Living in Marlow Heights’ Past — and Loving Every Minute
By John Kelly
Wednesday, March 11, 2009
The past is a funny place: so easy to visit; so impossible to live in. And yet still we beat on, fighting the current that pulls us into the future.
Chuck Fraley is someone who helps people take temporary trips to the past. Chuck grew up in Prince George’s County in the ’60s and ’70s, first off St. Barnabas Road, then in Hillcrest Heights and finally in Marlow Heights. He lived all over the world when he was in the Air Force and now lives in Silver Spring, but it’s the neighborhoods of his youth that he memorializes in an online shrine: the Web site Marlow Heights 60s and 70s
With the zeal of an amateur anthropologist, Chuck catalogues the landscape of 40 years ago — Iverson Mall, Steak in a Sack, the Red Barn — and those who inhabited it.
It’s nostalgia, pure and simple, and I asked Chuck, 50, if he wished he could return to those times and live there forever. He thought for a moment, then answered: “No. I wouldn’t want to stay in 1968 forever, but to be truthful, yes, sometimes I wish I was in Miss Doyle’s fifth-grade classroom again, looking at the clock and seeing that it was 1:30 and soon I could run home and watch ‘Dark Shadows’ or something. Other days I say, ‘Well, I had a good time overall, but I’m glad I’m where I am right now, and I couldn’t wish for a better wife and children.'”
His wife, Maria, is tolerant of Chuck’s obsession, supportive even. He spends a few hours every week updating the site, tracking down photos, scanning in newspaper clippings, searching for bits of arcana. (He’s been trying for years to find audio of old car dealer commercials, including Ralph Brown Buick-Opel’s famous, “Nobody sells cars lower than Ralph Brown. Nooooobody.”)
Every few months he gets together with people he’s met, thanks to the Web site, at Steak in a Sack, the beef-in-a-pita place in the Marlow Heights Shopping Center that’s been run by the same family since 1962.
Talk doesn’t really extend to the 21st century.
What exactly was it about Marlow Heights that engendered such devotion?
“That is a good question to ask,” Chuck said. “There was nothing fancy about Marlow Heights. It was pretty much a working-class community, but it was made up of some very hard-working, honest people who had few pretensions but great outlooks on life. . . . I guess if we hold any unique distinction, it was the fact that when Iverson Mall opened up, it was the first indoor mall in the area. The other distinction it holds is that the Hot Shoppes in Marlow Heights was the last Hot Shoppes that Marriott closed.”
That was in 1999, but Chuck can still taste the Mighty Mo’s.
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