Memorial bench project honors Linthicum historian

Booth was past president of Ann Arrundell County Historical Society, penned nostalgic 'vignettes'

  • Storyteller and historian Oscar "Skip" Booth is shown in the 1993 photo sharing a story about Colonial Thanksgiving with kids at North County Library.
Storyteller and historian Oscar "Skip" Booth is… (PERRY THORSVIK, Baltimore…)
August 07, 2014|By Will Fesperman, The Baltimore Sun

When a 60-year-old amateur historian died in February, dozens of Linthicum Heights residents decided they wanted to do something to remember the man who remembered and preserved the history of their community.

Oscar "Skip" Booth was a local librarian, former president of the Ann Arrundell County Historical Society and had recently written his 100th historical "vignette" about Linthicum when he died unexpectedly of complications from a stroke.

Soon after Booth's death, members of the Linthicum-Shipley Historic Association, a nonprofit that funds community projects, hatched the plan to build a memorial bench and place it along a local trail, said Kate Graf, secretary-treasurer of the group.

The association, of which Booth was a member, put out a call for donations in its April newsletter, and the community responded. More than 50 people donated amounts ranging from $3.50 to $200 — raising about $3,000 in all, Graf said.

The association chipped in another $800, and the bench was purchased and placed late last month along the trail that circles Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport — one of Booth's favorite spots, Graf said.

Booth was a history buff who loved his community, said Rik Forgo, a member of a Linthicum community association.

"He would get so charged up about history," Forgo said.

At festivals put on by the Ann Arrundell County Historical Society, Booth would play banjo and tell stories to the audience, Graf said. Many in the area grew up knowing Booth as a resident of and advocate for the close-knit town.

Graf said when she moved to Linthicum 30 years ago, it was known as the kind of place people stayed their whole lives. Grown children settled down near their parents; on Graf's street alone there were eight houses occupied by only three families, she said.

She described Linthicum as an "island" standing out against the development surrounding BWI. The town, she said, is beset by "acres and acres of parking lots" that the airport built on old horse farms.

Nevertheless, she said, the strong sense of community persists, in part because of the stories Booth passed along. Amid the changes, he wrote the vignettes, published each month in the community newsletter, about the Linthicum of days gone by.

For some of the vignettes, Booth interviewed older residents of the town. For others, he drew from his own recollections. One, reading like a Mark Twain short story, details the turtle races at the Linthicum fair in the 1960s, Forgo said.

"He had such a folksy nature, and his writing was so accessible, it was endearing, and people loved it," Forgo said. All 100 of Booth's published vignettes will be compiled in a booklet later this year, he said.

Booth's bench sits on a bike trail on a site that perhaps captures the contrast between the small town and the airport: an ultramodern, stainless-steel sculpture called "Propel" stands on a horse farm.

Graf said the sculpture was a favorite of Booth's, who insisted on bringing out-of-town guests to look at it. She said he and his wife, Susan, would often go to the spot with their dog, Buddy.

She said the bench is a collaborative tribute from the community, the Linthicum-Shipley association, the Friends of Anne Arundel County Trails and the county. The historical association plans to plant a crape myrtle by the bench in the fall, she said.

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