Wednesday, October 01, 2008

About the New Park article from Gazette

Oh say, can you see?
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Agitator, artist, historian, or nitpicker?
Call Conrad Bladey what you want, but he is asking a divisive question about the new J. Charles Linthicum monument and park.

Dedicated in last month, the granite pedestal and bronze plaque honor the community of Linthicum's most famous son for authoring legislation that made "The Star-Spangled Banner" the national anthem.

Mr. Bladey, however, wants his neighbors and others to look deeper. He wants the county Department of Recreation and Parks to grant an exception to its ban on alcohol in parks to honor the man who lead the way toward ending the nation's experiment with mandatory teetotaling.

"I award the most important achievement to his involvement in repealing Prohibition," said Mr. Bladey, a historian, folklorist and artist known around the community for his colorful "art cars."

"He was a libertarian and for individuals' rights. I wonder what he would think about people not being able to drink in the park that is dedicated to him."

The organizers of the monument have a good guess.

"I'm sure he would turn over in his grave if we had drinking at the park," said Ken Glendenning, president of the Linthicum-Shipley Improvement Association.

"I'm sure he would be offended."

County officials know about Mr. Bladey's idea, but are dubious about the possibility of granting his request.

"We only have two venues out of 140 parks and sanctuaries where I as the director allow exclusive use (of alcohol) and these have been grandfathered in," said Frank Marzuco, county director of recreation and parks.

The Linthicum monument was dedicated Sept. 13 and stands as a commemoration to the congressman's legislation making the "Star-Spangled Banner" the National Anthem in 1931. The plaque atop the chest-high pedestal includes the words and music to the anthem and a small American flag.

In 1932, Linthicum joined with Pennsylvania Rep. James M. Beck to submitted a bill repealing the 18th Constitutional Amendment and its ban on alcohol sales. He argued the law, passed in 1919, was a criminal justice disaster and a national health threat.

"I have enough faith in the American people to know that they will not continue this experiment which has been so destructive to so many of our people, so drastic in its enforcement and so destructive to the life, liberty and morality of our country," he wrote in a 1932 op-ed piece for the New York Times.

The bill was reported out of committee on March 15, and even though it failed on the floor Linthicum was credited with cracking the ice on repeal.

Later that year, Prohibition and the Great Depression were the keys to New York Gov. Franklin D. Roosevelt's victory in a landslide presidential election. Prohibition was repealed in March 1933, six months after the congressman died.

Mr. Glendenning said Linthicum opposed Prohibition on grounds of individual rights, but would object to people drinking in a park dedicated to him,

Robert Linthicum, the congressman's great nephew, said during dedication ceremonies - attended U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin and Rep. John Sarbanes - said the congressman was a teetotaler.

"I really think it is ridiculous of him (Mr. Bladey) to want to do that," said Mr. Glendenning, who worked on the monument with local historian Mark Schatz. "I think that's a bad plan to allow that in the park."

Mr. Schatz, director of the Historical and Genealogical Research center at the Kuethe Library, said focusing the monument on the National Anthem is appropriate. He called it Linthicum's most significant contribution to American life.

"There were several songs that caught the fancy of the public and most of those, as I understand them, were conscious productions," Mr. Schatz said.

"The 'Banner' was a reaction to a significant historical event and for that reason it should be our national anthem."

But Mr. Bladey also questions whether the real credit for making the song commemorating the bombardment of Fort McHenry should go to Ella Virginia Houck Holloway, chairman of the Committee on the Correct Use of the Flag of the United States Daughters of the War of 1812. She convinced Linthicum to propose the legislation, he said.

Mr. Bladey, who like the late congressman doesn't drink, said he hopes to get a permanent exception or an exception for a parade he is planning in March to honor the committee vote. But he'll go on with the parade regardless.

"Even though the parade has to be dry, and the park has to be dry, there's nothing that says the reception has to be dry," he said.

Mr. Bladey says he admires the park, the monument and the work that went into it. But he argues the omission of the Prohibition effort is significant.

"As a historian it kind of irks me," Mr. Bladey said. "It reflects upon our times. You shake your head and say, 'Why? Why? Why?' "

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