Images of Annapolis, 1900-1960, offer a rare treat

Oral histories, photos recall cosmopolitan city


November 01, 2001|By Mary Johnson | Mary Johnson,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Annapolis I Remember, described as "a theater presentation of oral histories and photographs," might have been no more exciting than a glance at an old photo album. Instead, the look back at the first half of the 20th century through the eyes of former Annapolitans proved to be a rare treat for the capacity audience Sunday at Key Auditorium at St. John's College.

From the opening segment, the audience was delighted to recognize landmarks from earlier times in photographic images projected onto a theater wall. Annapolis was "a Navy town," "a college town," "a water-man's town," "a cultural town known as the Athens of America" and "a political town," according to the actors portraying characters from the city's past.

Cosmopolitan Annapolis was a melting pot of immigrants, where Greeks ran restaurants, Italians ran tailor shops, Germans owned bakeries and Jewish grocers lived above their stores. One-third of the population was made up of black workers, who lived their lives in separate clubs, restaurants, theaters and educational institutions.

Watermen recalled that they made no class or racial distinctions among themselves. All of the children swam together in the creeks, where they dived for coins in the clear water.

The characters on stage recalled Baltimore's dance marathons of the 1930s and the garbled December 1941 news that "Japanese had attacked Herald Harbor," and later preservation attempts during which historical Annapolis became "hysterical Annapolis" in the 1960s.

Main Street On Saturday nights was described as "just like Times Square," yet Annapolis was small enough for mothers to warn daughters not to do anything they wouldn't want to read about in the newspapers. Many in the audience sighed when reminded of Little Tavern 10-cent hamburgers. Asked where they'd first tasted pizza, many called out, "LaRosa's!"

First produced at St. John's College in 1990, the text of these Annapolis remembrances was created from oral histories collected by Mame Warren, Beth Whaley and Sharie Valerio. Encouraged by the community's warm initial response, Valerio and Whaley created a nonprofit corporation, Remember Inc., which continues to collect oral histories and photographs for such presentations as Celebrations, produced in 1994 and 1995, and Annapolis: The Pageant, celebrating the city's 350th birthday in July 1999.

On Sunday, 1900-1960 Annapolis came to life in photographs, history and song as the original cast reunited for one performance. Introducing this evening of theater was writer-actress Valerio, who clearly loved the project and the talented original cast of actors she directed.

The original seven-member cast included actor and musician Mac Bogert, who was seen recently in Colonial Players' The Clearing. After 11 years, Carol Cohen still pursues a busy acting career, beguiling audiences recently as the Wicked Witch of the West and as Mother Superior in Nunsense.

Lois Evans often acts and directs at Colonial Players and teaches creative writing in the area. For 10 years, Richard Jackson has been producing director for a community theater, two children's theater companies and an opera group.

Phil Meeder continues to sell cars at a Mercedes Benz dealer in Eastport and in 1999 was narrator of Annapolis: The Pageant.

Vivian Gist Spencer has acquired a doctorate in the past 11 years and has continued to teach at Anne Arundel Community College and perform at Colonial Players. Pianist, singer and actress Loraine Shaw sings with AVAS and New Renaissance Voyces, and acts with Colonial Players.

Music evoked each period - whether it was all six actors harmonizing "Heart of My Heart," Shaw playing "Honeysuckle Rose" on the piano or Bogert playing the swing of "Blueberry Hill" or rock 'n' roll on the saxophone.

Clearly, this was an evening for reminiscing, and one didn't have to be a lifelong Annapolitan to enjoy the visit.

Remember Inc. plans to collect photographs and artifacts, and conduct interviews, for its next project, a look at life in Annapolis since 1960.

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