Albert Sehlstedt Jr., a veteran reporter and editor for The Sun who covered such historic events as man landing on the moon and the Challenger disaster, died Thursday at St. Elizabeth Rehabilitation and Nursing Center. He was 86 and had suffered from Alzheimer's disease.
Mr. Sehlstedt was hired at The Sun after his graduation in 1947 from Loyola College, an education interrupted for two years while he served in the Navy in the Pacific during World War II. His final byline appeared in 2005, on an obituary for Baltimore investment banker Julius M. Westheimer. After Mr. Sehlstedt retired in 1987, the newspaper contracted with him to prepare obituaries for the city's leading figures in advance of their deaths, among them Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall.
He began as a police reporter and served in various roles, including night rewrite man, making stories out of information dictated by reporters in the field. He earned a reputation as a force to be reckoned with if reporters did not get the facts completely and accurately.
"I can remember him being a very demanding rewrite man," said Frank P.L. Somerville, a retired Sun reporter and editor who called in his first stories from Baltimore's police districts to Mr. Sehlstedt in 1956. "He had a lot to do with my learning the rudiments of the job."
Mr. Sehlstedt spent more than a decade in the Sun's Washington bureau, where he covered the Pentagon. During that time, he carved out a niche for himself covering what would become the signature assignment of his career: the space program.
After learning of Mr. Sehlstedt's death, retired Sun night editor David Michael Ettlin posted on a personal blog some of his friend and former colleague's most memorable prose. From July 20, 1969:
Men from earth stepped onto the surface of the moon tonight.
Two American astronauts realized a dream of centuries by treading on the powdery lunar surface nearly seven hours after making a "very smooth" landing in the moon's Sea of Tranquility.
Neil A. Armstrong, 38, of Wapakonela, Ohio, made the first historic step at 10:56 p.m., descending a ladder of nine rungs on one of four legs of the lunar landing craft. He was followed by Col. Edwin E. Aldrin, Jr., 39, USAF, of Montclair, N.J., at 11:14 p.m. As Mr. Armstrong put his first foot on the surface, he said: "That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind."
"Though a lay person himself, Albert explained difficult science in a way that most readers could understand," Mr. Ettlin wrote in his blog. "I asked him once how he managed to do that, and Albert modestly credited the scientists who gave their time to patiently answer his many questions."
In A Century in The Sun, a book compiling the newspaper's most notable front pages of the 20th century, Mr. Sehlstedt's byline is among the most frequently represented. Among a variety of assignments, he told friends and family that John Glenn's first flight into space stood out.
A bachelor until middle age, Mr. Sehlstedt was 51 when he married a former nun. After Alice Horn Sehlstedt's death in 1996, he ran into her cousin's recent widow at a Mass. As they consoled each other, a new relationship bloomed. Mr. Sehlstedt was married for the past decade to Mary Ann Feild Sehlstedt, who cared for him as he suffered from Alzheimer's in recent years. Despite his memory loss, she said, "He knew me until a week ago. When I would walk in, his eyes were just glued to me."
A funeral is scheduled for 10 a.m. today at St. Mark Roman Catholic Church in Catonsville, with interment to follow at New Cathedral Cemetery.
In addition to his wife, Mr. Sehlstedt is survived by three sisters, Sister Margaret Sehlstedt of the Mary Knoll Order; Elizabeth Fairbanks of Hamilton, Ohio; and Nancy Feild of Rodgers Forge; three stepsons; and one stepdaughter.