Tag Archives: 1980s

The Rest of the Story: Stefanie Watson

It’s still over a month away, but I hope you’ll mark your calendar and join me for a special presentation on July 9th. I’m honored to be part of the Laurel Historical Society’s summer program called “The Rest of the Story | A Series Based on Ripped From the Headlines: Laurel in the News”. It’s a companion series to the current exhibit at the Laurel Museum, which highlights some of the biggest stories that have ever graced the pages of the Laurel Leader (among other publications).

I’ve been asked to give a talk on a subject that’s particularly important to me—the Stefanie Watson cold case.

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I first wrote about the brutal 1982 murder of Stefanie Watson here in 2012, to mark the 30th anniversary of her death and to hypothesize a theory. I was a 9-year-old kid at the time of her disappearance; and while I’d never met her, the sheer horror of the crime—and the fact that virtually nothing had been written about it in the media in the three decades since—had always stuck with me. I decided to write something in the context of Lost Laurel to mark the occasion, never imagining that it would not only have a hand in reigniting the investigation, but that a DNA match would finally lead to her killer’s arrest after all these years.

It was a unique chance for me to reminisce about the people and places of Laurel in 1982, while exploring territory that was entirely new to me: discussing an unsolved murder with the Chief of Police in my hometown… retracing Stefanie Watson’s last known footsteps… comparing notes with Prince George’s County homicide detectives… becoming friends with Stefanie’s family, and ultimately getting that amazing call from her cousin that an arrest had been made.

I’m putting together this presentation to tell the full story in person. It’ll be hosted by the Laurel Historical Society, and for the first time, will be held at the Laurel Police Department‘s spacious Partnership Activity Center—which many of you will remember was originally the First Baptist Church of Laurel.

(Photo: Sgt. Don Winstead, Laurel Police Department. Courtesy of policestationpictures.wordpress.com)

(Photo: Sgt. Don Winstead, Laurel Police Department. Courtesy of policestationpictures.wordpress.com)

If any of Stefanie’s former co-workers at the Greater Laurel-Beltsville Hospital (or anyone else—friends or neighbors—who knew her personally) are interested in attending and possibly sharing your memories of her, that would be wonderful. Likewise, any current or retired police, fire, and rescue personnel who may have had some connection to the case—we would love to hear from you.

This summer will mark 33 years since Stefanie Watson’s murder. It will also mark the beginning of John Ernest Walsh’s trial for this crime that has haunted Laurel now for more than three decades.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Stefanie Watson: Reigniting One of Laurel’s Most Notorious Cold Cases

PRESENTED BY RICHARD FRIEND

Thursday, July 9, 2015
7PM
Laurel Police Department | Partnership Activity Center
811 Fifth Street, Laurel, MD

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The End of the Library

By now, many of you already know that the Stanley Memorial Library has always been a very special place for me.

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It was the first library I can remember ever going into as a child, and I still vividly recall my amazement at learning that there was no limit to how many books I could check out at any given time—and that it was all completely free. What madness! “How do they stay in business?!” I asked my mom.

Fast-forward a few years; and as a not-quite-fifteen-year-old kid in 1987, I got my work permit and was given my very first part-time job: manning the desk at the “Computer Connection“—the library’s small public computer lab. I scheduled reservations for people I can still picture to this day, including Mr. Anderson, the budding fiction writer who plugged away at the Apple IIe at least twice a month. Other, more utilitarian types booked time on the IBM PC; and surprisingly, hardly anyone ever used the Macintosh. Librarian Carl Keehn, who’d hired me, was the first to encourage me to take advantage of any downtime by learning all I could—particularly on that Macintosh. (As a graphic designer today, that’s my primary tool).

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As I recently learned from Carl, I almost didn’t get that job. Not because I wasn’t qualified, but because I was still underage. The law didn’t allow me to work past 8:30, and the job required me to stay until 8:45. The library actually ended up applying for a waiver, and the rest was history.

The Computer Connection gig only lasted a couple of years, though, as the first of many county cutbacks began to loom. Nonetheless, while the computers were going bye-bye for the 1990s, I was glad to learn that my job wasn’t. In fact, it was really just beginning. I was reassigned as a clerical aide, or page—where I got to re-shelve books and locate back issue periodicals for patrons.

Well, I’m not going to bore you with my whole employment story again. Suffice it to say that I grew up in that library. Not only was it my first job, I ended up working there all throughout high school and college. I can’t begin to count how many good memories that place holds for me. Even the very first date I ever went on—the library is where I met and nervously asked out that first girl I really liked, right there in the parking lot.

Even after starting my first full-time graphic design job in 1997, I clung to the library; I continued to work part-time on the weekends, not because I needed to, but because I guess I really just didn’t want to let it go.

And that feeling that crept back again, nearly 20 years later—with the announcement of a new Laurel Library branch now due to be built on the site by 2017. Yes, even in spite of the 1993 expansion which nearly tripled the size of the original building, the old library had far outgrown the space. But to imagine those old walls, the sight of which conjure so many fond memories, being torn down—it was a tough pill to swallow.

The demolition was originally scheduled for last fall, I believe; but for one reason or another, there were delays. The library’s last day of operation in this building had been March 8, 2014. Shortly thereafter, a temporary (and much smaller) facility was established behind City Hall at 8101 Sandy Spring Road. But the old building sat empty and untouched for over a year, until finally, the familiar signs of pending destruction began to emerge: construction crew trailers were installed in the parking lot, and a chain link fence went up around the perimeter. Each weekend, I’d make the drive from Centreville, VA to Laurel, hoping to catch the first moments of it on film, but dreading it at the same time. Worse, I feared that one day soon, I’d approach that familiar corner of Seventh Street and Talbott Avenue, and the old library would be nothing more than a pile of rubble.

Finally, I got word that NARDI Construction, Inc. was ready to start. On May 6th, 2015, I drove to the site and met foreman Chuck McNulty, who regrettably told me that the excavators they were expecting that morning hadn’t showed up after all—it looked like they wouldn’t start tearing the building down in earnest until the next day. But it was hardly a wasted trip, as Chuck asked if I’d be interested in taking a few mementos his team had salvaged. Little did I imagine these would include the original, complete set of blueprints from 1965—blueprints I remember hanging in the basement office of the late Tom Acra, the library’s beloved maintenance man.

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Chuck told me they should be good to go the following day, so on May 7th, I made the trip back. The smaller Bobcats were hard at work inside, doing some final interior gutting before they’d start knocking down the walls. While I was taking photos on the corner, Chuck appeared in what had previously been one of the windows—it was now more like an open bay door. I’ll never forget what he asked next:

“Wanna come in and see the inside one last time?”

He told me it was okay to film and photograph anything I wanted (with the exception of the workers themselves, some of whom may not want their pictures taken). I grabbed both my video camera and the still camera, stepped over the caution-taped hard hat area, and into the vacant shell of the Stanley Memorial Library one last time.

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It didn’t occur to me until I’d gone home and started sorting through my photos that the demolition came on the anniversary of the library’s official dedication. While the building had opened in 1965, the dedication didn’t actually happen until May 7, 1967.

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Forty-eight years ago to the day, future U.S. Congresswoman Gladys Noon Spellman, Laurel Mayor Merrill Harrison, and other local officials had assembled behind the original circulation desk and delivered the dedication.

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And now, there I was at the same spot, moments before the building would finally meet its end. For 50 years, this library had stood here; countless patrons milling about its shelves for bestsellers and all sorts of media… (I’ve even heard stories of an actual art collection being loaned out in the ’70s—you could borrow a new painting for your living room wall every couple of weeks!) And of course, my thoughts went to the many people who worked here, both before and after my time as a staff member. That’s when it dawned on me that of all those people, I suddenly found myself being the last one who’d ever walk through it again.

It was about a half hour later that the first of the walls started coming down—the vestibule roof that had originally covered the Seventh Street entrance, the original circulation workroom, and most recently, the quiet study room—crashed to the ground in a cloud of beige dust. After that settled, I got to witness the center wall that was the heart of the 1965 building fall:

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Chuck said that they wouldn’t likely get to the other major sections that day, but I’d seen enough. I’m not sure I wanted to see the expansion side come down—the section that was brand new in 1993, which seems like just the blink of an eye ago.

The construction crew took a brief break over the weekend (the Main Street Festival proved a welcome distraction to any other nostalgic library types like me) and was back at it on Monday, May 11th. By the end of this week, if not sooner, the rest of the library will be leveled.

You can peruse my full set of photos on Flickr, which includes several days leading up to and during the demolition. I’ll be adding to it in the weeks to come.

Many thanks again to Chuck McNulty and NARDI Construction for going above and beyond in providing me access to document the building’s demise, and for saving some one-of-a-kind historical mementos. The cornerstone and dedication plate will be preserved in the Laurel Museum.

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He also set aside several bricks for me, and even helped load them into my truck—bricks that I’ll be distributing to former library colleagues as one last little piece of this place we loved.

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Laurel TV: History of Laurel Shopping Center, Part 2

The latest episode of Lost Laurel on Laurel TV is the second part (and finale) of our special History of Laurel Shopping Center. Whereas Part 1 focused on the 1956 grand opening festivities, Part 2 covers the 1966 expansion that doubled the shopping center’s size; as well as the 1971 addition of Georgetown Alley, and 1979 arrival of Laurel Centre Mall. There’s also a segment on the shocking 1972 assassination attempt of Governor George Wallace.

Laurel Leader “History Matters” columnist Kevin Leonard and I had the pleasure of spending a morning reminiscing on location with Denny Berman, whose father and uncle built Laurel Shopping Center. Denny, who fondly remembers the Fifteen Fabulous Days grand opening as a six-year-old, essentially grew up at the shopping center—where he eventually joined the family business, and today is a General Partner of Berman Enterprises.

This episode also marks entirely new territory for me, having had to learn (very quickly, I might add) to both film and edit it myself. Tyler Baldwin, who had not only deftly handled such duties for each of the previous episodes—but initially pitched the very idea for the series—started a new job in December. (Good luck, Tyler!) Rather than start over with another director, I decided to take a stab at producing it all on my own and simply delivering the final product to Laurel TV. While it was a little scary, (and a lot of work) I have to say, I did enjoy putting it together and being able to see the story evolve from start to finish. I hope you’ll enjoy the result, as well.

My thanks also to sound designer Donnie Conty, who (despite having never been to Laurel before in his life) joined Kevin, Denny and me on that cold, rainy morning at Laurel Shopping Center to ensure that I filmed everything correctly. He then worked his audio magic on the final cut, making sure it sounds great.

My plan is to continue producing the show on my own, hopefully still at a rate of one new episode per month. I’ve already started on January’s edition, which you’ll see a teaser for at the end of this one. It will cover the Lost & Found Laurel exhibit, which just closed at the Laurel Museum on December 21st. Beyond that, let me know what you’d like to see! I’m considering everything from past restaurants, department stores, specific neighborhoods, vintage crimes, and more. Keep the ideas coming, and as always, thanks for your interest!

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Laurel TV: Teaser for Next Episode

Laurel Leader columnist Kevin Leonard and I recently had the pleasure of spending a morning at Laurel Shopping Center—reminiscing with the wonderful Denny Berman, whose family built the complex in 1956. I’m still working on the full episode for Laurel TV, (this busy holiday schedule isn’t cooperating) but here’s a teaser trailer in the meantime.

My thanks to Denny and Kevin for braving what turned out to be a cold, rainy morning—albeit one that didn’t hinder the memories. Also, to Donnie Conty, who helped set us up with the necessary tools to produce this one on my own. I think it turned out well, and hopefully you’ll be as excited about this upcoming episode as I am!

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Stefanie Watson Case: Indictment

Somewhere, I’d like to think that Stefanie Watson is looking down on us, smiling at the latest news—news that I first heard today from her cousin, Christy, who has been waiting 32 years for justice.

Two years have already passed since I first wrote about her murder, marking the 30th anniversary of a Laurel cold case that had somehow received next to no press throughout the decades. Then, last summer, the breakthrough finally came: Prince George’s County cold case detectives took the initiative to send DNA from the seat of Stefanie’s 1981 Chevette for analysis (the complete, blood-soaked chair had been kept in evidence all this time). Blood on the back unequivocally matched that of an inmate—John Ernest Walsh—who’s been incarcerated since 1989.

Walsh, who had been incomprehensibly released from Jessup’s now-defunct Patuxent Institution—despite having served only 8 years of a 72-year sentence for an unrelated kidnapping, rape, and attempted murder—committed this horrific crime during his brief period of freedom, before violating his parole in 1989 and returning to jail. He’s been a guest of Eastern Correctional Institution for the past 25 years; but until last summer, the thought of ever facing charges in Stefanie Watson’s murder had probably never crossed his mind.

Last June, Prince George’s County Police announced that a warrant was filed against Walsh. And today, after taking nearly 15 months to bolster their case, they announced the official indictment.

We’re also finally getting a chance to see what Walsh looked like around the time of his fateful encounter with Stefanie.

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Nope. Not much improvement.

So, the next step will be the actual trial—where John Ernest Walsh will finally answer for the murder of Stefanie Watson during that unforgettable summer of 1982.

Laurel hasn’t forgotten Stefanie, and never will. Those of us who lived there in the days following her disappearance; in the weeks after young Todd McEvers made that grisly discovery in the woods at the dead end of Larchdale Road; and in the three decades it’s taken to find the man responsible for her death. We’re finally ready to see justice, and hopefully get even more answers.

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(Family photo)

 

 

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Video: 1989 Main Street Festival

Now here’s a treat.

In a recent treasure trove of Lost Laurel artifacts from collector Peter Lewnes, I was intrigued by this oversized video cassette. Apparently, it was a copy of the old Laurel Cable Network‘s coverage of the 1989 Main Street Festival.

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It’s something called a U-matic cassette, and it’s nearly twice the size of a standard VHS tape. In other words, it’s beyond obsolete in today’s digital world—which is probably why it ended up being discarded in the first place.

Nonetheless, I asked around (it’s good to have buddies in the independent film industry) about production houses that could possibly salvage the tape, converting it to a digital file which I could share here. After a few local places didn’t pan out, I reluctantly shipped the old cassette across the country to Portland, Oregon, to a place called HD Media Services which came recommended by a friend who’d had some old Super-8 films successfully converted.

It was touch and go for awhile, as I was told that the first transfer didn’t go as well as they’d hoped. (I never considered just how badly videotape degrades over the years…) Luckily, they were able to salvage it, and the digital file arrived today!

It’s a full hour of coverage, highlighted by the parade—with a number of familiar faces from 1989. There’s also commentary, identifying many of them.

So, get ready to step back in time 25 years. Oh, and pick me up some funnel cakes and a lemonade while you’re there, please.

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Fair Lanes: Bowling for Patches!

I should preface this by saying that during my own tenure as a Fair Lanes youth league duckpin bowler in the early 1980s, the few awards I won looked like this:

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*Yawn*

And I wasn’t that bad a bowler. In fact, I had a handful of these little patches—awarded for various league achievements. But looking at them today, they’re pretty lackluster as far as patch designs go, aren’t they? In fact, the most ornate of the ones I earned are probably these, which aren’t much better.

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These were the products of the new Fair Lanes of the early 80s—the recently re-branded version of the venerable bowling alley franchise, which sought to distance itself from the stereotypical bowling alley riffraff of the 60s and 70s.

A new logo (a stylized hand releasing a bowling ball) was paired with a new bold italic typeface, creating a more modern look and feel. However, Laurel’s bowling alley (which opened in 1961) kept its original sign along Route 1 for some time afterward, before the new logo was finally applied.

Photos: John Floyd II, 1974

Photos: John Floyd II, 1974

And that was a good thing, because the original sign was about as classic as it got. It included Fair Lanes’ original logo, which was brilliantly simplistic—the name spelled out across ten frames of a perfect bowling scorecard. And the logo’s integration with the sign was equally genius—communicating who, what, and where simultaneously: “Bowl at Fair Lanes Laurel”

The sign was so well designed, it actually became as iconic as the logo itself. It was used throughout the 60s and 70s on some of the most prestigious league award patches a bowler could earn. And comparing them to the more understated versions of later years, you can really get a sense of just how strong the brand identity was.

The Fair Lanes sign evoked excitement in a Las Vegas way—big, bold, and bright. The vintage patches I’ve found that incorporated it into the design capture that spirit in an array of color combinations that, frankly, make you want to stop whatever you’re doing and just go bowling right now.

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The League President and League Secretary patches of the time featured the sign in a more subdued, straightforward manner:

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Many of the more minor patches didn’t use the literal sign, but still featured the original Fair Lanes logo prominently.

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Some manipulated the logo to fit the shape of the patch:

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Others branched off from the logo entirely, creating their own unique look:

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These “I Beat My Coach” patches are interesting—depicting a humanoid bowling ball standing victoriously over a vanquished, dead pin. Who says bowling isn’t a violent sport?

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The leagues that I played in also never used the classic bowling shirts that you think of—we had these boring, short sleeved polos, where the most colorful feature was the small screenprinted logo itself.

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You could put as many of those little stars on it as would fit, but it still didn’t have the awesomeness that any one of those vintage patches would have wielded.

That gives me an idea. Maybe I should have these all sewn onto a vintage button down bowling shirt, and then wear it into the nearest bowling alley and just watch people’s heads explode.

 

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Laurel’s bowling alley is still there, still open for business under AMF management. The duckpins are long gone, however; as is that familiar aroma of lane wax that used to hit you as soon as you entered the door. We can thank the advent of synthetic lanes for that travesty; but I can still see no reason why bowling patch designs should have ever been tamed.

 

 

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Receipts—That’s the Ticket!

Admittedly, I’ve never been great about saving receipts. Unless it’s a business expense, a warrantied purchase, or something that I’m not sure I’ll actually keep, (or all of the above) that receipt is usually crumpled up and tossed away with the bag it came in. I think most of us are probably wired that way. Receipts are simply one more piece of clutter that we just don’t need.

So it’s with some irony that in the past year or so—through the help of collectors like John Floyd and Pete Lewnes—I’ve assembled a binder of over 200 vintage Laurel business receipts and other paper ephemera that date from the recent past… all the way back to the 1930s.

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It’s turned into a most unexpected scrapbook; a collection of familiar names and places evoked not by photos, but by those simple little strips of paper. It’s funny how something so insignificant as a receipt can trigger memories of the business itself, your experiences there, and the time frame in general.

I’ll eventually get around to scanning the entire lot, but I wanted to share a sampling. We’ll start with some of the more recent ones that many of you probably remember chucking away at one time or another yourselves.

Here’s a batch from the late 1980s to 1990—a snapshot of  Laurel Lakes Centre in its heyday, which happened to be my high school years:

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A couple more from nearby in 1990:

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Here’s a very recent one I kept personally, when the Laurel Art Center on Main Street closed its doors in 2012. And yes, that’s 75% off. There’s no sale quite like a going out of business sale.

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And then there are some from the more distant past. Here’s a pair from Laurel Shopping Center in the 1960s:

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When we think of receipts, we typically think of the type shown above—those thin, white ribbons of paper with digital printing. That’s been the norm for most, but many businesses also utilized larger, invoice-style tickets that were offset-printed with their name, logo, contact information, and space for writing things in by hand.

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The further back we go, the more handwriting we see.

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Some of the older businesses, like Cook’s Laurel Hardware Company on Main Street, stuck with the handwritten receipt throughout the decades. Compare this one from 1988, and one from nearly 30 years earlier:

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While we’re still on Main Street, here’s a receipt from Ashby & Harrison. If the name doesn’t ring a bell, their 309 Main Street address should. It’s the building that became Gayer’s Saddlery, which today is Outback Saddlery.

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By this point, you’ve probably also noticed the unusual phone numbers on some of these. The “PArkway 5” exchange is technically still in use today: the letters “P” and “A” plus the number 5 comprised the familiar “725” prefix that many Laurel numbers continue to use.

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And prior to the rotary phone’s arrival in 1954, those numbers were even stranger. Imagine having a three-digit telephone number today!

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Businesses like gas stations often required a bit more information on their receipts—fields where they could quickly and efficiently total up various services. Here’s one from the Laurel Texaco on Rt. 1, which sat beside the Little Tavern:

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Another interesting thing about old receipts is that they invite you to learn more about the businesses themselves. Here’s one for another gas station—this one at Laurel Shopping Center. But it wasn’t any old gas station. Hardingham’s Service Center was owned and operated by Harry Hardingham, the popular two-term Mayor of Laurel in the 1950s.

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Occasionally, you come across receipts that were once issued to other mayors—like this one from 1938 that belonged to Hiram J. Soper, who would go on to become a two-term mayor himself immediately after Hardingham:

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Other familiar names appear in these old scraps of paper; records of fleeting moments in time. This one shows Harry Fyffe (of Fyffe’s Service Center) having purchased two floral sprays from Barkman’s Flower Shop in November, 1953. They appear to have been for the funerals of “Mr. Phair” and “Mr. Phelps”—two other well-known Laurel family names.

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Another interesting set comes from Laurel’s many garages and car dealerships throughout the years.

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One of my favorites in the collection isn’t a receipt, but rather an actual price tag. This came from a miniature Rubik’s Cube keychain I found recently on eBay—just like the one I remember getting from Zayre as a kid. Of course, when I was a kid, the first thing I had to do was get rid of that price tag. Today, ironically, it’s the other way around. All I wanted was the price tag.

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Laurel’s Link to Sports (Collectors) History

When I was about 11 years old, I started collecting baseball and football cards. As a sports fan, the early 1980s was an exciting time to be living in Laurel, Maryland—literally midway between the 1982 Super Bowl Champion Washington Redskins and the 1983 World Series Champion Baltimore Orioles.

It was around that time that Mike McNeal, one of my best friends in the neighborhood, gave me something that upped the ante: a handful of plastic protector sheets for my collection. He’d found them at a place called “Den’s Collectors Den”, which was tucked away in the Laureldale Business Center off Rt. 198 in Maryland City, just behind what was then the Toyota dealership on Laureldale Drive. How he ever found it, I still don’t know; but one day, his mom drove us both there to stock up.

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These plastic sheets are common today, and come in more shapes and sizes than ever—in fact, I use Ultra Pro Platinum sheets for the bulk of my Lost Laurel stuff: 8″ x 10″ photos, matchbook covers, 4″ x 6″ postcards… and, of course, Bob Windsor football cards.

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But those early sheets from Den’s Collectors Den are even more special today—the name and Laurel address were embossed right into the plastic!

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Admittedly, I was never what you’d call a serious collector. I liked finding cards of my favorite players, and trading with friends; and to some degree, the design of those old cards might have even played a small part with me eventually becoming a graphic designer. But at the time, the concept of “value” never really entered my mind. I knew that older cards were certainly worth more, but that was about the extent of it. Of course, now I cringe at the memory of the countless rookie cards I let slip through my fingers… Cal Ripken and Rickey Henderson… Joe Montana and John Elway… *sigh* But I digress.

No, back then it was all for fun—as it should be. And part of the fun was discovering the tools of the collecting trade itself, and there was no better guide to such things than a catalog from Den’s Collectors Den.

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Absolutely stuffed with products and information, the catalogs themselves were something to behold. More than anything, Den’s promoted an array of baseball card pricing guides—which were updated every year to give collectors (even amateurs like me) a guideline for card values. It was an added thrill to look up a particular card in your collection, and find that it was more valuable than others. In my case, this usually meant a difference of about 40¢. But again, I digress.

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These price guides also included a “condition guide”, which showed you the basics for grading cards—everything from “mint condition” to “poor”.

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What I didn’t realize at the time (and, in fact, only recently learned) was that the whole concept of sports card pricing guides essentially began with Den’s Collectors Den—specifically, the owner, Dennis “Denny” Eckes.

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Dennis W. Eckes, 1983 (Photo: The Sport Americana Baseball Card Price Guide Number 5)

Denny had produced a rudimentary handbook between 1975 and 1978, called “The Sport Americana Checklist”—a nearly 100-page, saddle-stitched black and white booklet that was a mishmash of typeset lists, thumbnail images to represent each card type, and numerous late additions clearly made with a common typewriter. It was exactly what the title claimed—a basic checklist of every baseball card issued since 1948, and some generalized pricing information added to the backmatter. But in this completely uncredited book was the basic formula for what would become the modern sports card price guide.

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The 1975 checklist booklet.

Sport Americana 1st checklist

Detail from the 1975 booklet. Hmm… I should check into whether or not I’m related to #392 Bob Friend.

 

Scan 218 Den's ad, 1978 checklist back

Everything changed the very next year, when Denny teamed up with a statistician and fellow collector named Dr. James Beckett. Yes, that Dr. James Beckett—the one who would eventually launch Beckett Media, the world’s preeminent authority on collecting. In 1979, they produced what is today universally acknowledged as the first price guide of its kind. And as you can see on the title page, it was published and distributed by Den’s Collectors Den of Laurel, Maryland.

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Due to demand, there were actually two versions of the first Sport Americana Baseball Card Price Guide in 1979. And when I say “in demand”, I mean it—kids and adults alike clamored for the book, and most weren’t exactly gentle with it in their haste to discover the value of the hidden gems in their collection:

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Someone was determined to hold this copy together by any means necessary. (Photo: eBay)

The edition with the white cover was the original, and is the Holy Grail of price guides if there ever was one. But shortly thereafter, an alternate cover was designed that included the “Baseball Card” logo in a custom typeface—this would appear on all subsequent issues under the Sport Americana banner. And on the back cover of both was a full-page, full-color ad for Den’s Collectors Den.

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Inside cover & title page of the updated version, which included author bios.

Eckes and Beckett didn’t stop there. Throughout the early 1980s, they expanded the Sport Americana brand with additional books, including the Alphabetical Baseball Card Checklist (1979) and the Baseball Memorabilia and Autograph Price Guide (1982).

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All the while, Den’s Collectors Den—the physical store in Laurel—continued its success. The price guides, plastic protector sheets, and other goodies were hot sellers.

Always the collector, Denny traveled the country, participating in the fledgling sports card trading show circuit—which itself is a massive industry today. In his dealings, he’d frequently unearth rare items which he’d typically manage to share with the collecting community in some shape or form. A perfect example was his discovery of previously unpublished artwork that matched the 1934-36 series of the National Chicle Company’s popular Diamond Stars set. A blank-backed proof sheet of 12 additional cards was determined to be the series’ 1937 extension that never was; and Denny ultimately had the proof reproduced and the cards brought to life in 1981. He even reinterpreted the classic wrapper itself, which bears his company’s name and Laurel address.

DIAMOND STARS WITH WRAPPER 1981

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For $3, you could buy a professionally-printed set of 12 cards that completed a legendary collection that had been cut short some 45 years earlier.

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This type of “reprint” was extremely rare at the time, and it inspired Denny to create yet another niche in the market. Den’s Collectors Den also carried similar extension sets and reprints produced by other manufacturers, such as the 1952 Bowman set by TCMA.

Den's 1952 Bowman Extension ad

I’ve heard from a number of collectors and hobbyists who knew Denny Eckes personally, and I’ve never heard a negative thing about the man. Naturally, I was curious as to what became of him, as there seemed to be very little information beyond the final books he produced in 1990—expanding into football and basketball price guides, as well as a book of baseball players’ agents’ mailing addresses for autograph hunters.

Unfortunately, I found the answer in the June 1991 issue of Beckett Baseball Card Monthly, one of the many expanded publishing efforts that James Beckett had taken on after his early success with Denny and Sport Americana. Filling the first page of that issue is a moving tribute—a eulogy to Dennis W. Eckes, who’d passed away unexpectedly in his sleep on April 15, 1991. He was only 48. The eulogy was written by Dr. Beckett himself, and paints a glowing portrait of a true visionary whose influence is still being felt in what has become a bigger business than ever before.

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Denny Eckes, who ran the inconspicuous little sports memorabilia shop in a Laurel industrial park, made quite a splash in his short lifetime. My only personal experience with him was some 30 years ago—as a kid at his glass display counter, eager to plop down my meager allowance at 25¢ per plastic sheet for my football cards. But the products he sold and the pastime he promoted have certainly stuck with me all these years, and I’m grateful to finally know and share a bit more about his legacy. Hopefully, someone who knows his story better than I do will be able to help shed even more light on this remarkable man.

 

dens-store-ad

 

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Meeting Bob Windsor… Again!

A couple of weeks ago, I had the good fortune of learning something new on my own Lost Laurel Facebook page. Reader John Mewshaw posted a link to a sports memorabilia event being held at the Dulles Expo Center in Chantilly, Virginia. Listed there, at the very bottom of the page (by Cincinnati Bengals running back Ickey Woods—he of the famous “Ickey Shuffle”) was none other than Bob Windsor—the former NFL tight end who owned the wonderful Bob Windsor’s All-Pro Sports at Laurel Plaza Shopping Center throughout the 1970s and 80s. Bob was going to be there signing autographs the very next morning!

CSA Chantilly Show, Bob Windsor

It just so happens that today, I live only a few miles from the Dulles Expo Center; and I hadn’t seen Bob Windsor since I was a kid in his store nearly 30 years ago—when I would look forward to getting an autographed 8″ x 10″ with every purchase.

Bob Windsor 1980s autographed photo

A well-worn memento from the past, circa 1983

I made the short drive to Chantilly on Saturday morning, April 5th, and found the place packed just as it opened. Even though I knew where Bob’s table would be located, he was easy to spot, chatting with an old-timer from the area. I waited patiently behind the older gentleman, and when it was my turn, I said, (with a straight face) “Hi Bob. I’ve had this coupon for like 30 years, and there doesn’t seem to be an expiration date on it…”

I watched the confusion on his face turn to laughter when I revealed the “coupon” to be an enlarged print of one of his 1980s sneaker trade-in ads. “HOLY COW,” he exclaimed. “I haven’t seen one of those since… I don’t know when!”

Bob Windsor & Richard Friend, 4/5/14

I then revealed what I’d really come to do. I introduced myself, explaining that I’d grown up at Steward Manor Apartments just across the street from his store, and that my friends and I used to practically live there. Now a graphic designer, I’d actually created a book about Laurel’s past businesses—Lost Laurel. I leafed through the book to the 1980s section, and watched Bob’s face light up even more when he spotted pages 158–159:

Lost Laurel book: Bob Windsor

I told him that I wanted to give him the book (and some extra copies for his family) and finally say thank you for the countless good memories he and his store provided, and for all he’s done for Laurel, Maryland through the years. I had the chance to chat with him for a few moments, and he explained the history behind that memorable photo of him:

“We were playing the Giants—that was actually in Yankee Stadium. I had just caught that pass, (from quarterback Jim Plunkett) and was only on my feet for about a second and a half… and then got hit and flipped upside down by a linebacker and a defensive back!”

When I asked if he could remember who the linebacker and defensive back were, Bob laughed and said, “Oh, I don’t want to remember!”

We shook hands again, and Bob asked if I was a Redskins fan. Without getting into my long-winded NFL fan history, (which included a brutal 27 years, rooting for the Philadelphia Eagles throughout some of their lowliest seasons) I simply said yes—I’m finally trying to cheer for my own home team these days. With that, Bob reached into a folder and handed me a signed Sonny Jurgensen photo. (!!!) He then pointed to the sneaker trade-in ad I’d brought, and in a moment that transported me straight back to 1983, he asked, “Want me to sign that for you?”

Yes, indeed I did. 🙂

Bob Windsor's ad, 1986

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