Hundreds of people -- many of them elderly and wondering if there would be any money left when they got to the teller's cage -- snaked across the parking lot behind the Old Court Savings & Loan branch building on Liberty Road here today.
Many grumbled. Some joked. Most admitted they didn't know specifically what, if anything, was wrong at Old Court, Maryland's second-largest privately insured thrift institution.
"All I know is what I read in the paper this morning," said a worried customer in reference to a page-one story in The Baltimore Sun headlined, "Old Court Reveals Problems."
Other depositors studied the newspaper story as they stood under brilliant sunshine, waiting as the line inched forward. Several women sat in lawn chairs they had brought with them. Some depositors joined the line after learning about it accidentally when they drove into the adjacent Liberty Court Shopping Center and saw the line forming at the S&L.
"We don't get any answers," said Leonard Pearlman of Baltimore, complaining that neither Old Court, state banking officials nor the press had come across with specific information. "They say they have serious problems, but they don't say what they are."
When Old Court attorney Sandy Cardin arrived in early afternoon and attempted to calm the depositors by saying there was "no financial trouble whatsoever," several argued with him angrily.
"If the bank was in trouble, you're not going to tell us," said one elderly man. "You're not old and don't have any money in here."
Lester Singer, a Baltimore antique restorer, said "My Social Security and my wife's Social Security is sent here. I'm going to put my money in a bank controlled by the federal government."
Others in the line talked uneasily of Ohio -- a reference to the financial crisis that occurred there in March when a run on several thrift institutions caused the governor to close down 70 savings and loans temporarily.
By mid-afternoon, when Old Court officers shut down the line, Baltimore County police said 500 to 600 customers had come to the branch office. Some had waited up to four hours to get into the crowded lobby and withdraw funds from harried tellers. One elderly man collapsed and was taken away in an ambulance.
Andy Mignoga, after waiting 3 1/2 hours, left to get lunch while her girlfriend saved her place in line. One man, claiming he was sick, bargained unsuccessfully with Cardin to get to the head of the line.
No long lines of customers at Old Court's six other branches in the Baltimore area and on the Eastern Shore were reported throughout the day. Heidi Hutchinson, a public relations spokeswoman for Old Court, said the Randalltown line was longer because it is one of the largest branches, and many of its customers are retired and rely heavily on their savings.
Not everyone on the line was somber. "I'm going to take my money out of here and put it into dope," joked Charles Bertolini. "The risks aren't as great and it will be safer."
Michael Yerman, president of the Magill-Yerman real estate company, which is owned in part by Old Court, watched the line with a look of disgust. "It's the stupidest, dumbest thing I've ever seen."
Saying he has substantial deposits there, Yerman added, "The bank wins again. It gets all the interest" -- a reference to the penalty customers must pay for withdrawing certificates of deposit before the interest is due.