Stein after stein, the polka rolls on Dance hall: For more than 60 years, adults and children have enjoyed the irresistible beat reminiscent of the old country at Blob's Park in Jessup.

June 29, 1996|By Tanya Jones | Tanya Jones,SUN STAFF

The lights dim. The band cuts loose. Couples surge toward the dance floor.

It's polka time at Blob's Park.

The family-run Jessup dance hall with the 2,000-square-foot parquet dance floor and a house band that knows its stuff packs them in every weekend: the young, the old, the graceful, the toe-stompers.

"It's like a real throwback," said Roger Thomson, 47, a drummer with the Rheinlanders for 14 years. "There's a million bars and Elks and Mooses, but there's only one Blob's."

Every Friday and Saturday night and Sunday afternoon, folks hand over $4 at the door, greet Katherine Eggerl Peters, the 78-year-old owner and bouncer, and find a spot at one of the long tables.

But most don't sit for long. The polka beat is hard to resist.

It's been that way since 1925, when founder Max Blob built the first hall on the family farm and trucked in fellow German immigrants from Baltimore for private Sunday parties reminiscent the old country.

Blob's Park opened to the public in 1933, and longtime regulars, like 76-year-old Joseph Miller, say it has managed to keep its friendly, homey atmosphere intact over the years.

"They never have any trouble here," said Miller, a retired Navy employee. "If someone comes up and asks your wife to dance, you don't get mad."

Miller remembers coming to the farm when he was 10 years old and setting up pins in the bowling alley in the original building. Now, the Jessup resident and his wife of 47 years, Alvera, preside over one end of a long table, where a carved wooden sign tells the uninitiated that "Our Gang" sits here.

Peters makes sure the "Our Gang" sign and others are placed on the correct tables every weekend. She has lived in a neat frame farmhouse on one end of the Blob's parking lot since the 1940s, and inherited the establishment and surrounding 240 acres from Uncle Max in 1969.

"I grew up with this from little on up, and I guess I don't know any better," she said.

A family affair

Blob's remains a family affair, with Peters' son, John Eggerl, managing and tending bar, a sister and daughter-in-law cooking up potato salad and a selection of sausages in the kitchen, and various grandchildren, nieces and nephews helping out.

Peters' 10 great-grandchildren have yet to put in hours at Blob's, but the oldest, at 9, is being prepped. "We told him the other day, 'Get ready. You've got to start cleaning the hall.' "

Seventy-two-year-old Elta Sellmer of Lansdowne is one of "Our Gang." She has come to Blob's most weekends for at least 30 years. Though her husband died two years ago and a laryngectomy robbed her of her voice several years ago, Sellmer said her daughters encourage her to get out to the hall.

"Sometimes you're tired. You don't feel like getting dressed," she said one recent Saturday night. "But they say, 'Go.' So I go. This is therapy. This keeps you from worrying. When you come here, you don't think about any problems."

Later, Sellmer is twisting and stepping fluidly around the dance floor to a fast polka.

Not everyone is a regular.

A group of teens from Towson and Catonsville threw themselves into the polka spirit one Saturday night.

Harley Winkler, 17, of Towson said she and her friends prefer the atmosphere at Blob's to most clubs. "It's very peaceful, upbeat, happy friendly," she said, as the group took a breather. "I would prefer this [to a club] because there aren't drunken college guys all over you. These dances are not nearly as close contact."

Sunday afternoons attract a smaller crowd and more families with children.

Ken Duncan and Lois Sheeler-Duncan first came to Blobs in 1977 when they were dating. Now married with three children, the Perry Hall residents rediscovered Blobs when they brought their children and parents one Sunday afternoon six months ago and have come back several times since.

"Society nowadays has everything segregated by age groups, and I think it's terrible," Ken Duncan, 41, said. "This is a place where it is expected that everyone from grandparents to little kids will come together and enjoy their company together."

"That's why we come here on Sundays," said Lois Sheeler-Duncan, 39.

On a recent weekend the couple brought their three daughters and friends Steven and Susan Hale of Parkville, who frequented Blobs while in college, and their two young children.

A waitress rolled out their orders of bratwurst and knackwurst just as the Rheinlanders began to play the evening's first polka. The children squirmed away to get in just one dance before dinner.

'They're always smiling'

Later, the party shared the dance floor with some avid dancers, like Ludwig Heilmeier, who makes the trip to Blob's every weekend from his Charles County home to keep his dancing skills sharp. The retired accountant and head of the Charles County Board of Zoning Appeals comes armed with a hand towel and cardboard fan.

Cha-cha, rumba, fox-trot, polka, waltz -- Heilmeier, 66, knows them all. "This is basic ballroom dancing," he explained one night before the Rheinlanders began their set. "I like the variety. If you don't dance certain types of dances you tend to lose them."

But for William Parrish, a relative newcomer who has been coming to Blob's for five years, the attraction is much simpler.

"You come over here tired, wore out, and a half-hour later you're dancing," he said. "If you notice people when they're dancing polka, they're always smiling."

It's true.

Pub Date: 6/29/96

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