Art Geiselman, Evening Sun reporter, dies

Investigative reporter had also worked at WBAL-TV

  • Art Geiselman
Art Geiselman
December 28, 2010|By Childs Walker, The Baltimore Sun | Baltimore Sun reporter

Art Geiselman, a former Evening Sun reporter who relished catching crooked police officers and exposing squalid conditions at prisons and mental hospitals over a 47-year career in journalism, died Dec. 21 of injuries suffered in a fall at the Copper Ridge residential care home in Sykesville. The York, Pa., native was 85.

Mr. Geiselman borrowed a sentiment from David Copperfield to explain his life philosophy, shaped by the accidental death of his father when he was a boy and his first wife's death from illness only a few years after they married. "Instead of having a hero to look up to," his daughter, Elizabeth Geiselman of Sykesville, recalled him saying, "You have to be the hero of your own life."

For him, that meant a career-long quest to expose corrupt public officials and to discover ways in which the most vulnerable were mistreated. He didn't care much for fancy writing. He sought to uncover the best stories and tell them plainly.

As a reporter in Baltimore, a colleague recalled, he liked to play a country innocent, wooing secrets from public officials with a broad smile and words of flattery.

"I don't think he could have been unpopular with anybody but the people he was putting in jail," said Richard O'Mara, who often wrote editorials for The Evening Sun based on the news that Mr. Geiselman dug up. "He liked to say he was the only guy who could send someone to jail and still be friendly enough to have lunch with them the day they got out."

Mr. Geiselman was born and raised in York, Pa. His father was accidentally shot to death when Mr. Geiselman was an adolescent, his daughter said.

After high school, he volunteered for the Navy as World War II broke out, serving as a radio operator on several ships in the Atlantic. Though he believed in the cause, his daughter said, he often spoke of the empathy he felt for German sailors who died on submarines destroyed by his ships.

After the war, he married Gloria Gilbert of York and began classes at Lebanon Valley College in Annville, Pa. His wife died of a kidney infection while pregnant with their first child, Elizabeth Geiselman said, and the loss prompted her father to leave college and wander the nation's rail lines with a friend as he contemplated a new path.

His grandfather was an editor at the Gazette and Daily in York and persuaded Mr. Geiselman to take a reporting job there in 1951.

"I believe he did take to it naturally," said his daughter, a Baltimore police officer. "You're fortunate to fall into something that clicks, and it did from the start for my father."

Writing under the byline A.W. Geiselman Jr., he loved ferreting out the details of shady land deals and the misdeeds of local leaders. His work won him many prizes and earned him a Nieman fellowship at Harvard in 1964.

Early in his career at the Gazette and Daily, Helen Stambaugh of Manchester, Pa., walked into the newspaper's office and asked for a job. Mr. Geiselman said he couldn't offer that but would love to take her on a date. She agreed, and they married four months later, on May 9, 1953.

After completing his Nieman fellowship, Mr. Geiselman came to The Evening Sun in search of better pay and bigger stories. In his five years at the paper, he reported about poor prison conditions on the Eastern Shore and secret intelligence files kept by the Baltimore police, among other stories.

"He was always for the underdog," his wife of 57 years said.

Mr. O'Mara recalled him beating a pack of competitors to news of a parole hearing by flattering the presiding commissioner. "I told him he looked like Kirk Douglas," Mr. Geiselman had confided.

His family, which had grown to include four daughters, settled in Govans. When not pursuing a story, Mr. Geiselman loved to play his harmonica, sing opera to his daughters in a deep baritone and hoist beers with fellow newspapermen at the Swallow at the Hollow. He was a well-muscled athlete who played basketball and baseball with much younger men as he entered middle age.

When The Evening Sun staff went on strike in 1970, he left to report for WBAL-TV and WTOP-TV in Washington, but he never found television a satisfying format, his daughter said. In fact, he was fired from WBAL in 1972 after publicly urging the station not to capitulate to pressure from prosecutors to turn over footage of student demonstrations in College Park.

Over the next few years, he worked at The Philadelphia Bulletin, The Philadelphia Daily News and The Washington Times. He finally found stability at the Albuquerque Journal in New Mexico, where he worked for 14 years until his retirement in 1998. To the end, he loved nothing more than investigating a local scandal.

He kept all of his articles over the years, and his daughter estimated that she has more than 20 boxes of old newspapers documenting his career.

Mr. Geiselman was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease the year after he retired. He and his wife moved from New Mexico to Sykesville in 2005 to be closer to their daughters, and he spent the last five years of his life at Copper Ridge. His daughter said he was being moved from his bed to a chair on Dec. 21 when he suffered a seizure and fell to the floor. He was pronounced dead from the resulting injuries.

The family plans to hold a memorial service but is still working on details.

In addition to his wife and daughter, he is survived by three other daughters, Susan Geiselman of North Potomac, Carrie Geiselman of Camas, Wash., and Abigail Geiselman of Montgomery Village; seven grandchildren; and one great-grandchild.

childs.walker@baltsun.com

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