Books of the region: aged bricks, bones

June 02, 1996|By James H. Bready | James H. Bready,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

In Harford County, the age of individual achievement in home-building, not to mention commercial and religious architecture, is over. It ended in the mid-1950s (there, and in suburbia generally?). "Innovation in design and technology has yielded to glitz and glamour ... acre after acre of quarter-million-dollar houses laden with meretricious Williamsburg cliches ... shopping malls and village centers that could be called 'comic book architecture'."

So writes Christopher Weeks, in "An Architectural History of Harford County, Maryland" (Johns Hopkins University Press; 386 pages; $39.95), a book that, for all its narrow map focus and hundreds of serene photos, should make people flinch far beyond Harford.

That pronouncement uttered, Weeks' gloom lifts and he sets about making Harford (his own place of birth) sound, even in 1996, as diverse, lovely and venerable as any county, anywhere.

A running text itemizes the visitors (from Capt. John Smith onward) and the stayers (canners, farmers, iron-foundry operators, horse-breeders and the people Weeks calls the "rich LTC rich," many from Philadelphia and New York. Then "Harford County" shows, dates and describes their houses, one by one.

Weeks (earlier this year the biographer of the Baltimore architect Alexander S. Cochran) was able to get information from some very private people; for some of their houses, in return, he omits specific addresses.

Bits of his Harford - Dembytown, Kellville, Stafford, Old Abingdon - aren't on the state's official road map. As to individual shapes: Susquehanna petroglyphs, Gunpowder covered bridge, county courthouse, topiary garden, grist mills, country churches and the New Ideal Diner: all yes; buildings at Edgewood Arsenal and Aberdeen Proving Ground, no. Larry MacPhail's spread is in; the Ripkens' house is not. Very little present-day, machine-made Fallston; a fine plenty of the artisan-built houses in Bel Air, Aberdeen, Havre de Grace.

"Easily the most significant 20th century architectural creation in Harford County," Weeks writes of the Bauhaus-style factory and community built by Slovakia's Bata Shoe Co., at Belcamp in 1939.

Anyone having ties to Harford who sits down with this book will be unbudgeable for hours.

***

For dinosaur remains, we look to the Gobi Desert, the Badlands of the U.S. West - most recently, Morocco. And Maryland?

By the time David B. Weishampel and Luther Young have sketched 165 million years' worth of sauropods and ornithopods in their "Dinosaurs of the East Coast" (Johns Hopkins University Press; 275 pages; $35.95), some readers may be heading for the Arundel Clay Formation, shovel at the ready.

Weishampel (Johns Hopkins School of Medicine) and Young (a former Sun science writer) not only illuminate that populous, prosperous world (today's Nova Scotia to South Carolina), with its few puny primates; they also record the modern finders of footprints, eggs, bones, whole skeletons. Teeth from a Bladensburg bog-iron pit in 1859 were North America's first recognized sauropod fossils; in 1894, Arthur B. Bibbins of Goucher College extracted, from Muirkirk sediments, 84 identifiable specimens; in 1895, James A. Mitchell of Mount St. Mary's College found our "first and only" footprints in a quarry near Emmitsburg.

True, New Jersey and Connecticut are better sources, and no Maryland museum exhibits dinosaurs. But Marylanders have produced the subject's best general-reader book.

***

Signithia Fordham spent four years watching the kids in a predominantly African-American high school in Washington, and her account will make you hold your head. How to persuade them that good marks aren't just a white-person thing? that doing whatever the group does, when it's just out for a good time, can be the road to nowhere?

"Blacked Out: Dilemmas of Race, Identity and Success" (University of Chicago Press; 425 pages; paper, $22.95), by a University of Maryland Baltimore County ethnographer, is hard, important, painful.

***

What is sadder than the death of a child whose parents survive? A bullet killed Laurie Conrad, 19, some years ago; her mother, Bonnie Hunt Conrad of Pasadena, wrote first a book of prayers and latterly, "Who Will Sing to Me Now?" (Books Unlimited; 278 pages; paper, $18.95). This well-presented inquiry rejects suicide the quick police explanation - and points to murder.

***

In "The Barrys of Key West and Annapolis" (Pentland Press, Raleigh, N.C.; 432 pages; paper, $20), John J. Noone of Annapolis carries four generations of the Barry family from Ireland to Florida and then Maryland. Central to it all is the old-school Navy. Himself a retired medical administrator, Noone keeps the narrative going briskly.

James H. Bready, former editorial page editor and later book review editor at The Sun, writes a monthly column on books of the region.

Baltimore Sun Articles
|
|
|
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.