Family of 'Bentztown Bard' gathers for 100th reunion

Folger McKinsey worked for Sun for more than 40 years

September 18, 2010|By Jessica Anderson, The Baltimore Sun

WILMINGTON, Del. – — Generations ago, Baltimore poet Folger McKinsey wrote "Charles Street in the Fall" about a stroll through the city. On Saturday, his descendents gathered for their 100th reunion, where they ate, played games and celebrated their heritage.

"It's neat that this will carry on," said organizer and distant relative Glenn Opperman Sr. of New Jersey. Wearing turn-of-the-century garb to commemorate the centennial, Opperman, 60, said, "We're all afraid to say, 'This is it.'"

On Saturday, the extended family gathered at Brandywine Springs State Park, site of the first family picnic in 1910, to continue the legacy and to remember the past.

Says the poem:

"Oh, to be on Charles Street, on Charles Street in the fall;

To walk between the fountain and the shadow of St. Paul."

On a picnic table were a dozen binders with old family photos and documents, as well as one of McKinsey's books, "Songs of the Daily Life." He also wrote the Baltimore anthem, "Baltimore Our Baltimore."

McKinsey, who has an elementary school named after him in Anne Arundel County, was not only a poet but a columnist for The Baltimore Sun for 42 years. The Elkton native was a friend of H.L. Mencken and was part of the writer's famed "Saturday Night Club," which met at a Howard Street restaurant.

McKinsey was also considered a protege of Walt Whitman. He met Whitman while in his first newspaper job at the Shore Gazette at Ocean Beach, N.J. He later worked at The Daily News in Frederick and at The Washington Post. He finished his career at The Sun as "The Bentztown Bard.'

He was a feature reporter, staff poet and writer of the "Good Morning!" column. His work was often inspired by the towns and villages of Maryland. His obituary, which appeared in The Sun in 1950, called him the "voice of veritable Maryland. Nobody ever knew the state better, every nook and cranny of it from mountains to sea, understood it more sensitively or loved it more than he."

In addition to McKinsey's work, the family collected aerial photos of what once was a family-owned farm in Newark, N.J. The land was later transformed into housing and the city's reservoir. Another family farm makes up a large part of Germantown, Pa.

"All of those things are something to be proud of," said Tricia Opperman, 34, Glenn's daughter. "I have an opportunity to pass this on to my daughter."

At each gathering, there's an opportunity to meet previously unknown members of the family. An unfamiliar face appeared during the 2006 reunion. "She said, 'Hi, I'm Laura, I'm part of the family,'" Glenn Opperman recalled.

"Do you have proof?" he asked.

Luckily, Laura Ladkau, 42, of Chesapeake, Va., had brought a copy of a 1917 reunion invitation.

Nearly 100 people from at least a half-dozen states attended Saturday's reunion, designed to bring together the generations. Members from 2 months old to 73 years old attended the potluck picnic, which included the family's traditional lemon-butter custard.

Some gathered around a laptop computer to view an extensive family history and photos dating back decades.

"It's such a heavy tradition. We make sure the kids are aware at such a young age," said Tricia Opperman, who brought her 4-year-old, Natalie Skylar Sherrill. "It's great to catch up. … That's what family is all about."

jkanderson@baltsun.com

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