Category Archives: News

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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Laurel Theatre / Petrucci’s: Demolition Pending

My next episode of Lost Laurel will focus on the long history of the derelict building at 312 Main Street, which originally housed the Laurel Theatre, and was the longtime home to Petrucci’s Dinner Theatre before a string of increasingly unsuccessful comedy clubs led to its demise. Here’s a preview:

Unfortunately, the City’s efforts to find a developer willing and able to salvage the critically-deteriorated building weren’t successful, and having recently had the opportunity to tour it myself, I completely see why.

A big thanks to SORTO Contracting, LLC (particularly Francisco Sorto, David Muir, Blaine Sutton, Harry Garlitz and Patrick Fink) for extending the invitation to see and document the building’s final days, and for sharing some truly fantastic finds that I’ll be including in the full episode. In addition to the building’s history, you’ll see for yourself just how far gone the structure actually was. (Yes, those were angry pigeons living inside… and I’m deathly afraid of birds.)

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The SORTO team was also kind enough to carefully remove and save the “Theatre” lettering from the façade for me—these are individually-cut wooden letters that are the only remaining vestiges of the Petrucci’s era (they originally spelled out the full name, “Petrucci’s Dinner Theatre” and matched the adjacent Pal Jack’s Pizza font.laurel-theatre-preview-pic5laurel-theatre-preview-pic6laurel-theatre-preview-pic7

The letters are badly deteriorated, and frankly, I’m amazed that they came down intact. I’ve got my work cut out for me, but I’m going to restore them.laurel-theatre-preview-pic8laurel-theatre-preview-pic9laurel-theatre-preview-pic10

Blaine Sutton and Patrick Fink of SORTO have also been sharing some of the unexpected treasures that only tend to resurface when walls start coming down. And in a movie theater that dates to 1929, that means some very old candy boxes and soda bottles, for starters! Here’s just a glimpse of what they’ve found:

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Photo courtesy of Blaine Sutton

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Photo courtesy of Patrick Fink

 

Patrick tells me that the pristine Pepsi bottle pre-dates 1951, at which point Pepsi stopped using the double-dot in their logo. It had been stuck in the plaster mortar in the ceiling below the balcony for at least 65 years.

I’ll have plenty more photos to share in the next blog update when the full video is ready. Those who don’t get Laurel TV will still be able to see the episode right here.

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Surprise Closing: Silver Diner

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Photo: Chris B. Daniel

Yesterday evening, I got a text from Rodney Pressley—one of my oldest friends from Laurel. He’d just gotten a most unexpected email from Silver Diner. It wasn’t a promotional coupon, or an announcement about an upcoming event:

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Courtesy of Rodney Pressley

They weren’t just announcing that the popular restaurant at 14550 Washington Boulevard was closing—they had already closed, effective immediately.

Rodney sent me the above screenshot, which I posted on the Lost Laurel Facebook page essentially as breaking news, because this information seemed to have come out of nowhere.

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It quickly became one of Lost Laurel’s most engaging posts—ever—with over 300 shares and over 44,000 people reached. (The page has even had more than 150 new likes in the past 24 hours). Clearly, the unexpected departure of the Silver Diner caught all of us off guard, even those who weren’t regular patrons.

A number of people commented that they’d actually just eaten at the restaurant the day before, and there had been absolutely no clue that they had planned to close. Silver Diner’s website (which had already erased the Laurel location from its website at the time of the email) eventually updated its FAQ page with a special notice about the Laurel restaurant’s closing. They also included a detailed PDF.

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In short, it seems that the restaurant had a 25-year lease on the property, which had just ended. The landowner(s) wanted considerably more money to renew the lease than Silver Diner was willing to pay.

One would think that there would have been some sort of communication with the employees and the community at large before the decision to close was made, though. Had there been, I’m guessing there would have been strong support for Silver Diner to remain open. After all, the restaurant seemed to have a full parking lot at all hours of the day and night—they weren’t hurting for business.

And from a historical perspective, (albeit recent history) this is actually a pretty big deal. The Silver Diner opened in late 1990, and was only the second restaurant in the chain’s history (behind Rockville). It even had an early review in the Washington Post.

Twenty-five years. Think about that for a second. In an age when we’ve sadly come to expect businesses to change every couple of years, this one ended up staying for a quarter of a century. While it honestly didn’t seem like it, the novelty of this polished chrome and neon facsimile of a classic diner had steadily become a classic itself. At the very least, it had become a fixture in the shadow of Laurel Lakes.

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Photos: Bonnie Oskvarek

With the news of its closing, rumors and misinformation quickly began flying, as is often the case with social media. Some folks were confusing the Silver Diner with its elder counterpart—the legendary Tastee Diner at 118 Washington Boulevard—which is still very much open for business, and now in its 65th year. Others mistakenly thought the entire Silver Diner chain was going out of business, blaming its revamped menu, among other things.

Others were speculating that the restaurant had closed due to a fire—a fate all-too familiar for other longtime Laurel restaurants. (See also, “Bay ‘n Surf,” “Delaney’s Irish Pub,” and “Tag’s”…)

In fact, there had actually been a minor fire at the Silver Diner on closing day—but it had nothing to do with the chain’s decision to close the Laurel restaurant.

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Courtesy of Megan Wheatley Shurman

So, Laurel’s Silver Diner has closed its doors. There was no forewarning, and no chance for customers to stop in one last time to reminisce. And 25 years’ worth of memories is significant. I’ve heard from several people who had gone to the restaurant on their first dates; and one Lost Laurel reader commented that she’d met her future husband there—he’d been her waiter.

That being said, I suppose there’s never been a more perfect time to share these items from my collection. Frankly, I didn’t really expect to share them; I assumed, like everyone else, that the Silver Diner wasn’t going anywhere anytime soon. These flyers, menus, and coffee cup date between 1990–92—the restaurant’s earliest days:

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This one’s a two-fer: local oldies radio station XTRA104 didn’t last very long into the 1990s.

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Note the two locations: it was just Rockville and Laurel at the time.

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For what it’s worth, Silver Diner’s website mentions that they are “looking at multiple opportunities in the Laurel and Columbia areas and (they) hope to return to the Laurel area soon.”

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Stefanie Watson Case: Walsh Sentenced

This morning began on an odd note. At 5:30 AM, I was awake before the sun came up—in order to make sure I could be at the Prince George’s County Court House before 9 AM. It was dark, it was raining… and yet, birds were chirping.

The birds must’ve known that the darkness and clouds weren’t going to linger much longer. It was almost poetic, like so many other things surrounding the Stefanie Watson cold case, which officially reached a milestone this morning. John Ernest Walsh entered a guilty plea and was finally sentenced for her murder.

I had the honor of joining Stefanie’s family at the court house for his sentencing—a recap of that incredible experience is below.

While there are still plenty of questions to be answered, this was a tremendous milestone. After nearly 34 years, the case is finally closed.

I’m grateful to see that Stefanie’s story is also finally getting the attention it deserves—newspapers across the country are already running the Associated Press story about today’s hearing, and now that the case has been adjudicated, Investigation Discovery has been in touch about producing an episode of On the Case with Paula Zahn. Stay tuned for that.

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Coming Soon…

What do you get when you combine the creator of Lost Laurel, the “History Matters” columnist from the Laurel Leader, and the owner of the largest private collection of historical Laurel memorabilia? A trio of hyper-local history buffs eager to share the stories and images you don’t always discover in the newspapers and museums. Details coming soon about an exciting new joint project that will go BEYOND Lost Laurel… Stay tuned!

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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.

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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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