ELKTON — Cecil County has a lot of traditions for Halloween and for Mischief Night — think outhouses in Center Square in Rising Sun and tempting fate crossing the Pig Lady Bridge.
But there’s another connection that has slowly been lost to the minds of many: the institution that was Bayshore Industries. When Bayshore Industries came to town, Halloween, and soon numerous other holidays, were the bread and butter of many Cecil County families.
The idea for the company came to A.L. Gursha and Eugene Salinger of Pittsburgh, Pa. They scouted around looking for a place to locate the company they envisioned and in June 1946 found the perfect spot in Elkton. The original concept for the company was basically a lot of “hot air.” They manufactured toy balloons and chose the name Bayshore Industries simply for the location of Elkton near the Chesapeake Bay.
They soon added more items to their product line and within seven years, the company had become the leading balloon, toy and novelty business in Maryland, and was recognized as a leader in the industry throughout the nation.
Balloons were still manufactured there, but at some point the idea of producing rubber Halloween masks came to fruition. Gursha and Salinger brought in Rudolf Mafko, naming him vice president to spearhead the idea as one of the leading designers in the mask trade. Mafko drew original designs for masks, which were then made into molds that set the Halloween costume world afire. Indeed, by 1953 the company sold 6 million of the masks Mafko dreamed up, quite literally he explained to journalists, from his nightmares. He told one reporter, “Sometimes I eat Dagwood sandwiches and drink coffee just before retiring to encourage the proper mood.”
He got creative and soon there were little goblins, ghosts, witches, pirates, hobos, rats, zombies, cannibals, spacemen, tough guys, dog face boys and anything else Mafko could dream up wearing Bayshore-created masks all over the country. So popular was the product line that the company expanded from 50 employees to more than 400 during summer months, when the masks were in production — especially since each masks was hand painted by women hired exclusively for the task.
Perhaps characteristic of the mid-century, management of the company was distressed when the fall months came and trick-or-treating ended, as large numbers of employees were laid off until next year. They wanted to do something about this and retain those employees but they needed something new and different, something that would expand the season. Bayshore Industries eventually struck upon the design and manufacture of small rubber toys and puppets. It was an idea born simply of keeping employees employed — and it was yet another gold mine.
Once again, the company had to expand in space and in personnel with the ranks of their employee list shooting up to 600 in the manufacture of balloons, masks, novelties and toys.
By 1950, they added a rather unlikely commodity to the mix by forming a pyrotechnic division known as American Powder division, which immediately received a government contract for products. It was another success and they expanded again in space and their payroll topped, for the first time, 1,000 employees.
Bayshore always had an interest in the happiness of their employees it seems, for the company developed affordable vacation plans and annual picnics with numerous prizes awarded. They had their own softball, baseball and bowling teams, and extensive incentive plans for “employees to earn in proportion to their ability.” They donated toys to children’s wards in hospitals and to institutions working with children.
Eventually the tide turned on Bayshore, however, and after a few lawsuits with employees and others, and some financial issues, the company was recruited away from Maryland. In 1961, it inked a deal with Amsterdam, N.Y., following a full court press led by not only Amsterdam’s Chamber of Commerce and elected officials, but the town’s residents hungry for work. The news made the front page in New York papers, and the relatively quiet and unexpected exit from Maryland was front-page news here as well.
Gursha moving the company to New York also left gaping holes in a number of organizations in Cecil County that benefited from his volunteerism and community involvement. When he left Cecil County for good, he also vacated his post as president of the Elkton Rotary Club and commander of the Northeast River Power Squadron, an organization devoted to promotion of water and boating safety. He served as president of the Cecil County Industrial Council and headed the March of Dimes campaign in the county for a number of years. He was also the former president of the Elkton Chamber of Commerce.
There is a new Bayshore now, but it isn’t an offshoot of the old organization. Rather this Bayshore located in California was established in 2006 and focused on real estate investment and wholesale home-building products.