Find out `Who Dunit?' as firefighters continue long tradition in Manchester


March 06, 2002|By Pat Brodowski | Pat Brodowski,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

FOR AS LONG as most residents remember, Manchester's volunteer firefighters have performed a spring play. The haphazard records kept since the 1930s are etched into the walls of one dressing room, where each year the initials of the cast and title of the play are added.

This year, Who Dunit? will be inscribed on the wall. It will be performed April 19, 20 and 21.

"I can remember as a little kid coming up to watch the play. We made sure we got to both performances and got front seats and bottled sodas," said Elwin Wagner, who is one of 10 cast members this year in a group that includes husbands, wives, and cousins.

Vicki Fortune, who plays the secretary to lead character Steve Hossler, is a cousin to Kathy Rhodes, an angel in the play. She also is a sister to Bill Dell, who plays part of a lovers' triangle that includes his real wife, Heidi Dell. Beth Hossler, Steve's wife, is a prompter behind the scenes, keeping the play on track.

"We've all been bitten by the bug," said Angel Collins, who started performing seven years ago.

Gloria Flanagan plays the cook and maid. She says that while cast members work to memorize their lines, they're also finding ways to express their home-style humor, which ranges from the outrageous to the accidental. One time, an actress lost her lines. She had printed them inside her fan, which a fellow actor tossed into the audience. The jokes usually include mention of townspeople, and people not in the cast sometimes appear in a scene.

Former Mayor Elmer Lippy has been cued on stage more than a few times.

"Sometimes we get a flash," Collins said. "We make it funny."

After the Manchester fire of 1921, the firehouse was rebuilt as the center for town entertainment. The stage, on the second floor above the firetrucks, doubled as a movie theater. The basement held a bowling alley.

Today, when the alarm sounds, the play stops, lost in the wail. Fire and emergency workers make up half the cast but remain ready to respond to calls for assistance.

"We're the only fire department in the state that gives plays," Wagner said. "It's a tradition we don't want to give up."

Heidi Dell reads a half-dozen plays each year to find one that fits the cast and stage that measures 21 feet across. She selected Who Dunit? to shift speaking lines to Steve Hossler, who plays a murdered mystery writer. In recent years, she said, the plays have had mostly female parts. Gary Eppley and Steve Hossler had women's parts one year, and Eppley wouldn't shave his mustache.

Eppley and Wagner have been in almost every play since the 1980s. Eppley's father, Kenneth, 75, was in the firemen's play as a young man.

Who Dunit? will be performed at 8 p.m. April 19 and 20, and at 2:30 p.m. April 21. Tickets will be sold at the door. Hot dogs and homemade baked goods will be sold at two intermissions. All proceeds benefit Manchester Fire Company.

Information: 410-239-2286.

Train station chugs ahead

With a new roof and exterior painting completed, restoration of Hampstead Train Station moves inside the station.

Behind the boarded windows, Dan Lee of Hampstead has built window sashes to match the original station design. Chuck Ruth of Harford County visited the site in January. He has expertise in glazing windows. The antique glass saved by the town when the original windows of the police station were replaced was given to Ruth to pop into Lee's window frames.

"We have been so lucky. Every time I've really needed something, it's shown up," whether it was materials, expertise or volunteers, said Wayne Thomas, restoration chairman.

Original signs for the station were recovered and are being replicated by Lee, who would like to find a high school student to help paint them. The signs will be hung at the station "bump out" section nearest the tracks and at each end of the station.

Raising funds for the work has received a boost. Thomas said Maryland Historical Trust has awarded a $50,000 grant to Hampstead Train Station Committee Inc. To match the award amount, organizers welcome donations and have two raffles under way.

At Hampstead Expo on Feb. 23, a model train set donated by Mailbag Hobbies was raffled and won by Ken Decker, Hampstead town manager, who is a supporter of the train station restoration. He donated the set back to the committee for a second raffle that will take place March 23 and 24 at the Maryland State Fairgrounds in Timonium.

A 50-50 raffle is under way, with the winner to be announced on Hampstead Day.

To volunteer, donate materials or work at the station, visit the station weekends or call 410-374-1421.

Pat Brodowski's North neighborhood column appears each Wednesday in the Carroll County edition of The Sun.

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