Beyond baseball: A Cubs fan’s guide to a weekend in Baltimore
The statue “Babe’s Dream,” by Susan Luery, can be found outside Oriole Park at Camden Yards, where the Cubs will face off against the Orioles in mid-July.(Richard Selden/Chicago Tribune )
George Washington stands atop Baltimore’s Washington Monument in the Mount Vernon Place Historic District. Like the taller obelisk in Washington, D.C., the monument was designed by Robert Mills.(Richard Selden/Chicago Tribune )
The U.S. flag flies over Fort McHenry, whose defense against the British during the Battle of Baltimore in 1814 inspired Francis Scott Key to write the lyrics to “The Star-Spangled Banner.”(Visit Baltimore)
July 14-16 is a good weekend for Cubs fans to be in Baltimore, when the World Series champs play three games at Oriole Park at Camden Yards, the first and greatest of the retro ballparks inspired by Wrigley and Fenway.
Most out-of-towners make a point of visiting the National Aquarium and Fort McHenry — o’er the ramparts of which “The Star-Spangled Banner’s” broad stripes and bright stars were so gallantly streaming.
But here’s another notch for your bat: the Baltimore train station. Not for its fluted marble columns or stained-glass skylights. And not for its locally reviled outdoor sculpture: Jonathan Borofsky’s “Male/Female,” two intersecting aluminum figures, 52 feet tall, whose hearts “beat” at night in alternating blue and fuchsia.
The main reason for baseball fans to step inside Pennsylvania Station is that it was here, on March 2, 1914, that 19-year-old George Herman Ruth Jr. boarded a train to Fayetteville, N.C., for spring training. One of manager Jack Dunn’s “babes,” he had been signed to the minor league Orioles two weeks before.
The Sultan of Swat was born in 1895 in Baltimore’s Pigtown neighborhood, near the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad’s Camden Yards, which lent their name to the major league Orioles’ new ballpark a century later. You can pop into the Babe Ruth Birthplace and Museum until 7 p.m. on game nights.
The upstairs bedroom where the Bambino was born and other rooms in the Emory Street home of his maternal grandparents, the Schambergers, are furnished in period style. Along with artifacts, film clips and memorabilia, there’s a theater where you’ll learn that “The Star-Spangled Banner” is sung at ballgames largely because of an event in Chicago during Game 1 of the 1918 Red Sox-Cubs World Series. That’s when Red Sox third baseman Fred Thomas, on furlough from the Navy, saluted as a military band played what would become the country’s national anthem. Others put their hands on their hearts, and the crowd began to sing. The rest is history.
Pigtown’s stockyards and slaughterhouses are long gone. The museum borders a leafy brick enclave known as Ridgely’s Delight, complete with a home-team tavern, Quigley’s ½ Irish Pub; a cozy restaurant, Corner Bistro & Winebar; and a pretty B&B, Rachael’s Dowry.
But back to that train station. If you opt to fly from Chicago (about two hours) rather than go by rail (18-plus hours, not counting the layover), you can take Amtrak or the MARC commuter train directly from Baltimore-Washington International Airport to Penn Station, in the Mount Vernon Place Historic District.
Centered on Baltimore’s Washington Monument — a towering column topped by a statue of the nation’s first president — the neighborhood could be mistaken for a 19th-century square in France. The four rectangular parks around the monument (inside: a 227-step spiral staircase) were laid out by Frederick Law Olmsted and given a beaux-arts makeover with balustrades, fountains and statuary by Carrere and Hastings.
Adjacent to the parks are the Peabody Institute, now the music school of Johns Hopkins University, with the spectacular George Peabody Library within, and the treasure-filled Walters Art Museum. Steps away are several historic clubs and churches, including the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the nation’s first Roman Catholic cathedral, designed by Benjamin Latrobe.
Once the preserve of Baltimore’s upper crust, Mount Vernon has restaurants and bars in all price ranges. Three standouts along its Charles Street spine are The Helmand (run by a brother of former Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai, like the former Chicago restaurant of that name), The Brewer’s Art and The Elephant.
Mount Vernon also has three boutique hotels: Hotel Indigo, built in 1907 as the city’s YMCA; the smaller Hotel Brexton, in an 1881 hotel where Wallis, Duchess of Windsor, lived as a child; and, in an 1889 mansion, the Ivy Hotel, a Relais & Chateaux property with the restaurant Magdalena.
Downhill from Mount Vernon are Oriole Park and Baltimore’s Inner Harbor, where abandoned piers were replaced in the 1970s by an ever-expanding tourist promenade. Water taxis depart from Harborplace to Fort McHenry, the National Aquarium, Federal Hill — home of the Maryland Science Center and the American Visionary Art Museum — and the historic “nest of pirates” called Fell’s Point.
The sailors’ bars for which Fell’s Point was famous now compete to offer the best bottomless bloody mary. The 1914 Recreation Pier, where “Homicide: Life on the Street” was filmed in the 1990s, reopened this year as the Sagamore Pendry Hotel, one of Under Armour CEO Kevin Plank’s enterprises. He also acquired the water-taxi operation, partly to ferry employees to the sportswear company’s headquarters across the harbor.
Off the main drag of Thames Street, the row-house-lined, Belgian-block-paved Fell’s Point streets are well worth wandering. Looking to get out on the water? Take a Blue Route water taxi to Canton — named for the China-trade seaport — and walk up to O’Donnell Square, with a church at each end, a statue of merchant John O’Donnell in the center and sidewalk spots to eat and drink. For steamed blue crabs in Canton, try Bo Brooks, or hop off early at Captain James Landing.
Something special for history buffs and Irish-Americans: On July 15, the B&O Railroad Museum and the Irish Railroad Workers Museum will hold a joint daylong event commemorating the Great Railroad Strike of 1877, starting at 10:15 a.m. at Camden Yards (near but not at the ballpark).
Finally, poet Edgar Allan Poe — who died in Baltimore in a delirium — remains a powerful presence. Baltimore’s football team is named for his poem “The Raven,” written in New York after he left the Amity Street house where he lived with his aunt, grandmother and first cousin Virginia, who became his child bride.
The Poe House and Museum at 203 N. Amity Street offers self-guided tours and a well-stocked gift shop. Closer to downtown, the Westminster Burying Grounds are an evocative setting for Poe’s two — count ‘em, two — grave markers, one denoting where he’s actually buried and the other being a more elaborate monument erected years after his 1849 death.
For decades, a “Poe Toaster” would raise a glass to Poe at his grave in the middle of the night on the poet’s Jan. 19 birthday, leaving three roses and an unfinished bottle of cognac. The anonymous toaster stopped showing up in 2010, so the Maryland Historical Society held a contest and found a new Poe Toaster — this one plays the violin — who resumed the tradition last year.
Richard Selden is a freelance writer.
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