April 23, 2021

Article at baltimoresun.com

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Laurel’s long-running St. Mark’s Emancipation Proclamation Celebration started in 1902, and more history bits and pieces

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.

Laurel’s first newspaper, the Free Quill, began publishing at 126 Washington Blvd., one block south of Main Street. Initially, the ground floor was used for public meetings and dances. The building has seen numerous businesses come and go, including a butcher shop owned by Edmund Hill, the Maryland Drug Company and, much later, Herb’s Carryout.

Fire destroyed the old Milstead Hotel on the corner of Main Street and Washington Boulevard, which had stood since at least 1816. Milstead Hotel, also known as “Half-Way House,” had once catered to stagecoaches running between Washington and Baltimore. To help with the Milstead Hotel fire, firefighters from Baltimore rushed to Laurel by train. One firefighter was killed pulling the fire engine from Laurel’s railroad depot.

This fire, along with other lesser fires in the decade, led authorities to believe a serial arsonist was on the loose in Laurel. At the end of 1899, the city offered a $200 reward for information “of the person, or persons, who set fire to any of the buildings recently burned in Laurel.” The reward was never paid. In 1902, the town organized its own volunteer fire department with three stations situated throughout the town.

The Milstead Hotel, on the corner of Main Street and Washington Boulevard, had stood there since at least 1816. (Courtesy photo / HANDOUT)

Laurel’s longest running community event is St. Mark’s Emancipation Proclamation Celebration, commemorating the end of slavery during the Civil War. The community celebration started in 1902 and continues to this day. For many years it was the major annual event held in the Grove, a historic Black neighborhood, with hundreds of people from Baltimore to Washington, D.C., attending.

Laurel’s longest running community event is St. Mark’s Emancipation Proclamation Celebration, commemorating the end of slavery during the Civil War.
Laurel’s longest running community event is St. Mark’s Emancipation Proclamation Celebration, commemorating the end of slavery during the Civil War. (Jason Fritz / Patuxent Publishing)

In April, under the headline “No Earth Quake Here,” the Laurel Leader reported that a vibration felt in Laurel the day before was the result of an explosion during the construction of a tunnel being built for the B&O Railroad in Ellicott City. “The explosion was caused by the accidental ignition of many charges of dynamite” and killed one worker.

In January, Roger Martin’s wife, Marie, 24, disappeared from their Laurel home after she “told a friend she would write her” without disclosing where she was going. Martin, who worked in the bakery “at the Government Hospital for the Insane,” was “nearly prostrated over his wife’s disappearance and is making a diligent search to locate her,” according to the Leader. His search included telephoning his wife’s parents in Philadelphia and asking them, if she turned up there, “to tell her that he had one of his arms crushed in a dough mixer at his work, in order that she would return to her home at once.” As to why Marie Martin disappeared, “it was reported that the wife left on account of her husband going skating, which she had forbidden.”

In August, the Leader clearly made its position known in an editorial about the suffragettes’ movement to gain the right to vote for women. “Why not have those poor, foolish, misguided women who are groping in the air, blindly, after the right to vote, making themselves a general laughing stock and nuisance in Washington, put to work? Surely it cannot be contended they are engaged in a useful occupation. Such action would be a splendid tribute to those unselfish, patriotic women who have gone to the front as nurses, and those others, in still greater numbers, who are engaged in earnest, useful war work. We all know there is no demand, worth recognizing, among the women demanding the franchise, and even if there ever was, sensible people would conclude that this is no time to agitate a question of this nature, when there are so many necessary and important things to be done and so much important legislation requiring the attention of our law makers.”

In January, Madam Ruth, a “gifted palmist, medium and life reader” opened shop in a trailer park on Route 1 one mile north of Laurel. Her ad claimed that she was “not to be classed with Gypsies” and that “strange, true and fascinating are the words that flow from the lips of this unrivaled medium.”

In April, actor Jeff Chandler ate breakfast at the Laurel Diner before he watched the races at Laurel Race Course that day. Chandler, who was nominated for an Academy Award in 1950 for his portrayal of Cochise in “Broken Arrow,” “put waitresses in a dither when he walked casually into the diner.” The headline in the Leader read, “Movie Star Has Ham and Eggs Here.”

Actor Jeff Chandler visited Laurel in 1954. (Check with Baltimore Sun Photo)

In August, a rowdy group attracted the attention of Laurel police on Main Street, in a parking lot across the street from the post office. Officers Victor Miller and Homer Bryant observed a drunken woman creating a disturbance. When she answered the officers’ request to either quiet down or leave the area by shouting obscenities at them, they took her into custody. They then arrested another male member of the group for interfering, which “set off a hostile reaction among the rest of the group, who began to scuffle with the policemen.” Officers Ronald Rosenwald and Allen Hale came to the assistance of their fellow officers, resulting in injuries to all four. “Officer Hale had his thumb wrenched, Officer Rosenwald was burned on the arm with a cigarette by a member of the crowd, Officer Bryant was bruised on the back where he was struck with a bottle, and Officer Miller, whose shirt was almost completely ripped off, sustained a cut on the hand.” Three people were arrested and released after posting $12 collateral on a disorderly conduct charge and $100 bond on resisting arrest.

In January, Laurel’s community swimming pool at the end of Main Street was finally integrated after being open to white people only since opening in 1953. The city bought the pool from the privately owned Laurel Park Commission for $1.

In February, approximately 2,000 people witnessed the Olympic Torch Relay through Laurel. The runners bearing the torch made their way up Route 1 to the Laurel Mall, where about 1,500 people were jammed on all levels around the middle stage. Another 500 people braved the bitter cold and waited along Route 1.

In February, when Laurel Lakes Shopping Center was given the go-ahead to begin construction, it included a subsidy from the developer to pay for three new cruisers and six police officers for the Laurel Police Department.

In June, Dorothy McClintock, participating in the Laurel 5K Run, collided with a deer on Ninth Street behind St. Vincent Pallotti High School. “It was the darndest thing I’ve ever seen,” said witness Michael Forest, who was passing out water to runners at Montgomery and Ninth streets. McClintock landed face-first on the pavement, suffering fractures to bones around her eye and bruises.

Smokin’ Joe Frazier signed autographs at a benefit dinner for the Laurel Boys & Girls Club at My Way restaurant. (Finkelstein/News)