How many bums get a street (an alley actually) named after them? How many a sculpture garden? Not many I would hazard to guess. But here in Silver Spring, Norman Lane has both. Although long before my time, his presence on the streets is legendary. This may be an old story for long-time residents, some of whom may even have known him, but I thought I’d share the story with the rest of our readers. Since you probably can’t read the plaque in the photo, I’ll transcribe it below.
The “Mayor of Silver Spring” was our official town drunk. Although he was born into a prominent DC family, Norman got off to a rough start. His mother had TB and the stress of bringing him to term took her life and left little Norman
with life-long problems. He ran away from a school for retarded children when he was six. He grew up as an outcast, drifting around the country doing odd jobs, farm work and washing dishes. He was an odd shaped piece that never quite fit into society’s jigsaw puzzle.
Norman’s was the picture of misery. Often wearing his shoes on the wrong feet, his rumpled clothes hung off his 90 pound frame like a scarecrow. He looked like a gargoyle peering out from under a hard hat. After returning to the DC area, he spent the winter of 1966 in Glenmont, sleeping in the fire department coal bin. That spring he wandered down Georgia Avenue.
In Silver Spring he found a home. The Phillips family set up a cot for him in the back of their autobody shop. For 25 years Norman lived in that back alley garage, which was directly behind this statue. It was the only real home he ever knew. After his death, Norman’s alley, “Mayor Lane” was named for him. Silver Spring’s business community, the shoppers, the police, and fire departments were his family. They accepted his drinking, his course manners and came to love his quirky, Tom Sawyer sense of humor.
“Don’t worry ’bout it” was Norman’s answer to everything. As our “Mayor” made his rounds, he generously shared a bit of his permanent vacation with us work-a-day shut-ins. He owned nothing. He shambled through the streets, happily living out our worse fears for us. After seeing Norman, we really didn’t worry about it quite so much. Fridays were his big day. He retrieved armloads of flowers from the flower shop’s trash and passed out bouquets to the ladies (Norman loved the ladies). His weathered, toothless face looked like a rusty ax stuck in midst of those brightly-colored flowers.
One day he put out his last cigarette in his last beer and just like that, he quit. But the truth is he wasn’t much different sober. Silver Spring’s loving care allowed Norman to live out his life on his own terms. Silver Spring’s
finest hour lasted 25 years.
Norman passed away in 1987.
The monument was sculpted and donated by Fred Folsom in 1991.