Then and Now: Memories of a Childhood in Lutherville
Susan Gelston Mink continued her trip down memory lane, driving me through the streets of her old Lutherville neighborhood.
Editor's Note: You can read Part I of this exclusive Then & Now series here.
Oak Grove is haunted.
All good, old houses should be haunted, don’t you think? The oldest house in Lutherville is no exception.
Susan Gelston Mink told me she doesn’t know who the ghost is, but the ghost must have been old. She was wearing old-fashioned clothes when Mink’s mother saw her, sometime in the early 1950s.
Mink spent the early part of her childhood growing up at Oak Grove, from age 3 until age 9, and nothing about it spooked her except the occasional bat that made its way inside.
But both her parents saw, and heard, something different.
“My mother woke up in her bedroom to see a woman in old-fashioned clothes standing near her bed. She said she wasn't ever afraid, but noticed that there was not a reflection of the woman in her dressing mirror. She later found out that a woman had hanged herself in the bedroom closet.
“Also, one night my parents, who had separate bedrooms at either end of the hall, heard someone walking up and down the hall. Mommy called out, ‘Winky, is that you?’ And he replied, ‘No, I thought it was you.’"
I’d take my chances with the bat, myself.
But there’s more.
There’s always more when I ask Mink about her childhood memories in Lutherville. She grew up as the granddaughter of Hugh Gelston, the horseback riding instructor at the Maryland College for Women, before it became today’s College Manor.
So she is firmly ensconced in Lutherville’s permanent history.
And she was happy to share her memories with me when I hit her up for an interview, which turned into a driving tour of her old Lutherville neighborhood. She wanted to show me everything.
Mink described life at Oak Grove several minutes before she drove me there so I could see for myself.
“Somebody else rented the smaller part of it, and we rented the main part of it. And it was beautiful. Incredible. That’s my favorite house. It was just grey at the time. But it had a big front porch, and beautiful formal boxwood garden in the front—two circles of boxwoods and then two straight lines. You could hide in the boxwoods.”
Mary Ellen Hayward, known as Mimi, was—and still is—Mink’s best friend. She lived a couple houses away, right through the lawn.
Sidewalks weren’t needed in Lutherville in the 1950s. Footpaths through the lawns connected Mink to everyone’s house who mattered.
“We were three weeks and three days apart,” said Mink. “She was my best friend.”
Mink dismissed entire streets with the wave of an arm as she wound her Acura through the neighborhoods to show me what had changed since her childhood.
“So none of this was here,” she said, banishing an entire block to irrelevancy.
“And this was dirt road, there wasn’t a light there.”
She grimaced into the rear view mirror, peeved at the line of cars backing up behind us.
“I hate it when people get behind me, when I’m driving slowly, which is always when I’m in Lutherville.”
She pulled over and impatiently waved them past her so she could go back to driving 10 miles per hour down the sleepy side streets. But the cars wouldn’t give her a break.
She was exasperated by all the traffic.
“If Lutherville hadn’t changed, I would be living here now,” she said, her annoyance turning to wistfulness.
Mink’s childhood was idyllic in many ways. She was nostalgic as she remembered growing up in a small, safe town, free from so many worries that plague today’s young generations.
“We didn’t lock our doors, and our dogs ran free. We sledded down Francke Avenue and we never had to look for cars. We walked everywhere—we knew who everybody was. We knew who would give you Coke in the afternoon. There were paths to take just from one house to another.
“Sledding down Francke Avenue was fun,” she continued, suddenly switching seasons. “Sledding down Morris Avenue was fun, but you could run into traffic on Morris Avenue. But we just did it. And occasionally, we sledded down Seminary Avenue. And that was very exciting.”
Mink and Mimi were in the very first first-grade class at Lutherville Elementary School, after the new, modern building was built in 1952 at 7800 York Rd. It was a big change from the old schoolhouse at Bellona and Melancthon Avenue, across from the Lutherville Volunteer Fire Department.
The principal was Maynard Webster. The teachers were Mrs. Croneheart, whom young Mink did not like—and the feeling was reciprocal —and Mrs. Churchill, who was as nice and sweet as her name, and whom Mink adored.
“We used to have a huge tree and grass out there, and our teacher would take us out and read to us under that tree,” said Mink as we drove past today’s Lutherville Laboratory Elementary.
It’s the same sprawling brick building today, but it now has a jazzed-up, more scientific name.
During some more construction on the new building, Mink went back to the old schoolhouse, which had been built in 1901, for third grade.
“I had to go to third grade in the old school, while they were doing work in the new school. It was really fun, because I could just walk away and go home. If something upset me, I would just walk home. Nobody cared.”
Queenie, Mink’s German shepherd, would walk her and Mimi to school. She’d follow the girls and sit on the stoop outside school, her head cocked and watching. She’d wait for a while, then she’d trot on home.
“It was wonderful,” said Mink.
Everyone’s dog ran free.
“Sometimes when I can’t sleep, I’ll think about Lutherville, and see if I can name all the dogs that everybody had, and I can,” Mink confided. “And they all just ran around.”
Mimi’s dog was Mo.
“We called him Mo, but his name was Mostly, because he was mostly something else—he was lots of different breeds. And Danny Butler had Cindy, who was a little mutt. The Zepps had Princess, who was a type of collie. Rex was another collie. The Bowies had a weirdo little dog who was Tippy. And John, who was my godmother’s dog.”
At school, Mrs. Jenkins was the librarian. Mr. Murray was the gym teacher. Mr. Warfield was the janitor.
Mr. Frank Kaufman was Mink’s favorite. He taught sixth grade, and he asked Mink, who had been called Susu her whole life, what she wanted to be called.
“Sue,” she decided spontaneously, thinking she sounded more like a teenager now.
Mink recently ran into Kaufman at the Fourth of July parade in Towson. She was astounded he didn’t remember her.
“I just adored him,” she sighed. “He was my favorite teacher.”
The photographer who came to take school pictures each year still has a special, annoying place in Mink’s memory after all these years.
“Everybody got all dressed up, and my mother curled my perpetually straight hair,” said Mink, remembering picture day. “And everybody came out for their pictures. And the photographer would say, ‘Oh, you look like Sleeping Beauty. Oh, you look like Cinderella.’ He told me I looked like Clarabelle. I was heartbroken.”
But Mink blossomed eventually; in sixth grade at Lutherville Elementary, she was chosen for a coveted position in the May Court.
The May Day celebration at Lutherville included a May Pole, flowers and ribbons. Each grade performed a different dance, and the members of the court were the sixth-grade elite.
The sixth-grade members of the May Court got dressed across York Road near the Lan Lea Apartments, where Best Buy is now, and Howard’s Florist supplied them with their bouquets.
“They gave us flowers, and we crossed York Road, and we walked down the sidewalk, and they had trellises and everything set up in front of the principal’s office, and the May Pole.”
The sixth-graders did the May Pole dance.
“I was not the May Queen,” said Mink. “I was very annoyed.”
But Mink was lovely in her lavender dress with the scalloped hem.
“The May King was a guy named Steven Isaacs. How can I remember that!”
Later in the spring, the fifth- and sixth-graders traded their May Day finery for sneakers and play clothes. They competed against Cockeysville Elementary and Timonium Elementary in a play day, having practiced their relay races and long jumps all year long. The schools took turns which one hosted the play day.
Summers at Lutherville Elementary were equally active.
“The school had something called Recreation in the Summer, and I don’t think you even had to pay. You just went up there and played basketball and softball in the fields. And they had all that gimp to play with.”
Gimp, if you don’t know, is a colorful rubbery string, excellent for braiding bracelets and keychains.
Join us next week (click here) for the rest of Susan Gelston Mink’s story about growing up in Lutherville.