Hanging matter in town

Sykesville: Pictures of mayors and council members on wall in Town House provide glimpse of local history.

May 22, 1999|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

The story of Sykesville is hanging in the foyer of town hall -- a series of simple black picture frames that carry the photos of every elected official going back more than 50 years.

In a town like Sykesville, (population 3,500), the pool of candidates is small, and the same folks tend to serve through the years. Visitors to town hall, which is known as the Town House, can watch their neighbors and relatives age and change appearance in the photos along the wall.

The display is the same in each case: a beige mat with seven oval cutouts -- the mayor surrounded by his six-member council.

Councilman Jonathan Herman sports a bushy beard; Mayor Jonathan Herman is clean-shaven.

"It is more like the most-wanted wall at the post office," said Councilman Eugene Johnson, about to pose for his sixth picture. "But we can't seem to stop it.

The roll call of mayors begins with the town's founding in 1904 and fills the first two frames. But for those who began the wall of pictures about 40 years ago, finding council members' photos from the turn of the century proved an impossible task. They located council photos, some from high school graduation, from the 1930s on.

All who have played a role in town politics are on the wall, smiling or stone-faced. A few are in uniforms -- of the armed forces, police or firefighters. One mayor was also fire chief.

The officials came from all walks of town life. Several were lawyers. The local pharmacist, barber and shopkeepers have served. Margaret Harris was the first councilwoman, elected in 1945; no woman has been mayor. In 1974, Theresa M. Norris was the first African-American elected. Nearly all the mayors can be seen in previous council pictures.

Many, such as Mayors Henry Forsyth and William Brandenburg, have streets named after them. Mellor Avenue across from the Town House takes its name from the first mayor.

Descendants of many officials still live here, and a few have followed their parents into service on the council. Richard Doxzen served on the council from 1981 to 1985; his son Daryl is in the 1997 photo.

"People stopped here in town, and that was it," said Johnson. "Half of them never moved out of town."

Herman, mayor through 2001, has evolved from a smiling, young councilman with a full, bushy beard who posed in shirtsleeves more than a decade ago to a clean-shaven mayor in a business suit -- his 1997 portrait. He is still smiling.

His predecessor, Lloyd R. Helt Jr., grew a beard when he was mayor, but his hairstyle got shorter from 1977 through 1991. Rumor has it he may have pulled it out during marathon council sessions.

Pictures show hair graying and faces wrinkling.

"Everyone aged in the job," said Johnson.

A few, such as Magruda Carlyle and Charles Knisley, must have been camera shy. Both served terms in the 1980s, but each posed for only one photo. Carlyle has the same bouffant beehive and checkered blouse in three frames. Knisley's expression, which can only be called a scowl, and his shirt do not change throughout his years of service.

"It was a wonderful idea to keep history on the wall," said Thelma Wimmer, who at age 90 is the town historian. Wimmer is on the wall twice, as is her husband, Wilbur. Both served on the council, but not together.

At City Hall in Baltimore, only the mayors' pictures are hung, and they date to 1797, when James Calhoun led its government. His portrait is in the Board of Estimates room alongside more recent officeholders, all formally posed.

In Sykesville, things are more casual. Pictures are usually taken at the town hall, after the biennial spring election. Once a few years ago, to speed up the process, the council met at a Wal-Mart store for quick shots. But most often, members have a photographer come to the Town House.

Wiley Purkey, owner of a framing business on Main Street, frames them. Some minor changes have been made over the years, he said. Names originally printed in heavy Gothic letters are now scripted under each photo.

"It usually takes a year after they take office to get everyone together," said Purkey, who is a former councilman. "Usually, somebody doesn't show up. But they know they have to get a picture taken sometime before they run for a second term."

The late Harry Sandosky, business owner and councilman, is credited with the idea for the photo wall. He and his secretary, Dolly Hughes, scrambled for pictures, calling families and asking them to comb their albums. A few were high school graduation pictures, Hughes said.

"Harry was instrumental in this project," said Hughes, who did much of the photo hunting. "His idea was to keep them going, so people could see who the mayor was and those who served with him. You want people to know who was on the Town Council along the way.

"This town is not that large," said Hughes, 71, daughter of the late Mayor Brandenburg. "You knew people when you saw their pictures, and it's the first thing you see at the Town House."

Residents check the wall, especially when they come to vote at town hall.

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