Charm City: A Walk Through Baltimore (Crown Journeys)
Madison Smartt Bell
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With a writer’s keen eye, a longtime resident’s familiarity, and his own sly wit, acclaimed novelist Madison Smartt Bell leads us on a walk through his adopted hometown of Baltimore, a city where crab cakes, Edgar Allan Poe, hair extensions, and John Waters movies somehow coexist. From its founding before the Revolutionary War to its place in popular culture—thanks to seminal films like Barry Levinson’s Diner, the television show Homicide, and bestselling books by George Pelecanos and Laura Lippman—Baltimore is America, and in Charm City, Bell brings its story to vivid life.
First revealing how Baltimore received some of its nicknames—including “Charm City”—Bell sets off from his neighborhood of Cedarcroft and finds his way across the city’s crossroads, joined periodically by a host of fellow Baltimoreans. Exploring Baltimore’s prominent role in history (it was here that Washington planned the battle of Yorktown and Francis Scott Key witnessed the “bombs bursting in air”), Bell takes us to such notable spots as the Inner Harbor and Federal Hill, as well as many of the undiscovered corners that give Baltimore its distinctive character. All the while, Charm City sheds deserved light onto a sometimes overlooked, occasionally eccentric, but always charming place.
watching? There wouldn't be a whole hell of a lot for him to see—just a couple of middleaged white guys stepping out quickly past rows of mostly boardedup brick housefronts. Off to our right appear in the gloaming the dreary Victorian fortifications of the old Maryland Penitentiary, whose first structures have stood on this ground since the early nineteenth century. From 1811 to 1879, it was the only prison in the state—receiving all malefactors, including women, juveniles, and the criminally
The ancient bricks of the sidewalk here are all catty-cornered, thanks to the rippling of roots underneath. Mackall's loading door, mostly overgrown by wisteria, faces the Odd Fellows Hall across Pickwick—another rubblestone building, picked out with bloodred shutters. A few doors down is a tight row of stone houses (one whitewashed and the other not) thought to have been built by George Ware in 1874. But we are headed the other way, toward Forest Park Drive, which was a boundary for Laura when
shipbuilding slaves. Despeaux started a shipyard in Fells Point and set about building a style of swift merchant ship that would soon become known as the Baltimore clipper, whose design had recently been perfected by shipwrights in Baltimore Town and on the Maryland Eastern Shore. In 1797, the first Constellation (so named for the new configuration of stars on the American flag) was built in the Fells Point shipyard. It's been a long time since Fells Point was a busy international port, but for
different, to the north), an arterial street that runs all the way out into Essex and Middle River. We pass Tochterman Tackle, open since 1916 at this address, with a quarter acre of fine fishing poles inside, waving gently like reeds in the wind. The way-cool sign, featuring a bass angrily breaking water with a Tochterman lure hooked in its mouth, has been there since 1938. On the approach to Chubbie's Club at the corner of Eastern and South Washington Street, Glenn tells me that this joint used
saw something like that now,” he says, “you'd think they were shooting a movie.” We keep moving, leaving the top arm of the grassy Greek cross, glancing west along Madison Street (no relation) toward the brownstone Gothic sandcastle spire of the First and Franklin Street Presbyterian Church. Its congregation first gathered in a log meetinghouse in 1761; the present and very handsome edifice was designed by the architect N. G. Starkweather and completed in 1875. There's a pocket of ethnic