Strange and notorious tales from Laurel's past

Laurel Leader

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. There will be more in the future. (The first volume was published in the Leader on May 19, 2016; a World War II edition was published on Dec. 15, 2016; volume 2 was published on Feb. 8, 2018.)

1904: In June, Baltimore City Councilman E. Clay Timanus was appointed to complete the term of Baltimore Mayor McLane, who committed suicide. That made two mayors in the family, as his brother, Gustavus B. Timanus, was Laurel’s Mayor at the time.

1905: In June, Mayor Gustavus B. Timanus was appointed Postmaster at Laurel. In addition to serving as mayor, Timanus was the superintendent for years at the Laurel Cotton Mill. He resigned as mayor to take the new position, and a special election was held to replace him. Dr. T. Watts Beverly was elected to fulfill Timanus’ term after a lackluster campaign. As the News Leader characterized it, “There is very little interest being manifested in the contest; neither candidate has stated publicly what he proposes to do if elected and it is not putting it too strong to say that there is not a great deal expected of the new mayor in the nine months he will have to serve.”

1911: In June, the first two Boy Scout troops in Laurel were formed.

1912: The Laurel Hotel, which became notorious over the years as a house of prostitution, was built on the corner of Main Street and Washington Boulevard (Rt. 1). In its heyday, the hotel had a reputation “to please the many expectations of her guests and only one who has been in the hotel business can appreciate what a wide variety of needs and expectations exists among traveling people,” or so claimed the Leader in 1932. The Laurel Hotel was one of the first businesses in Laurel to offer liquor as soon as Prohibition was repealed in 1933.

1932: In July, Laurel American Legion Post 60 donated dozens of items totaling thousands of pounds to the Bonus Expeditionary Force in Washington. The BEF was comprised of WWI veterans marching on Washington to collect their service bonus promised by the government for their wartime service. The donations from Laurel included food, clothing, personal items and tobacco.

1942: In January, Fort Meade announced plans for black-out rehearsal in anticipation of an attack during World War II. “All lights will be turned out and personnel not required for air raid defense will take shelter by area wardens within the Post, as directed. Vehicular movement will be restricted. All traffic within the Post will move off roads, stop and turn out all lights.”

In May, the directors in charge of civil defense reported “unusual success in the practice blackout held Tuesday. The red signal came at 11 p.m. The blackout lasted until 11:30 p.m. when the all clear sounded. Only two houses were reported for failing to turn out their lights and it is believed that the occupants were away from home. All traffic was controlled and no cars entered the town after the red signal was sounded.”

1947: Traffic in Laurel had become such a problem that the Laurel Police Department installed a traffic control tower at the intersection of Talbott Avenue and Second Street. Policemen manned the tower during heavy traffic periods and would sometimes give directions and orders to motorists over a PA system.

1951: In January, Tom Israel opened the first self-serve gas station in Maryland, on Route 1 opposite Bowie Road. Called – what else – the Laurel Self-Serve Gas Station, it also offered “an outside public telephone booth for public convenience 24 hours a day,” according to the News Leader. Israel also had “another ‘first’ to his credit at the new station—a full-time woman supervisor.”

1959: In November, the Future Homemakers of America sponsored “Hobo Day.” According the News Leader, “members make themselves available for such odd jobs as baby sitting, mother’s little helpers, running errands, etc., in return for a contribution to their treasury.” There was no explanation as to why it was called “Hobo Day.”

1964: In March, Roger Kirkpatrick, “a telephone serviceman and ardent bow and arrow deer hunter,” as he was called in the News Leader, “solved a perplexing and costly problem at the Hecht Store” under construction at the Laurel Shopping Center. The problem was “how to install telephone cable in the ceiling of the store without removing the ceiling, or leaving wiring exposed.” Kirkpatrick’s solution was to fish the cable by shooting it through the ceiling with his bow and arrow. “The cable was attached to a fishing reel and line. With a short-range, rubber-tipped arrow, Roger took the end of the cable and shot it a distance of some 150 feet to a spot in the ceiling where a small panel had been removed.” Apparently, it worked so well that the idea “has been submitted to the home office of the Chesapeake & Potomac Telephone Company for review.” There was no word as to whether this was adopted as an official practice by the phone company.

1968: In August, the Amalgamated Flying Saucer Club’s Metropolitan Washington chapter presented a Flying Saucer Festival at the home of the club’s secretary, Donna Michel, on Brooklyn Bridge Road. The festival featured booths, displays, movies, demonstrations and a “new-age” meal, whatever that was. Los Angeles-based author Gabriel Green, who wrote “Let’s Face the Facts About Flying Saucers,” (which did not make any best-seller lists) claimed in the News Leader that “the public should not be fearful but should feel confident that they will spend a safe, interesting, and educational afternoon in Laurel.”

1969: In January, newlyweds Charles and Nancy Wheeler got off to a bad start. Nine days after their wedding, Nancy Wheeler struck her new husband on the back of the head with a pipe wrench, killing him in their home on High Ridge Road. An autopsy found that Charles Wheeler had sustained multiple fractures of the skull in the attack.

1970: In September, the Prince George’s chapter of the Movement to Restore Decency sponsored a speech by Joseph R. Crow on a Monday evening at Laurel High School. Crow was, according to the News Leader, “once a member of modern music’s ‘in’ group, and now one of its most vocal critics.” His speech was titled “Rock Music, Youth, Drugs, and Brainwashing.” “It is no accident,” he said, “that music is being used to make perversion and even subversion seem glamorous and exciting. It’s time for more parents to begin ‘tuning in,’ before their own children are the ones ‘dropping out.’” Tickets were .75 in advance or $1 at the door.

1973: In May, the first concrete “bugeye” boat built at a boatyard on Route 1 in Savage was launched on the South River. As the News Leader described the launch, “two dozen pair of doubting eyes watched disbelievingly as the concrete craft settled into the water exactly at her designated waterline.” Jim Chamblee, owner of the Savage boatyard, “was understandably jubilant.” The ferro-cement boat was ¾” thick, with a core of hexagonal steel mesh and high-tensile ¼” steel rods. Chamblee spent 22 months and $8,000 building the boat in Savage.

1974: In September, the Laurel Hotel was demolished. The notorious hotel on the corner of Main Street and Route 1 southbound had fallen into severe disrepair.

1994: In July, officials with both Prince George’s and Montgomery counties pledged quick changes in policies concerning renting public parks after videos of two wild parties held at the Fairland Aquatics Center on Gunpowder Road went on sale to the public. The videos not only showed partygoers as they swam and danced in the nude, but also committing sex acts. Ten county police officers arrived to help the Park Policemen on duty to shut down the parties.

Rick McGill contributed to this story. info@theleonardgroupinc.com

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