Carlin's Park: Park Circle's Entertainment King

PART 1 OF 2 - Looking at the Dietz & Watson building at the corner of Reisterstown Road and Druid Park Drive, it is hard to imagine that many decades ago this very area was the home of a popular amusement park. And, not just any amusement park; Carlin’s was an entertainment king sitting right at Park Circle.

Before summer family excursions to Hershey Park, graduation trips to Greater Adventure or Kings Dominion, there was Carlin’s Park. Carlin’s was the brainchild of real estate developer John J. Carlin. Launching in 1919 as Liberty Heights Park, the land for the park was originally planned for housing development. Carlin had bought the land from the John S. Gittings Estate -which is known as Ashburton – to build homes but due to the economics of World War I, decided to build an amusement park.

This was a great choice because Carlin’s became a community oasis by offering a smortgasboard of entertainment. From professional boxing to wrestling; dance marathons to concerts; traditional amusement park rides to roller/ice skating. Popular features during its heyday included its roller coaster Mountain Speedway, Hall of Mirrors, the caterpillar, teacup, airplane, racer dips and The Fun House. The Fun House was like a separate attraction on its own and featured a mini circus, rides and other attractions that kept park goers buzzing.

Carlin’s was forever expanding with new attractions, and as such, each spring would bring wonderment as to what would be new. Like entrepreneurs today, Carlin was constantly looking for new income streams. In 1929, the park was the location for the Miss America pagent. Records indicate that the Miss America pagent was cancelled for several years because of the depression. It appears that John Carlin tried to fill the void, although the event was marked with controversy over the selection of the winner. Appears some had a problem with the winning contestant being from a community in Ohio, where Carlin had another amusement park.

"Before Frank and Brooks Robinson, Earl Weaver and other Oriole notables, the team that had the Oriole name was the Baltimore Orioles hockey team."

Park Heights, King of Ice Hockey

Today, hockey and Baltimore don’t seem like a natural connection. But in the 1930’s through mid 50’s, hockey was a part of Baltimore lore and a feature at Carlin’s Park. Before Frank and Brooks Robinson, Earl Weaver and other Oriole notables, the team that had the Oriole name was the Baltimore Orioles hockey team. Owned by Carlin, the team played at Carlin’s Park from 1930’s to early 1940’s. The team played to enthusiastic crowds, and yes, it was fisticuffs on the ice back then as well. Carlin eventually sold the team and their demise would come shortly thereafter.

  • SEE PHOTO GALLERY BELOW

But hockey would still play a part in Carlin’s history. The Baltimore Clippers came to town in the mid 1940’s and made Carlin’s Iceland rink their home. The Clippers would play at Carlin’s until the ice rink burned down in 1956. The Clippers then moved to Charlotte. At that time high school hockey games – which included teams from Poly, Calvert Hall, City, Forest Park among others – were being planned to move from The Sports Center Ice Rink in NE Baltimore to Carlin’s Park, but the fire obliterated those plans. The U.S. Coast Guard Cutters also made Carlin’s their home ice. As history notes, the champion Detroit Red Wings played the Cutters in 1944 before a sellout crowd at Carlin’s Park. The Cutters put up a good effort but would eventually lose to the Wings.

And, when hockey teams weren’t cutting up the ice, figure skaters like Karl Schaefer and Melita Brunner would get top billing.

Everything Must Change

Carlin’s had several major fires throughout its history that destroyed some of its facilities. To make matters worse, the park didn’t always have insurance to cover their losses. Based on contemporary standards, some of those buildings and rides would have never seen the light of day.

As the 1950’s were rolling in more Americans were buying cars, thus increasing their mobility and opportunities to travel further. In the early days of the park attendees were more likely to stay all day due to the length of time it took to get to the park. But with car transportation they could go and come as the pleased.

By the 1950’s the park had reached its zenith and was now on the decline. Records indicate the roller rink and swimming pool were the holdovers from its heyday and park management were looking for new business opportunities.

We Need A Civic Center

Baltimore was looking to build a major venue to host diverse events. It would be called the Civic Center and Carlin’s management had the perfect place for it – its facility at Park Circle. But John Carlin would never see the results of their new pursuits. He died in May of 1954. Carlin had left an impressive legacy in entertainment and having a civic center built on the premises where decades of entertainment was staged would be a fitting tribute. However, the proposal faded and the city briefly considered Druid Hill Park before ultimately deciding to build the Civic Center downtown.

Carlin’s Drive In and the end of an era

The fire that destroyed Carlin’s Iceland rink in 1956, forced park management to move in a different direction. The park was done as an amusement park but a drive in theater was about to be born. The year 1958 saw the launch of Carlin’s-Drive In Theater, the only one of its kind in Baltimore City. The drive in is what most people of this writer’s generation remember about Carlin’s. Generations across racial and neighborhood lines can remember car loads swirling into Carlin’s for their double features. It was low cost with a family atmosphere with its playground. It also was a great opportunity for convenient romance. In its waning years of the 1970’s, it was nothing to see residents lined up on the outside of the drive-in’s fence sitting in lawn chairs and taking in the movie free of charge.

After the opening of the Drive in, Arlan’s department store and A&P Supermarket would set up operations on part of its property that was used for the amusement park. By 1977, the drive-in theater, Arlan’s and A&P would all be closed. A niteclub(Giovanchy’s/Pascals), Super Pride grocery, laundromat, bakery would all spend some time at this business strip. Today, it is an industrial park with Dietz & Watson being the most noticeable attraction in an otherwise non-descript piece of land that shows no trace of its previous glory.

copyright 2014 C. Green/School 18 Project

Electric Park: Baltimore's Coney Island at Reisterstown and Belvedere

The year was 1915 and Electric Park, which sat near the intersection of Belvedere and Reisterstown Road, would be taking down its zillion lights as the park was set to close. No trace of its existence exists today but for almost 20 years this park lit up northwest Baltimore with its many lights as one if its features. Originally owned by Minch & Eisenbrey and later owned by August Fenneman, Electric Park was to be to Baltimore what Coney Island was to New York.

A summer resort is born

The park opened in 1896, just minutes from Pimlico Racetrack. Ironically – or not – one of its main features was horse racing. Packed crowds were on hand to witness harness and running races. It opened at a time when its Belvedere location was considered the suburbs and Reisterstown Road was a country road with farms on either side. The park would become known for its thousands of light bulbs that lit up its entrance. Who knows, the lighting at this summer amusement resort may have influenced the builders of Las Vegas.

Once inside this 20 acre plus amusement park, attendees had a diverse selection of activity including horse racing, roller coasters, carousel, novelty acts, skating, bicycle meets, musical performances, and Kennedy’s Wild West Show featuring cowboys and Indians. One of the Indians was Charlie Longfellow, a full blooded Sioux that performed acts that were stereotypical of that time. In contrast to his show performance, Longfellow was a graduate of the Government Indian School in Carlisle, Pa. He said his performances allowed him to get a gauge of the average American. “The White American is a very interesting animal. I like to look at him,” said Longfellow. (June 14, 1908-Baltimore Sun)

Its ballroom featured both skaters and dancers moving and grooving to the sounds of an orchestra. One of its memorable novelty acts was a man named Noring. Noring would set himself up on a high tower, set himself ablaze and jump into a pool.

Another popular feature was “Nana” a lifelike painting of a woman from Russian artist Suchorowsky. The park would later add another major attraction – motion picture shows. In the early 1900’s, movies were in their infancy and Electric Park added significantly to their popularity by displaying motion pictures.

Electric Park also featured a Japanese village showcasing Geisha girls and food by Japanese cooks; an electrical display of San Francisco’s earthquake; and a scaled model of the Johnstown Flood. This was the flood of 1889 in Johnstown, Pennsylvania, when complications of a dam along with heavy rainfall caused catastrophic flooding. The flood killed more than 2,000 people.

Taking Flight at Electric Park

Van Vranken and his “airship” entertained park goers with his attempt to fly from Baltimore to Washington, DC. Not sure how far he made it or if this is the same “airship” that historical folk say flew from Electric Park and landed in downtown atop a building. Either way, flying a plane was a big deal back in 1908.

The park was also the scene for Baltimore’s first automobile race in the very early 1900.

A Lion escapes

According to the Baltimore Sun papers, a lion escaped his handler and roamed through the park, in 1905. Prince The Lion, who performed with handler and performer Lafayette, escaped as he was being transported. The lion took to the swimming pool where swimmers hurriedly ran out the pool except for one swimmer(bathers, as they called them then) who was about to dive off the platform. The lion went up the platform as the swimmer yelled for help. In just the nick of time the lion’s handlers coerced the lion to come off the platform.

The Final Act

In the midst of all the amusement attractions, racing was still a major calling card. Whether horse racing, autos, motorcycles or bicycles, its half mile track stayed busy with riders in search of speed. Electric Park built up a reputation of “square dealing” in the horse racing community. Although it appears that Electric Park horse racing never superseded Pimlico, any number of thoroughbreds that raced at Pimlico also raced at Electric Park.

After almost 20 years of operation, Electric Park closed in 1915. Economic downturn and competition with Pimlico factored significantly in its closing. The facility was razed in 1916 and a row house development was built. Unfortunately, Belvedere and Reisterstown Road hold no sign of this once popular entertainment destination.

Clinton Green/School 18 Project 2014

More Parks Sausages Mom! Henry Parks & Parks Sausage

Growing up in Baltimore I can remember seeing the little trucks rolling up and down the road with Parks Sausage blazoned on its side. Or, looking in the fridge – as we called it – and seeing those tasty pork sausages wrapped in white packaging.

Henry Parks and William Adams

Henry Parks and William Adams

Launched in 1951 in Northwest Baltimore by Henry Parks, Parks Sausage would become an iconic company for a number of reasons. One, it was a Black owned company started at a time when it was incredibly difficult for Blacks to get funding for businesses or operate in the meat manufacturing industry. Two, selling a well received sausage product line it became the largest Black owned company in Baltimore and created significant opportunities for Black employment. Three, it was the first Black owned company to go public(NASDAQ). Four, it’s “More Park Sausages Mom, Please”, campaign is one of the most memorable slogans in advertising history.

"Parks Sausage roared through the 1950’s and 60’s earning multimillions and hiring a significant level of employees. What started out as two employees was now a company with well over 200 staff by 1969."

Henry Parks was born (September 29, 1916) in Georgia, but raised in Dayton, Ohio, by his parents and maternal grandmother. Witnessing firsthand the employment limitations his parents experienced, Parks set out to overcome the obstacles presented to Black Americans.

While most college bound Blacks were striving to get into Historically Black Colleges, Parks applied and was accepted to Ohio State University. At one point his roommate was none other than, Olympic Gold Medal winner, Jesse Owens.

Accounting degree in hand in 1939, Parks employment pursuits would take him to meet Mary McLeod Bethune(Bethune-Cookman College). A few years before Parks graduation, Bethune was appointed director of the Division of Negro Affairs within the National Youth Administration. President Roosevelt would later appoint her to run the Resident War Production Training Center in Wilberforce, Ohio. Parks mentorship with the profound educator, known as “First Lady of Struggle” would help lay his management foundation when Bethune provided Parks the opportunity to manage the training of hundreds for jobs that supported America in WW II.

PABST BREWING COMPANY and W.G. Graham

Like most budding entrepreneurs, Parks mind was always bubbling with ideas to generate income. A short stint at Pabst Brewing would be another step on the ladder to success. Pabst hired Parks in 1942, as a beer salesman for the –at that time – Negro market. He grew to become one of the best salesman, developing campaigns to penetrate the Negro market. He showed his persuasiveness by getting leading Black entertainers –Cab Calloway, Duke Ellington – to appear in ads. The sales campaigns he would implement for Pabst would be a precursor to what he would ultimately do at Parks Sausages. After a short stint at Pabst, Parks and co-worker W.G. Graham started an advertising firm, W.G. Graham and Associates that would later lead to business projects with boxer Joe Louis and his wife.

For a time Parks managed the entertainment career of Joe Louis’ wife, Marva Trotter-Louis. He also worked with Joe Louis and Baltimore icon Willie Adams to launch a drink in the boxer’s name, Joe Louis Punch. Joe Louis punch was to challenge Coca-Cola. Let’s just say things didn’t go to well challenging this titan. But how many Black owned companies today have the vision to challenge the titans of their industry?

Upon ending the partnership with W.G. Graham, Parks invested in the launching and expansion of Crayton Southern Sausage Company, in Cleveland, Ohio. Parks ideas of developing a brand that would appeal to the palate of southerners did not go over well with his partners. Parks divested, moved to Baltimore and opened Parks Sausages with just two employees.

The money he earned from the sale of his interest in Crayton, as well as the knowledge he gained, helped to establish Parks Sausage. But the other key component was William L. Adams, also known as “Little Willie”. Adams was a powerful figure in Baltimore and a man with deep pockets. He had made his money through a number of illicit activities including number running. Truly, he was a venture capitalist before the term became popular. He invested his money in legitimate businesses and financing a number of Black owned startups. A chance meeting in 1948, set the stage for the launching of Parks Sausages in 1951, with Adams financial investment.

Another key player would be Raymond Haysbert who would become president of the company in the mid 70’s and later CEO. Haysbert joined Parks one year after its launch, just after returning from WWII. Parks, Adams and Haysbert would be the foundation to establish Parks as a historic brand.

The 1950’s

The Parks team first target was to establish a firm presence in Black households. The 1950’s would lay the foundation for their ultimate success in acquiring significant support amongst Black consumers. For those who think cooking demonstrations in Sam’s Club or free taste samples from Asian restaurants is contemporary hustling, well there is nothing new under the sun. Parks moved pork products by giving in-store cooking demonstrations, taste tests and product give a-ways. Parks Sausage delivered scrapple, sausage and other pork products to stores daily. And, customers loved Parks Sausage's distinctive southern flavor that reminded many of their roots in the south. Parks was a hands on manager that frequently tasted his product to insure the best sausage product was on the market.

Henry Parks and Black Enterprise Magazine founder, Earl Graves - W. Hamburg Street facility. (photos circa early 1970's)

Henry Parks and Black Enterprise Magazine founder, Earl Graves - W. Hamburg Street facility. (photos circa early 1970's)

In addition to normal obstacles faced by entrepreneurs, Parks also faced a heap of racism so he knew the company had to be several times better than other firms to succeed. According to lore, some stores intentionally allowed the products to spoil or placed them on shelves where customers were less likely to see the product. Many didn’t take kindly to seeing Blacks in meat manufacturing.

To overcome some of the obstacles, quality production and control was key and the company was one of the first to put production/”sell by dates” on its products. Parks ran his company with a firm and innovative hand. Parks Sausages’ products were made and sent out for sell in the same day. These were the days when food preservatives were not as wide spread as they are today. Parks employees would go to stores to remove product that did not sell by its specified date to insure consumers had the freshest of product. It also allowed federal inspection of its products at a time when only state inspection was required.

Speaking of employees, while the company created job opportunities for Blacks, some of its White employees had to deal with the criticism that came with working for a Black owned company. According to some neighborhood “historians”, the husbands for some of the White women employees did not appreciate their wives working for a Black man. But this hurdle would be circumvented. In fact, Parks Sausage was steadily finding its way into the homes of many White consumers. In 1955, it was one of the sponsors for Major League Baseball’s World Series.

More Parks Sausages Mom, Please

To further build momentum and further solidify the presence of Parks Sausages, Parks knew he would have to emphasize brand identity. In steps Leon Shaffer Golnick, Baltimore’s premier ad man. In 1954, “More Parks Sausages Mom” hit the airwaves. Not only did this build brand awareness with Black consumers but helped to penetrate White consumer markets. But the ad also had a number of complaints. This was the 1950’s and social norms were a little different. Some consumers thought the child in the ad was disrespectful. So the Parks team acquiesced and later added “please” at the end. There were some Black customers that wondered why a White child was used in the advert. This was done to help Parks Sausage get into targeted markets and stores.

First Black owned company to go public

Parks Sausages roared through the 1950’s and 60’s earning multimillions and hiring a significant level of employees. What started out as two employees was now a company with well over 200 staff by 1969. This would be the year that the company hit another milestone. Parks Sausage became the first Black owned company to go public. The well run company was now a premier brand in Baltimore and its advertising strategy helped solidify it as a major regional player.

Health Challenges for Henry Parks

Twenty plus years of running a growing enterprise was taking its toll on Parks. The 1970’s would serve as a set up for an exit strategy. By this time Parks had served several years as a Baltimore City councilman and become a corporate leader who served on boards and commissions. In fact, his connections and influence as a councilman helped secure him the W. Hamburg Street location in 1967 for the company, which had raised some ethical questions at the time. But Parks was suffering from Parkinson’s disease.

In 1974, Haysbert was installed as president of the company. Three years later the company was sold to Norin Corporation with Parks playing a consulting role after the sale. Ironically, the sale process would include an offer by a young fellow Baltimorean, Reginald F. Lewis. The offer was declined but history would later prove Lewis would be a force to reckon with.

The end of an era

After a few shaky years under Norin’s control, the company would end up back into the hands of Black ownership after Haysbert and a team of investors bought back controlling interest. The firm would face a number of industry challenges including a move from its Camden Industrial Park (W. Hamburg Street) location to Park Circle in 1990. The move to Park Circle brought a shiny modern facility that stood out like a beacon in a declining neighborhood. But an expensive facility coupled with increased competition would ultimately force Parks to sell to former football players Franco Harris(Steelers) and Lydell Mitchell (Colts). The Harris and Mitchell team eventually sold the operations to Dietz and Watson in 1999.

The Sun Sets on an Icon

The 80’s would be reflective years and a direct contrast to the decades before as a corporate and citizen leader. The man who was born in Georgia, raised in Ohio, and made history in Baltimore, had defied the odds. In an interview he noted: “I think that I proved that Black businessmen not only can be successful, but that they can be successful on the same terms as anybody else.” Parks died in Baltimore on April 26, 1989. Oddly, this was at the time ground was being broke on the new location of Parks Sausages at Park Circle.

A benefactor of Henry Parks philanthropic activities was The Arena Playhouse. That said, entrepreneurs and actors have something in common. Each plays varying roles throughout their career but there is always one role that defines their career. For Henry Parks that role was being the man behind Parks Sausage Company.

(copyright 2014) C.Green/School 18 Project

Parks Sausage Comes to Park Circle

After its sale in 1977 to Norin Corp, which sold it to a Canadian firm a few years later, Parks Sausage no longer fit the agenda of its owners. In 1980, facing a number of management and strategy concerns, Parks Sausages was ready to be sold again. A group of investors led by Raymond Haysbert stepped up to do the deal which included an ESOP – Employee Stock Ownership Plan, and the historic Black owned company was back in the hands of Black ownership.

(left) The late Raymond Haysbert, former head of Parks Sausage (right) Franco Harris and Lydell Mitchell who would lead the company in the second half of the 1990's

(left) The late Raymond Haysbert, former head of Parks Sausage (right) Franco Harris and Lydell Mitchell who would lead the company in the second half of the 1990's

The 1980’s would bring about a number of changes and challenges for the company. Parks Sausage was seeking to expand into new markets and increase its product line. The company would also have to wrestle with the idea of moving from its location on W. Hamburg Street in South Baltimore where it was located since 1967. Both of these issues would be resolved. Sara Lee Corporation made a significant investment in Parks Sausage in the late 80’s, which left the company with at least 51% so-called minority ownership that would still allow it to benefit from that status.

The Baltimore Orioles were getting a new stadium and Parks Sausages would be forced to move from its Camden Industrial Park location. In what seemed like a sweet financing deal, its South Baltimore facility was bought out by the Maryland Stadium Authority and with federal, state and city financing it built a new multimillion dollar facility at Park Circle.

"In spite of sales approaching $30 million and customers like Pizza Hut and Dominos, the move to Park Circle would prove to be the final years for this legendary company."

In 1990, the company set up shop at its glistening factory which was now located in an Empowerment Zone. Empowerment Zones were federally supported urban or rural areas that were economically depressed and in vital need of a turnaround. The program officially ended at the close of 2013.

In spite of sales approaching $30 million and customers like Pizza Hut and Dominos, the move to Park Circle would prove to be the final years for this legendary company. Facing increased competition, employee strikes, consumer changes and losing contracts from Pizza Hut and Dominos Pizza would be major obstacles. But the biggest obstacle seemed to be handling the increased overhead and expenses from building a new facility.

Ironically, Parks Sausage dealt with the same issue Provident Hospital – another Black institution - had to face when it moved to Park Circle. Provident Hospital built a state of the art facility that opened in 1970, at 2600 Liberty Heights Avenue after operating for decades on Division Street. But after years of fundraising in the Black community, coupled with civic investment, Provident’s new location saddled it with tremendous debt and within a few years it was trying to fight its way out of state receivership.

Former Parks Sausage plant at Park Circle. Now Dietz & Watson

Former Parks Sausage plant at Park Circle. Now Dietz & Watson

Haysbert had expected the move to Park Circle to add 100 plus jobs for the company that was already employing more than 200 at the time. According to records, the company had received $9million from the sale of its Camden site. Operating in a Black community with significant history was certainly motivation to build there. But for some reason Haysbert and management were convinced to build a facility that was much larger than it needed, thus more costly. As sales dwindled, the company would eventually file for bankruptcy in the second half of the 90’s, just after Haysbert would buy out Sara Lee’s interest at a very substantial discount.

When Parks Sausage was looking to sell the company or merge with a larger company in the 1970’s, a fellow Baltimore talent named Reginald F. Lewis(see related article) attempted to purchase the company. Parks did not sell to Lewis but as fate would have it one of Lewis’s protégés – Kevin Wright - was heading an investment firm (Michu Corporation) which included Lewis’s brother Jean Fugett, and Haysbert made a tentative agreement with the firm to purchase Parks Sausages. However, the deal did not work out.

In an effort to save the company, keep jobs in Baltimore and keep it Black owned, two former football players turned businessmen stepped in to purchase the company. Franco Harris and Lydell Mitchell were teammates at Penn State and while Harris would later become the Hall of Fame running back for the Pittsburgh Steelers, Mitchell would be a star running back for the Baltimore Colts.

But success on the football field would not hold true for this particular business venture. A changing business climate, poorly received products like its ready to eat chitterlings, and the sheer skill required in reviving a once robust brand, would prove too much for Harris and Mitchell. The Park Circle facility was sold to Dietz and Watson in 1999, and the Parks Sausages brand was preserved.

Raymond Haysbert passed May 24, 2010, at the age of 90. What he accomplished in those 90 years is nothing less than book worthy. He also owned the Forum Caterers on Primrose Avenue and was involved in many other business, political and philanthropic initiatives. And, long before his business accolades, he was fighting in World War II as a member of the Tuskegee Airmen.

Henry Parks may always be remembered as the face of the brand. Willie Adams may always be remembered as the face behind the scenes. But Haysbert was always on the scene and spent more time with Parks Sausage than Parks and Adams.

Today, the Dietz and Watson operated facility almost looks out of place. Just imagining the lost potential of a Black business district is depressing. Think about it. Take a virtual trip to Towanda Avenue and Druid Park Drive. Look in one direction and one will see the plant that use to be Parks Sausage. In another direction one would see what use to be Provident Hospital. Directly across the street which is now an eyesore, one would see a night club, bakery, and rental hall. And, at Druid Park Drive and Liberty Heights one would see The Palladium. Today, it’s all gone with the lone survivor the Park Circle Business Center, which was formerly Franklin D. Roosevelt, school #18.

Yes, as in the School 18 Project.

(copyright 2014) C.Green/School 18 project

The Deal That Got Away: Reginald Lewis & Parks Sausage

A young Reginald F. Lewis

A young Reginald F. Lewis

It was the mid 1970’s and the Parks Sausages company headed by Henry Parks was looking for a buyer. Established in 1951, Parks Sausage was a national brand with one of the most recognized marketing campaigns in history: “More Parks Sausages Mom, Please”.

Parks, along with longtime partner Willie Adams and company President Raymond Haysbert, had been seeking a buyer or strategic merger for the profitable and publicly traded company a short while before it began to have serious talks with Norin Corporation. But before Norin would walk away with the purchase of this historic Black owned company in 1977, Reginald F. Lewis would attempt to buy it.

"I came down to Baltimore for the meetings and met Henry Parks privately first, then with Willie Adams at Ellis's office."

Lewis, who was born and raised in Baltimore, was at this time a well respected lawyer with his own firm based in New York. Having performed legal work on numerous business deals, Lewis was itching to get to what he called “the other side of the table” - meaning ownership. Lewis, the Dunbar High School and Harvard Law graduate, had his friend Ellis Goodman arrange a meeting with Parks. Lewis put together a proposal with key backing from Chemical Bank and proceeded to Baltimore for the now infamous meeting.

“I came down to Baltimore for the meetings and met Henry Parks privately first, then with Willie Adams at Ellis’s office,” said Lewis, in his biography, Why Should White Guys Have All The Fun? “I might as well have been the man from the moon. They just were not having any of it. I persisted, none the less, explaining how I knew how to put the deal together, inviting them to stay involved, and saying all the things from deal making 101.” And, Lewis was right; they weren’t having any of it.

According to Why Should White Guys Have All The Fun? - after several more meetings and a lot of due diligence Willie Adams said: “Look, you’re a sincere young man and I believe in helping our young people, so before I take another bid, I’ll give you a shot at topping the other offer.”

But that didn’t happen. Parks Sausage was sold without Lewis’s bid being considered.

Although Lewis did not get the deal, company president Haysbert was very impressed with the young Lewis. In the aforementioned book, Haysbert says Lewis was “dapper” but lacked credibility at the time as many younger people do. They simply didn’t think he could get the deal done.

The failure to purchase Parks was a crushing blow to Lewis. According to his mother, Carolyn Fugett, he thought he could take Parks Sausage and make it a giant among other companies. His mother also predicted that one day he would buy a business that would make Parks look tiny in comparison.

                            Photo courtesy of Black Enterprise

                            Photo courtesy of Black Enterprise

History has proved Lewis’s mother correct. The irony in this story is that years later the young upstart who had tried to purchase a well respected Black owned company from three pioneering business men would later grow into a business icon himself, thus becoming one of the richest Americans. In the 1980’s, Lewis bought the century old McCall Pattern company and piloted it to a 90 to 1 return on investment. The two years Lewis had control of the business was the most profitable period in its company’s history.

In the late 80’s Lewis would become the talk of the town when he purchased food conglomerate Beatrice International Foods for just under one billion dollars. Rechristened TLC (The Lewis Companies) Beatrice, the company sold a smorgasbord of product including frozen foods, snacks and dairy.

A disciplined and demanding task master, Lewis pushed his management team to its capacity in order to get the best mix of efficiency and profits. But unlike his predecessor, Henry Parks, Lewis could not get the proper backing to take either McCall Pattern or Beatrice Foods public. The sudden death of this tycoon in January 1993, from brain cancer brought to an end numerous acquisition targets that would have strengthened the TLC portfolio and surely opened the door for more Black Americans to operate at the highest levels of finance.

Fast forward to 2014, TLC Beatrice has since been long sold and his widow Loida and their two adult daughters keep his legacy alive. A law building at his alma mater – Harvard - has been named in his honor. And, in Baltimore a high school and a museum has been named in his honor.

I wonder when Lewis was flying in his private plane with the initials “RL” painted on its wings, did he ever think of the Parks Sausage deal that got away. Parks, Adams and Haysbert lived long enough to see Lewis in some of his most accomplished moments and I would like to believe each had to be very proud.

These four Baltimore giants have all transitioned now, but their respective legacies shall live on.

(copyright 2014)C.Green/School 18 Project