Harry S. 'Frankie' Reynolds, 79, ran police station's elevator with alacrity

August 24, 1998|By Todd Richissin | Todd Richissin,SUN STAFF

Harry S. "Frankie" Reynolds spent nearly four decades rubbing elbows with Baltimore's finest -- as well as Baltimore's worst. He saw more sides of the city from his boxy, windowless "office" than most people could ever hope to see from the top of the Bromo Seltzer Tower.

Mr. Reynolds operated the Prisoner's Elevator at the city's old Central District police station on Fallsway, then moved across the street to a new building, working 37 years before retiring in 1984.

He was known for fooling police officers into snapping to attention for him and for laughing at practical jokes played on him or by him. More than anything, though, Mr. Reynolds was known at the Police Department for his singing.

Mr. Reynolds died Thursday at Franklin Square Hospital Center of complications caused by pneumonia. He was 79.

He had earned the nickname "Frankie" -- he was called that by everyone at the Police Department, it seemed -- because while an elevator operator's workday is a series of ups and down, he was consistently upbeat, constantly singing, often serenading his riders with Frank Sinatra songs.

Born in the Roland Park section of Baltimore, the young Harry Reynolds was struck by polio but was determined not to let its damage keep him down. He would walk with a limp, but he would walk.

When Mr. Reynolds was exempted from the armed services during World War II, he joined the Merchant Marine, traveling the world until peace was reached.

It did not matter that he was 5 feet 6 and 115 pounds, if that.

"He wanted to do his part," said Daniel Bentzen, his stepson and a captain in the Baltimore Fire Department.

In 1947, Mr. Reynolds went to the Police Department, looking for a job. In those days, it was common for a military veteran to become a police officer, and when the war ended, many men of his generation were hired by departments across the country.

He got the elevator job. That meant he would greet and meet a lot of people, some wearing blue uniforms and badges, some wearing jail outfits and handcuffs.

The patrol officers instantly took to the young man with the razor-sharp wit and silky smooth voice. Many rose through the ranks, not forgetting Mr. Reynolds.

The highest-ranking officers knew him, knew his disposition, his smile and that song in his heart he could not contain in his elevator car.

The officers were grateful. They did what they could to repay Mr. Reynolds for making a tough job a little more bearable.

Former Police Commissioner Frank Battaglia gave his driver standing orders to stop whenever he saw Mr. Reynolds walking in the city, and take him wherever he was going.

"Well, a lot of times he was going to work -- going to the police station," recalled Mr. Bentzen. "So the driver stops, my stepfather is arriving in this very official car, and as they pull up to the station, invariably all of these officers would snap to attention, ready to salute, thinking Commissioner Battaglia was coming.

"Then, he'd get out of the car, smiling, and the guys would go, 'Oh, man, it's Frankie!' "

Police officers considered Mr. Reynolds one of their own. Besides his singing, they especially liked his loyalty.

He had been on the job about three years when a young officer committed an innocent prank that could have gotten the officer in serious trouble.

"One day, he opened up the elevator door and one of the officers hit him in the face with a pie," Mr. Bentzen said. "People in the Police Department, the higher-ups, had a big investigation on it. They took him in and questioned him about who hit him with the pie. He refused to tell them. They threatened to take his job away, but he just said, 'It's all in good fun. Nobody should get in trouble for that.' "

Mr. Reynolds was a member of Beth El Temple on East Joppa Road.

In 1953, he married Anne E. Parks, who died in 1989.

A service is scheduled for 10 a.m. today at the Leonard J. Ruck Funeral Home, 5305 Harford Road.

In addition to Mr. Bentzen, Mr. Reynolds is survived by three daughters, Carollee Hardman of New Jersey, Jane Lilly of Glen Burnie and Elise Bentzen of Fort Pierce, Fla.; a son, Ronald Criswell of Perry Hall; 12 grandchildren; and 12 great-grandchildren.

Pub date: 8/24/98

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