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You won't find the quirky side of Baltimore at the Baltimore Museum of Art, the National Aquarium, or in neighborhoods like the Inner Harbor, where glittering condos and fab restaurants spring up every day. But don't let little things like the new Four Seasons Hotel – or Fort McHenry (1793), where the real “Star-Spangled Banner” story took place – mislead you: The Divine [sic] spirit of Hairspray's John Waters, Edgar Allen Poe, and other famously eccentric and offbeat Baltimoreans has survived this city's gentrification, and I can prove it:
National Pinball Museum
The first floor traces pinball's genesis in France (1772) and evolution, which is nice, but the second floor is aces, because there you can play the collection, which includes Star Trek, Twilight Zone with Rod Serling, Jurassic Park, and the all-time best-selling Addams Family. Lowbrow? Sure, but you wish all museums could be this much fun. I mean, does the Maryland Historical Society let you play with its Civil War rifles or doodle on its original manuscript of “The Star-Spangled Banner?” I think not. http://www.nationalpinballmuseum.org/
You can take “pirate ship” harbor cruises in New Jersey or St. Augustine, too, but what makes these cruises special is the crew: moonlighting actors whose loopy enthusiasm for the aargh life will seduce even the most reluctant passenger (me) into donning pirate garb, getting tattooed (multiple ways), joining a conga line, and firing water cannons at archenemy Mad Dog Mike. Dignity? Ha. http://urbanpirates.com/web/
National Museum of Dentistry
Yes, George Washington's teeth sleep here. No, they were not made of wood. The contraption he wore – call it the first George Washington Bridge – was made of hippopotamus ivory, wax, and metal clamps that gripped the poor man's gums. Youch. This Smithsonian affiliate museum also depicts dentistry's history with photos of little Shirley Temple brushing her teeth and schoolkids in marching formation with (what else?) toothbrushes. Marvel at antique forceps, patent medicine flimflam, and “The Rise of the Dental Hygenist!” The museum's curators call all this “The Smile Experience” – an apt title, because the oddball perkiness of the place will make you smile. http://www.dentalmuseum.org/
Edgar Allan Poe Impersonators
Poe and Billie Holiday impersonators are a cottage industry in Baltimore. Poe channeler David Keltz showed up at a Society of American Travel Writers reception in full Poe regalia, broke hearts with his recitation of “Annabel Lee,” and then socialized for two hours as E.A.P. When he left, I like to think he boarded one of Baltimore's (free) buses dressed as Poe and went home to a big black bird and a bottle of absinthe. www.davidkeltz.com
American Visionary Art Museum
The Baltimore Museum of Art boasts massive Matisse and Picasso collections, but as quirky as those two artists could be, the visionary artists at AVAM raise the bar for quirkiness. Not only were/are they not trained as artists, but most of them never even knew they were artists. As a 76-year-old farmer whose works are displayed at AVAM said, “I had a lot of junk, and I had to do something with it.” Ergo, a treasure trove of Rube Goldberg devices, strange sculptures, a bird's nest big enough for an F-150, and a model of the Lusitania made from 198,000 toothpicks. Notes founder and director Rebecca Alban Hoffberger, "This is where John Waters does all the funerals for his friends." http://www.avam.org/
Unlike that farmer, Juliet Ames knows she's an artist, but that doesn't seem to inhibit her. Ames has reinvented the job you dreamed of as a boozy undergraduate: She breaks plates.
The only difference between Ames' handiwork and what you wrought at college keg parties is that she pieces the fragments back together into pendants, earrings, cufflinks, and other objects that are so gorgeous, they're sold at venues like the Baltimore Museum of Art. http://ibreakplates.com/
Stephen a. Geppi, CEO of the largest comic book distributor in North America, built this museum (in Camden Station, right next to the ballpark) to display his pop culture memorabilia. The obsessively enormous collection features miles of comic books, including the debuts of Superman, Batman, and Spiderman. There are Star Wars, Beatles, and even Captain and Tennille dolls; TV screens showing episodes of “I Love Lucy” and “The Nat King Cole Show;” Pez dispensers; Hopalong Cassidy and Roy Rogers lunchboxes; and early depictions of both The Beatles and Tarzan as guys who'd have gotten sand kicked in their faces on Jersey Shore. http://www.geppismuseum.com/Home/7/1/52/500
Ed Wetschler is the executive editor of Tripatini, whose parent company, EnLinea Media, is dedicated to multilingual online content, marketing, and social-media management. Ed is also the Caribbean editor of Recommend magazine, former chair of the Northeast Chapter of SATW, and a halfway decent pinball player.
All photos except Broken Plate Pendant Company image by Ed Wetschler.