Author Archives: Richard Friend

Matchbooks: You Are Here

I recently had the idea to take a few of my vintage Laurel matchbooks for a little field trip… back to their origins. Standing either on site or within sight of the businesses they promote, I photographed them. It’s funny how such a small (and now virtually obsolete) form of advertising can trigger so many vivid memories—especially when shown in this context.

Covering pretty much all corners of the town, the matchbooks represent a range of eras—from the 1930s to the 1990s.

In some cases, if a business was around long enough, (like Peoples Drug, for instance) it had multiple matchbooks over time, showing logo and brand evolution. I plan to photograph as many as I can, and include multiple locations, if possible.

This will be an ongoing project I’ll add to as time permits, and of course as I find more matchbooks. If you have any old ones from Laurel hiding in that kitchen junk drawer, please let me know!

All photos ©2017 Richard Friend | Lost Laurel
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A Childhood Apartment… 30 Years Later

I finally had the chance to tour my childhood apartment at Steward Manor this weekend—the first time I’ve stepped foot inside since my parents and I moved in the summer of 1987. It’s amazing how every inch of space still holds so many vivid memories.

Even before starting Lost Laurel, it was Steward Manor’s history that first fascinated me. I’d begun researching it in earnest in 2010, visiting the rental office to copy vintage photos; and tracking down original plat survey drawings from 1959 at Ben Dyer Associates—the civil engineering company that’s still in business today.

I’d gotten a message from my friend, Joe Leizear, a longtime Steward Manor resident who became a maintenance man there himself. Joe shares a fascination for this kind of stuff, and knew I’d love to tour my old apartment when the opportunity arose. Sure enough, shortly after the most recent tenants moved out, Joe invited me to see it.

The tour wouldn’t have been complete without my oldest friends, Rodney and Ronald Pressley—twin brothers I’ve known since the first grade, and grew up with at the apartment complex.

It’s a surreal experience, walking through such a familiar place again after all these years… and it’s amazing how vivid the memories remain. Even with the many upgrades and changes—and even vacant—it still feels like it did in the 1980s. It felt like home.

1986: The 99¢ Theater

Summer being the time of blockbuster movies, here’s a true Lost Laurel blockbuster: footage from 1986 leading up to the opening of the 99¢ theater at Town Center! Courtesy of the amazing Jeff Krulik and Paul Sanchez, this clip captures the Rt. 197 & Contee Road shopping center as it was in the mid-80s—including Peoples Drug, Tropical Fish City, DiGennaro’s, Church’s Fried Chicken, and more.

Much more to come—including footage from the grand opening itself (complete with performances by the legendary Sammy Ross, on loan from Delaney’s Irish Pub!) Thanks again, Jeff!!

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“Top of the World, Ma!”

Laurel Plaza shopping center, at the intersection of Routes 197 and 198, has always had something unique to Laurel at any given time. Zayre (and later, Ames) was the anchoring department store on one end, and Grand Union (and later, Basics) was the grocery store on the other—a space that would later become the longtime home to Village Thrift Store. But, of course, Laurel Plaza was also home to the greatest sporting goods store of all time, Bob Windsor’s All Pro Sports—owned by former San Francisco 49ers and New England Patriots star, Bob Windsor.

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© Lost Laurel collection

But Laurel Plaza was also where the Laurel Boys & Girls Club-sponsored traveling carnivals set up when I was a kid; and every year around this time, I think back to them fondly.

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Laurel Plaza carnival, May 1987. (Photo © Richard Friend)

Operated by Winchester Amusement Company, you didn’t have to be a certified safety inspector to tell that the rides weren’t exactly in optimal condition. Disney World, this most certainly wasn’t. And you could also count on some kind of trouble brewing at some point during the two-week run—usually a drunken scuffle or three after an argument over the (very-possibly-rigged) games of chance.

But the rides were true carnival classics: the Scrambler, the Trabant, and the Scat (among others) were there year after year. The crown jewel, however—the one that literally first caught your eye and immediately registered “carnival”—was the Ferris Wheel.

And Winchester Amusement Company had one of the biggest Ferris Wheels—a 50-footer. Anyone approaching Laurel Plaza simply couldn’t miss it.

Thirty years ago this week, (on May 14th, 1987, to be exact) I got to experience that 50-foot Ferris Wheel from a very unique perspective:

I got stuck at the top, and had to climb down via the Laurel Volunteer Fire Department’s 100-foot ladder truck.

I literally remember it like it was yesterday, but my memory is surely aided by these photos that I took the day after the fateful ride.

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The infamous Ferris Wheel at Laurel Plaza, the day after the incident. (Photo © Richard Friend)

I’ve never been a particular fan of Ferris Wheels, mind you; I’m more of a roller coaster guy. But I’d had it in my mind to try out every ride the carnival had to offer. Ferris Wheels always struck me as incredibly boring; but as luck would have it, this one quickly turned into what was arguably the most exciting ride in the history of the Laurel carnival.

It was around 8PM that night when I boarded the Ferris Wheel—the ride only about three quarters full with nine people, total. It made exactly one full rotation, and as I passed the motor at the base of the ride, I flinched as a large cable literally snapped off the drive wheel system. Seconds later, as my car ascended to the top, the entire Ferris Wheel shimmied side to side briefly—that’s when everyone realized that something had gone wrong. For a split second, I thought it was going to collapse. That, or we were literally going to start rolling down Route 198.

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The broken cable the day after the incident. Photo © Richard Friend

Instead, we heard what sounded like a generator cutting off, and the wheel simply ground to a stop—with my car literally stuck at the very top.

I remember seeing the Ferris Wheel operator frantically trying to figure out what to do; and when his best option was evidently to try to manually rotate the giant wheel—with his bare hands—I knew this was serious.

With curious onlookers beginning to congregate, carnival employees shouted up to us that they would have us down safely soon; but at least an hour went by before we finally saw salvation…in the form of fire trucks.

A pair of firefighters climbed the 100-foot ladder to my car, and spent a few moments securing the car to their ladder. I was told to hold onto the back of the car I was sitting in, because the second I started moving, it would swing forward. Sure enough, I found myself looking straight down at the asphalt parking lot for a few unnerving seconds. But I was safely harnessed to the firefighter, who assured me that if I fell, he would fall, too—and that he wasn’t planning to fall.

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The safety bar on Car #9, still open the day after I’d climbed out from the top of the Ferris Wheel. (Photo © Richard Friend)

He instructed me to carefully step out of the car, and to throw my legs over the top of the Ferris Wheel, one at a time. Literally, over the top of the Ferris Wheel, and onto the ladder. I did that, and we slowly descended together. As we did, I confided to him, “this is a lot more fun than the Ferris Wheel.”

I’d just gotten safely to the ground when a man whom I assume was the owner/manager of the carnival approached me. I’m not exaggerating when I say that he looked exactly like the guy from “The Blues Brothers” who owned Bob’s Country Bunker.

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Bob, owner of Bob’s Country Bunker. (“The Blues Brothers,” 1980).

He was smiling jovially as he handed me a small cup of Pepsi. “Are ‘ya thirsty? Here, have a soda!” And then he handed me the real reward for my experience: a pair of complimentary ticket books. They included 12 tickets for free rides. I still have the covers in my collection:

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I went straight home after that, and found my mom furious that I was over an hour and a half late. Not only that, she didn’t believe my story of being stuck at the top of the Ferris Wheel—even when I showed her the ticket books I’d received. It actually wasn’t until the following Thursday, when the Laurel Leader reported the incident, that she realized I’d been telling the truth!

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To my knowledge, no charges or lawsuits were ever filed, as no one was injured. I went back to the carnival in the days afterward and used my free tickets—even riding the Ferris Wheel again once it was operational. Although, that was the last Ferris Wheel ride I’ve ever taken.

I’ve tried to find out whatever became of the Winchester Amusement Company, which (not surprisingly) seems to be out of business. I’d heard that the Laurel Boys & Girls Club, concerned with their quality control, eventually replaced them with another carnival operator in the 1990s. And in 1998, there was an incident in Hagerstown where a teenager was seriously injured after being ejected from one of the rides operated by Winchester Amusement. I doubt there were any free ticket books and Pepsis after that one, and it may very well have spelled the end for the longtime carnies.

Nevertheless, I’ll always have the memory of climbing down from the top of that Ferris Wheel at the carnival in Laurel Plaza—which may as well have been the top of the world. It’s just hard to believe that it’s been 30 years. Driving past the shopping center today, the parking lot is still teeming with activity; but nothing like the night of May 14, 1987.

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Main Street Tour LHS Benefit

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The Laurel Historical Society’s Annual Gala is just a couple weeks away on April 22nd, and one of the highlights has always been the auction. This year, there’s an extra auction component—Facebook—and I’m very proud to be part of it!

I’m donating a personal walking tour of historic Main Street and a copy of my Lost Laurel book, which you’ll be able to bid on directly from the Laurel Historical Society’s Facebook page starting next Saturday, April 15th. All funds raised go to support the Laurel Museum. Even if you’re not able to attend the Gala, this is a chance to bid on the tour and help us raise funds.

Here are the details from LHS Executive Director, Lindsey Baker:

This year the Laurel Historical Society is expanding our Auction to the Facebook world!

We will be putting 1 item up for bid on Facebook a week prior to our Great Gala. That means you can bid from the comfort of your own home, at work, or on the go–anywhere you access Facebook!

Bidding will end the night of the Laurel Historical Society’s Great Gala at 10pm.

Bidding is simple, easy, and painless!

When we post the item up for bid, we will post a minimum bid and bid increments. If you’d like to bid, simply comment on the post with an amount in a bid increment higher than the previous comment. Same as you would on the bid sheets at the Gala, but instead it’s just a comment on the Facebook post.

The last person to comment before the auction ends at 10pm will win! We will use time stamps to determine the winner if it’s a close call.

Once we’ve picked the winner, we will let them know and ask for their email so we can complete the transaction privately.

WHAT ARE WE AUCTIONING OFF YOU MIGHT ASK?

A personal walking tour with Richard Friend, LHS Board Member who is known for Lost Laurel and the Laurel History Boys. The winner of the tour will be able to schedule a personal tour, length of their choosing, on Main Street. Richard will bring photos and stories about almost every block of Main Street covering the last 100+ years. And the winner will also receive a signed copy of the Lost Laurel book.

We’ll do our Auction Post a week from today, on April 15. Keep an eye out and as Jim McCeney loved to say, bid early and bid often!

I’ll meet the winner’s group at the Museum and we’ll walk the full length of Main Street and back, (or a shorter distance, if you’re not up for the full trek) and will share some little-known history behind the businesses and residences from the past century.

Block by block, I’ll show you where past businesses once existed, where notorious crimes and accidents occurred, and much more. Ever wonder which places on Main Street might actually be haunted … and why? Take the tour and find out!

I hope to see you at the Gala, and look forward to showing a whole other side of Main Street history soon!

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The Ice Cream Man Needs Our Help

In life—especially in a small town—there’s always at least a few people who regularly bring a smile to your face, even if you don’t know them by name. It might be a cashier at the store who always goes the extra mile to bag your groceries carefully and efficiently. It might be the newspaper hawker at the Metro stop who makes it a point to cheerfully greet everyone who passes by. You’re aware of them. You don’t know them personally, but they’ve made an impression on you somewhere along the line, and when someone mentions them, you instantly know who they’re talking about.

And when that mention includes terrible news about that person, it touches you. Even though you don’t know them personally.

I’ve experienced this more than a few times, as I’m sure most of you have, too. But I’m writing because it happened again tonight; and I think this time around, we can pull some extra help.

I heard from longtime friends, Jeanette and Mark Henkin, that their neighbor and dear friend Rick Heyer is battling pulmonary fibrosis.This is something else that hits close to home, literally. Just last year, the wonderful Jim McCeney—longtime chairman of the Laurel Historical Society—lost his life to this terrible disease.

Rick needs a double lung transplant—something doctors have said he is actually a good candidate for.

Rick is 68 years old and a U.S. Navy veteran; and sadly, his military service may have contributed to his condition. Unfortunately, the hospitals will not put him on the lung transplant list until he gets secondary insurance—and providers have turned him down. There is a 20% portion that Medicare does not cover, and as you’d imagine, that 20% is astronomical: it’s $200,000.

When Jeanette mentioned Rick’s name, I drew a blank. But as soon as she mentioned the vehicle he drives, I knew exactly who he was. Rick is the gentleman who routinely drives his antique Good Humor Ice Cream truck in Laurel’s parades and local car shows.

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Photo: Mark Henkin

The 1930 Ford Model A is always in immaculate condition, and countless kids and adults of all ages flock to it. The mere sight of the truck—especially at those scorching 4th of July parades—immediately makes you crave ice cream. But after just a few moments in its presence,  you forget all about the ice cream. You’re transported to another era. The love and care that Rick put into restoring it—one of only a very few original ice cream trucks to survive—is readily apparent.

That truck is his pride and joy, but his health is the most important thing. Rick has already listed it on eBay in an effort to raise the necessary funds for his surgery, and his family has also started a GoFundMe page in hopes of reaching that goal as soon as possible.

So I’m here to ask you—won’t you also give what you can to help?

If you happen to have the cash on hand to buy an extremely rare 1930 Ford ice cream truck, that would be fantastic; but honestly, just as helpful would be a small donation from the rest of us who appreciate the joy this gentleman has brought simply by sharing his truck with Laurel over the years. Come on, Laurel—you can afford to pitch in the cost of an ice cream cone. If we all just gave $5, this goal can be met.

Let’s do this.

GoFundMe page: https://www.gofundme.com/hope-for-rick-heyer

eBay listing: http://www.ebay.com/itm/222368810121

In addition to contributing, you can help simply by sharing this story and these important links. Thanks very much.

 

 

 

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Leo Emery, 1930–2016

Matt, Joyce, and Leo Emery. 2012. Photo by Richard Friend

Very sad news to report—Mr. Leo Emery, longtime owner of the wonderful Laurel Art Center on Main Street, passed away Wednesday, September 28th after a long illness. He was 86. Services are scheduled at Donaldson Funeral Home with visitation on Sunday, October 2nd from 2:00 PM until 4:00 PM. Funeral service is scheduled on Monday, October 3rd at 1:00 PM. Interment will follow at Ivy Hill Cemetery. Undoubtedly, many in Laurel will want to pay their respects to this kind and generous man who truly put the “art” in Laurel’s Arts District.

(Photo: Richard Friend, 2012)
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A Nightmare in Laurel

When I decided to write a piece about the Stefanie Watson cold case back in 2012 to mark the 30th anniversary of this incredibly brutal, yet remarkably obscure crime, I didn’t expect much to come of it. I certainly didn’t expect P.G. County Homicide detectives to solve the case the following year; I didn’t expect the killer to still be alive to answer for the crime; I didn’t expect to meet and become friends with Stefanie’s family and other key participants in those events from 1982, and sit with them at the killer’s sentencing; and I definitely didn’t expect to play a part in bringing about an episode of On the Case with Paula Zahn, focusing on this tragic, but fascinating story.

But all of those things have indeed happened, and I’m excited to see the episode premiere Sunday night, 9/25 at 10p.m. on Investigation Discovery.

I’m getting chills from the preview alone.

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For Windy… and her family

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Over on the Laurel History Boys’ site, I’ve written about the recent, tragic death of Windy Floyd—a waitress and friend at the Tastee Diner, who was the unlikely victim of a murder-suicide on August 12th.

The boys and I started a GoFundMe page to help raise funds for Windy’s children and grandchildren, who are faced with the monumental task of picking up the pieces in the weeks to come.

The Diner has been raising money for the cause by going the more traditional route—the reliable old collection jar. And today, they gave us the proceeds they’ve collected to date: $516 cash, donated in bills of all denominations from customers and employees alike!

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It’s been deposited into the GoFundMe campaign, bringing the total raised (as of this writing) to $1,761 in just 11 days. That’s pretty amazing; but we’re hoping this is only the beginning. All proceeds will go to Windy’s oldest daughter, Lacey Petersen, to use and distribute as she sees fit.

The local community is proving to be both generous and creative in its support. Next Sunday morning, September 11th, Laurel resident (and Diner regular) Mary Piergalline will be setting up a small table outside the Diner to sell handmade jewelry—the likes of which Windy herself would’ve loved. Proceeds from the sale will go to this benefit.

You can help Windy’s family cope a little bit better by pitching in, even if it’s just a small amount. It all adds up, and you can even donate anonymously if you’d like. You can also help tremendously simply by sharing the link and spreading the word.

https://www.gofundme.com/windyfloydmemorial

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A Murder Mystery Set in (Lost) Laurel

Over the years, I’ve read a few novels that actually mention Laurel, Maryland at some point in the story; and it’s always an unexpected pleasure to see my hometown appear within the pages—pages from the likes of Stephen King’s The Dead Zone, Tom Clancy’s The Cardinal of the Kremlin, and Dick Francis’ Rat Race.

But it never occurred to me that I might someday read a novel set completely in Laurel—particularly the Laurel of the mid-1980s, which will always be one of my most favorite times. That’s exactly what I got in Teddy Durgin‘s new book, The Totally Gnarly, Way Bogus Murder of Muffy McGregor.

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Photos courtesy of Teddy Durgin

Teddy’s story almost instantly transports you back to Laurel Centre Mall in 1986. That being the Laurel Centre Mall I still recall fondly walking to and from open lunch during my freshman year at Laurel High that very same year.

Without revealing any spoilers, the darkly-humorous plot centers around high school friends (and mall summer employees) Sam, Chip, and Buddy, who inadvertently find themselves mixed up in the murder investigation of their far more popular classmate—cheerleader Muffy McGregor.

There are a number of twists and turns, most occurring right there at the mall and Laurel Shopping Center; and it’s quite a trip to read along in a setting which is so personally familiar.

Many times, I found myself imagining that I was back in 1986; that this was a novel I’d bought at Crown Books, then walked next door through the elevated connector to JC Penney and the mall, and was sitting in the Circle Eatery—reading while enjoying a slice of pizza from Italian Delight and a tasty beverage from Orange Julius.

As I’ve already shared with Teddy, photos from that era will have extra meaning to me now that I’ve read his book. Photos like this one from John Floyd, which shows the Harmony Hut in late 1981. In the story, this is where Chip works.

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Photo: John Floyd II

The Totally Gnarly, Way Bogus Murder of Muffy McGregor is a fun read made all the more special by its memorable setting. Hopefully, Teddy has plans to bring these enjoyable characters back for additional adventures in vintage Laurel!

For more on Teddy Durgin and his first novel, check out the Laurel Leader‘s recent article. And be sure to support this hometown author by picking up the book on Amazon.com!

 

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