All the way to M-E-E-R-S-C-H-A-U-M

Baltimore Glimpses

June 14, 1994|By GILBERT SANDLER

THERE were eight Marylanders (of 238 contestants) in the 67th national spelling bee in Washington recently. One of them, 12-year-old Kathryn Rougle, of Annapolis, made it to the seventh round before misspelling "intercalary." None of the Marylanders was from Baltimore.

Not so in 1955. That May 19, just a year following the Supreme Court's school desegregation decision, a 12-year-old African-American girl from Baltimore stood in a pale yellow cotton dress in the auditorium of the Chamber of Commerce in Washington. Gloria Lockerman, of 1021 N. Poppleton St. in West Baltimore, had made a very long journey to become a finalist in the prestigious contest.

It began at Booker T. Washington Junior High, where Gloria, under the tutelage of her teacher, Gwendolyn Brooks, survived round after round of the local bee (sponsored by The Sun) to win the honor of representing Baltimore City in the national contest. In the preliminary rounds, Gloria outspelled more than 5 million junior high students concurrently competing in their home towns.

Gloria, her teacher and her grandparents arrived at the Willard Hotel, spelling bee headquarters, two days before her contest. They spent their time shopping, visiting monuments -- and practicing. "I play a lot of Scrabble," Gloria told a friend. "It helps me to see the words."

Gloria survived the run-off on May 18, which qualified her for the finals the next morning. By 8:30 she was seated with 64 of the country's elite spellers -- 37 girls and 27 boys.

A frightened but quietly confident Gloria Lockerman lasted through five tense rounds. She spelled "camera," "beguile," "application," "witticism" and "follicle." Then came the sixth round.

The word was "meerschaum," the soft, white, claylike mineral used for tobacco pipes.

Gloria sucked in her breath.

"Meerschaum," she pronounced. And then went on: "M-I-R . . ." And the tears began to roll down her cheeks, staining her yellow cotton dress.

That was in 1955. Glimpses has wondered what happened to Gloria Lockerman.

We hope she's healthy and prosperous -- and that she saved her tear-stained yellow dress in which she spelled herself into a place in Baltimore history.

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