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.
The Citizens National Bank on Main Street (now owned by PNC Bank) was established. It is the oldest national bank in Prince George’s County.
In July, the Laurel Volunteer Fire Department was founded, the first of its kind in Prince George’s County. It consisted of three companies, one in each ward of the town.
In October, a nationwide epidemic of the Spanish Influenza took its toll in Laurel. According to the Leader, “the malady affecting a large percentage of the people, and commonly called the ‘flu’ has created a [serious] condition, and resulted in the loss of many lives.” Schools and many businesses in Laurel were closed until the epidemic ran its course.
In November, the Leader reported “Mr. Claude Morrison has remodeled and painted his new home on Prince George street which greatly adds to its appearance.”
In May, the phone company published the first directory for Laurel only, instead of incorporating Laurel into the Washington, D.C., phone book.
In April, the Leader published an editorial praising the enactment of the Hays Code, which set standards for content in motion pictures. The Hays Code was the result of numerous “risqué” movies and scandals involving Hollywood personalities. It its editorial, the Leader proclaimed, “New problems of properly censoring dialogue have arisen, now that the talkies are transferring plots and lines from stage to screen. What is next needed is a ban on the growing tendency toward the use of misleading, lurid, suggestive and sometimes salacious posters that frequently misrepresent the plot and purpose of a film show and make the picture appear far worse in imagination than it is in reality.”
In November, Mr. and Mrs. Bruce Voris reported that their daughter, Anna, became Laurel’s first female member of the Armed Services during the war. Anna enlisted in the WAVES (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service, a branch of the U.S. Naval Reserve during World War II) and trained in Oklahoma.
In September, the first 14 women, who became eligible under a recently passed Maryland law, were selected for jury duty in Upper Marlboro. Included in the first group was Grace Martin Hopkins of Laurel.
In October, the federal government opened the Baltimore-Washington Parkway section from Baltimore to Laurel-Ft. Meade Road (later Route 198), providing the opportunity to travel from downtown Baltimore to Laurel uninterrupted. According to the News Leader, “This new super-road is recognized by the road-building profession as the most modern highway in the nation.” The final section, from Laurel to Washington, opened in 1954.
In September, Mayor Harry Hardingham described the explosion of two simulated grenades in the Grove, Laurel’s historically African American section, as “a prank.” “One of the simulators, which make a lot of noise but are practically harmless,” according to Police Chief J. Wesley O’Brien, “exploded in the rear of St. Mark’s church, and the other was tossed near the [Grove] elementary school.” There were no injuries or property damage reported. Witnesses reported the simulators were thrown from a car that contained two white men and that bore a Fort Meade sticker. Military Police were notified and the investigation into “the prank” was reportedly continuing.
In October, a 23-year-old Fort Meade soldier, who resided in Laurel, was found slumped over the steering wheel in his car with a bullet wound in his head. The soldier’s wife, who had married him only nine months earlier, reported him missing that morning when he never returned from driving some GIs to Washington the day before. The soldier’s car was found on Brown Bridge Road near Schooley Mill Road in Fulton. Maryland State Police found a .22 caliber rifle on the front seat next to him and when the soldier briefly regained consciousness, he “was vague about how and why he was shot.” The soldier was transported to Fort Meade Hospital for treatment. The soldier had recently received orders for overseas duty.
In November, Laurel Junior High School opened for students on Sandy Spring Road.
In June, “the Good Samaritan Bandit” robbed a third gas station in a month, this time the Laurel Self-Service Gas Station on Washington Boulevard of $36. Laurel Police gave him the nickname, according to the News Leader, “because he steals money from businesses but not from the employees.” The bandit, “described as 50 to 60 years old, about 5’8” tall,” first robbed the Phillips 66 station on Route 1 in May, then robbed the Laurel Amoco of $258. Laurel Police Pfc. Wallace Mitchell, investigating the Self-Service robbery, was told by employee Vaughn Dawseet “that the man entered the station office and partially exposed a revolver, asking for the station’s money. When the bandit seemed annoyed by the small amount, Mr. Dawseet offered him his own money and the man told him he didn’t want it.”
In November, Laurel Chamber of Commerce President Fred Frederick organized “Operation Appreciation” for wounded Vietnam veterans being treated in area hospitals. Fifteen veterans each from Kimbrough Army Hospital at Fort Meade, Bethesda Naval Hospital, and Walter Reed Army Hospital were treated to a day at Laurel Race Course. The veterans were provided play money to bet on the races with the overall winner given a portable television set, as well as home-cooked food donated by Laurel citizens. The event was a joint effort between 10 community organizations.
In April, both the Laurel Theater on Main Street and the Laurel Cinema in the Laurel Shopping Center went dark for a day. They participated in “Save Free TV,” a national campaign by movie theaters to raise public awareness that the Federal Communications Commission authorized Pay TV, which was to take effect in June 1969. Laurel Cinema’s manager, James Lipsner, told the News Leader that theaters nationwide going dark for day would “dramatize the effect pay TV will have upon motion picture theaters.” Laurel Theater’s manager, Raymond Prior, said that authorizing Pay TV will “mark the beginning of the end of the public’s right to free television.” “Pay TV is definitely not in the public interest,” Lipsner said.
In December, the distinctive dog-shaped landmark structure that housed the One Spot Flea Killer plant on Route 1 in Jessup was leveled.
In May, the News Leader ran an ad for subscriptions that was aimed at teenagers. “Teens groove with the News Leader each week,” or so claimed the ad. “Keep hip with ‘happenings’ in the Laurel area.” It’s unclear if the ad resulted in any new groovy readers.
In January, Laurel area fire department and rescue personnel worked under tense conditions for three hours to free the trapped passenger in an airplane that crashed 300 yards from Suburban Airport on Brock Bridge Road. The plane carried 700 pounds of radioactive medicine. Crews from the volunteer fire departments in Laurel, Jessup and Savage, as well as the Laurel Volunteer Rescue Squad, responded to the call and worked under the direction of Ray Smallwood, Deputy Chief of the Maryland City VFD. The crews worked carefully and slowly, not knowing if the radioactive material posed a threat. The crews faced additional difficulties: A large tree, uprooted in the crash, fell on the plane, and broke the leg of the passenger. The frigid conditions, with snow on the ground, were also a problem, as well as a spill of 94 gallons of aviation fuel. The pilot suffered minor injuries.
In June, a Hyattsville man attempted to hold up the Freestate Exxon station on the corner of Route 1 and Laurel-Bowie Road for 60 cents worth of gas, which he was willing to pay for. The bizarre situation was the result of the statewide regulations put in place to deal with the national gas shortage. Maryland state law mandated that gasoline purchases were regulated for odd or even days, depending on the car’s license plate number. In this case, the desperate motorist, with only 60 cents in his pocket, used a gun to try and force the attendant to sell him 60 cents worth of gas on an odd day, but his tag was an even number. A second attendant crawled under a desk in the station and called police during the altercation, who arrived in minutes and arrested the motorist. Laurel Police Detective Ronald Salisbury told the News Leader that “while the customer was willing to pay, the fact that he allegedly used a gun to obtain gasoline constituted a crime.” Dan Patterson, the Exxon station manager, said the incident was “frightening. This guy was mad. That really scared me.”
In his book “The Great American Road Trip,” author Peter Genovese describes his two-year road trip on Route 1, starting in Maine and ending in Florida. His chapter on Maryland features him stopping at the Little Tavern in Laurel, just south of Main Street and chatting with the staff and customers. Photos in the book include the Little Tavern sign, employees Carole Mitchell and Alice Miles, and the Giant Food sign at the Laurel Shopping Center.