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. Unless otherwise credited, all quoted passages are from the Laurel Leader.
Prohibition laws, called “local option,” were passed in many communities in the years leading up to the federal Prohibition. In 1906, when a local option law was on the ballot in Laurel, the Leader editorialized, “We are not what we pretend to be – holding ourselves out as a local option town, we are the opposite, for no less than six individuals in the town are doing business as retail liquor dealers under licenses issued by the United States Government. It is now an easy matter to obtain intoxicating drinks in Laurel, judging from the number of intoxicants seen on our streets.” When the measure passed, the Leader hoped it would “eradicate drunkenness in the town.”
In September, an ad in the News Leader read “Wanted. Fresh Cows. Harry C. Barton, Laurel, Maryland”
In November, the News Leader reported that “The Baltimore Sun moving picture operator will be in Laurel today at 1 p.m., so look out for him and be sure to wear a ‘smile.’ The film after taken will be sent ‘over there’ for the boys to see.”
The first motorized piece of equipment acquired by the Laurel Volunteer Fire Department was a 1924 Model T Ford hose wagon, bought from the Hyattsville Volunteer Fire Department.
In July, the Laurel Post Office obtained its first mail truck. “It has been a great drawback to the Post Office using a small car, as all packages could not be taken out at once, thus delaying the delivery of packages.”
In March, Dr. B.P. Warren, head of Laurel’s World War II community civilian defense, held a meeting at Laurel Elementary for “persons who have expressed their willingness to serve as ambulance drivers, first aid assistants, home nurses and all others willing or qualified to assist as first aid workers, stretcher bearers, canteen workers, home nurses, hospital orderlies or messengers.”
On Aug. 13, at 1 a.m. in the town of Laurel “auto horns began to blow, cars raced up and down the street, people screamed and fired pistols, all because Tokyo reported that a message was forthcoming.” When the war was declared over the next day it started up again. “Almost in a semi-conscious state did we listen again to the unending sirens, the auto horns, the screams, the sobbing, the tolling of church bells. We watched flag-draped trucks and cars tear up and down Main Street with screaming people aboard. We saw teenagers attach fire cracker bombs to carburetors and then laugh in glee when the driver nearly jumped through the roof when he started his engine and the thing exploded. We saw a girl lift a flagpole out of the sidewalk and trudge up the street bearing it proudly until it got topheavy and pulled her over.”
The Laurel Police Department, with a staff of six policemen, saw its numbers cut in half when three officers resigned in a dispute with Chief Edward Brown. The nature of the dispute was unclear, but, according to the Washington Star, Mayor Merrill L. Harrison said it was because “everybody wanted to be chief.” After meeting with Chief Brown, the City Council fired him and appointed George Barkman as his successor.
In September, Laurel Pines Country Club on Bowie Road opened. Only 10 holes were completed in time for the opening, which sat on the site of the old Laurel Speedway. Architect George Cobb retained some of the trees and shrubbery left over from the Speedway landscaping. Laurel Pines hired golf pro Cliff Spencer away from Woodmont Country Club in Rockville. By the 1958 season, the final eight holes, a clubhouse, and a pool were all completed.
In October, Laurel Police officers John Shackelford and Commie Byrd responded to a call on Ninth Street from a man who reported trouble with his son. Shackelford recognized the name as someone who had been arrested at least 15 times before on drunk and disorderly charges. The father told the officers his son had an axe and asked them to take his son into custody. When the officers approached the son, he “threatened to kill Officer Shackelford, calling him obscene names and declaring they’d never ‘take him away again.’” As the axe-wielding man approached the officers, Shackelford fired three warning shots into the ground, but the man continued toward the police. When he was “within about four feet of the officer and swinging the axe,” Shackelford shot the assailant, killing him.
In May, a first-year Laurel High School industrial arts teacher was suspended “for allegedly striking a student’s head with a board during an argument.” According to Prince George’s County school officials, an investigation revealed that at the end of class, as the students were cleaning up, the teacher “reprimanded another boy who was loud and boisterous.” At that point, the 13-year-old student challenged the teacher to “pick on somebody your own size.” The teacher then “tapped the boy on the leg” with a board he was holding, prompting the student to “hit the teacher with a similar board.” Then, according to officials, “The teacher took the board away from him and the boy punched the teacher in the mouth, whereupon the teacher hit the boy on the head with the board, gashing the boy’s scalp.” The teacher was reinstated after a hearing by the county school board, and the assault charge filed by the boy’s mother was dropped.
In August, Laurel teenager Patricia Ann Brown appeared in an ad for the Hecht Co. in an issue of Seventeen magazine. Brown, a 17-year-old rising senior at Pallotti High School, was a model for the Vogue Shop in Laurel.
In October, a former professional wrestler strangled to death Arlene Bentley, his 26-year-old girlfriend, at the Talbot Tourist Court on Route 1 over the Howard County line. Bruno Perrone, 48, was waiting at their shared cabin for the woman, who refused to leave a local tavern with him earlier. Perrone, a former inmate at the District Training School for the Mentally Retarded in Laurel, told police he strangled her with his bare hands when she arrived and then walked across Route 1 to a phone booth and called police.
In November, Lyndon DeWitt, evangelist for the Chesapeake Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, began a daily program in the “Amazing Facts Air-a-Torium” (a huge tent) on the corner of Route 1 and Laurel Avenue. The program, which ran for three weeks, was connected to Amazing Facts Inc., a Seventh-day Adventist evangelistic ministry radio program heard on seven radio stations around Maryland.
In October, Maryland State Police discredited as “sheer rumor” that “some strange kind of creature has been seen coming out of the water” in the Laurel-Savage area. Sgt. Russell Waters told the News Leader that “at least 15 persons have called to report having heard about the strange creature or monster but none had actually seen it.” This was on the heels of another report of “an escaped tiger roaming around Howard County killing cattle.” Walters said police investigations “have discounted both reports as rumor.”
In September, Joan Kramer was sworn in as the first woman officer with the Laurel Police Department. There had been other women employed by LPD (and some with powers of arrest) but Kramer was the first female officer on the force. She came to Laurel from the University of Maryland Police Department.
In May, thousands of local residents participated in the nationwide Hands Across America to raise money to fight hunger. For 15 minutes people joined hands, forming a human chain that stretched up and down Route 1 through Laurel. Bob Dollard, the volunteer coordinator for the event told the News Leader, “Laurel has been a very, very positive area. Everyone, from the residents to the merchants to the police, to just about every facet of the community, have become involved.”