Baltimore. I know it from 2 things. 1) The show Charm City Cakes and 2) the view from the highway when I pass through on my way to New York. I don’t usually stop in Baltimore. The smoke stacks, the grungy looking buildings. It’s not a place you pass and say – gotta go there!
In fact, as we pass through, my family and I often mock Baltimore. We also mock people with personalized license plates and stick figure families on their back windshields. Sorry, but those people do it to themselves. If you don’t want to be mocked, don’t put it on the back of your car for everyone to see.
However, I’m headed to Baltimore this weekend for a concert and when I travel I like to check out the city I’m visiting ahead of time. I also bring along my book, The Travelers, to take pictures in fun bookish places (or sometimes just fun places).
So, I decided to do a little research and see if maybe I’ve been a bit unfair to Baltimore. It is called Charm City after all. And the best way for me to find the charm of a place is to check out its bookish features.
What bookish things did I uncovered about Baltimore? Here’s what I found! (Note: I definitely may have judged Baltimore WAY too harshly.)
First, there is literally a store called Bookish Baltimore. It is an artist-run bookshop on wheels that travels the city featuring small-press books, independent projects, and artwork by Baltimore locals.
Bookish is a wandering collection of small press editions and emerging publications. Browse and purchase books from innovative makers covering art, literature and untold histories.
I have a WHOLE new respect for Baltimore after finding out their football team, The Ravens, aren’t just randomly named after the fierce bird. No, the name was actually chosen as a reference to the famous poem The Raven by Edgar Allen Poe.
Poe, apparently, had roots in Baltimore. Still, to name a football franchise after him? That just doesn’t fit with the stereotypes. It’s messing with my head! And here is why stereotypes are awful. It was the Baltimore people themselves who picked this name!
In early 1996, the Baltimore Sun newspaper conducted a telephone poll. They asked people to cast their vote for the team name. Over 33,000 people voted. The winner: The Baltimore Ravens. The 3 Raven’s mascots are even named Edgar, Allen, and Poe!
Seriously, I might need to start watching football!
3. Get your Poe on (and your Fitzgerald)
Speaking of the illustrious Poe, you can visit his house in Baltimore. While Poe had many residences in Virginia, Maryland and New York, Baltimore is arguably the place most connected to Poe. His great-grandfather established the family in Baltimore in 1755 and it was here that Poe met his wife, where he published his second volume of poetry in 1829 and launched a literary career after winning a contest sponsored in 1833 by the Baltimore Saturday Visiter for the best short story.
He’s not the only famous writer to take up residence in Baltimore. F. Scott Fitzgerald moved to 1307 Park Avenue, Baltimore, in 1933, after his wife Zelda apparently burned down their house in Towson. He lived there for 3 rocky years before committing his wife to an institution and moving to Hollywood. You can’t go inside the place, but there’s a plaque.
The story of Dorothy Parker’s garden is an interesting one. I’ll try to make it short, although it has many twists and turns.
After the death of the iconic American poet, short story writer, critic, and satirist, she left her literary estate to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., whom she’d never met, and named fellow author Lillian Hellman as the executor. After King’s death Parker’s estate went to the NAACP. Hellman wasn’t pleased and, therefore, Parker’s ashes languished in legal battles and were forgotten on a shelf in a law office, until 1988 when the NAACP stepped in, took the ashes and interred them at their headquarters in Baltimore, placing a memorial garden around them.
Odd story, but Dorothy Parker was an odd lady, so it kind of seems fitting.
The plaque for her ashes at the garden reads:
Here lie the ashes of Dorothy Parker (1893-1967) Humorist, writer, critic, defender of human and civil rights. For her epitaph she suggested “Excuse My Dust”. This memorial garden is dedicated to her noble spirit which celebrated the oneness of humankind, and to the bonds of everlasting friendship between black and Jewish people.
It’s probably worth seeing.
4. Independent Bookstores
The true test of a city for me is the number (and quality) of the independent bookstores. And Baltimore has no shortage of these.
Shout out to Atomic Books, which is on several best of indie bookstore lists in the US. John Waters even gets his fan mail delivered there!
No decent city can be without a library. Baltimore actually has a lovely one. But, by this time, I shouldn’t be surprised. Perhaps I shouldn’t judge a city by the view from inside my car on the highway.
The library’s mission is to provide equal access to information and services that support, empower and enrich all who pursue knowledge, education, cultural enrichment and lifelong learning.
Every year Baltimore has a 3-day book festival. That’s right, not one, not two, but three whole days of books. Wow, I’ve underestimated the bookish prowess of this city. The next one is September 22-24, 2017.
The festival takes over Baltimore’s inner harbor area with books, plus hundreds of appearances by local, celebrity and nationally known authors, book signings, more than 100 exhibitors and booksellers, nonstop readings on multiple stages, cooking demos by top chefs, poetry readings, workshops, panel discussions, storytellers and hands-on projects for kids, live music, and a thoughtfully curated food, craft beer, and wine program. Phew, I’m exhausted just reading it and now I really want to go!
I guess I’m going to have to stop making fun of Baltimore now. It’s kind of cool.