Book of the region: Shangri-La and baseball

July 30, 1995|By James H. Bready | James H. Bready,Special to The Sun

There was this mysterious place in the mountains of western Maryland, a hideaway where Franklin Roosevelt conferred with Winston Churchill; Shangri-La, people called it. Later, the name became Camp David. By now, 11 presidents have weekended there and the place is one-fourth as old as the White House.

Around the world, Camp David may be the most famous location in Maryland. Yet fewer than one Marylander in 10,000 is likely to have been inside and had a look around. Maryland's Official Highway Map still doesn't show Camp David - 143 acres of woods just west of Thurmont, on the north side of state Route 77.

When World War II ended and the top-secrecy came off this former National Parks Service preserve (originally called Camp 3, Hi-Catoctin; it was used by the families of federal employees), the paper that broke the story was The Sunday Sun. Unable to get past the gate, Frank Henry and Frank Miller, writer and photographer, peered down on Shangri-La from a rented airplane.

Later on, press, radio and television were occasionally allowed in, at ground level. It is a retired newspaperman, W. Dale Nelson of the Associated Press, now living in Keedysville, who in his book "The President Is at Camp David" (New York: Syracuse University Press. Illustrated. 216 pages. $24.95) has pieced together the first thorough, even-handed account of the place.

Sixty miles from the White House and 1,870 feet up, today's Camp David is girdled by three tall wire fences - and some symbolic triplines. Careful, or a fuse will blow in the taxpayer reading about the luxuries (heated pool, riding and skiing trails, library of movies, million-dollar chapel) that have been laid on, particularly since 1968.

Most presidents, to be sure, have had other favorite retreats, elsewhere in the U.S. Camp David, named for Eisenhower's father as well as grandson, saw or has seen little of Truman, Kennedy, Johnson and (18 visits in two years so far) Clinton; Nixon at times almost lived there, and Reagan was there 571 days. Camp David's greatest moment (13 "intense and discouraging days" in September, 1978) is still the Begin-Carter-Sadat talks that finally brought about Egyptian-Israeli peace.

At one stroke - albeit "Camp David" was 10 years in the researching and the writing - a basic Maryland book.

Baseball

The third and fourth most famous Baltimore ballparks are now two unprepossessing, side-by-side diamonds in Patterson Park - thanks to Harry Connolly's "Heading Home: Growing Up in Baseball" (New York: Rizzoli. 156 pages. $19.95). For five summers, the kid teams who exult there, or agonize, had for audience Mr. Connolly and roll after roll of black-and-white photo film.

There are interludes of text: Cal Ripken Jr. recounts his own vivid Little League years (he pitched); Stephen King tells of non-horrors on Maine ballfields. But those photos - you can feel the stitches on the baseballs, almost.

*

Walter Johnson had his Maryland phase. In retirement, the sidearm fastballer often called the greatest pitcher of them all (110 shutouts) was a Montgomery County farmer; in 1940, he let the politicians put him up as a (losing) candidate for Congress. Now his grandson, Henry W. Thomas, has written the first adequate biography: "Walter Johnson: Baseball's Big Train" (Arlington, Va.: Phenom Press. 458 pages. $24.95). It spotlights the modesty, humanity and integrity that are increasingly Walter Johnson's finest legacy.

*

Interurbans, streetcars, subway, light rail - Baltimore's ways and means of rail transit ever change, yet continuity underlies them, as Herbert H. Harwood Jr. demonstrates in "Baltimore's Light Rail: Then and Now" (Quadrant Press. Paperback, 96 pages. $15.95). Mr. Harwood's knowledge is vast; the photos, of then and now, are a treat.

*

zTC The poetry section of Baltimore Writers' Alliance has brought forth "Sunday at Two" (Paperback. 67 pages. $5.95), an anthology of 16 members' work, including the late Mimi Werba, to whom the book is dedicated.

James H. Bready has written for The Evening Sun for many years as a reporter and book editor. He writes a monthly column on Maryland books.

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