What's in a name? Students' trivia quiz celebrates anniversary

January 07, 1994|By Ivan Penn | Ivan Penn,Staff Writer

Mention the name "Whiskey Bottom Road Elementary School" in North Laurel, and you're bound to get a battery of questions.

Fifth-graders Alexis Arnold and Jodi Fochler have plenty of answers, as authors of a trivia quiz about the school, which turns 20 years old today and is now called Laurel Woods Elementary School.

Alexis, 11, and Jodi, 10, are the resident experts on the history of their North Laurel elementary school, still dogged by the sometimes-negative image conjured up by its former name.

In compiling a pamphlet of 17 trivia questions about the school for their gifted and talented class, they became familiar with a host of stories about how the school got its unusual first name.

"I learned a lot about our school," said Alexis, whose trivia quiz will be distributed at the school's formal birthday celebration on Jan. 24. "It's neat knowing your school's history."

A pivotal event in that history is how, in 1990, fifth-grade students in a gifted and talented class lobbied the Howard County School Board to change the school's name from Whiskey Bottom Road Elementary School.

Students and teachers had complained that they found themselves the target of jokes because they attended an elementary school with "Whiskey Bottom" in its name.

Originally, the school's mascot was a picture of a tiger with nTC crossed eyes, playing on the "whiskey" theme, said Vernice Lacy, a third- grade teacher who has taught at the school since it opened and is in the trivia quiz.

"It was a big conversation piece," said Ms. Lacy. "People would never believe that you worked at a school named 'Whiskey Bottom Road Elementary.'"

In addition, the school isn't even on Whiskey Bottom Road -- it's on North Laurel Road. And school board and other county officials aren't sure who proposed the name in the first place.

Local lore says the name was chosen because the school originally was supposed to be built on Whiskey Bottom Road. Because of water drainage problems, the story goes, the location was changed to North Laurel Road.

"I never heard that to be a fact," said James M. Irvin, director of public works. "It may have been."

Even the name Whiskey Bottom has an uncertain origin in local history.

One story says that barrels full of whiskey once rolled down what was then Old Annapolis Road to the B & O Railroad, prompting the name to be changed to Whiskey Bottom Road.

There also is a story about barrels with fake bottoms that were used to smuggle slaves to freedom. Still another story tells of barrels with fake bottoms being used to smuggle whiskey.

"Everybody knew the story of the road, and no two stories were the same. . . . Nobody seems to know the true meaning of [Whiskey Bottom]," said Donna Thewes, a member of the North Laurel Civic Association whose children attend the school.

But people at the school also say the name Whiskey Bottom tainted the school's reputation.

"I've been told that 'Whiskey Bottom' is a terrible school and 'Laurel Woods' is a good school," Ms. Thewes said. "You just kind of laugh at people like that."

The name change has bolstered the school's reputation, boosters say, and has helped it to be known for some of its positive programs.

Yesterday, for example, representatives from each grade prepared for a celebrity reading day, which will be held today, featuring readings by local dignitaries.

The Jan. 24 birthday celebration, which begins at 6:30 p.m. will feature, in addition to the trivia quiz, a slide show, a music ensemble, over-sized birthday cards that the students made and an giant cake.

"We're very excited about the celebration," said Principal Tricia Tidgewell. "It's going to be great.. . It's a good school."

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