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.
1869: President Ulysses S. Grant accompanied his brother-in-law, Dr. Sharpe, who was a U.S. Marshal for the District of Columbia, to Laurel to inspect some land. The land stretched from Prince George Street south to what was then the Talbott Estate, about 800 acres in all. Grant, who was looking for a rural retreat from Washington, offered $150 per acre for the tract. The generous offer was refused, for reasons unknown. While in Laurel, Grant toured the Laurel Cotton Mill and the Graded School.
1891: The building on the corner of Montgomery and 9th streets was built for Edward Phelps and Charles Shaffer and became the first department store in town. In 1934, it was bought for $7,900 by the Laurel Volunteer Fire Department and converted to its headquarters. Two apartments were rented out upstairs until the Fire Department sold the building to the city in 1954. The city paid the LVFD $200 a month until it was paid off. The building then became Laurel’s City Hall, police headquarters and jail.
1913: In January, the Leader published a list of “what kind of athletics are really helpful to girls and what kind harmful.”
Based on recommendations from the New York City Board of Education, “condemned” athletics for “mature” girls included the broad jump, high jump (in competition) and pole vaulting.
“Doubtful for the mature girl” included the high jump, running more than 100 yards in competition and weight throwing.
“Safe athletics” were archery, ball throwing, “basket ball” (women’s rules), coasting, field hockey, golf, horseback riding (cross and side-saddle), indoor baseball (which is played in the open air), low hurdles (not in competition), skiing, snowshoeing and tennis.
The Leader also helpfully listed the sports deemed “especially beneficial for the mature girl: climbing, dancing, jumping (in moderation), running (in moderation and not in competition), skating, swimming and walking.” Coasting?
1918: In March, all men in the country who are not in the military were required to register under the compulsory work law. There was a nationwide movement to prevent young men from becoming “slackers.” In the hyper-patriotic World War I era, slackers were men who avoided the military draft and were considered unpatriotic. It became a patriotic duty to monitor and report slackers to the authorities.
The News Leader joined the fray, saying “It may be that some of them have excellent reasons for not being at work, but we are convinced that there are too many men in and around Laurel who are ‘loafing,’ and thus not only not producing anything, but who are consuming the fruits of the labor of others. Each of us will perform a service to our country by promptly reporting the loafers or slackers.”
Apparently not satisfied with the results, the News Leader said in an editorial two months later, “What has become of efforts to enforce the work law? In this time of shortage of manpower, how is it so many idle, lazy people are allowed to loaf on our streets?”
1924: In September, the U.S. Post Office issued an order providing free mail delivery in Laurel, provided houses were numbered and marked and mailboxes installed. Laurel’s first two mail carriers were Richard T. Tucker and Richard B. Beall.
1927: In February, the deed for the Red Wing Theater, which was located on Route 1 where the Tastee Diner now sits, was sold by John H. Fetty and his wife, Margaret, to A. Philip Merrill for the princely sum of $10. Included in the sale were all fixtures in the theater, including “two (2) Simplex Motion Picture Machines, one Conway Player Piano, and one show case.” The silent film theater was operated by Merrill until it burned down in 1928, paving the way for the Laurel Theater to be built a block away on Main Street in 1929 by Sidney Lust.
1929: When Sidney Lust applied to the city of Laurel to build a movie theater on Main Street, the city granted his application with one string attached: he had to purchase a traffic light to be installed on the corner of Main Street and Washington Boulevard (Route 1).
In October, the Laurel Theater opened and Laurel’s first (and for many years its only) traffic light was installed.
The traffic light had to be switched on manually each morning and switched off in the evening, a job assigned to a Mr. Pearre. When Mr. Pearre informed the city that he wanted to quit the job in 1932, the City Council approved the funds for a clock to operate the traffic signal automatically. Traffic at the intersection quickly increased to the point that the City Council contacted the Commissioner of Motor Vehicles to have an officer stationed at the traffic light on Sundays to enforce traffic laws, “especially people passing the light.”
1932: In March, Walter Susini applied to the city for permission to place a railroad “dining car on the Washington Avenue theater lot” where the Red Wing Theater had burned to the ground. The dining car was described as steel, on wheels, but that a base was to be built around the wheels so they didn’t show. The Council approved the permit and the Laurel Diner (later the Tastee Diner) was in operation.
1942: In October, the Laurel Elementary School news column in the News Leader announced a new Schedule of Athletics, where students participating in games such as softball, dodgeball and relay races could earn badges. The new program was started because “when the men were drafted in the army for World War two, thousands of them were rejected because they were not physically fit.”
1952: Ruth Sussman, the first woman to seek public office in Laurel, became the first woman elected to public office in Laurel when she won a seat on the City Council.
1956: In March, three young men were arrested for arson for setting fire to a training barn belonging to Richard Hutchison Sr., who owned the trotting track Laurel Raceway (later called Freestate Raceway).
The three males, aged 16, 18 and 22, were all from Savage, where they liked to spend time with the 14-year-old daughter of the Savage Fire Department’s chief, Lewis S. Redmond.
According to the Danville (Virginia) Bee, Redmond had a strict rule about boys visiting his daughter: they had to leave at 9 p.m.
They set the fire thinking “that if the chief had a fire to put out he wouldn’t be home so early and they could extend their visit with his daughter and a 15-year-old girlfriend.”
The fire caused $250,000 in damages, including “the loss of two thoroughbreds, a riding horse, a trotter and a pony.”
1958: In December, the Laurel Junior Chamber of Commerce sponsored a “Rock’n Roll Show” to raise funds for its youth activities program. The show, which was held at Ritchie Coliseum on the University of Maryland campus, featured Bill Haley and the Comets. A Laurel band, Jerry Dallman and his Knightcaps, was also on the bill.
1959: In July, Ruth Sussman, who was serving her fourth term on the Laurel City Council, was the first woman elected President of the Council.
1963: In November, Robert Kluckhuhn on Brooklyn Bridge Road displayed a large Christmas tree in his front yard, starting a tradition beloved by the Laurel community for over three decades.
The tree grew to almost 70 feet and was covered by more than 12,000 lights at the end. The tree was set ablaze by vandals in the mid-1990s and never recovered. The remnants of the tree were cut down in 2014.
1967: In October, the attentive night manager of the Homoco gas station on Second Street thwarted an attempted robbery.
An armed robber entered the station and told the manager, Douglas Lee Lucas, “this is a holdup.” When Lucas told the robber he had no money to give, the robber held up a gun and said, “I’ll blow your head off.” Staring at the gun, Lucas noticed there were no bullets in it. According to the News Leader, “the thief turned and left.”
1968: In September, Laurel Police captured and arrested a very wet shoplifter with help from the community. A female store detective in the Hecht Company in the Laurel Shopping Center observed a woman go into the dressing room with some merchandise, only to reappear momentarily and leave the store.
“The detective followed her and attempted to place her under arrest. The suspect resisted and, breaking away from her, ran through the car wash at the shopping center and crossed U.S. Route 1.” The detective flagged down a motorist, who then followed the woman to the Shell station on Route 1 North, “where the shoplifter attempted to stash the goods in the woman’s restroom.”
Laurel Police arrested her at the Shell station.
1981: In November, John W. Hinckley Jr., who was awaiting his trial of attempting to assassinate President Reagan, tried to hang himself in his cell at Fort Meade. A malfunctioning lock on the door to Hinckley’s cell initially prevented guards from rescuing him.
The guards, who had witnessed the attempt from the start via closed circuit TV, ran into an exercise yard adjacent to the ground-floor cell and reached through the bars of the window to cut him down. Hinckley was semiconscious but not seriously injured.
This was not Hinckley’s first suicide attempt. The previous May, while in custody at a federal prison in North Carolina, he took an overdose of Tylenol.
1990: In September, the city instituted the first mandatory recycling program for residents in the State of Maryland.
1995: In December, Bryan Goodson and Bob Mueck, who owned Enforcement Concepts and Designs, in Laurel, introduced their new product, The Illusion, on I-95 near the Route 100 exit.
Goodson and Mueck, who were officers with the University of Maryland Police Department, created a lightweight cross-section of a marked police car to get motorists to slow down. The partners monitored the reactions to the fake police car from a vantage point. Not only did traffic slow down as it approached The Illusion, but they watched as a police officer flashed his lights and stopped to inspect it. “Right then we figured if we can even fool the cops, we’ve got it made,” Mueck said.