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THE LAUREL CHRONICLES

Harry Styne: A Laurel Original

                    By Kevin Leonard  |  October 25, 2021

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Harry Styne was a true character. Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, Harry was everywhere, and he knew everyone in Laurel. He owned the Magic Wash Laundromat in the Laurel Shopping Center and was involved in numerous community organizations. And he loved publicity.

LAUREL VOLUNTEER RESCUE SQUAD

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Harry Styne in 1966, fundraising for the Laurel Rescue Squad at Laurel Shopping Center.

He moved from Hyattsville to Laurel in 1958 after retiring as foreman of the WSSC’s maintenance department. In Hyattsville, he was a City Councilman and Police Commissioner; active with March of Dimes, Community Chest, and Red Cross; and worked for the PG County Sheriff’s Department.

In Laurel, he was an active member of the Knights of Columbus, President of the Laurel Police Association, a member of the Laurel Rescue Squad, and a Police Officer with the Laurel Police Department. According to Rick McGill’s book, Brass Buttons and Gun Leather, A History of the Laurel Police Department, Harry’s “first four years as a Laurel policeman he worked full-time and then part-time and was paid a regular hourly wage. Afterward he declined to be paid a salary at all and being so well known throughout the community, he continued on as a goodwill ambassador for the City.” Stories about Harry’s time with the LPD are legendary. He would sometimes stand next to a police cruiser on Main Street or Route 1, aiming a hair dryer at passing cars. It was enough to get motorists to slow down.

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His popularity around town didn’t help him in 1968, when he ran for Laurel City Council and lost to incumbent Leo Wilson—who would become Laurel’s Mayor four years later—by 165 votes.

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Harry loved the promotions sponsored by Berman Enterprises for the Laurel Shopping Center. He was an eager participant in them, especially Old-Fashioned Days, when he would dress up in a vintage policeman’s uniform. When one of the many circuses was in town with the big top set up in the open field where Montgomery Ward was later built, it was Harry that posed with an elephant next to his laundry in a publicity photo.

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He was seen as a mentor to many of the shop owners and an advisor to the Berman brothers and Arthur Robinson, so it was only natural that he became a de facto spokesman for the shopping center in 1972 after the attempted assassination of Presidential candidate George Wallace at a rally in the parking lot next to the Equitable Trust Bank.

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He answered questions from the media and was widely quoted. For example, the Baltimore Sun’s account of the shooting included this passage:

The Governor’s wife, Cornelia, had apparently gone into a bank in the shopping center where there was a ladies room shortly before the shots were fired. Harry Styne, a shopping center spokesman who admitted her to the bank, said they first took the shots to be only the sounds of the Governor tapping his hand on a microphone.

A month later, the Sun visited the shopping center and talked to shopkeepers about the shooting. One of the first people they interviewed was Harry:

At the Laurel Magic Wash, a laundromat perhaps unique for its gallery of Alpine scenes and turn-of-the-century chromos of partridge shooting and pickerel fishing, Harry A. Styne, the owner, also talked about the tourists.

“That rope I had out there,” Mr. Styne, who is the center’s public relations man, recalled. “They cut that up in pieces. I had over 500 feet of it roping off the crowd. I don’t have much left,” he said, rooting through his backroom workshop for the few strands that did survive.

“They picked up all Wallace’s pennants and posters and campaign buttons, too.”

 

He was also a musician, playing drums in his band Harry Styne & The Gas Light Four. The band donned straw hats and red and white striped jackets to play at the shopping center’s Old-Fashioned Days every year, and they called themselves the Lighthouse 1905 Dixie Band.

When he retired, he was honored by the LPD and the Laurel Centre Merchants Association.

He was, indeed, a true character.

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