Sunday, July 28, 2013

Bank of Bowie Opens

The J. Guy Bell House in Old Bowie, former home to the Bank of Bowie
July 28, 1920 (93 years ago today):  The Bank of Bowie opened in the two front rooms of a home at the corner of Chestnut Avenue and 11th Street (next to the present day Old Bowie Town Grille).  The home was built four years earlier by J. Guy Bell and his wife Ann Augusta Bell.  The first president of the bank was Nelson R. Ryon, and the first cashier was William Luers.  The Bank of Bowie moved into a newly constructed concrete building a few years later.  Through mergers and acquisitions, the bank transitioned multiple times.  At one point it was known as the Bank of Maryland, it was later called the Suburban Trust Company, and it eventually became part of the Bank of America.

The addition on the left side of the house was constructed to house a beer parlor after the Prohibition Act was repealed, and the space was later occupied by a doctor's office.  The home was also used as an antique store at one point.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Man Drowns on the Belair Estate

Foxhill Lake, 1974 (photo by Arnie Miles)
July 26, 1912 (101 years ago today):  Twenty-one-year-old Charles Gentile drowned in the pond that is now known as Foxhill Lake. According to "Belair from the Beginning" by Shirley V. Baltz, Gentile was visiting William Baldwin, son of the manager of the Belair estate, when Gentile, Baldwin and Baldwin's sister ended up in the water after their boat overturned.  By the time William Baldwin rescued his sister, Gentile had disappeared under the water.

The pond was not called Foxhill Lake until after the property was purchased by Levitt.

Charles Gentile Obituary from the Baltimore Sun

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Renowned Thoroughbred Horse Trainer Sunny Jim Fitzsimmons Born

Sunny Jim Fitzsimmons (left) and William Woodward, Sr
July 23, 1874 (139 years ago today):  Renowned thoroughbred horse trainer James Edward Fitzsimmons (Sunny Jim) was born in Brooklyn, New York.  He started his career in horse racing as a stable boy, worked his way up to being a jockey, and then he became one of the greatest thoroughbred trainers of all time as the head trainer for Belair Stud.  Fitzsimmons was the training genius behind Triple Crown winners Gallant Fox and Omaha, as well as the 1955 Horse of the Year, Nashua.

Belair Stud horses were typically foaled at the Claiborne Farm in Kentucky.  After the horses were weaned, they were sent to Belair.   Each spring, Belair Stud owner William Woodward. Sr. and Sunny Jim would inspect all the yearlings at Belair, and they decided which horses would be sold and which horses would be trained.  Many of the selected thoroughbreds were sent to Aqueduct for training - Fitzsimmons' home track.  This was the process followed for Gallant Fox, Omaha and Nashua.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Ghost at the Belair Mansion?

I received the first edition of a new magazine called Bowie Life in the mail last Saturday.  It's published by a company called Hibu, an international organization that also owns YellowBook USA.  I suspect that there must also be a Laurel Life magazine, an Annapolis Life magazine as well as countless others.

The magazine is heavy on the advertisements, including ads from local businesses like Rips, Golden Pavilion and Beall Funeral Home.  It contains general interest stories on topics like personal finance, real estate and health.  Local Bowie stories and announcements are also included. I learned from one article that the Bowie Interfaith Food Pantry is moving to the Kenhill Center.  That was news to me.

Bowie Life asks readers to submit photos and articles to be included in future editions of the magazine.  This edition included a story called "Messages from Beyond the Grave" that was submitted by Rob Gutro, a self described local resident, scientist and ghost hunter.  Gutro can be seen on the cover wearing his "I'm With Ghost" shirt.

In the article, Gutro describes his first visit to the Belair Mansion during a candlelight tour one December.  He instantly got a headache when he walked through the door to the mansion - something that happens to Gutro when he's in the presence of a ghost or spirit.  A little girl approached Gutro.  She told him that she wanted to play in her room, and she pointed toward the stairs.  There was a room on the second floor setup like a nursery, and the girl's ghost told Gutro that the nursery was her room.  No one else on the tour saw the little girl.

Gutro wanted to know the identify of the little girl.  He asked one of the tour guides if a little girl had died in the house.  According to Gutro, the tour guide recommended that he talk to the "house historian," and Gutro took the advice.  He learned that a two year old girl named Anna Marie Ogle had lived and died in the house (1849-1851), and that she was buried in the cemetery at the edge of the Belair Mansion property.  In a different account of the same story on his blog, Gutro's told how his body rapidly heated in the presence of the little girl, and he began to perspire.  Gutro believes that Anna Marie Ogle was sharing the experience of her death, which must have been accompanied by a high fever.

I had never heard of anyone at the mansion described as a "house historian," so I thought I would try to corroborate the details in Gutro's stories with available reference materials.  I confirmed that Anna Marie Ogle did live from 1849 to 1851, and she is buried at the cemetery on the mansion grounds along with her mother, but I found little information about her in the books that I own.

I decided to ask for help from Pam Williams, the Historic Properties Manager for the City of Bowie.  Not only is she an authority on the history of the Belair Mansion and property, but she has had an office in the mansion since 1996.

The Belair property in the mid 1800s was divided into different sections, Ms. Williams explained, and the mansion was just one of several houses on the property.  There was a section known as Bladen, and the house for Bladen was approximately located on the present day site of the Kenilworth Elementary School playground.  Young Anna Marie Ogle and her family lived in the Bladen house, and her aunt, uncle and cousins lived in the mansion.  History is full of uncertainties, and according to Pam Williams, it's possible that Anna Marie Ogle was either born in the mansion or died at the mansion, but it's highly unlikely.

It also turns out that Pam Williams had spoken with Gutro in the past.  He wanted to bring a team of ten people into Belair Mansion to hunt for ghosts, and he offered to donate $150 to the museum for the opportunity.  Pam Williams declined the offer.  Ms. Williams shared the following with Bowie Living.

This house has a long and interesting history on a stand alone history basis.  Lots of people lived here, and lots of people likely died here as well.  I do NOT like to promote “haunting.”  First, having been here since 1996, alone at night and during the day, in spite of saying “Hey, if you guys are here, come talk to me," I have NEVER seen a spirit – or had one approach me.  I’ve had a few headaches here myself over the  years, but they have more to do with budget planning and this kind of stuff than the presence of the dead.  We don’t need an audience delivered by thrill-seekers attempting to dive into the paranormal.    Second.   This house was home to many people.  I feel, on some level, that this is disrespectful to them.  Third.  We don't need $150 that badly.   These were real people, they lived here, and they had peace here.  I think they’re entitled to respect when they’re dead, too.  I’m sure he’s very serious in his study.  We’re just not going to exploit a dead child – or anyone else dead. 

So who was the young girl that approached Gutro in the mansion?  I encourage everyone to visit the mansion, and if you're approached by the spirit of a deceased girl, ask for her name.

The Belair Mansion is open to the public Tuesday through Sunday, noon to 4pm.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Local Band, Cory Drive, Performing Saturday at Town Green Park in Old Bowie

Cory Drive performs at the 9:30 Club in D.C., February, 2013
Cory Drive, an energetic group of young musicians with Bowie roots, will be performing a free outdoor concert on Saturday, July 13th from 2-4pm in Town Green Park in Old Bowie.  The band's playlist includes some original songs like the hard rocking Out of Nowhere and Give Me a Memory, as well as cover songs by groups such as the Red Hot Chili Peppers and the Foo Fighters.

Cory Drive performs regularly in the D.C./Baltimore region, including past performances at the 9:30 Club in D.C., the Baltimore Soundstage, the Greenbelt Labor Day Festival, Bowiefest, Fenton Street Market in Silver Spring and locally at the Old Bowie Town Grille.  The band was a finalist in the 2013 Baltimore Battle of the Bands.

The group is looking forward to playing in front of a hometown crowd this Saturday.  "We'll always be grateful for the support we've received from the Bowie community," said Bobby Cento, one of the band's founding members.  "It's especially meaningful to offer a free concert within shouting distance of the Old Bowie Town Grille, a big-time supporter of Cory Drive and the local music scene."

The band's name - and primary practice location
Cory Drive was formed in 2007 by a group of talented young musicians from St. Pius X Regional School.  The band features Bowie natives Bobby and Ben Cento on drums and bass guitar, Lucas Delgado on vocals; Matt Arceo on guitar and Anthony Policelli on rhythm guitar and background vocals.  They'll be joined this weekend by guitarist Gabe Castro and vocalist/guitarist Matt Ratcliffe, high school classmates of the other band members.

Cory Drive will also be performing Sunday, July 21 at the Union Jack in Annapolis.


Cory Drive performing an original song - "Out of Nowhere"

Friday, July 5, 2013

Piranha Caught at Foxhill Lake

July 5, 1974 (39 years ago today):  Norman Albertson caught a Piranha while fishing in Foxhill Lake.  Blaine Griffith, a conservation specialist with the Mount Calvert Regional Park, identified the fish as a Dusky Piranha - a type of Piranha sometimes purchased at area pet stores.  Ed Lehan, owner of Hilltop Aquarium, told the Bowie Blade that a pet owner probably released the fish in Foxhill Lake after growing "tired of it."

According to on-line aquarium fish profiles, the Dusky Pirnaha originated from the Amazon region, and it has an aggressive temperament.  These fish are best kept in groups without other species present, and they should be fed live food.

This photo is an edited version of a picture taken by Arnie Miles in 1974 for the Bowie Blade.

Photos of Bowie Maryland 1973 through 1975 by Arnie Miles is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License