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The Baltimore Bugle Boys

Charge! Bugle Boys’ joyful noise of Sundays past
The Sun November 01, 1998|By JOHN STEADMAN

Attempting to silence the Baltimore Bugle Boys in the upper deck of Memorial Stadium became a failed proposition. The first reaction from football management was to bar them from the premises. Then there was a conciliatory proviso: They could attend but would have to leave their instruments home.

The Baltimore Colts general manager, Don Kellett, the best there ever was, wanted to mute the self-styled Bugle Boys of the early 1960s but, after profound consideration, came to his usual good judgment and approved their presence.

Colts GM Don Kellett with new Colts head coach Don Shula

It was a decision that drew applause and was almost as important, but not quite, as his signing of John Unitas as a free agent.

So, fortunately or unfortunately, depending on eardrum tolerance, the Bugle Boys lived to play another day. ome seat occupants of the stadium, not enamored of the Bugle Boys, were hoping they would blow their brains out. The controversy surrounding the happy buglers erupted into a cause celebre.

Fan view inside Memorial Stadium. Baltimore Colts vs Chicago Bears at Memorial Stadium, Baltimore, MD. October 1960. Photograph by A. Aubrey Bodine A. Aubrey Bodine Collection Baltimore City Life Museum Collection Special Collections

The crux of the matter is that when the Colts were struggling to sell tickets, the Bugle Boys were acceptable. Suddenly, the stadium became crowded, and their patronage wasn’t as welcome. A typical scenario of when the public spoils management with its support, financially and spiritually.

For the Colts to think about giving the Bugle Boys such shoddy treatment resulted in much indignation. One sportswriter rushed their defense and cited all the reasons they made a perfect fit for the place that was called “the world’s largest outdoor insane asylum.”

The group had its genesis in East Baltimore. Three of the buglers were accomplished musicians with the Velvetones, a smooth, play-anything kind of band that was popular at diverse social functions, including weddings, banquets, oyster roasts, crab feasts, goat ropings and even rat killings.

At Colts games, they would take their seats in Section 32, armed with something to drink and their bugles. In unison, they would play the charge call, the same kind of sounds that now electronically come out of the P.A. systems in stadiums all across the country. But with the Bugle Boys, you heard the true natural tones emanating from their horns.

Memorial Stadium Baltimore, MD

The Bugle Boys even formed their own organization. Milton Szmajda became president. The other original members were Bob Schilling, Don “Ducky” Olkowski, Paul Kozlowski, Joe Kalinowski, Ray Luberecki and the late Melvin Zielski, otherwise known as “Reds” Murphy. A true fun lover was this ever-smiling Zielski/Murphy, a little round man who could dance all night.

“I think he could have been another Fred Astaire,” recalled Schilling. “He liked to dance with tall girls. The taller the better. How that ‘Reds’ could dance. He never missed a step.”

The Bugle Boys came to mind the other day when a telephone call from Schilling led to a momentous presentation. He wanted to give us the bugle he had used more than 30 years ago in Memorial Stadium.

We were too choked up with gratitude to make an adequate acceptance speech, except to say it was a highlight of our life. Schilling parted with this link to his past and said he knew it would be well protected in the hands of the old honorary president, ex officio, of the now-defunct Bugle Boys.

The Bugle Boys were once well-known in Baltimore and elsewhere. They printed membership cards, which are probably valuable collectors items, and distributed 16,000 to friends and enemies. Letters to newspapers both praised and denigrated the Bugle Boys:

From Bob Maton: “Try paying $6 for a Colt ticket with the expectations of relaxing and enjoying the game and windup being seated next to or in front of a bugle tooter. Maybe you wouldn’t be so quick to take sides with those bugle tooter goofballs.”

From Raymond Saunders: “You encouraged the exhibitionism of the Bugle Boys, who, apparently in the minds of most people, are a bunch of juvenile idiots who prefer to annoy other paying Colts fans. “

From Benny Bouchikeri: “If those social status fans of the Colts don’t like to hear men having a good time at a football game, like the group you referred to as the Baltimore Bugle Boys, then let them go out and watch Johns Hopkins. We were with the Colts when Bud Schwenk looked like he was playing on roller skates. Where were the big-shot fans with the expense accounts and fancy addresses in those lean days? Forget ’em; we don’t need ’em.”

The Bugle Boys were misunderstood at first by a few of the complaining types who didn’t comprehend their mission. But they ultimately became folk heroes.

Kalinowski, a mean drummer with the Velvetones, even remembers when they went to an Orioles game, using the box seats of their friend, the reporter, and played their hearts out. They were there to end an Orioles losing streak and achieved the purpose.

“I guess it was a stage we all went through,” said Kalinowski. “We did a lot of drinking but no fighting. We’d go to the games early, play cards in the cars and then blow the bugles when we got inside. I doubt if any of us have any desire to go to the new stadium, but that’s another matter. After games, we’d visit the Shamrock, the Philmar or the Surf Club to hear Mad Man Baitch. Then we’d head for Little Italy for a midnight supper and go off to work Monday morning.”

Ah, the innocence and enthusiasm of youth. Olkowski remembers when their boosters were primed to head for the courts if the Bugle Boys were denied access. Character witnesses volunteered to testify in their behalf.

Schilling, reflecting on those memorable times, said: “I remember buying the hard plastic bugles at Sunny’s Surplus for $1 each, but they gave a sweet sound. The game back then had a lot of beauty to it that isn’t there today. It seems like a lost era. It was the finesse and skill. Now it’s mainly physical domination. Our tickets were $58 or $68 for the full season. Now you pay that much for one game.”

At the time, the Colts’ Band went on record as saying the Bugle Boys needed to be encouraged and, at the same time, of course, recognized they were not any threat to them musically.

A press agent for the San Francisco 49ers, one Art Johnson, bought a World War I bugle in a Baltimore pawn shop and presented it to us when the Bugle Boys were under fire. Blowing the bugle at all hours in the office, the stadium press box or in the old neighborhood caused some concern about our sanity.

Eventually, on a fishing trip, we gave it a honorable burial at sea, underneath the Chesapeake Bay Bridge with Chuck Thompson, Bob Robertson, Doug Tawney and Norman Almony as witnesses.

The Bugle Boys made an unforgettable impression. They meant no harm, but were rather a source of extraordinary joy.

Baltimore Colts Bugle

***Although they said the bugle was buried at sea, I photographed it in the Sports Legend Museum in Baltimore.

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