One Piece At A Time

The following story appeared in’s Laurel, MD dispatch on July 5th, 2011


A Laurel man has spent the last 16 years building a model replica of the city–and he’s not quite done yet.

In 1995, James Ladenburg of West Laurel began researching and constructing a scale model of Laurel Factory, the mill that inevitably lead to the founding of the city of Laurel. For the past 16 years, Landenberg has dedicated much of his free time to a project that, despite its historical significance, has gone relatively unnoticed by much of the Laurel community.

Ladenburg, now 57, is an accomplished carpenter with over 40 years of experience. His modest apartment is littered with hand carved wooden statues and signs that tell remarkable stories of a man who spent his life using his imagination and hands to create stunning works of art out of nothing more than hunks, blocks and slabs of wood.

“Since I was 8 years old, I’ve built stuff,” Ladenburg reminisces jovially through a wide, mustachioed grin. “Soap box derby’s, battleships, anything. I blame the Boy Scouts…I like keeping things kind of simple…but when you look at my work, it’s anything but simple!”

While the rest of the world was discovering eBay and the Internet throughout the 1990’s, Ladenburg began researching the history of Laurel Factory, the precursor to what is now the city of Laurel. For the next three and a half years, Ladenburg created diagrams and sketches, formulating a complete mental picture of the mill.

“In my mind, I knew exactly what I wanted.” states Ladenburg firmly. “I want to get everything, every last little detail, down to that great looking, white, picket fence.”

“This project is going to be about ten feet by twenty two feet long, and it’ll be in the scale of a quarter inch equals a foot,” Ladenburg explains, “It’s got to be constructed in five phases with individual display cases. The display cases are going to be 1850 through 1870 industrial style furniture, with the old, long leaf pine style…[Those] are the years that I can show the majesty, the architecture, the division between the management and labor. The construction, the style, is going to be, as I describe it, ‘Museum Quality Folk Art’.”

“Phase One,” according to Ladenburg, “will consist of the iron truss bridge, and extend 30 feet past the bridge embunkment on the North Howard County side to the Patuxent River, extending East and West of a thirty foot projection, and to the south to 30 feet up Yellow Row street (or Ninth street) with all topography consistent throughout the five phases so that when you put it all together, they all meet. This whole thing, when I get done, is going to be all one piece.”

“As a potential learning tool, I’ve compiled text, and pictures…so it’ll serve visitor and student alike as a reminder of Laurel’s past.”

The main drawback to Ladenburg’s historical model is funding and space. Without the necessary investment capital or space to exhibit, Ladenburg fears that his work may never be fully appreciated by the community at large.

Marleen Frazier of the Laurel Historical Society has observed Ladenburg’s efforts over the years.

“We’re very impressed with his craftsmanship,” Frazier says, “it’s just that in this climate, we just don’t have the funding…If we can generate enough interest, perhaps we can get private funding…He’s been thinking about about this project for many, many years. It is quite nice…[but] in it’s finished state, the museum might not have a place to display it because it’s just so big.”

A personal friend of Ladenburg’s, Janet Smith, continues to encourage him to complete his dream.

“The Mill is a vital part of Laurel’s history,” comments Smith, “and unfortunately it seems some people, particularly a large segment of the younger generation, appear to not appreciate that which came before them…It was something catalytic that made Laurel work and put it on the map, and that’s important!”

Saving Old Glory

Innauguration attendees trample American flags while watching President Obama's address

After witnessing President Barack Obama’s inaugural address, I have to wonder if anyone else within in the sea of millions that the flooded the National Mall in Washington D.C. actually listened to what he said. During his address, he stressed selflessness and sacrifice, a return to common-sense values and a dedicated work ethic so that we as human beings, not just Americans, can halt the damages being done to our world. I was moved, touched by the voice of one of the most inspirational leaders of the twenty-first century, but I was disheartened and dismayed, absolutely appalled, when the crowd began to thin. I was upset because Obama’s address had seemed to fall upon deaf ears, I was upset because the historic, record-breaking crowd of supporters left a record-breaking pile of garbage in their wake, and none of them seemed to care.

One-hundred-thirty tons of garbage, to be precise. 130 tons of half-eaten hot-dogs, gloves, blankets, over-priced hand-warmers, disposable coffee-cups, miscellaneous Obama memorabilia and small American flags blanketed the grounds of the National Mall. One always expects trash during a party, and with 1.8 million people in attendance, this was without a doubt the largest crowd present for an inaugural address, but the plethora of trash left behind behind was absolutely absurd. Under the shadow of the Washington Monument, newspapers blew with the frigid winds like tumble-weeds rolling across an Arizona desert while little reproductions of our national colors were trampled by the mass of tourists and D.C./Metro area residents alike.

I still could hear the words of our new President echoing in my ears as the hordes elbowed their way out of the Mall, “Starting today, we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and begin again the work of remaking America.”

So, instead of incoherently screaming the man’s last name like some drunkard at a football game or buying a cheap, bootleg hat from a career crackhead, I looked at my feet and picked up the small American flag that I had been unknowingly standing on and I held it in my hands. It had been ripped in half, it was dirty; full of some mysterious muck that made me grimace in disgust, but I did not drop it. Instead, I knelt down and picked up another even filthier flag.

They were grimy, sullied and soiled; their once majestic white was now an ugly brown. Splotches of black shoe-markings were scattered, in no particular order, across their stars and stripes equally. I was unsure of what to do with them. I didn’t want to carry a couple of nasty looking flags around all day, but I couldn’t just let them fall back to the ground where they would continue to be carelessly trampled upon, or worse, thrown away and forgotten about like common pieces of trash. These were flags.

I looked up at the thinning crowd as I was shoved, prodded, and penetrated, and noticed that these small flags lay all about about the mall, broken, slightly shredded; already forgotten. They had been a symbol of pride and unity for about an hour, only to be be discarded like common pieces of refuse once Obama had finished his Inaugural Address and retreated to the relative safety and warmth of his new Presidential limousine. No one seemed to notice that the Capital now looked like a landfill for our symbol of patriotism, and the cruel ironies only multiplied as the veritable army of media-professionals began to pluck mindless “HOPE”-filled bystanders from the crowd, scrapping the bottom of the quotable barrel to fill a three column spread or a ninety-second televised report.

Just then, something came over me. Call it pride, nationalism, supernatural possession, whatever your word ‘de jour, but I had an armful of ugly little flags before I’d even noticed Aretha Franklin’s skull-devouring hat. Some still had their two-cent wooden poles, a lot of them didn’t; most simply hung by a thread or two. They were all weathered and beaten; my face twisted and contorted in every imaginable position with each flag I knelt down and dug bare-handed through piles of rubbish to rescue. I suppose that they were technically trash, but this trash wasn’t just my treasure, they were our treasures. A flag is a symbol, an image of who we were, who we are, and who we hope to be. Thirteen stripes to represent the original thirteen colonies, fifty stars to show our solidarity as an ever growing union of states that, despite varying locales, still hold the same ideals to be just and true.

I scoured the grounds of the mall looking for anything with red, white and blue. I dove head first into bristled bushes and over-flowing trash cans, scrapped through gutters and the sea of frantic sycophants that had swarmed the MSNBC mobile studio (which easily held the biggest trove of mangled flags and shredded newspapers). Every flattened cardboard box, every poster, every sign was overturned in my effort to collect every last flag I could find. I wasn’t even sure what to do with them all, I only knew that these flags were far from trash and no-one, under any circumstance, is to ever let a flag touch the ground.

“Old Glory” was not the only set of colors that I found that day. A Bahamian flag, a Texan flag, an Iranian flag and a Brazilian flag each found their way in to my collection. I had eventually amassed so many that I began searching for large bag, which I found fairly quickly by simply bending over and reaching deep into sewer drain on Independence Ave. Pretty soon however, my “Bed, Bath and Beyond” bag of patriotism needed to be upgraded too as it became so full of holes from the small, wooden dowel rods that a few of the raggedy flags had begun to simply fall out and float away whenever a strong gust of icy wind would charge down the grounds, forcing me to shield my face and my flags. It wasn’t long until I came across a standard milk-crate, so I carefully set my bag inside and stuffed a few of the more loose flags deeper inside. I then lugged my colorful crate of tattered greatness around in my mission to find any and all flags until I could no longer walk. I fell to my knees and hung my head low, my long hair hiding the over-whelming disparity and filth that were now etched upon my chapped, weather-beaten face.

Over the course of my voluntary quest, I was mocked by soldiers, aristocrats, children, and tourists alike. However, it was these same types of people that would later come up to me during my darkest and filthiest hour (dusk) to personally thank and encourage me to continue on. A few shook my hand, others would ask for a flag, so I would happily look for the cleanest in my collection, a task which more often than not, took several minutes of digging and poking. My numbed, cracked and dry hands were left with an ample amount of splinters that I’ll be picking at for the next several days, but it seemed worth it to when Private First-Class grabbed me by the shoulder, and said, “Thank You” as he plucked a blackened and weathered flag with pride.

I was photographed several times by tourists, a photojournalist, and a woman who called me, “inspirational”. I was told them all that I was just, “doing a dirty job”. At the end of the day though, I still felt just as beaten and tattered as the flags that I cradled. I had collected hundreds of flags, but I still did not know what to do with them, so I resolved return them to the American Legion trailer that sat on the north-eastern side of the Mall, opposite the Smithsonian, as they were responsible for their original distribution.

As I carefully set down my crate of withered flags, I found an aide and asked what would happen with all the flags that didn’t get passed out, as well as those that I’d rescued.

“Oh, we’re probably just going to burn them later,” the aide replied casually as she shoved the remnants a hot-dog in her mouth, tossing its checkered, red and white wrapper to the ground.

The picture above was taken by Jonathan Miano, a photojournalist living in Chicago and originally appeared Jan. 20th, 2009 in the Naperville-Sun Times.
My crate of flags resting in the American Legion storage container at the end of the day.

Prelude to the Inauguration

On Tuesday, Barrack Obama will be elected as the 44th President of the United States and I plan on braving the frigid D.C. cold, 4 million tourists, and an unprecedented display of security and media professionals. Anyone who’s lived in D.C. long enough is used to these things, but I’ve never experienced them all at the same time. Obama is seen as a quasi-political messiah, he’s already got worthless coins endorsed by Montel Williams and cheap plates made by under-privileged Chinese children to prove his messianic authenticity. This coming Tuesday forgot change my address.

Sure, I donated $20 to Obama in February because I liked the calm and collected black guy that had the tenacity to begin running for president a full year before the party primaries had even begun. I’d never donated to a political campaign before; I’ll probably never do it again because I honestly despise getting physical mail, and these pan-handling bastards have more Spam than Hawaii on Christmas. Why the hell do they feel the need to harass me for Dollar after Dollar when the plethora of hand painted, uncirculated Obama coins are actually worth more on E-Bay? Couldn’t I just get a couple of those gold Washington/Obama/Double-Eagle’s and “donate them” to the Democratic Caucus, thereby calling the whole debt “square”? My television tells me that they’re family heirlooms, so that must make them more valuable than the Dollar now, right?

I’ve planned out a fantastic adventure. A trip that will take me in to the heart of the city for a bevy of interviews, videos, write-ups and live-blogs, except I’m not technically invited to anything. How typical. Sure I’m an American, I was born in this country and I even voted for the guy, but just like everything in America (and especially in D.C.) unless you have some serious cash to spend, you can’t really get anywhere.

I don’t mean to crash “the party”, I mean to get my story. I’m sure that somewhere, within the ludicrous number of people stupid enough to come to Washington D.C. in January, the media circus that’s undoubtedly going to antagonize anything with the faintest pulse, and the powerful presence of Police designated to intimidate, that I’ll find something moving enough to bang out about seven-hundred words of eternally useless, literary dribble. I’ll be the really estranged guy, over-caffinated, walking around in tattered leather jacket from a second-rate department store, chain smoking cigarettes without a sunny disposition or press-pass, but still calling himself a journalist, holding a pen and paper instead of video-camera.

What’s Wrong with Public Transit?

This idiotic hubris that we as Americans have, the notion that we are some how better then everyone and everything that has or ever will exist has go to stop. If we Americans have any trait in them that separates us from every other human being,  it’s the ability to take credit where no credit is due, then feign ignorance when our faults are spelled out in front of our up-turned noses. Our economic collapse is proof positive that we have seriously screwed up somewhere, it’s proven by the falling stock market, and it’s proven by our need to debate whether or not to bail out one of our biggest manufacturing industries that didn’t listen to a change in consumer demand.

Don’t let anyone fool you, this is another bail out, not a loan. A loan would give us a return on our investment, and most of these companies are lax to do anything really substantial. Detroit really screwed the pooch this time: they gambled on S.U.V.’s and mass-marketing strategies in an age of rising fuel prices, urban sprawl, and cultural enlightenment. This mess that they’re in is their own damn fault and for them to ask anyone for a handout is more than laughably absurd, it’s down right insulting! We asked them for more smaller, more fuel-efficient vehicles and instead, we got Hybrid Escalades on 22’s. Honestly, what the fuck is wrong with you? A pig is a pig, regardless of how man feathers you can tape to it, don’t try and call it a damn eagle when it’s still rolling in it’s own filth and oinking.

Now it’s one thing to sit and bash these people for their stupidity and it’s another thing to do something about it. Now that Detroit has admitted it’s so completely screwed, let’s do something productive with this once in a lifetime opportunity. Sure, we can tell them to make hybrid vehicles that are smaller and more practical, but building personal vehicles alone will not solve this problem.  These are massive manufacturers, Americans need jobs, so let’s start building mass-transit systems.

Let’s face it, not everyone can afford a car, especially when most are barely able to afford a roof over their head. Blindly throwing money at this problem with the auto industry is only going to make things much, much worse. We’ve got these crooks right where we want them for once, and we can’t just hand them another blank check, a bulleted, action-item list and then tell them to, “Get out there and be somebody!” Instead, we should be demanding that they make something worth buying (or at least using), so not why force them to retool, and mandate that cities put in new public transit systems? Instead of building S.U.V.’s, Detroit could build buses and subway cars for the cities and towns that should have already expanded to a mass transit systems.

New transit systems don’t have to be the horrifying urban sprawls indicators that some would lead you to believe. We could free up highways and roadways, reduce polution, and create jobs by making mass transit systems a viable option for more people. If cities suddenly demand new public transit systems, someone will have to build the vehicle first, after that someone will have to opperate it. How many jobs could we create in one small town if there were just a few hybrid-bus’s running along several major roadways?

DC Metro is expanding it’s services to accommodate the rise in ridership with more trains, and a new line to Dulles, but the system map is still inefficient and it can take two hours to go from Shady Grove to New Carrolton.  In two hours, you can drive there and back, with time to spare. We shouldn’t have to go through DC just to cut across two counties, instead, we should build another line that connects the ends of the stations, like a circle.

The effect of getting people from “A” to “B” is exponential. Sure, having a nice car might get you some sex appeal, but if you can’t afford to put fuel in it, how do you plan to register the car or repair the car when it breaks down?

Wind Blows into the District

Change is in the air. The righteous wind that blew at the backs of President Elect Barack Obama and his supporters for the past two years has also sailed the Democratic Party to full control of both the House and Senate. Many still can not believe the momentous historical events that have propelled the Junior Senator from Illinois, who began as a community organizer in Chicago’s South Side, mainly because of the surreal circumstances that have surrounded his campaign.

Obama stood as a true Underdog at the beginning of the race against Senator, and former First Lady, Hillary Clinton. “The Clinton Machine”, as the massive support base for the Clintons’ is commonly referred to, has held an unmatched power in Washington for the past two decades, rallying supporters and unifying Democratic Party members in the media and the various branches of government across the United States. On top of this unwavering support stood a mountain of potential political capital, a run-away money train that could shell out staggering amounts of campaign finances to lobby representatives to a particular cause. When Hillary Clinton announced that she would run for office, few doubted that any other Democratic challenger had a even a remote chance against the seemingly unstoppable “power-base” that already existed in more than just the far corners of the Union: Southern Democrats, Hollywood & media elites, North-Eastern Super Liberals, and the The Beltway Power Circle, already numbering in the millions and they were donating money by the thousands. There was little hope for the Junior Senator from Illinois onthe cold February morning in which Obama announced his candidacy on the steps of the Old State Capitol building in Illinois.

Throughout the campaign, Obama’s lack of Executive experience was brought up countlessly, first, and most notably by Clinton. Her argument that she would be “ready from Day One” was eventually bested by Obama’s message of Change. When John McCain won the Republican nomination he immediately reminded voters of Obama’s inexperience. In fact, many of McCain’s “tactics” involved recycling Clinton’s most successful attacks on Obama, such as her infamous “3AM” ad, Rev. Jeremiah Wright, Obama’s history with 60’s radical Bill Ayers, and Obama’s penchant for “healthy eating”.

Despite Obama’s lack of traditional Washington experience, many of his supporters found his views more appealing because he appeared to not be a part of the D.C. power circle. His message of bringing a change to the government was seen as more sincere and substantial specifically because his opponents were unable to paint him as just another D.C. Insider. What set him aside from his colleagues was his advocation of working from the ground up. Where Clinton and McCain wanted to change Washington from the inside-out, Obama advocated change from the outside-in. Obama made it clear that we were not just voting for him, we were making a decision to go to work, putting the pieces of a shattered nation and broken world back together for the betterment of society.

The increase of negative campaigning only served to bolster his credentials in the long run. While Hillary Clinton was busy trying to knock Obama’s credibility in the primaries, she only served to give him more when he stood fast and didn’t falter. When she introduced Jeremiah Wright in an attempt to highlight Obama as a typical activist in the vein of Al Sharpton or Jessie Jackson, Obama hit back with a resounding speech on the state of race relations in the U.S. Her plan to paint Obama as just another angry black man backfired, giving him the reputation of being calm and collected, a natural leader with a steady hand whose race served him more as an advantage than as a handicap.

Later, when Obama was pegged as “Pallin’ around with terrorists like William Ayers,” and being called an “arugula-eating-elitist”, it became clear that there was little anyone could do to stop Obama’s mammoth rise to Pop-Culture Icon. Instead of playing to solely to his base, Obama began to campaign in GOP states like Virgina and North Carolina. He even went on MTV and said, “brothers should pull up their pants…You are walking by your mother, your grandmother, your underwear is showing. What’s wrong with that? Come on. Some people might not want to see your underwear – I’m one of them” Despite this resounding fashion advice, it remains to be seen whether or not today’s youth will take his suggestion.

He is the New Blood for a generation of apathetic youth, the down trodden and the forgotten. A living symbol of hope to look to for insight and leadership. Now, as the world looks on with great anticipation, Obama is tasked with what is easily the toughest job in the modern world, leading a society out of its downward spiral and into a new age of hope and prosperity.