pete, who shares countless items with Lost Laurel from the massive collection he and his wife have built, mentioned that I should approach a longtime local car dealer like Fred Frederick about riding in this year’s parade in one of his convertibles—which would promote his dealership as well as the Lost Laurel project. Mike got wind of this and said,

“Lost Laurel can’t be in some new car! You need a classic!”

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Mike Templeton and Pete Lewnes

The Laurel Board of Trade liked the idea, too, and put us at #16 in the parade lineup—just after the Laurel Volunteer Fire Department and just before the Knights of Columbus. And I have to tell you, waiting in that staging area along Sixth Street—just a block shy of Main Street, already abuzz with eager parade-watchers—it’s quite a feeling.

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If you’ve ever wondered what the parade looks like from the vantage point of the participants entering Main Street from Sixth Street, wonder no more. Here’s a quick video I shot to capture those first few seconds:

At that same moment, John Floyd II—who’d taken so many wonderful photos of the very first Main Street Festival way back in 1981—was standing directly across the street next to Oliver’s Old Town Tavern, and snapped these pics:

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(Photos: John Floyd II)

I soon realized that there were a lot more people than I expected, and many of them were kids eager to catch candy. Luckily for them, I’d brought a huge bag of lollipops and was getting a workout tossing them to both sides of the street! I teased a few longtime Laurelites I recognized by suggesting that it was “thirty-year-old candy from Woolworth’s” and other Lost Laurel sweet spots like Gavriles’. :)

John Mewshaw, who took the following photo, noted:

“It isn’t easy taking pictures while being pelted by candy…”

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(Photo: John Mewshaw)

Realizing that I couldn’t take these candy-tossing duties lightly, I passed the video camera off to Pete—and he happily filmed the entire length of our ride down Main Street from the front passenger seat of the ’56 Bel Air.

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Laurel Leader writer Patti Restivo, who’d written about the Festival in that week’s paper, was on hand and shouted out, asking if I’d seen her article. She’d called me the week before the parade to get a quote, and we’d talked about several things; at one point, Patti mentioned how a former newspaper editor had once modified one of her stories to include her least favorite word in the English language—the word “utterly”. I told her that she should add it to my quote somehow as an inside joke. Lo and behold:

Richard Friend, of Lost Laurel, is riding in the parade for the first time with Mike Templeton in Templeton’s red 1956 Chevrolet Bel Air convertible.

Friend said he remembers attending the first Main Street Festival in 1981 as a 9-year-old, when just walking in the middle of the street “created a sense of novelty and wonder.”

“When I walk down Main Street today, the ghosts of Laurel businesses past are with me, especially during the festival,” he said. “Riding in the parade is going to be an utterly exciting experience.”

— Laurel Leader  | May 7, 2015

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(Photo: Patti Restivo)

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(Photo: Patti Restivo)

All along the parade route, I saw familiar faces and heard familiar voices—including those of longtime friends and former classmates, as well as those I’d only met before via Lost Laurel. “Thanks for your awesome page,” someone shouted out; and if my day hadn’t already been made, it certainly was then.

(Photo: Billy Wellford)

(Photo: Billy Wellford)

(Photo: LaDonna Kane)

(Photo: LaDonna Kane)

After the parade, in between funnel cakes and lemonade, several people asked about the vintage Laurel baseball jersey I was wearing.

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Actually, it’s the shoulder patch that’s historic. The jersey itself is a brand new one I had custom-made by Ebbets Field Flannels to go with this original 1930s Prince George’s County Police Boys’ Club patch. This was the little league that preceded the Laurel Boys & Girls Club.

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(Photos: Mike Templeton)

The weather started out a bit sketchy, with light rain that wasn’t in the forecast whatsoever; but man, did it turn out to be a nice day. And even if the rain hadn’t let up, it wouldn’t have dampened it for me one bit. After the festivities, I learned that we’d even won a trophy!

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(Photo: Mike Templeton)

I saw a lot of folks taking pictures along the route. I’d love to see them, so if you could, please post them on the Lost Laurel Facebook page or email them to me at richard_friend@mac.com. Thanks to everyone for coming out and truly making it an extra-special Main Street Festival!

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The End of the Library

By now, many of you already know that the Stanley Memorial Library has always been a very special place for me.

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It was the first library I can remember ever going into as a child, and I still vividly recall my amazement at learning that there was no limit to how many books I could check out at any given time—and that it was all completely free. What madness! “How do they stay in business?!” I asked my mom.

Fast-forward a few years; and as a not-quite-fifteen-year-old kid in 1987, I got my work permit and was given my very first part-time job: manning the desk at the “Computer Connection“—the library’s small public computer lab. I scheduled reservations for people I can still picture to this day, including Mr. Anderson, the budding fiction writer who plugged away at the Apple IIe at least twice a month. Other, more utilitarian types booked time on the IBM PC; and surprisingly, hardly anyone ever used the Macintosh. Librarian Carl Keehn, who’d hired me, was the first to encourage me to take advantage of any downtime by learning all I could—particularly on that Macintosh. (As a graphic designer today, that’s my primary tool).

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As I recently learned from Carl, I almost didn’t get that job. Not because I wasn’t qualified, but because I was still underage. The law didn’t allow me to work past 8:30, and the job required me to stay until 8:45. The library actually ended up applying for a waiver, and the rest was history.

The Computer Connection gig only lasted a couple of years, though, as the first of many county cutbacks began to loom. Nonetheless, while the computers were going bye-bye for the 1990s, I was glad to learn that my job wasn’t. In fact, it was really just beginning. I was reassigned as a clerical aide, or page—where I got to re-shelve books and locate back issue periodicals for patrons.

Well, I’m not going to bore you with my whole employment story again. Suffice it to say that I grew up in that library. Not only was it my first job, I ended up working there all throughout high school and college. I can’t begin to count how many good memories that place holds for me. Even the very first date I ever went on—the library is where I met and nervously asked out that first girl I really liked, right there in the parking lot.

Even after starting my first full-time graphic design job in 1997, I clung to the library; I continued to work part-time on the weekends, not because I needed to, but because I guess I really just didn’t want to let it go.

And that feeling that crept back again, nearly 20 years later—with the announcement of a new Laurel Library branch now due to be built on the site by 2017. Yes, even in spite of the 1993 expansion which nearly tripled the size of the original building, the old library had far outgrown the space. But to imagine those old walls, the sight of which conjure so many fond memories, being torn down—it was a tough pill to swallow.

The demolition was originally scheduled for last fall, I believe; but for one reason or another, there were delays. The library’s last day of operation in this building had been March 8, 2014. Shortly thereafter, a temporary (and much smaller) facility was established behind City Hall at 8101 Sandy Spring Road. But the old building sat empty and untouched for over a year, until finally, the familiar signs of pending destruction began to emerge: construction crew trailers were installed in the parking lot, and a chain link fence went up around the perimeter. Each weekend, I’d make the drive from Centreville, VA to Laurel, hoping to catch the first moments of it on film, but dreading it at the same time. Worse, I feared that one day soon, I’d approach that familiar corner of Seventh Street and Talbott Avenue, and the old library would be nothing more than a pile of rubble.

Finally, I got word that NARDI Construction, Inc. was ready to start. On May 6th, 2015, I drove to the site and met foreman Chuck McNulty, who regrettably told me that the excavators they were expecting that morning hadn’t showed up after all—it looked like they wouldn’t start tearing the building down in earnest until the next day. But it was hardly a wasted trip, as Chuck asked if I’d be interested in taking a few mementos his team had salvaged. Little did I imagine these would include the original, complete set of blueprints from 1965—blueprints I remember hanging in the basement office of the late Tom Acra, the library’s beloved maintenance man.

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Chuck told me they should be good to go the following day, so on May 7th, I made the trip back. The smaller Bobcats were hard at work inside, doing some final interior gutting before they’d start knocking down the walls. While I was taking photos on the corner, Chuck appeared in what had previously been one of the windows—it was now more like an open bay door. I’ll never forget what he asked next:

“Wanna come in and see the inside one last time?”

He told me it was okay to film and photograph anything I wanted (with the exception of the workers themselves, some of whom may not want their pictures taken). I grabbed both my video camera and the still camera, stepped over the caution-taped hard hat area, and into the vacant shell of the Stanley Memorial Library one last time.

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It didn’t occur to me until I’d gone home and started sorting through my photos that the demolition came on the anniversary of the library’s official dedication. While the building had opened in 1965, the dedication didn’t actually happen until May 7, 1967.

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Forty-eight years ago to the day, future U.S. Congresswoman Gladys Noon Spellman, Laurel Mayor Merrill Harrison, and other local officials had assembled behind the original circulation desk and delivered the dedication.

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And now, there I was at the same spot, moments before the building would finally meet its end. For 50 years, this library had stood here; countless patrons milling about its shelves for bestsellers and all sorts of media… (I’ve even heard stories of an actual art collection being loaned out in the ’70s—you could borrow a new painting for your living room wall every couple of weeks!) And of course, my thoughts went to the many people who worked here, both before and after my time as a staff member. That’s when it dawned on me that of all those people, I suddenly found myself being the last one who’d ever walk through it again.

It was about a half hour later that the first of the walls started coming down—the vestibule roof that had originally covered the Seventh Street entrance, the original circulation workroom, and most recently, the quiet study room—crashed to the ground in a cloud of beige dust. After that settled, I got to witness the center wall that was the heart of the 1965 building fall:

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Chuck said that they wouldn’t likely get to the other major sections that day, but I’d seen enough. I’m not sure I wanted to see the expansion side come down—the section that was brand new in 1993, which seems like just the blink of an eye ago.

The construction crew took a brief break over the weekend (the Main Street Festival proved a welcome distraction to any other nostalgic library types like me) and was back at it on Monday, May 11th. By the end of this week, if not sooner, the rest of the library will be leveled.

You can peruse my full set of photos on Flickr, which includes several days leading up to and during the demolition. I’ll be adding to it in the weeks to come.

Many thanks again to Chuck McNulty and NARDI Construction for going above and beyond in providing me access to document the building’s demise, and for saving some one-of-a-kind historical mementos. The cornerstone and dedication plate will be preserved in the Laurel Museum.

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He also set aside several bricks for me, and even helped load them into my truck—bricks that I’ll be distributing to former library colleagues as one last little piece of this place we loved.

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