“The Voice of Long Hill”
Kitty Shortall - 1919 to 2013
Kitty Shortall, with her two daughters,
raising lunch up to her husband
in the Long Hill tower.
Kitty Shortall passed away on February 1, 2013, at the age of 94. At her retirement party on October 12, 1979, Kitty was honored with a poem composed and illustrated by co-workers who celebrated her 30+ special years of service to Maryland’s State Forests and Parks and the Department of Natural Resources. The poem, titled “The Voice of Long Hill” appears at the end of this historical sketch.
The poem reflects the high regard Kitty’s co-workers had for both her helpful service and the information she provided, as well as the soft, clear melodious cadence in which she spoke over the Department’s two-way radio network. Whether routine or emergency, she was always calm, exact and available no matter the time of day or night. “Long Hill,” in Kitty’s voice answered when called.
The Long Hill Central Two-way Radio Center began in the late 1950s at Long Hill Fire Tower near Southdale off Baltimore Annapolis Boulevard in Anne Arundel County. Kitty took over the fire tower operator’s job when her husband, John Shortall, the former towerman was promoted to a Roadside Tree Warden in the Department of Forests and Parks.
Since the Shortall's and their daughters, Kay and Joan, lived at the Tower site, Kitty was a logical replacement since she lived at the base of the 110 foot Fire Lookout Tower and she was well acquainted with John’s work as towerman. She had learned the requirements of the job and she had often met the people from all over Maryland with whom she would be communicating with.
As a result of Maryland’s growing population in the 1960’s, there was a steady increase in the work of all programs within the Department of Forests & Parks. Since Long Hill Tower was the closest powerful radio base station to the Department’s headquarters in Annapolis, the tower operator was frequently requested to relay and receive messages to and from the Forest & Parks Headquarters from all points throughout the State. The radio traffic increased to a point that it became a full-time job and a distraction to the work of the tower operator, who needed to watch for smoke and to direct rangers to fires.
Kitty Shortall was offered and assumed a new full-time job as a Radio Communications Specialist, and the Center of State Forest & Parks Communications came down from the tower to the house at the base of the tower. A radio room with several telephone lines was installed in a very small office off Kitty’s kitchen. A new part-time employee took over the Lookout Tower work allowing Kitty to concentrate full-time on the escalating communication mission.
Living at Long Hill Tower had always been a way of life for the Shortall’s. During the fire seasons, both spring and fall, there were times during fire emergencies when Kitty’s kitchen table was converted to a command post operation and the room was filled with staff from both Annapolis Headquarters and the field.
There were few 8am to 5pm days with this work. Now that Kitty’s communication center was just off her kitchen, the house became the nerve center of fire season during the spring and fall. Then in summer with the state parks going 24/7, radio activity hummed along, then in late fall came hunting season when the Game Warden’s radio traffic was routed through Long Hill. Finally, winter brought something of a normal 8am to 5pm working life.
Throughout all these hectic years, Kitty and John, persevered along with their two wonderful daughters, Kay and Joan who were adopted by the State Forest & Parks family that frequented the place or who called in. No matter the crisis night or day, the Shortall family took it all in stride going way beyond the call of duty. It wasn’t a job, it was a way of life they enjoyed and strove to handle in a most positive way.
Kitty’s voice, on and off the radio, was always cheerfully soft and professionally concerned, in spite of the constant commotion in her kitchen. She usually had at least four separate conversations going at once. Often I saw her with a telephone at each ear while talking over the two-way radio relaying to the Annapolis office messages coming in from around the State. At the same time Kay and Joan would be coming in the kitchen door from school to share with their Mother important events of their day.
And, if there weren’t enough conversations bouncing around, there was a steady parade of rangers and department staff dropping in or out either on business or just looking for some fellowship or a cup of coffee in the midst of a busy fire day. All were cheerfully welcomed and invited into the conversation of the moment.
It seems everyone had a humorous story for telling. It reminded me of a gathering around a pot-belly stove in an old fashioned country store. There was no pot-belly stove at Long Hill Tower, only Kitty’s oven and range cooking dinner, but it was a comfortable, warm and cozy, delightfully entertaining and an exciting and informative place to be.
We were the Maryland Department of Forests & Parks and we were a state-wide family. And, just as the poem reveals, softly in the background, in between the stories and conversations, the melodious voice of Long Hill was broadcasting, “KGA-540” another important message had been successfully transmitted.
So in the words of another great communicator, we will close this remembrance by saying, “and that’s the way it was,” in the 1960’s at Long Hill Tower, a special place, at a special time with special people!
The following poem was written/composed by Ranger Jim Preston 13-6, Patapsco Valley State Park. The Art work on the original was created by Marjorie Langschmidt, a secretary in Patapsco Valley State Park Headquarters.
In the mid to late 1960s, the Department of Natural Resources responded to the huge workload Kitty was handling. At that time a separate communications office building was built near the base of Long Hill Tower and the radio equipment was upgraded and the staff increased. Later the DNR Communications Center was moved from Long Hill to the Headquarters of Patapsco Valley State Park at the Hollofield Area off US Route 40 west of Catonsville. This was another former fire tower site that provided an elevated antenna site. The Center’s equipment and staff was increased, and it looked like a current day “911’ facility with two shifts and sometimes 3 shifts of staff seven days a week with banks of consoles like “mission control” at NASA in Houston. This amply staffed center, full of state of the art electronic radio equipment, carried on the communication work that initially started with Kitty, a staff of one, in her kitchen, over 40 years previous to its development.
However, in spite of the many changes and upgrades, one thing remained the same – the Center’s call sign was still “Long Hill.” I would like to think that was in tribute to the Shortall family, Kitty, John, Kay and Joan, who nurtured the beginnings of the DNR Communications Center over 55 years ago at Long Hill Tower. It wasn’t until sometime in the mid-1990s, after the DNR Comunications Center moved to the basement of the Tawes State Office Building in Annapolis, that the “Long Hill” call sign was changed to “Tawes.”
The historical sketch was researched and written for the Committee for Maryland Conservation History by Offutt Johnson, Park Naturalist, Retired, 13-5, Patapsco Valley State Park.