Laurel promotes friendliness on Good Neighbor Day


August 20, 1999|By Lourdes Sullivan | Lourdes Sullivan,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

THE END of summer is rapidly approaching and our community is gearing up for fall.

Communal life slowed down and breathed deeply in this lazy season, when so many of us were on vacation. Now that we are returning to our regular pursuits, local organizations are preparing to offer an array of interesting events.

First on the list is the Good Neighbor Day sponsored by Laurel's Main Street merchants.

For several years, the merchants have encouraged us to become good customers and neighbors by the most efficient means available: bribery.

On Sept. 1, at opening time, local merchants will begin giving "welcome back" gifts to anyone coming through the doors. The giveaways will continue until supplies run out.

It's a great way to get to know folks who followed their dreams and opened a small shop in the community.

The L and L Gift Shop, which specializes in candies and antique jewelry, gives out chocolate truffles. Owner Louise Eldridge says she will even give lessons on how to eat a chocolate truffle.

It takes three to five small bites, she says, carefully savored between nibbles. Experts claim to get eight bites per truffle, but those are the ones with willpower.

Last year, more than 23 merchants participated in the event.

Rainbow Florist has the charming custom of giving a dozen roses each to passers-by. There's a catch, though: The recipient is allowed to keep one rose and must give the other 11 to friends and neighbors.

What a great way to celebrate community.

New face at the museum

The Laurel Museum has a new director: Alexandra Roosa.

She came to Laurel from a stint at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, where she helped put together a traveling exhibition on Baroque art.

Organizing an exhibition of European 17th-century art is a far cry from becoming director of a small-town museum focused on 19th- and early 20th-century artifacts, but Roosa is unperturbed.

She has studied the works of Joshua Reynolds, an 18th-century English painter, so she's comfortable with periods later than the Baroque.

Roosa has had a varied career.

Originally from Teaneck, N.J., not far from New York City, she attended the Johns Hopkins University. After college, she became a lawyer, practicing in California. After a few years she returned to school, entering the graduate program in art history at the University of Southern California.

She moved to our area last year, when her husband got a job at the Library of Congress as a conservator.

What excites Roosa about her new post is the opportunity to preserve a lesser-known part of American history.

"The history of Laurel is the history of so many of America's small towns," she said. "The people of Laurel were civic-minded and religious-minded, and it's still a terrific place."

Although she has been on the job for only a week, she is busy preparing an exhibit about the death of President James Garfield, who was shot four months after taking office in March 1881. He died Sept. 19, 1881.

The nation was in shock. In Laurel, the mill -- the town's largest employer -- took the unprecedented step of shutting down in mourning for the president.

Laurel Museum volunteers and staff members are planning to focus on Garfield's assassination to explore Victorian attitudes toward death and the impact of the president's death on the community.

The museum owns several of the diaries of George Nye, mill manager at the time, in which he records the town's reaction. Nye was a major general in the Union Army during the Civil War.

The diaries have been on display at the Laurel Museum throughout the summer and will figure prominently in the new exhibit.

It's your last chance to see them for a while; the next exhibit, scheduled to open in October, is about the importance of the Patuxent River in local history.

Roosa is impressed by the dedication of the museum's volunteers and the scholarly resources they bring to their work.

"The volunteers are the lifeblood of the museum," she says.

Karen Lubieniecki, a member of the museum's board, suggested the September exhibit several weeks ago. Her husband, Ken, was instrumental in getting the Nye diaries for the museum.

Roosa notes that one of the museum's founders, Elizabeth Compson, has volunteered to make a funereal wreath that will be hung on the museum's door during the exhibit.

Roosa and her husband, Mark, will staff the museum's front desk as volunteers Sunday.

She's getting him interested in the collections, she says, joking that the museum is getting a "two-fer" -- Mark Roosa can advise on the best way to preserve the museum's artifacts.

Like any good museum director, Roosa is looking to the future. There is a great group of volunteers, but she's happy to welcome others interested in helping out.

She's considering collecting historic artifacts from the more recent past. With the interest in World War II generated by movies such as "Saving Private Ryan," Roosa says, she would like to have artifacts that reflect the experience of Laurel during that time. She's considering an oral history project focused on retirees.

The Laurel Museum is open from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Wednesdays and from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. Sundays. Admission is free. The current exhibit is "George Nye and His Diaries."

Information: 301-725-7975.

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