A new chapter for local history

Linthicum resident collects town stories in a popular three-volume booklet series

September 01, 2006|By SUSAN GVOZDAS | SUSAN GVOZDAS,Special to the Sun

A dozen milk and soda bottles from the Old Oak Dairy are lined up on top of the kitchen cabinets.

A trivet bearing the old Baltimore & Annapolis Railroad logo is on a shelf.

Handmade puppets made by a local man sit, slightly slumped, on top of a stand in the living room.

The eclectic display of Linthicum memorabilia shows just how much Oscar "Skip" Booth adores his hometown.

Just as the mementos punctuate his living space, so do the homespun stories that Booth writes about the town, which celebrates its 100th anniversary next year.

Three years ago, Booth began writing about local history for the Linthicum-Shipley Improvement Association's monthly newsletter. The columns became so popular that they drove membership from 400 in 2003 to more than 600 this year, said Richard Forgo, a former president of the association and a candidate for County Council.

"He's become something like a cult figure around here," Forgo said of Booth. "Folks just love it."

In 2004, Forgo compiled the columns into booklets called Linthicum Vignettes. The third one was released last month, and so far the association has sold more than 1,000 of the three volumes and raised more than $4,000.

The money helps pay for the newsletter and to support community activities, such as maintaining the community garden. The association also donates to a local women's club and other groups.

Booth, the information systems manager for the Anne Arundel County Library System, likens the vignettes to Garrison Keillor's chronicles of small-town life depicted on the radio program, A Prairie Home Companion.

"It's been a real blast doing it," said Booth, who earned a bachelor's degree in history and a master's degree in library science from the University of Maryland.

Booth's wife, Susan Kurz, a librarian at the Linthicum Library, edits her husband's vignettes.

"She's cruel, but she's fair," Booth said. "I find she edits a lot less now."

Booth's family has lived in Linthicum since his grandfather, Oscar Booth I, relocated from Virginia in the early 1920s to take a job as a conductor on the Baltimore & Annapolis Railroad. Skip Booth's father, Oscar Booth II, worked for the Old Oak Dairy, which opened in 1933 on Andover Road.

Skip Booth frequently shared tidbits about Linthicum with Forgo during association planning meetings. Forgo said he badgered Booth for at least a year to start writing about the historical nuggets for the newsletter. And the column was born.

Booth, 52, happened on some of his early subjects by accident. While using the keyword "Linthicum" on an eBay search, he found an autograph of 1950s heartthrob Frankie Avalon for sale. The signature was on the back of a 1957 election ballot for the Teen Center at the former Andover High School in Linthicum.

Volume 1 of the vignettes recounts how two enterprising high school students booked a then-unknown Avalon to sing at a dance. The stunt helped get Mel and Anne Jeffers elected as officers to the teen center. They got married four years later at St. John's Lutheran Church.

After Booth's columns first started appearing in the association's newsletter, The Monitor, friends and strangers starting approaching Booth with their stories. Oftentimes, all they had were photos. Booth had to research the stories behind them.

Booth also generates some of his stories from his childhood memories in Linthicum, such as the ads he'd seen as a little boy for a puppet show.

At an auction, Booth bought several handmade puppets designed by Linthicum resident Bernard Paul and clothed by his wife, Edith Paul, in the 1930s. Paul's Puppets became a hit with children, earning the Pauls an invitation to perform at the first White House Easter Egg Roll in 1933 and on a local television show in the 1950s, according to Booth's research.

The article on the Pauls appeared in the second volume of vignettes, which came out just before Bernard Paul died in August of last year. He was 98.

"I think some of these things need to be recorded before some of the people involved aren't around anymore," said the puppeteer's son, Larry Paul.

The vignettes have uncovered some things Paul didn't know about his hometown, including Howard's Subway. The 60-year-old pub opened in Linthicum a year after World War II ended. At the time, patrons could wash down a crab cake with a beer for 30 cents. But they had to follow the rules: No foul language and women who came alone, left alone.

"This was not a pick-up place - it was a family place," Booth wrote in Volume 3.

Association members sold vignettes at the Strawberry Festival at the Benson-Hammond House and at the summer concerts put on by the women's club.

The first volume debuted in the summer of 2004 and sold at least 600 copies, said Ken Glendenning, treasurer of the association. The second volume, which came out last year, sold nearly 400. Volume 3, which came out last month, has sold more than 100 copies, Glendenning said.

Glendenning noticed that residents bought the vignettes as gifts for their children who live out of state. He can't believe that Booth still has a cache of untold stories.

"I'm amazed at how much information he can find," Glendenning said.

The stories are well researched and teach even longtime residents a thing or two about their hometown, said Jeffrey Bruce, owner of Bruce's Supply Co. in the Shipley-Linthicum Shopping Center. Bruce, 57, has lived in Linthicum for the past 50 years and considers it his home.

"There's a lot of stuff in there I hadn't heard," said Bruce, whose father opened the store in 1948. "You hear a little bit of county history, but you're not privy to everything around."

The vignettes will be on sale at the Flea Market Sept. 9 at the Benson-Hammond House and the Community Fair Sept. 30 at St. John's Evangelical Lutheran Church on Maple and Hammonds Ferry roads.

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