The hidden room and its trove of treasures

The Baltimore Sun

L eon Kagarise was such a hoarder that when a country music treasure trove turned up 10 years ago in his overstuffed Towson house, only one person at a time could squeeze in there with him to have a look and listen.

The team from the Country Music Foundation, the group from the Library of Congress Folklife Center, the Today Show crew, one by one, all took their turns. Now the rest of the world gets a peek.

Just-published Pure Country: The Leon Kagarise Archives presents 140 color pictures of the biggest country and bluegrass stars of the 1950s, '60s and '70s. Johnny Cash, Dolly Parton, June Carter, Bill Monroe, Hank Snow, The Stanley Brothers, The Stonemans and others are captured performing and mingling with fans at $1-a-car backwoods music stages, including New River Ranch in Rising Sun.

Kagarise, who died in January at age 70, was an audio technician who began photographing and taping musicians in the late 1950s. He was also a compulsive collector of just about anything, said longtime friend Joe Lee.

Kagarise's hundreds of color slides and thousands of hours of reel-to-reel concert tapes were all but lost amid immense clutter until Lee, the Joe in Joe's Record Paradise in Rockville and a son of former acting Gov. Blair Lee III, stumbled on them.

"A buddy of mine had just bought 10,000 78s from him. 'This guy's got, like, 150,000 LPs. He's broke. He needs money,' " he told Lee.

Lee went looking for old records and wound up unearthing a huge collection of unknown live recordings with stunningly crisp sound. Then Kagarise mumbled something about pictures. "I took some pictures of these groups, too, as they played," Lee recalled him saying.

"Well, I didn't know where they were, and if you could have seen this guy's house - when they finally cleared the house out, I discovered a room that I didn't know existed, a room next to the living room and the kitchen," Lee said. "Things were piled up so you couldn't see the entrance to that room."

Lee held out little hope they'd be found.

But Kagarise awoke at midnight from a dream, looked under his bed and found 500 to 700 color slides which he'd snapped decades before with his Zeiss Ikon.

The result is a book that has already drawn good reviews from The New Yorker and The Wall Street Journal.

Fans will have to wait a little longer to hear Kagarise's recordings. A two-CD set, representing just a fraction of his tapes, is due out in April.

What, no lampooning?

Somebody in Baltimore legal circles dodged a bullet this holiday season. The state's attorney's office canceled its annual party, where local judges and lawyers are lampooned in a comedy skit.

What happened? Did some bigwig afraid of getting skewered call it off?

SAO spokeswoman Margaret Burns blamed the bad economy. Tickets - $20 for lawyers, $10 for other staffers - just weren't selling.

"Everyone's counting their pennies," she said. "It's not a time for celebration."

Except for those lucky legal eagles who would have been the butt of the jokes. Who would that have been? I asked Margaret Mead, a defense attorney who spray paints her hair red every year to portray Circuit Court Judge M. Brooke Murdock.

There'd been some discussion about "potential material" among skit actors, but Mead wasn't giving it up.

"That's material for next year."

Go forth and grammarfy

I'd like to thank Norma Whelan of Towson for the loveliest upbraiding I've ever received.

It came on fancy cream stationery and bore such curvy penmanship that I thought I was being invited to a wedding.

I was being taken (nicely and, I insist, mistakenly) to the woodshed.

She took issue with a column I'd recently written about Bob and Kendel Ehrlich's Christmas card. The former first couple had extended holiday wishes from "The Ehrlich's." Should have been "The Ehrlichs," plural, not possessive, I wrote.

My elegant pen pal begged to differ.

"When people refer to their families, they often write (for example) 'the Smith's.' This usage usually would require a noun to follow, such as 'The Smith's house.' This, however, is not always so. ... [T]he word 'house' or home is assumed to be understood."

Not so, says John McIntyre. The Baltimore Sun's copy desk chief claims to know grammar and has the blog (You Don't Say) and bow tie to prove it. And on this one, he's on my side.

"If it's the Ehrlichs' family or the Ehrlichs' home, it's the plural possessive," McIntyre said.

I rang up the letter writer, in part to stand my grammatical ground, but mostly to discover who in the world uses such fancy penmanship to lodge a complaint.

Turns out Mrs. Whelan - we don't use courtesy titles in the paper anymore, except in obits, but for some reason Emily Post is urging otherwise here - is an 88-year-old native Bostonian and artist who doesn't think there's anything unusual about her fine penmanship. Or her grammar.

"I had an English teacher, a Catholic nun, and she pounded grammar into us," Mrs. Whelan said.

I told her I'd put McIntyre up against her nun any day. She was persuaded. Sort of.

She wondered if grammar rules had changed since she was in school and suggested I call someone in the English department at Hopkins.

"Talk to a grammarian there and see if she or he remembers the old usage."

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