GUESS WHAT? It’s Literary Arts Week in Baltimore! Yesssss!
So today Benjamin and I tapped into our inner-bookworm and joined a “Literary Mount Vernon” walking tour. Now anyone who comes to visit us in Baltimore will be super impressed with all of the historical, cultural, and literary factoids I can dish out about my ‘hood. …Nerd alert!
The tour was at 11am so I was worried it might be all retirees. (I guess I still have this delusion that I am the only person who doesn’t have a 9-5 in this city), but it turned out to be an eclectic group of people, young and old. I must have been the most geeked up because I was the only one snapping tons of pictures on my phone and typing things into my notepad app so I wouldn’t forget. I think the tour guide was annoyed because she thought I was texting the whole time. Oops. Anyway, here we are trailing wayyy behind….
Stop #1: Enoch Pratt Free Library (aka My Favorite Place)
Funny story about Enoch. When we first moved here, we were walking around and I saw this library and shouted, “Omigod, there it is!!” John was all like “There WHAT is?” and I responded, in a WAY too excited shriek, “The ENOCH PRATT FREE LIBRARY, duh!” (((Confessions: 1. I may have based part of our decision on places to live on proximity to the library; 2. I signed up for a library card online before we even moved to Baltimore.))) So needless to say, I was momentarily dumbfounded that John didn’t realize what it was…until I realized that I was the crazy one. Now everytime I tell John I’m going to the library, he says in a hilarious mocking voice, “Omigod, the ENOCH PRATT FREE LIBRARY.”
Anyway, some cool trivia about the library which makes me love it even more: 1) It was originally built to be a fancy department store; 2) It’s the nation’s first library system; and 3) It was the first non-segregated cultural institution in the city!
Stop #2: The Latrobe House (right across from “America’s First Cathedral’)
The Latrobe House is where Edgar Allen Poe apparently spent a great deal of time. Some crazy stuff I didn’t know about him: He married his 13-year-old cousin (poor girl!) and the cause of his death (at age 40) is still unknown. Apparently he was found in a delirium on the streets and died shortly after. The commonly held belief is that he died of alcohol intoxication. But an older gentleman on the tour mentioned that the library still has a lock of his hair and it was recently tested. They found no indications of pewter (which apparently should have been there if he drank from the common pewter mugs?), giving credit to those who argue that he was not a drinker. They say he couldn’t even hold one drink. One newer theory about his death is that he was “cooped”. Apparently cooping was when unwilling citizens were kidnapped, kept in a room. forced to drink alcohol or take drugs, and then forced to vote for a particular candidate and then occasionally killed… Crazy! …Anyway, the speculation about his death carries on!
Stop #3: Upton Sinclair’s old residence. It’s now an American Heart Association Office, but it’s weird to think that this is where The Jungle was written.
Stop #4: Washington Monument. This is the center of Mount Vernon. It’s also Toby’s favorite social hub. When we were hanging out here last week, he fell in love with a Great Dane and he’s been begging me to go back ever since.
Stop #5: Peabody Institute. I didn’t get to hear the history of this place because I lagged behind trying to get Ben’s stroller up the many stairs. But wow, once inside it was definitely worth the trouble.
The library inside gives the Michigan law library a serious run for its money. And the spiral staircase was the icing on the cake!
About halfway through, Ben was getting pretty bored so he decided to tune out the rest of the long-winded tour in favor of boobie dreamland.
Stop #6: United Methodist Church. John and I have had eyes for this gorgeous church since we first moved here. It’s probably our favorite architectural wonder in the city. And now that I learned some useless information about it, I love it even more. First, it is the site where Francis Scott Key died (before the Church was built in 1870). Second, it’s built from six different stones…the best of them is the green serpentine marble (now rare) that is especially gorgeous when wet or in the evening twilight. Third, each of the stones have to be washed in a different way. So I’m not sure if they ever wash it. Fourth, the Church used to charge annual fees for seating back in the day. To sit up front in the first pews, it was $1000 per year. Maybe people thought it would help them get a better castle in heaven too? Fifth and final (this one’s my favorite), the Church has a water pipe organ. When it was used on Sundays, it used to knock the water pressure down so much in households across the neighborhood that the joke is people would say, “Well shucks, we might as well just go to church.”
Stop #7: The Stafford Hotel (now apartments). This was the tallest building in Baltimore and the fanciest hotel around when it was built in 1894. F. Scott Fitzgerald resided there from 1935-36.
Stop #8: The Baltimore School for the Arts. Tupac Shakur and Jada Pinkett Smith went here. An older guy in the group taught Jada Pinkett Smith when she was in 8th grade. Apparently even back then she was saying she would be famous.
Stop #9: Emmanuel Episcopal Church. Edna St. Vincent Millay (first woman to receive a Pulitzer for poetry) did poetry readings at this church. She’s also famous for going against the grain and breaking with social norms for women like wearing pants (gasp!).
Stop #10: The Belvedere & Owl Bar. “The Crown Jewel” of Baltimore, the Belvedere (once a dazzling hotel, now condos) has been the site of visits from Presidents, Royalty, & Hollywood stars since 1903. The Owl Bar is an old speakeasy. There was an owl statue perched outside and saying went, “Blinking eyes lit, you can come & get lit. Eyes down, Feds in town.” Or something like that. We’ll definitely have to check this place out for happy hours since it’s right on our block.
Stop #11: The rowhouse that Emily Post grew up in until she moved to New York when she was 14 years old. Our building is the red brick one that you can see on the top right of the picture.
Stop #12: The rowhouse that Gertrude Stein lived in while she was a medical student at Johns Hopkins. She dropped out after her 3rd year. Hopefully that won’t be me.
Whew… if you actually made it through this whole walking tour with me, props to you! That was a lot of history.
I love Mount Vernon.