By Kevin Leonard
11:18 AM EST, February 6, 2014
Nostalgia among those who grew up in Laurel has caused its memorabilia to become a hot collectible. Every imaginable collectible is available, such as old photos, postcards, T-shirts, and even some Laurel Police Department patches.
There are a few substantial private collectors of Laurel memorabilia. Lindsey Baker, executive director of the Laurel Historical Society and Museum, feels fortunate to have an "atypical relationship with these collectors. There used to be competition for artifacts, but now we work together."
Four collectors have joined forces with the Laurel Historical Society for the next exhibit at the Laurel Museum, "Lost & Found Laurel," opening Sunday, Feb. 9.
The private collectors all share a fascination, bordering on obsession, with Laurel's history. Other than that, their stories are very different.
Richard Friend, who helped design the new exhibit, grew up in Laurel in the 1970s and '80s. While attending Laurel High, he had a part-time job at the Laurel Library that allowed him time to pore over old issues of the Laurel News Leader. After graduating from the Corcoran College of Art and Design in 1997, he became a graphic designer and moved to Northern Virginia.
As a hobby, he started a website and blog about growing up at Steward Manor apartments. After seeing so many changes, he started another website, Lost Laurel to "revisit the long-lost stores and signage" of Laurel. His latest project is a coffee-table book about Laurel, which has more than 400 presale orders.
Friend said his Lost Laurel collection contains "memory triggers": photos, logos, ads, matchbooks, signs, phone directories, vintage price tags, shopping bags, menus, and more. He has thousands of artifacts and said he combs eBay and other online sources for items, and gets donated items from his website followers.
Civil War and more
Jack Bowen, who grew up in Laurel on Seventh Street during the 1940s and '50s, recalls playing in the rubble of the old Laurel Cotton Mill. He played on the undefeated 1955 Laurel High football team and graduated in 1956. He went on to earn a degree from Western Maryland College and become a research chemist.
In 1965, he was sent to Hawaii for a work project and ended up staying. He got the collecting bug around 1980, he said, and in 1995 became one of the first collectors on eBay.
He travels to Laurel at least once a year and makes time to attend auctions and estate sales. His collection includes so many Civil War artifacts that he loaned the Laurel Historical Society almost all of the items on display for their 2013 exhibit, "Stationed in Laurel-Our Civil War Story." Although the Civil War dominates his collection, he is interested in any Laurel artifact from before 1965, the year he relocated to Hawaii. His collection includes a U.S. flag that flew over the Laurel Cotton Mill during the Civil War, and the 1883 iron skeleton keys to the mill.
Bowen says there's no end in sight for his collecting: "It's a labor of love."
Pete Lewnes grew up in West Lanham Hills and didn't set foot in Laurel until he was 16.
"Laurel reminded me of a small-town atmosphere, like I had growing up," Lewnes said, so he moved here in 1983.
For many years, Lewnes and his wife, Martha, concentrated on sports memorabilia.
Lewnes recalled one of his better finds, at the University of Maryland. When the athletic department relocated to the new Comcast Center, a friend of Lewnes' alerted him that they were throwing away a lot of stuff at Cole Field House. After a day of dumpster-diving, Lewnes came away with a treasure trove of memorabilia.
Now he is selling his sports collection because he needs room for his Laurel collection. He began collecting Laurel artifacts years ago when he purchased a cedar chest at a yard sale that was full of old Laurel memorabilia. As Lewnes put it, at that point it was "game on."
His collection now is so vast that he is considering converting part of his house into a personal Laurel museum.
Lewnes and his wife stop at every yard sale they see, and also collect at flea markets, auctions and online. Asked why he devotes so much time and money to the collection, he said, "It takes you back to a place in time that you enjoy."
John Floyd certainly doesn't sound like he's from Laurel, even though he moved here in 1964, when he was 6. His British mother gave birth to him at sea while en route to the U.S., and his English accent never left him. Unlike the other collectors profiled here, however, Floyd was part of the fabric of Old Town Laurel, and he knew everybody.
The opportunity to get to know everybody resulted from his mother's marriage to his step-father, Harry Fyffe, one of the proprietor's of Fyffe's Service Center, which once stood at the corner of Sandy Spring Road and Montgomery Street. Everyone stopped at Fyffe's for a cold beer and Floyd worked there for many years. He graduated from Laurel High in 1975, and was a volunteer firefighter from 1976 to 1983.
A self-described "pack rat," Floyd had three passions while growing up: music, trains and firefighting.
As a collector, Floyd saved everything, whether from Laurel or not. He amassed a sizable cache of train memorabilia, vintage 78 rpm records, sheet music, vintage Laurel postcards and photos of practically every event he ever attended. Floyd has a four-minute Super 8 reel of the aftermath of the George Wallace shooting at Laurel Shopping Center and his photo collection reflects almost every aspect of Laurel's history since the mid-1960s.
Floyd sells artifacts online and to other collectors. He is considering a project to map out the entire city by street and block with around 6,000 images from the last 10 years.
History Matters is a monthly column rediscovering Laurel's past. Do you have old pictures or stories to share about a historic event in Laurel? E-mail Kevin Leonard at email@example.com.