Tag Archives: 1980s

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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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”.

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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.

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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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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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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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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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