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Digging the past at 'Lost & Found Laurel'

The Laurel Museum's grand opening of "Lost & Found Laurel" on Feb. 9 crafted a nostalgic moment for Laurel residents who have watched many retailers come and go through changing times over the last half-century.

In “Lost & Found Laurel,” the Laurel Historical Society has created a wistful exhibit made of memorabilia from Laurel’s relatively recent past, beginning in the early 1960s.

"I think we're finally hitting on something that appeals to everyone — old, young, just got here, been here forever," said Laurel Historical Society President Jhanna Levin, 40, adding, "This is what our generation can love about Laurel."

Laurel Historical Society Executive Director Lindsey Baker said she finds the exhibit exciting because patrons of all ages can "find something that they grew up with and can connect to."

Baker said the museum's exhibits committee started work on the exhibit last February with the assistance of amateur historian Richard Friend, who grew up at the Steward Manor Apartment complex in Laurel and has collected all sorts of artifacts from stores and restaurants that have disappeared from Laurel during his lifetime.

A graphic designer, Friend created the "Lost Laurel" Facebook page and writes a blog, "Lost Laurel: Revisiting the Vanishing Retailers of Laurel, Md."

Baker said that because the museum's research into Laurel's recent past overlapped with Friend's, she invited Friend to attend an exhibits committee meeting and he ended up working with the committee directly.

Friend said he designed the exhibit's mall-like directory display and exhibit panels to mimic the feel of a shopping experience. He also loaned some of his own artifacts, including a colorful wallpaper image made of scanned matchbook covers that highlights the logos and brands that he likes to call "memory triggers."

Some exhibit items, such as a familiar Hershey's Ice Cream sign that hung outside Main Street's Knapps Laurel News Agency for decades, and the old Laurel Drive-In Theater movie sign, were pulled from the Laurel Historical Society's archives.

Other contributors who loaned or gave items for the exhibit include Jack Bowen, John Floyd II, Peter and Martha (Kalbach) Lewnes and Maryland-National Capital Parks and Planning Commission.

Laurel Historical Society executive board member Karen Lubieniecki described "Lost & Found Laurel," which also includes sections on schools, libraries and festivals, as an exploration of the events and activities that make our town "a fondly remembered community."

Memory test

Patrons and members of the Laurel Historical Society who attended the exhibit's opening last Sunday were more than pleased to test their memories and share oral history.

Laurel Historical Society member Shari Pollard, of West Laurel, said she didn't know at the time that Bay 'n Surf Restaurant had just opened when she and her husband celebrated their second wedding anniversary there in 1965.

Another historical society member, Frances Brooks, chuckled as she confessed that her son, now Laurel Police Deputy Chief James Brooks, was unaware she had loaned his high school basketball pictures to the exhibit.

Helen Rushing, of Savage, said she started shopping in Laurel in the early 1940s when there "was nowhere else to go," and said she remembers almost all of the retailers represented. and still enjoys coming to Laurel.

She said Friend's display of matchbooks "brought back so many good memories of places I'd forgotten."

Looking at a photo of the charred Linzey Mansion taken by Charlie Hessler after fire destroyed the historic dwelling in 2007, Laurel Historical Society member Marlene Frazier, of Laurel, recalled reading in the newspapers that a lit cigarette tossed from a car on Route 1 ignited the mulch.

Eighteen-year-old Will Kalbach of Clarksville and his younger brother, Mitchell, grew up hearing stories about some of the lost places represented. They both said they liked the exhibit, which they heard about from their aunt, Martha (Kalbach) Lewnes.

Clark Shaffer of Columbia, who lived in Laurel some 40 years ago and still makes nostalgic visits, said that Laurel has changed so much that it's hard to remember what it used to be.

"You see all the different changes and you think, oh my God," he said.

"Lost & Found Laurel" continues through December at the Laurel Museum, 817 Main St. Museum hours are Wednesdays and Fridays, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.; and Sundays, 1 to 4 p.m. Admission is free. Schools and tour groups are encouraged, with prior arrangement. For more information, go to laurelhistoricalsociety.orghttp://www.laurelhistoricalsociety.org or call 301-725-7975.

Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
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