Satan Wood Drive name bedevils these poor souls

It's hardly the road to perdition, but some fed-up Columbia residents are ready to say 'To heck with it.'

February 04, 2005|By William Wan | William Wan,SUN STAFF

The U-shaped street in Columbia was supposed to be named Satin Wood Drive, based on an obscure poem by a whimsical poet. But the devil, it turns out, was in the details.

About 30 years ago, somewhere between the developer's plans and the county's official map, a misplaced letter doomed the residents of Satan Wood Drive.

"You almost feel ostracized, like you're the black sheep of the village," said Jamie Aycock, 31, an electrical engineer who lives on the block in Hickory Ridge Village. "Sometimes they look at me like I'm a devil worshipper."

Residents have adopted a variety of coping mechanisms. A priest who lives on the street sprinkles holy water around his house each year. Another man obscures the name by giving it a French pronunciation. Others simply call it S Street.

But patience has run thin, and the residents of Satan Wood Drive are petitioning Howard County for a name change. They have collected signatures and begun to raise money, hopeful their days as the butt of demonic jokes are coming to an end.

Their biggest obstacle has been getting people to take the problem seriously: At a recent town budget hearing, as the residents made their case, the meeting erupted in guffaws. "They wouldn't think it was so funny if they had to live on the street," muttered Barbara Chapman, who has lived there four years.

All the residents on the block seem to have a story about how they came to live at Satan Wood Drive and how they have learned to cope.

The Rev. Duane Johnson understands the problem acutely. An Orthodox priest, he lives with his wife, Sandy, in a two-story house on the northern end of Satan Wood Drive.

It wasn't their first choice. His wife didn't even want to look at it, he explained. But the market was tight, the prices astronomical, and here was the perfect house in a great neighborhood, a minute's walk from a charming park and community pool.

"You couldn't ask for a better house," his wife said.

The problems began soon after they moved in. First came the call from the church's New York headquarters. It was the secretary to the Most Blessed Herman, archbishop of Washington and metropolitan of all America and Canada for the Orthodox Church in America.

"Is this your address?" the incredulous secretary asked them.

Then Sandy called to order drapes from J.C. Penney. She spelled out the address for delivery, and the saleswoman dropped the phone.

"When she finally got back on the phone," Sandy recalled, "she said, `You won't believe this, your order number is 666.'"

There are other stories as you go down the row of houses. And jokes:

"You think you have it bad, this guy lives in hell."

"Well, I guess I should finally pay you back" (the street having frozen over).

"Let me guess your ZIP code."

People who are superstitious seem to take it especially hard, residents say.

"They talk to you like you have horns on your head," said Chapman. "A lot of my friends won't even say it. It's like you don't know if saying his name conjures him up, but who wants to take the risk?"

As if to counteract its sinister name, the street has attracted a number of ministers. There is Johnson, an associate priest at the Orthodox Church of St. Matthew in Columbia, who sprinkles holy water through his house every year. Until recently, a Methodist minister lived a few houses down. A third minister has one of the street's two signs planted in his front yard.

The other residents have found their own ways to combat the evil name.

At stores, Aycock casually tells the clerks that the street name is spelled "Satan Wood" but pronounced sat-AN-wood. ("I tell them it's French," he said.)

Other residents spell out the letters with lightning speed, hoping people won't catch on.

But the most common tactic is fudging the errant letter and using a variation of the intended name: "Satinwood Drive."

"Not everyone admits it, but I think a lot of people secretly do it," said Chapman, who never gives her friends in Texas her real address. "The postman understands. I've never had any trouble getting the mail."

Many have tried over the years to change the street's name. In the past, new residents moving in often made inquiries. Too expensive, their neighbors told them. Too complicated. You'd need lawyers.

A suburban legend sprung up that to change the name it would take $1,500 per household. But all that changed when Paige Murphy and her husband moved in four years ago. A modest woman, she calls it a community effort, but her neighbors insist that her persistence has given their cause new hope.

Last year, after a particularly frustrating Christmas, ordering presents from catalogs by phone, Murphy, a flight attendant, dug through the Columbia Archives, called the Howard County Planning Department and rallied neighbors to show up at village board meetings.

The name change, she was told, would cost the community a total of $2,581.20, and it would require signatures from 19 of the street's 21 homeowners. In December, all but one family signed the petition. Now all that remains is the problem of raising the funds.

Someday soon, they say, the evil name that has troubled them for so long will be driven out of the community. And when that day comes, there will be dancing and jubilation in the street - yes, there will be a block party.

"I think life will finally be normal," Chapman said. "I've never experienced that in all my years living on this street. I bet it feels wonderful."

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