Historical groups publish diverting magazine pieces

August 15, 1994|By JACQUES KELLY

No Maryland grocery store or 1920s filling station at a forgotten crossroads is too insignificant for some type of small magazine.

The Baltimore metro area is blessed with diligent local historians and writers whose work regularly appears in the publications of county historical societies. Both Baltimore and Anne Arundel counties have small magazines that are shoehorned full of facts, delightful stories and the answers to local puzzles and riddles.

They present local history at its best, full of the rich detail and spice that are altogether missing or strained out of more formal or university-produced works. These little sheets also go after topics that appeal to the average armchair reader of Maryland history, and impart a sense of time and place.

For example, in last month's "Anne Arundel County History Notes," Roger White presents an excellent essay on the late and lamented Governor Ritchie Open-Air Auto Theatre on Ritchie Highway:

"In the spring of 1939, the New York World's Fair unveiled its vision of a future made better by such wonders as television, neon lights, automobiles and super highways. At the same time, a dozen isolated acres north of Glen Burnie became a local showplace for . . . Maryland's first drive-in movie theatre," Mr. White writes. The first feature was "Gunga Din" and the admission was 35 cents, children free.

Some 30 ushers directed motorists to parking terraces and washed the odd windshield. There weren't any individual speakers for cars (that fixture would arrive later). The sound boomed from an amplification source "great enough to make the music and speech of the picture audible even in the rearmost tier with car windows closed."

The stories, edited by Harundale resident Mark Schatz, are illustrated with old postcards. In fact, many of these articles are just that, postcards of life in a presuburbanized country.

Jack Kelbaugh, who lives in Annapolis, is a regular contributor to the same publication. He recently mused in a column of "What ifs," events that might have happened.

Nearly 85 years ago there was speculation that President William Howard Taft had decided to make Gibson Island his summer home. Mr. Kelbaugh quotes a Sun article of the period stating that the 1,000-acre tract was being offered as a "successor to Oyster Bay," the home of President Theodore Roosevelt.

"Mr. Maurice Laupheimer, representing Mr. Hesekiah L. Thomas, one of the chief owners of the island, which is really a peninsula, being joined by a narrow strip to the mainland, stated that the property has been considered as the President's summer home," The Sun stated.

The Anne Arundel publication often discusses World War II life at Fort Meade, the personalities of the Civil War, the old WB&A Railroad and Glen Burnie's J.F. Johnson Lumber Co.

"Amazingly our history records more about colonial horse racing than about its 20th century successor -- baseball and the men who have thrilled Anne Arundel County fans in the relatively recent past," Mr. Kelbaugh laments in another article on sports in his county. He hopes his readers will come to the rescue and supply details on northern Anne Arundel baseball from 1917 to the middle 1950s.

"History Trails," the organ of the Baltimore County Historical Society, is edited by two much respected local historians, John McGrain and William Hollifield. The current issue details layer upon layer of the history of Mount Washington, today a Baltimore neighborhood but once a fashionable Baltimore County summer resort.

Some 16 pages are a scrapbook full of newspaper stories, often from the Baltimore County Union or Maryland Journal, about cricket games, bakeries burning and the "bustle and hum of the shuttle and loom" of the textile mills along the Jones Falls. It too is illustrated with local postcards. The article called "Mount Washington in Quotations" came as the result of combing decades of old newspapers.

The articles in both publications are thankfully free of editorialization and writers' bias. If you want a Marxist interpretation of old Mount Washington, you'll have to look elsewhere.

In the meantime, I am waiting for my next issue to arrive.

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