Tuesday, April 12, 2011

"Don't Worry About It!"

Thus was the catch phrase spoken by Norman Collins Lane, affectionately known as the "Mayor of Silver Spring," who was born a century ago on April 14, 1911.  Norman was a homeless man who spent the better part of twenty-five years walking the streets and alleys of downtown Silver Spring.

This dignified portrait of Norman was taken in 1971. 
Copyright Dave Stovall.
He collected handouts of money and food and did odd jobs around the community.  One of these jobs was as a groundskeeper picking up trash at the Bethesda Naval Hospital.  One day in October of 1965 he encountered the 36th President of the United States, Lyndon Baines Johnson.  President Johnson was at Bethesda to have his gall bladder removed and supposedly said to Norman upon meeting him, "Christ, you look in worse shape than I do!"


Photograph taken in 1965 of Norman meeting President Johnson. 
The photo is inscribed, "To Norman Lane
With best wishes Lyndon B. Johnson."  Collection of Iris Hyson.

Norman's beverage of choice was Pabst Blue Ribbon beer...morning, noon and night...and he usually wore a construction hard hat. Robert Phillips, owner of the Silver Spring Auto Body Co. (demolished) provided Norman with a cot and a hot plate in his business, the closest that Norman would accept to the comforts of a home.  Norman liked to rummage through the dumpsters behind Bell Florist and Pumphrey's Funeral Home (demolished) where he would retrieve discarded roses and then proceed to give one to each woman he passed on Georgia Avenue.

For years this sign was attached to the Silver Spring Auto Body Co. until it disappeared
 in 2003 after the business shut down. Photo taken by Jerry A. McCoy in 1996.

Silver Spring Auto Body Co. sign donated by Charles Atwell. 
Collection of SSHS Archives.


When the ABC television show "Real People" featured a 7 1/2 minute segment on Norman in 1979, it asked people in downtown Silver Spring if they'd vote for him if he ran for office.  Everybody said sure with one black guy responding, "Why not? The last two white men I voted for were bums too."


Such a colorful personality seemed to beg to be immortalized and that was what artist Fred Folsom did, starting in 1974 by creating dozens of studies, paintings and lithographs depicting Norman.  On October 11, 1991, four years after Norman passed away in the back seat of an National DC cab abandoned off of Sligo Avenue, Folsom dedicated a life-sized bronze portrait of him.

Oil on masonite, 12" x 12", by Fred Folson, copyright 1987.
Collection of Jerry A. McCoy.
The bust is located in the walkway, named "Mayor's Promenade," located next to 8219 Georgia Avenue.  This walkway led back to the front door of the Silver Spring Auto Body Co.  The alley that this business faced, running parallel to Georgia between Thayer and Sligo avenues, was also named "Mayor Lane."


Photo by Jerry A. McCoy.


Please join the Silver Spring Historical Society on Thursday, April 14th, at 9:00 a.m to honor Norman on his 100th birthday.  If anyone knew him, we would love to hear some stories.  And if anyone knows how the tune goes, we could sing this song written in 1979 by Harry Merrick, then the lead singer of the five-member Chase Holiday Band...

"He's walking down the sidewalk, moving kind of slow.  He looks kind of funny, but he's never feeling low.  And if you ask him he'll tell you everything is OK.  He never worries, you can always hear him say, 'It's all right, don't worry about it.' 

He's the mayor of Silver Spring, Norman is his name.  Things will come and go, but he'll always stay the same.  People have to relax and take it day by day because he never worries and you can always hear him say, 'It's all right, don't worry about it.' "

5 comments:

Silver Spring: Then and Again said...

Does anyone know where Norman is buried?

lilkunta said...

Perhaps we could check with the state medical examiner as they would have a death certificate for him. That certificate would say where his body was transferred/released to .

Laird Ramsay said...

I recall he was buried in Rockville. I read about his funeral in the Washington Post. It was supposed to have been very well attended. I suspect I would have gone if I had known about it.

I had known Norman since I was a kid hanging around the Silver Spring railroad station. The employees there called him 'Smokey', likely due to his habit of chain-smoking Pall Mall cigarettes (unfiltered, of course). Around that time, I know he stayed in an abandoned car in the B&O parking lot behind the Eastbound waiting room, which was adjacent to the Canada Dry bottler. He also slept under the loading dock in the yard on the Westbound side (next to Georgia Avenue. This was around 1967-68. It may be that I just wasn't in tune to it, I was about 12 at the time, but it seems that at that time he didn't have as much; how shall I put it...cachet.

I lived at 808 Philadelphia Ave. then, so downtown S.S. was my stomping grounds. Being a kid on a Schwinn Stingray, I covered a lot of ground and saw Norman a lot and observed him in action. He worked the station platform in the evening, giving those roses to women waiting for afternoon commuter trains, expanding his fan base.

As I grew up, my best friend worked at Tom's Pizza and Norman spent a good deal of time there, too. The owner used to give Norman the cash receipts and trusted him to the bank to make deposits. In return he would get the occasional PBR. He sit at the table, drink the beer, stink up the place with cigaretts, and when he'd leave, he'd pour a little beer into the tin ashtray, like a good cub scout putting out his campfire. My buddy would implore him to not do it, as it just made it smell worse and left a bigger mess for him clean up, but Norman would just say.....

....Everybody remembers 'Don't Worry About It', but how many remember that he was equally fond of responding to questions by asking 'You writin' a book?'

My buddy actually has a picture of Norman on the grounds of Walter Reed that Norman presented to him and autographed. As I recall, it's a different shot then the one posted here, although I think it was taken at the same time. Maybe I can get a copy of that for your archives.

Laird Ramsay said...

I recall he was buried in Rockville. I read about his funeral in the Washington Post. It was supposed to have been very well attended. I suspect I would have gone if I had known about it.

I had known Norman since I was a kid hanging around the Silver Spring railroad station. The employees there called him 'Smokey', likely due to his habit of chain-smoking Pall Mall cigarettes (unfiltered, of course). Around that time, I know he stayed in an abandoned car in the B&O parking lot behind the Eastbound waiting room, which was adjacent to the Canada Dry bottler. He also slept under the loading dock in the yard on the Westbound side (next to Georgia Avenue. This was around 1967-68. It may be that I just wasn't in tune to it, I was about 12 at the time, but it seems that at that time he didn't have as much; how shall I put it...cachet.

I lived at 808 Philadelphia Ave. then, so downtown S.S. was my stomping grounds. Being a kid on a Schwinn Stingray, I covered a lot of ground and saw Norman a lot and observed him in action. He worked the station platform in the evening, giving those roses to women waiting for afternoon commuter trains, expanding his fan base.

As I grew up, my best friend worked at Tom's Pizza and Norman spent a good deal of time there, too. The owner used to give Norman the cash receipts and trusted him to the bank to make deposits. In return he would get the occasional PBR. He sit at the table, drink the beer, stink up the place with cigaretts, and when he'd leave, he'd pour a little beer into the tin ashtray, like a good cub scout putting out his campfire. My buddy would implore him to not do it, as it just made it smell worse and left a bigger mess for him clean up, but Norman would just say.....

....Everybody remembers 'Don't Worry About It', but how many remember that he was equally fond of responding to questions by asking 'You writin' a book?'

My buddy actually has a picture of Norman on the grounds of Walter Reed that Norman presented to him and autographed. As I recall, it's a different shot then the one posted here, although I think it was taken at the same time. Maybe I can get a copy of that for your archives.

Silver Spring: Then and Again said...

Mr. Ramsay,

THANK YOU for your really important first person accounts of Norman. Please feel free to post any additional reminiscences you recall about him!