The Strange side of Baltimore
By : Wyatt Myers
Photos J. Kevin Foltz
On the surface, the city of Baltimore, Maryland, looks like a lot of American cities. Tucked on the Chesapeake Bay just 39 miles north of the U.S. capitol of Washington, D.C., it's a city steeped in a rich tradition of history. But get off the beaten path, and you'll soon see that Baltimore has another, more eclectic side that's sure to please the traveler looking for something a little different. And while every city has its quirky side, the vast variety of interesting sights and sounds that Baltimore has to offer is truly amazing. How quirky? Well, let's just say that if you've ever had the urge to see a gigantic ball of bras, eat a "dangerous" pie, or experience a museum exhibit devoted to saliva, then this is your place. Here's a small sampling of what's waiting for you in Baltimore.
From the moment you see the 55-foot-tall whirligig in the central plaza, you'll realize that the American Visionary Art Museum isn't your average art museum. The AVAM celebrates visionary art, which, according to their mission statement, is "art produced by self-taught individuals, usually without formal training, whose works arise from an innate personal vision that revels foremost in the creative act itself."
If the whirligig isn't enough, then stay for the Tall Sculpture Barn, a former whiskey warehouse that holds enormous sculptures such as a life-size chess set. As for the main building itself, it features beautiful hand-cast metalwork by David Hess and six separate art galleries. Among the strangest pieces on display are the famous BraBall, a ball made entirely of bras that's 5 feet tall, weighs over 1,800 pounds, and contain 18,085 bras. Also of note is an entire exhibit devoted to aliens and robots, with a special area where you can make your own robot, and a car covered with more than 5,000 psychically bent spoons and forks.
Just down the street, you'll find the National Museum of Dentistry. This Smithsonian-affiliated museum is a shrine to the mouth that includes a permanent exhibit with everything from Queen Victoria's antique dental instruments and George Washington's dentures (which aren't wooden!) to lunchboxes that feature Dr. Teeth from "The Muppet Show." "Every year, when thousands of visitors walk through the door of the museum, they're greeted by Andy Warhol prints, 12th-century art, and a life-size statue of a circus performer presenting her famous 'Iron Jaw' act," says Julia Filz, director of communications for the museum. And if all that's still not strange enough, just consider that the museum's current featured exhibition is "Saliva: A Remarkable Fluid"—yummy!
One only has to look at their tagline to see that Atomic Books is no ordinary bookstore: "Literary Finds for Mutated Minds." "We specialize in self-published, independent, underground and alternative press publications. Atomic Books carries books the other bookstores don't and won't carry," says co-owner Benn Ray. Among other things, Benn says that Atomic Books' listings include, "underground/alternative comics, books on sideshow freaks, body modification, satanism, occult, goth, serial killers, drugs, lowbrow art, lefty politics, conspiracies, urban legends, cult film, punk rock, BDSM and knitting, just to name a few. Our fiction selection tends to lean toward the disturbing, insane, alcoholic and drug-addled." For the crowd that's tired of the typical Barnes & Noble or Borders experience, also keep in mind that Atomic Books is one of the few independent bookstores left in Baltimore, and that's something that's definitely worth supporting.
If you're looking for a trip back in time from your shopping experience, you can't beat Retro-Mart. "With an eclectic mix of vintage and reproduction merchandise, we strive to bring you affordable, fun and unusual items that remind you of simpler times, focusing on the 1950s and '60s Mid-Century Modern Eames Era space-age décor," says owner Chris Caprinolo. "Whether you're looking for swanky swags to add to your tiki bar, mod lighting for your living room, hard-to-find Eames chairs, or just plain kitsch, chances are we've got it!" Even if you arrived in Baltimore by plane, Retro-Mart still has a full line of vintage clothing, rugs, accessories and other random goodies that you can take home with you.
All Kinds of Odd Artwork
Located in a historic old movie theater in southeast Baltimore, the Creative Alliance at the Patterson is just what its name indicates: a community organization that's committed to anything and everything that has to do with art. What that means for the tourist is a vast variety of exhibitions, musical performances, poetry readings, roundtable discussions and independent film screenings. "We tend to be a better promoted and more polished presenting venue than some of the others that do local work," explains Megan Hamilton, program director for the Creative Alliance.
If you're looking for strange, the Creative Alliance can deliver in droves. "We have a dog melodrama being produced by the New Old Theatre company and an aerial show on the life of Amelia Earhart being done by one of our resident artists," says Hamilton. For a taste of a Baltimore neighborhood that has been revived through local art, culture, music and movies, the Creative Alliance is the place to go.
Aside from having hands-down the best name for a pie shop anywhere, Dangerously Delicious Pies may be the only pie shop with this much attitude. The "Pie and Crossbones" logo on their website is just one reminder of what's to come. But let's face it: attitude will only get you so far. Rodney "The Pie Man" Henry has built DDP into an empire that ships pies nationwide by doing what he does best: making darn good pies.
Interestingly enough, Henry actually started as the lead singer for local rock band the Glenmont Popes. When that gig fell through, he found himself baking fresh pies for local restaurants. Soon, Rodney had his own shop, where he makes pies with only fresh ingredients. A whole pie costs $15 to $18, or you can stop by the shop for a slice for $3.25. If you don't have a sweet tooth for one of DDP's 21 traditional flavors of pie, then try Rodney's new "savory" pies: flavors include spinach and goat cheese, ham and Swiss, sausage and roasted veggies, and steak chili.
The Inn at 2920 is difficult to describe: "It is not your grandma's bed-and-breakfast," says owner Debbie Schwartz. "We are one of the few bed-and-breakfasts in the U.S. that offers an upscale, stylish décor. So for people that want a little Zen-like style in their lodging, the Inn is a great choice." Not only is the Inn "completely smoke, pet, and scent-free," says Debbie, but you can enjoy freshly baked cookies and gourmet breakfast from Debbie's husband, David, a Johnson & Wales-trained chef. "David will tailor guests' breakfast to all sorts of dietary needs—everything from a (allergies) to v (vegan)," says Debbie.
Book your next trip on American Eagle. Visit aa.com or call American Reservations at 1-800-433-7300, or your travel agent for details.