Lost Laurel… in Hyattsville

You could say that the Prince George’s County Library System is in my DNA. Since I was a kid, I’ve loved libraries; it’s no wonder that my very first job was at the Stanley Memorial Library, where I ended up working as a clerical aide from 1987 to 1997. Not only that, but just before I was born, my mom worked at the Hyattsville Branch. (We actually lived in Hyattsville just before moving to Laurel in 1976). That was the first library I’d ever visited—and I literally thought it was out of this world:

(Photo:  © Prince George's County Memorial Library System)

The Hyattsville Branch’s iconic “flying saucer” entrance. (Photo: © Prince George’s County Memorial Library System)

I made the trek to the Hyattsville Branch today for a very special reason. My book, Lost Laurel, was recently added to the PGCMLS collection—and a reference copy is now on the shelf in the historic Maryland Room! It sounds cheesy, but I wanted to visit it.


Sure enough, tucked between larger, older volumes, there it was—bearing Dewey Decimal System label MDR 975.251 FRI.

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I spent a few quality minutes browsing the other shelves, too. The fact that I had the Maryland Room all to myself today made the visit all the more special. (And yes, the clerical aide in me couldn’t resist re-shelving a few books I spotted that were out of place. Old habits die hard…)

I’m still sad that the old Stanley Memorial Library where I worked is completely gone now, although Laurel certainly did need an upgrade. And significant progress is finally being made on the new Laurel Branch. PGCMLS has an official Flickr album with frequent updates.

(Photo: © Prince George's County Memorial Library System)

(Photo: © Prince George’s County Memorial Library System)

Admittedly, I’m much more excited to see it completed now than I was a few months ago. I’m even more excited to see some Lost Laurel books on those brand new shelves.

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Big News!


Lost Laurel reached an amazing milestone this weekend—5,000 Facebook fans! To celebrate, I’ve designed over 50 t-shirts inspired by long-gone Laurel landmarks with even more to come. They’re available on-demand exclusively at Spreadshirt.com, and a portion of each purchase helps support the Lost Laurel project—including the sneak preview below…


Since the Lost Laurel book came out, several people have asked if there’ll be a sequel. Not exactly; but my next book project promises to be even more fun. It’s a collaboration with Laurel Leader “History Matters” columnist Kevin Leonard, and highlights an absolute treasure trove of rare photos and artifacts from the Berman family—the visionaries who built Laurel Shopping Center in 1956 and have made so many other contributions to our town in the years since. Stay tuned, as this one is just starting to take shape!

In other book news, I was thrilled to learn that Lost Laurel was officially added to the Prince George’s County Memorial Library System‘s collection, and a reference copy is now housed at the prestigious Maryland Room in the Hyattsville Branch. As a former clerical aide who re-shelved books for nearly 10 years at the Laurel Library, it’s such an honor to have a book of my own in the collection.

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Thanks to everyone for continuing to spread the word and share the nostalgia!


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Wearable Lost Laurel!

As hard as it is for me to believe, the Lost Laurel Facebook Page is inching closer to a pretty incredible milestone: 5,000 fans! When I started this thing back in 2011, I honestly thought that maybe a handful of my oldest friends would take an interest—I had no idea this many folks would share my enthusiasm for this kind of hyper-local, hometown nostalgia.

That being said, I’m trying to do something special to celebrate. I’ve been asked quite a few times about designing Lost Laurel t-shirts, and I think this is the perfect time to do so. And I’ve finally created one that I think anyone who lived here in the 1980s will especially appreciate. Inspired by one of my favorite places in town growing up, the old Laurel Centre Mall logo perfectly symbolizes what Lost Laurel is all about.


But that’s only the beginning.

What’s more, I’d been thinking long and hard about how so many of Laurel’s places past have faded away without leaving a souvenir, so to speak. The phrase, “Been there, done that, got the t-shirt” also sparked an idea—if I could go back in time and design t-shirts for the places we once knew and loved, what would they look like?

In some cases, certain businesses actually had shirts made for their employees, but most of those have long since disappeared—sadly relegated to thrift stores and used as rags in the years after they’d served their purpose. Those of us who shopped there never had the chance to buy one of our own; and let’s face it—who really would’ve wanted one at the time? But in the decades that have followed, we realize just how strong this nostalgia stuff can be.

I thought of simple places like Keller’s and Bob’s Cab—places that we took for granted all those years ago… And then I had fun re-imagining what their respective brands might look like today… on a t-shirt.



Sometimes all it takes is a hint of familiar typography, or an architectural element from an old sign; and suddenly, you’ve got a t-shirt that visually pays tribute to these beloved, long-lost places past. And the idea of seeing them on the streets of Laurel again after all these years is quite a trip.

Here’s a sampling:


It’s a unique chance to bring back some wonderful memories in a whole new way, and to spread the fun.

I do have to point out that I’m not doing this for profit. Nor is there any infringement of trademark rights that were abandoned years ago, had they ever existed at all. None of these shirts are being mass-produced—I’m simply creating new designs and making them available through Spreadshirt.com, where we can order them on-demand. (Yep, I have to pay the same price you do.) Most of the shirts are $20, nearly all of which goes to Spreadshirt for fulfillment. I’ll only receive a small commission for having produced the designs, which will still go a long way in helping support the Lost Laurel project.

It’s something that I can continually add to, as well, which makes this extra exciting. Maybe we’ll have polls to vote on which Lost Laurel shirt I should design next… or perhaps vote on which design you prefer, like this 1960s matchbook cover concept for the Turf Club:


Of course, this is also the perfect opportunity to remake a classic Main Street bootleg shirt from 1993, when it seemed imminent that Jack Kent Cooke was going to build his new stadium right there at the corner of Whiskey Bottom and Brock Bridge Roads in Laurel. (Fortunately for us, the U.S. Patent Office recently cancelled the Washington Redskins’ trademarks, meaning that a “Laurel Redskins” t-shirt no longer even qualifies as “bootleg,” ironically). If you missed your chance to own one 20 years ago, you’re in luck. You can even have it in time for the regular NFL season!


(Photo: John Mewshaw, 1993)

Some of the other design highlights so far include:

  • Pal Jack’s Pizza: with faithfully-recreated lettering based on the hand-carved sign
  • Laurel Pop Festival: completely recreated from the rare original poster
  • Laurel Hotel: a re-imagined vintage typographic treatment
  • Herb’s Carry-Out: an artistic rendering of the iconic building
    … And lots more to come!

It’s also that time of year to start thinking about Christmas gifts, and any of these shirts will make awesome stocking-stuffers for the Lost Laurelites on your list. I’ve already bought a few of them myself to make sure the printing quality is good and that they hold up in the wash, and I’m extremely happy with them. Plus, Spreadshirt has a 30-day return policy, should you need it.


So, get ready to start sporting your favorite little slice of Lost Laurel like never before! And be sure to take and share photos when you’re wearing them out in the old neighborhood!

Visit the Lost Laurel shop on spreadshirt.com
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2001 Tornado Footage

In “Ripped from the Headlines: Laurel in the News,” the current exhibit at the Laurel Museum,  there’s a panel in the Disasters section that covers the tornado that wreaked havoc through the Fairlawn neighborhood and beyond in September 2001—less than two weeks after 9/11. Remember, this was a town already on edge after learning that some of the hijackers had stayed in Laurel… and then a tornado literally blew through.

The panel features the cover of that week’s Laurel Leader, which included a stunning image of the funnel cloud moving just beyond Laurel Shopping Center and the Middletowne Apartments high rise.


The image wasn’t a photograph, but a video still from footage shot by Brian Alexander—shot from the fourth floor office of the former American National Bank building, which was demolished in 2012 to make way for a new Walgreens.

(Photo: Richard Friend, 2012)

(Photo: Richard Friend, 2012)

Until today, that was the only image I’d ever seen of the tornado itself, although there are plenty of photos of its aftermath. The tornado briefly reached the F3 category, with winds up to 160 mph. Laurel was fortunate that there were no casualties that day, although there was plenty of damage—portions of roofs were blown off Laurel High School, and the historic Harrison-Beard Building at Montgomery and Ninth Streets was nearly lost; one house along the 1000 block of Tenth Street was completely destroyed.

As yet another September is upon us, it’s hard to believe it’s been 14 years since this happened. And it all came back vividly today when Steve Jones sent me the following footage—these appear to be the actual Brian Alexander video clips themselves, as well as some bonus footage of the aftermath.

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Farewell, Pallotti Playground Fire Truck

Some things just have a way of becoming part of the landscape, whether they’re intentional landmarks or not. Even if it’s a place you never visited—if you saw it routinely for over three decades, you just got used to it being there. And it’s always a bit of a shock when it disappears.

Ordinarily, I’d be talking about a store, a restaurant, or some other long-time Laurel business that’s shuffled off into the sunset. But this time, it’s a piece of playground equipment.

(Photo: John Floyd II)

(Photo: John Floyd II)

Not just any old swing set, sliding board, or merry-go-round, though—this was originally a real, working fire engine for the Hillandale Volunteer Fire Department. But in the summer of 1980, it somehow ended up in the Pallotti Early Learning Center’s playground. And ever since, the unmistakable red fire truck had remained a truly unique piece of equipment for kids to explore and enjoy.

After 36 years, the corner of Montgomery Street and St. Mary’s Place is going to look quite different without it.

Laurel resident John Floyd II probably knows far more about fire trucks than you or I ever could, and he was there last Monday when the old truck was excavated and hauled away. Former volunteer firefighter Dave Hilliard plans to use its parts to restore a similar fire truck in his possession; and he agreed to take the truck now that now that Pallotti’s daycare staff and children have left the area and moved into a new building nearby.

John posted the following recap on Facebook earlier this week:

On Monday morning, 24th August 2015, a battered and forlorn-looking old fire engine that had been a familiar sight in Laurel MD’s Old Town district for three-and-a-half decades was dug out of its earthen plinth in Pallotti Day Care Centre’s playground, hoisted aboard a heavy-duty roll-back truck after some careful manoeuvres, and taken away to its new home between Gambrills and Crownsville MD.

The fire engine is a 1955 American LaFrance 700 Series pump that was delivered new to Hillandale VFD in Montgomery County and served there until the early 1970s. After a few years of private ownership, the scruffy-looking and slightly-rusty engine was donated to the Pallottine Sisters for use in their children’s playground and it arrived behind a tow crane in June of 1980. Soon, the engine was “planted” in just the right spot with decorative stones all around, painted bright red, and kitted out with wooden platforms topside for the children to climb and play on.

Every few years, the school’s maintenance staff would slather a fresh coat of red paint on the engine by hand with brushes and this has preserved its sheet metal and inhibited rust over the decades. The rig’s bronze 750 gallons-per-minute fire pump and Continental 6-cylinder motor were left intact and have remained un-disturbed. Eventually, those charged with keeping the engine painted started cutting corners and painted over everything: chromium trim, headlamps, running boards – fresh, bright red on everything except the bumper!

Saint Vincent Pallotti High School, in whose building the day care centre had operated, has been expanding with increased enrollment and needed more space, requiring the day care and playground to be moved to the northern end of the city block-long property. Alas, the fire engine was too large to be placed in the new playground area so it had to go. Some time ago, I suggested that Hillside VFD fireman and vintage fire engine collector David Hilliard contact the Pallottine Sisters to see what they intended to do with the engine and earlier this summer, they graciously decided to give it to David with the proviso that he remove it from the property when the time came . . . and that time finally came!

With the assistance of Berwyn Heights MD fireman and fellow collector Jimmy Woodhouse, N&S Towing of Beltsville MD, and Larry Frederick along with days of digging around the engine and other preparation work, all was ready for the move. Several of us arrived at 9 am and soon, we were joined by Sister Karen Lester, Hillandale VFD fireman Earl Clime who’d worked with the engine long ago, Laurel Leader newspaper reporter Andrew Michaels, the day care centre’s director, several school staff, and a whole bunch of little kids, some of whom were quite sad to see “their” fire engine going away!

Here, then, is my picture gallery of the departure of this familiar and interesting piece of local history that’s been part of Laurel MD since 1980. A typical American fire engine of the mid-20th Century gets a new chance at life – enjoy! JDF II

Photos: John Floyd II

Laurel Leader coverage: Fire truck leaves Laurel learning center after 36 years

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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”.


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

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

Additional sources:


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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.



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.


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.


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:


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.


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.


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…


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:


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…

img375-2   img374-3

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


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.


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:


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.”



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.


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.


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.”



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.


(Family photo)

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Stefanie Watson Program Tonight


(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:



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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:


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…


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.”

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