I headed for Baltimore as part of my ‘Mid-West and New York’ trip from Boston.
While I was there, Baltimore was in the process of setting up for a Grand Prix, so high chainlink fencing and stadium seating were being put in all through downtown. This is not the most welcoming sight to see.
To no-one’s surprise, I aimed for Baltimore to go and see the Orioles play. I’ve been told by multiple people that Camden Yards is pretty special and somehow the Orioles have wormed their way into ‘favourite team’ position over the Twins.
Given that Baltimore’s public transport is generally considered to be not-brilliant, I was very happy to find that I could catch a tram from the airport to Camden Yards and then very happy to find out that the Orioles front office have a luggage-storage facility onsite. That made my 12.30pm plane arrival for a 2.00pm game much easier to manage than in most other cities I have been to. Great job Baltimore! Then the Orioles did their part with an expected win over the Rockies, but I got my Machado acrobatics and Davis and Jones both put away home runs, I drank a Natty Bo or two, so all was right with my world.
My couchsurfing host Andrew met me at the stadium to give me a set of keys and directions (and some delicious biscuits). Another couchsurfing buddy, Michael met me at the stadium to watch the game.
I stayed on a fold-out couch in Canton, one of the inner-city harbour suburbs. The area and nearby Fells Point are both charming and have clearly had a lot of work and money put into them. The wider Baltimore downtown area is a very interesting mix of places. My favourite Baltimore sight was definitely a fairly solid strip club district just one block down and on the other side of the road of the main harbour area police station.
Heading up the hill from the harbour along ‘historic Charles street’ takes you past some beautiful old buildings and museums. The Charm City Circulator free buses cover just about every reasonably close tourist area and the metro is very easy to navigate.
I had never heard of the Baltimore Riots during the American Civil War. Obviously, having spent a chunk of time in Boston, I went to a huge number of War of Independence sites, but the Civil War is not so prominent in the historical image Boston promotes. And while I have a vague (very vague) sense of what the Civil War was about and that it was very traumatic for America, I had no way to really connect to it.
There is a trail of Civil War sites all throughout Maryland, but I came across the Baltimore Riots in a small museum housed in a converted train terminal on the edge of downtown. It was an appropriate place, because the original nature of Baltimore’s train connections with the rest of the country meant that the troops of soldiers on their way south had to walk across Baltimore on foot to get from northern train line to the southern train line.
The guys who had undertaken that trip the day before had reported how rough it had been. The Baltimore Police had mostly managed to keep it under control (as in, only one person was badly hurt).
So this militia is heading into a town that largely hates what they have been sent to do. And shit went down big time. The first Union deaths of the conflict occurred in Baltimore and were killed by civilians. And I never knew.
That tiny museum with just a few well-written boards and some very small interactive displays did a fantastic job of making me care about the emotional tenor of the town leading up to the riots and stressing me out about the decisions that individual people were making on the day – in all parts of the mob. Seriously great job, museum people, you all deserve a hearty round of applause for pitching your writing perfectly and keeping the focus suitable for the amount of space you had. If I ever find out who you are, I’ll totally buy you a drink.
Just as a connector, Maryland voted on the secession question in Frederick after the riot, which is where I headed off to next, on the trail of more baseball. I didn’t spend the day up there, which is kind of OK as my spare hour turned into “What’s actually inside a CostCo?” and convincing the security guard that looking at pallets of huge containers of cake frosting is actually a valid tourist activity.
Frederick was conveniently close by and also had a number of people playing on the team who had played the previous ‘winter’ season for the Perth Heat. They had a terrible game and probably had to put their short-stop on suicide-watch afterwards, but I had an absolutely delightful time with the few folks in my section. One lady was at 17 years without choosing to miss a game. I think I’m going to grow up to be her.
Had a nice chat afterwards with the catcher who was on the bench for the game. It was REALLY nice to hear an Aussie accent and it’s nice to see him back on the Perth Heat roster for another season.
Fell off my GPS approved route on the way back into Baltimore and ended up in a pretty sketchy area with all attempts to leave it blocked by a freeway. I’ve never actually seen head-height trees growing out of pavement cracks and blocks of buildings with smashed in windows that close to a town centre before.
So Baltimore – really, really interesting city. My sort of place in that they care enough about food to publish a restaurant guide (woot!), great beer and pubs, love the redevelopment all through the harbour area. Really, really curious about what is going on with the rest of the city outside that tourist range. Looks like it could be fascinating and difficult work.