For the Fellas
for the Baltimore Sun went into Leon's Barber Shop several years
ago and asked if anyone knew someone who may have been involved
in the D-Day invasion of France. Leon Wolfe nodded at one of his
customers. The fellow said, "I was there."
Was he ever. The fellow, Wheatley Christensen, jumped with the
505 Parachute Regiment, 82nd Airborne, shortly after midnight
on June 6, 1944. He was part of a unit that captured Ste.-Mer-Eglise,
the first French town liberated by the Allies in World War II.
Leon's Barber Shop has been like that for decades---a place for
warriors and their war stories, for the sons and grandsons of
customers, for politicians on their schmooze cruises. For some
old-timers it has been a place to meet the fellas, to catch up
on gossip, to talk about the way Eastport was a half-century ago.
Leon's Barber Shop has been sort of a time capsule, and its closing
will mark the end of an era.
Wheatley Christensen can talk about the way Eastport was way back
then; he was born on Fourth Street 84 years ago. (It was actually
Third Street in those days. When Annapolis annexed Eastport in
1951, the street names on the lower peninsula were switched: First
became Sixth, and so forth.)
Leon was born in Galesville on Sept. 12, 1916. Christensen went
to school with Leon in Eastport and remembers his friend starting
his barbering career as a shoeshine boy. He cut hair first on
the street under the guidance of older brother Izzy. He worked
there, in the building next to the church, until he moved into
his current shop in 1958. That shop had been Eastport's post office
that was maintained by Leon's wife Ruth. (They were married on
Aug. 18, 1939.)
"Everything in Eastport was there," says Christensen of Fourth
Street in those days. It was a street busy with commerce---two
grocery stores, a confectionery, a 5-and dime, a tavern, Sam's
Place on the corner at Severn Avenue. In those pre-war days, "there
were swamps all around, including one behind Leon's current shop."
Some of them were filled in during public works projects in the
Christensen remembers crabbing, swimming, fishing in Spa and Back
creeks. "I crabbed off the Spa Creek bridge and sold 'em for a
quarter a dozen," says Christensen. "A dozen in those days was
16 crabs." They played a game called "Tarzan" during which Leon
once fell out of a mulberry tree at the school, breaking both
his arms. As they got older, some engaged in "girlin'," cruising
the churches on Sundays looking for girls.
Lou Lewnes, who lives next door to his nephew's steak house and
has been there for the better part of seven decades, says he was
a customer of Leon's as a boy. "I can't remember having any other
barber in my life," he says.
Like Christensen, Lewnes can remember Fourth Street as busy with
small-town, mom-and-pop commerce, up until 1947 when the bridge
from Compromise Street was moved from Fourth to Sixth.
He recalls the Eastport Athletic Club, a group of Eastporters,
many of whom were denizens of Leon's, who purchased the old police
station on Fourth in the early 1950s. It was between the Boatyard
Bar & Grill and the laundromat. It was a place for their poker
games. "No one in there could jump a foot off the ground," says
Lewnes. He can recollect some of the EAC's members---Luck Lamb,
Cork Bast, Dave Holidayoke, Fred Hancock, Emory Bowen. "They were
mostly carpenters and contractors, builders in the area," says
Blue-collar workers, lacking money and TVs in every room, gathered
regularly at Eastport Elementary for softball games. "It was the
kind of thing where everyone in the neighborhood showed up," says
Lewnes, who played left field. "Maybe hundreds of people for one
Bobby Dodson, at 63 among the younger "oldtimers," was born in
Solomons Island and got his "first real haircut with Leon" there.
"Leon used to go down there in the early '40s for all the Navy
and Marine people training there early in the war," says Dodson.
"Leon swears he remembers me back then."
Dodson also remembers Sam Lewnes' restaurant at the corner of
Fourth and Severn serving as a major hangout in the neighborhood.
"Sam's was sort of like the bank of Eastport. It was where workers
from Trumpy's boatyard went to cash their checks." It was taken
over by Sam's son Lou. When it closed about 30 years ago the men
started lining up for coffee at Leon's. Dodson remembers a slew
of characters in those lines---Bobby and Donald Luongo, Windy
Lucas, Bill Jones, Jimmy Dunleavy, Jack Flood, Charlie Williams.
"People in those days worked at Trumpy's, the Naval Academy or
on the water. You never saw all these sailboats back then," says
Dodson. "For years, Eastport was a blue-collar, salt-and-pepper
neighborhood where everyone knew everybody up and down the streets.
It's nothing like that today."
Al Hopkins became a regular at Leon's after he returned from Navy
service in the Korean War. (Hopkins also served in World War II
as a radioman in the Navy "for three years, three months, three
weeks, three days." Leon served in the Navy, too, also in the
The fellas at Leon's were important to Hopkins' fulfilling a dream
he first had while in high school---"I wanted to be mayor of Annapolis."
They urged him on, and his campaign took shape there in its earliest
stages. Hopkins went on to beat an incumbent mayor, Dennis Callahan,
in one of the more remarkable political events in the city's history.
Hopkins explains that he originally left Annapolis because of
the taxes. He came back from Korea to find that Eastport had been
annexed by the city. "I said to myself, 'They'll regret this day.
I'll get even with 'em; I'll run for mayor.'"
Other politicians among Leon's customers have included former
mayors Pip Moyer and Dick Hillman, State Sen. John Astle, current
aldermen Dave Cordle and Josh Cohen. State Comptroller Louis Goldstein
was a customer there just days before he passed away.
For World War II veterans, Leon's was the place for them to recount
their experiences way back then. Their conversations were a gold
mine for a history nut---these fellows were at North Africa, Sicily,
Anzio, Normandy and the Bulge. Others were at Pearl Harbor, Saipan,
Tinian, Iwo Jima. They spoke more of mud and boredom---"we lived
like rats," says Lewnes; the dimwittedness of their officers (a
common complaint among enlisted men); the sudden terror of German
88s and kamikaze planes. The Bulge was a great battle to the history
nut, but for the veteran it is remembered for its penetrating
Lewnes and Christensen learned at Leon's that they had crossed
the Atlantic in the same convoy. They also witnessed an outrageous
example of "friendly fire"---the shooting down of a flight of
planes loaded with American paratroopers. Gunners, Americans,
were trigger-happy that night, Lewnes explained, because of an
attack by German planes earlier in the evening.
"These guys saved Western civilization," says history nut Pip
Moyer, citing Lewnes and Christensen. "Tom Brokaw was right; they
were the greatest generation. If it weren't for them we'd be pulling
rickshaws and doing the goosestep."
Moyer, the fourth of six generations of Eastporters and former
mayor says, "There have been three institutions that have survived
from old Eastport---Mt. Zion Church, the school, and Leon's Barber
Shop. Now we're down to two."
As the years advanced, the hair piling up on the floor around
Leon's chair grew grayer and whiter. Conversation about arthritis
and bypass surgeries gave way to quiet inquiries about who of
the fellas was being laid out at Taylor's. And the piles of hair
got smaller. What about Leon, "Lee" to his pals?
"You were treated like you were a member of his family," says
Hopkins. "Leon contributed a lot of joy to the simple act of getting
your hair cut. He's been a very compassionate man." "Leon's been
a hardy old soul," says Lewnes. "The closing of his barber shop
will bring an end to an era."
"He has always been a likeable person, a worker all his life,"
says Christensen. "I told Leon not too long ago that there are
just a damn few of us around any more."
"Leon was a forceful personality, always a character. Everyone
brings up his name when they talk about old Eastport," says Moyer.
"He was also a very good athlete, a good boxer. He had to be:
He was a Jewish boy growing up in Eastport."
Says Dodson: "I don't like to look up there and not see that barber