Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Frostburg Noir

PHOTOGRAPHER'S JOURNAL: From the balconies on the third and fourth floors of the Hotel Gunter there's a good view up and down Frostburg's Main Street. It was the National Road over which prisoners were frequently transported, and at the back of the men's room in the basement of the hotel, there are still two prison cells where prisoners were locked up overnight while accompanying marshals slept upstairs. 

The Hotel Gunter opened originally in 1897 as the Hotel Gladstone, a place for businessmen to stop and get big city service from bell hops in brown uniforms. It was the biggest place in town with 100 rooms. The grandeur and lace of its lobby lent an air of super-respectability to business conducted there; shoeshine boys waited and barbers patiently stropped gleaming razors, should a businessman need the civilizing influence of hot towels, a shave and a bit of tart lotion before displaying wears in the hotel's "sample rooms."  

When the business failed and was sold in 1903, William Gunter, the new owner, made the bar room sing steamily with mahogany and marble and brass, and he added a tin sealing painted pea-green and a room in the basement for cock-fighting. During prohibition, they say, the noise and commotion at the front of the building was just enough distraction that liquor could be brought in safely at the back. In 1925 Gladstone officially became Gunter.

The passageways that wind through the basement are a trip through time. They are a museum of culture and technology of the industrial age. There's everything from a washing machine to a stuffed bear. The winding passages are crossed by rails that carried cartloads of coal to heat the hotel's 100 rooms, and around a bend and down a ramp one finds the coal cart looking as if it were heading into a mine shaft. Beside it are miner's lanterns, picks and other tools. As I recall, the cock fighting ring was nearby.

The stair flows from the second floor into the center of the lobby of the fully restored Failinger's Hotel Gunter (http://www.failingershotelgunter.com/). It is usually decked in flowers and sometimes in garlands, and it spirals past high-back, cushioned chairs and lace and an organ and down into the basement passages, and as I was spun, I sometimes forgot when I was from, but each time I returned to my room a brass plaque on the door helped me find my own century. It told me that Roy Clark had slept there on Aug. 4, 1990; it made me feel as if I ought to look under the bed, but the room and hotel were a pleasure to stay in and a trip in themselves whatever century they were in.