Comptroller leaves historic souvenirs Office memorabilia saved for later use

November 22, 1998|By Jay Apperson | Jay Apperson,SUN STAFF

If these walls could talk, they'd probably say: "God bless y'all real good."

They are the walls that for so many years surrounded Maryland Comptroller Louis L. Goldstein in his Annapolis office. Their wood panels were covered by grip-and-grin photos, commemorative plaques and other artifacts of Goldstein's unprecedented longevity in Maryland politics.

As the state capital awaits its first new comptroller in four decades, everything -- including the paneling -- has been stripped from the walls. It's all been carefully cataloged and taken to an archaeological way station -- stored in hopes that the late Goldstein's office will soon be reassembled as a museum piece.

The desk, the chandelier -- even the fireplace and its mantel -- have been sent to a climate-controlled warehouse in Goldstein's native Calvert County. Goldstein's collection of shovels from groundbreaking ceremonies and scissors from ribbon-cuttings, along with dozens of boxes of political knickknacks, have been numbered and packed away.

A baseball autographed by Cal Ripken Jr., a basketball autographed by the University of Maryland's team. Photos of Goldstein with President Clinton -- and Presidents Bush, Carter and Kennedy. An oversized key to the city of Hagerstown. He had saved them all.

Goldstein held office for six decades, including nearly 40 years as comptroller. With twinkling eyes, white hair and a southern Maryland twang, he honed an image as the cheerful country tax collector.

Four months after his death at age 85, some are saying that his rebuilt office and its Maryland-abilia would make for a three-dimensional history lesson.

"The material is significant because of its association with Louie, and the fact that it might help to tell his story," said J. Rodney Little, the state's historic preservation officer. "If you tell his story and tell of his accomplishments, you're really telling the story of governmental accomplishments throughout much of the 20th century."

Little, like others who want to see the museum become a reality, said no decisions have been made. They are waiting for the dust to settle from the election before pitching the idea to officials who would have to budget the money.

One site being considered is the Jefferson Patterson Park and Museum, a research lab and shoreline recreational facility near prehistoric Indian grounds in Calvert County.

The office might be rebuilt there as part of an expansion of its visitors center, said Robert L. Swann, Goldstein's longtime deputy and now interim comptroller. The park is the site of the Maryland Archaeological Conservation Laboratory, where Goldstein's office materials are being stored.

Del. Robert L. Flanagan, a Howard County Republican and member of the House Appropriations Committee, said lawmakers would scrutinize any proposal to spend money to honor Goldstein. Swann has had to scrap a plan to award a $100,000, no-bid contract to build a statue of him. Legislators want a say in that decision.

"Louis Goldstein was a unique public servant whose memory deserves to be preserved. I think people are going to have different ideas about how that can be done," Flanagan said. "I don't think we need to build some Taj Mahal to Louie Goldstein. I don't think that is what he would have wanted."

He said endowing a university chair in Goldstein's name may be the most fitting honor.

Flanagan questioned whether the proposal to place the memorial at the Calvert County research laboratory might be a backdoor approach to gain funding for the relatively obscure facility.

"I'm a little wary sometimes of motivations," he said. "Yes, he was from Calvert County. But Louie Goldstein belonged to all of Maryland and ought to be recognized in a location or locations that are convenient to all Marylanders."

A few weeks ago, the lab's collections manager donned white gloves to help comptroller's office employees sift through Goldstein's memorabilia. Most of it came out of the office he occupied for the past quarter century, on the first floor of the Louis L. Goldstein Treasury Building. The memorabilia that could not be squeezed into his office was stored in the basement.

Some of the items in the office, such as family Bibles and snapshots, were given to Goldstein's children.

Employees also found campaign trinkets, including red, white and blue emery boards and matchbooks inscribed with Goldstein's trademark "God bless you real good."

From the walls they removed a framed clipping of the March 15, 1913, edition of the Calvert Gazette, which reported that the "stork visited our Main Street" to deliver baby Louis. Another frame held a 1946 newspaper ad showing Goldstein in his U.S. Marine Corps uniform, asking voters to elect him to the state Senate.

Such ornaments covered nearly every inch of the 15-foot-high paneling. The location of each picture and plaque was marked with a small piece of paper to allow the walls to be accurately reconstructed.

State officials said the paneling, low-grade plywood riddled with nail holes with an unevenly faded mahogany finish, would have been replaced even if it had not been removed for a possible museum. Swann said newly elected Comptroller William Donald

Schaefer will work from the office library until the office is refurbished.

Swann could not provide an estimate for the cost of the renovation. He said the comptroller's office paid between $10,000 and $12,000 to move the collection.

Debbie Vernon, who was Goldstein's secretary for 26 years, said the stripped office seems cold and bare. She recalled a time last winter when a group of fifth-graders came to visit. Goldstein was across the street, testifying before the legislature. But the students were content to admire his office.

She said, "It didn't really occur to me how much of a museum that room was until the kids came in and starting snapping pictures of the wall."

Pub Date: 11/22/98


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