I worked at The Capital (newspaper) from 1998-2001. I worked part time in the Advertising Department as a retail ad designer and was happy in my work and incredibly fond of my co-workers. I did well in my department and designed the entire tabloid for “Midnight Madness” (an Annapolis Christmas event) in 2000—a big deal in my design portfolio. I was offered a full time position at the paper when I gave notice but refused. I have no regrets.
It was a large, open-space, work environment with each department clustered together, but with few walls, portable or permanent. The six of us in advertising could see the obituary people on the other side of the room with no obstructions. Reporters were clustered behind my department, but with considerably more privacy. An interesting note about advertising—we were the only department in the paper with a proof reader. While I don’t know the practices of other newspapers, the Capital’s position at the time was that spell check and competent reporters/editors were enough of a safeguard regarding news articles, but a proofer was needed in advertising to make sure that phone numbers, web addresses, etc. were correct. If the ad printed wrong, the paper didn’t get paid.
Phillip Merrill was the owner of the paper at the time, a George Bush Jr. buddy and closet politician. Without delving into the Merrill family history, they were a storied, Annapolis institution with both good and bad press; Phil, deservedly so, got most of the bad. He was a foul and rude man who regularly screamed in the newsroom, who had no problem humiliating, diminishing and scolding his employees in public. Fortunately, I had little contact with the man but I did happen to live on the same creek as the Merrills. The Merrill family compound was a peninsula on the Severn River, and in my mind, the most beautiful piece of property on a river filled with beauty. My house was high and at the head of the creek, my bird’s eye view allowing me to see both sides of the waterway, the river and beyond. I told this to Phil Merrill at the company picnic one summer; told him that I could see his house and his boats and if anyone were sitting at the point under the flag pole—all in a friendly, neighborly way, of course. I had introduced myself to him but he had no idea who I was and looked at me quizzically, as if he were wondering who the hell in this crowd could be living on my creek? Many years later, my ex-husband and I watched him sail out of the creek for what would be the last time. Merrill committed suicide that day, dropping to the sandy floor with an anchor on his ankle. The public story was that he was suffering from depression after heart surgery, but an intelligent friend of mine claims to this day that Dick Cheney had him axed.
I worked at The Capital on the morning of September 11, 2001. Minutes after I arrived the newsroom fell silent, people paralyzed under tv monitors. Some started to cry, most held their palms over their mouths in disbelief, Oh my God whispers hung in the air like ghosts. I am sure that we’ll all remember where we were on the morning of 9/11, and in hindsight, I believe a newsroom was a good place to witness the events. Professionalism kicked in, phones rang, machines of every variety began to hum, people went to work with tear wet faces and quivering lower lips. Activity eased the horror and the paper had a purpose fueled by unprecedented courage and the public’s need to know. It was clear who the enemy was and I watched heros go to work. I don’t remember working at all that day but fortunately for me, non-essential personnel, of which I was one, could leave early—and I had to get my kids, schools in the D.C./Annapolis corridor were shutting down like dominoes. By that afternoon, the first I had ever seen in Annapolis, Capital employees stood at red lights and sold newspapers.
I’m writing this piece on a very hot day in the Florida Keys. My air conditioning is turned down nice and low and I have to step outside every now and then to warm up—like my lizard friends and the IT guys at the Capital. IT occupied the basement floor of the facility and the temperature in their workspace read frigid. We laughed and joked with them as they crawled out of the basement to smoke cigarettes on hot rocks in the parking lot, a visual I remember still. I remember Wendi Winters. I remember my advertising pals and hope I show up in their memories now and then. I remember too many stories about tragedy and am so so sad that the Capital must now write one of their own.