Laurel history notes, from walking races to Zsa Zsa

Laurel Leader

While researching stories from Laurel’s past, I accumulate lots of brief, and sometimes odd, items that don’t lend themselves to the usual long form. These columns give me a chance to clean out that file. There will be more in the future.

1868: The Laurel Building Association was established, which is now the oldest active building association in Maryland.

1905: In May, according to the Leader, “Mr. Walter Ward, the well known pedestrian, defeated John Flynn in a walking match from the corner of Carey Street & Columbia Avenue in Baltimore to Laurel, Md.” Ward beat Flynn by 18 minutes.

1912: In October, one year after the grand opening of the Laurel Race Course, a serious auto accident involving four race patrons and their chauffeur occurred on Route 1 when the driver swerved to avoid a pedestrian. The driver “drove his machine into a sand bank. The automobile stopped so suddenly that all were hurtled from the machine,” incurring injuries ranging from a skull fracture to broken bones. According to the owner of the car, “the machine was ‘let out’ and was making more than 25 miles an hour.”

1913: In January, the Leader published an editorial asking local police to “Enforce the Law Against Automobilists.” The editorial wished that “our officers will not let up to the slightest degree in arresting all persons who exceed the speed limit.” With autos being as sparse as they were in 1913, what prompted the editorial? Rich, arrogant drivers, apparently. “While every intelligent class of citizen is in favor of good roads, it is equally true, we think, that the average automobilist has come to regard the good roads as something constructed for his special use and pleasure, and the fact that he is more arrogant upon and usually gets more use and enjoyment out of the good roads than any other class of citizens has not prevented him from taking and acting upon the selfish view that these roads are primarily for his use and benefit, ignoring, as a large percentage of them do, the rights and supposed privileges of those citizens who either from choice or lack of means do not own automobiles.”

1919: In August, Air Mail, the world’s first scheduled airline, began operations transporting U.S. Mail between Washington, DC and New York City. Two Laurel men, James Johnston Sr. and Thomas Kraeski, were among the original 2,713 employees of the Post Office Department working for the Air Mail. Johnston, a World War I veteran, and Kraeski, a graduate of Laurel High School, worked on ground crews. Both were picked to work on special ground crews the night the first transcontinental Air Mail flight was completed in 1921. They are both listed on the roster of Air Mail Pioneers at the Smithsonian Institution.

1924: In August, the old wooden Brooklyn Bridge, on Brooklyn Bridge Road over Walker’s Branch, collapsed under the weight of a large tractor. The driver, John Sadilek, plunged to his death in the river below.

1931: In March, the Maryland House of Delegates defeated a bill that would have made women eligible for jury duty. According to the News Leader, “the measure had no support from the great body of women, for they did not see in it any ‘right’ or ‘privilege,’ but rather viewed it as a thing they did not want.” This was in sharp contrast with an editorial the News Leader published a month before, when it said, “Women seem to be laboring under the impression that serving on a jury is a great privilege, while men regard it as a disagreeable duty. … At its best jury service cannot be said to be desirable, and we rather opine that had the proposition to compel women to serve on juries come from the male of the species it would not be near so attractive as it appears to be with some women.”

1941: For the duration of World War II, the Laurel Theater on Main Street sold War Bonds and Stamps.

1945: In the last issue of the school year of Laurel High School’s student newspaper, The Tatler, the principal wrote a column titled “Some Backward Glances And Some Forward Looking Thoughts.” With World War II still raging in the Pacific, the principal admonished the student body by writing, “The most deplorable thing during the year was what appeared to be an unwillingness on the part of many to make the necessary adjustments to school life. Of course those who are going out into life will make the adjustments called for; they will make them, or else.”

1956: In November, the Laurel Shopping Center held its grand opening, called “15 Fabulous Days.” The developers, Berman Enterprises, had encountered a problem with the location. Houses were under construction in the new Fairlawn section, and four unsold houses had already been completed on the property they wanted. As part of the deal, the partners bought the land for the shopping center, including the four houses. Two of the houses were demolished, and one was lifted onto a special truck and moved to their property on Leishear Road. The fourth house happened to be located in the middle of the shopping center so it was customized and became the State Bank of Laurel (later the Equitable Trust Bank/currently Bank of America). The chimney for the fireplace is visible in old photos of the bank building. The success of the shopping center was the springboard for two locally owned shops that went on to become national chains: Hi-Gear and Frank’s Hardware.

1961: In May, the “San Francisco to Moscow Walkers for Peace” passed through Laurel and posed for a photo at the Transit Truck Center on Route 1. The 35 walkers had left San Francisco about six months earlier and were heading to the Emmanuel Methodist Church in Scaggsville, where they were to be guests of the Rev. D. Homer Stewart. Eventually the group planned to fly to Europe and continue the walk to Moscow. Along the way they intended to “talk to people of all nations, with our hands stretched out in friendship for survival, for unilateral disarmament, for peace and freedom through non-violence.”

1965: In June, the “Welcome to Laurel” brick monument in the Route 1 median near the entrance to the Laurel Shopping Center was built. The monument displays the logos for numerous community organizations.

1968: In February, Vladimir Chalyy, a 20-year-old Russian laborer who worked at Laurel Concrete Products, was captured after a short chase after he shot a cab driver. White’s Cab driver Walter H. McFeeley drove the Russian to his home on 7th Street and, after paying his fare, Chalyy shot the driver in the head without warning. According to the account in the News Leader, “The bullet entered back of the ear and the driver didn’t realize he had been shot, he told police. He did note a feeling of dizziness and blurred vision.” After McFeeley jumped out, the Russian took the wheel of the cab to escape but he turned into a cul-de-sac where police closed in. “He abandoned the cab while it was still moving. The unattended vehicle struck a fence on 8th St., glanced off the curb, continued across the street, jumped the curb, and rammed into a house occupied by Lester Patterson, who was asleep in bed.” Investigation by Laurel Police Detective J.D. Ervin revealed the pistol used had been stolen from a house in Howard County. The Russian was held on $10,000 bond in the Hyattsville jail.

1978: In June, Zsa Zsa Gabor made an appearance at the Laurel Montgomery Ward’s store in the Laurel Shopping Center. According to the News Leader, Gabor was a “personality sponsor” of Ward’s Auto Club and was on a promotional tour of Ward’s stores in the Baltimore/Washington area. Approximately 400 people turned out to see her in Laurel.

1995: In December, the Army Defense Intelligence Agency at Fort Meade revealed that for the past 17 years it had been trying to use “psychic power to generate intelligence information.” The program, which was transferred to the CIA the previous July, was being shut down. Operating from “a rundown barrack off Llewellyn Avenue that has since been torn down,” psychics were “asked to identify the location of a person such as [Libyan leader Muammar] Kadafi or an American hostage or a downed American plane. The psychic would draw or write the images that drifted to his mind.” The psychics employed what was called “remote viewing.” A CIA report, however, concluded that “remote viewings have never provided … information sufficiently valuable or compelling.”

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