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Offbeat Baltimore: John Waters Rules

You won't find the quirky side of Baltimore at Fort McHenry (1793), which recently celebrated the 200th anniversary of Francis Scott Key's "Star Spangled Banner". You might not find it at the Baltimore Museum of Art, the National Aquarium, or in neighborhoods like the Inner Harbor, either, where glittering condos and fab restaurants spring up every day. But don't you worry: 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:


Urban Pirates Harbor Cruises

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 all-out 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.

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.


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.

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."



The Broken Plate Pendant Company

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.



Geppi's Entertainment Museum

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.








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 and an aficionado of early- and mid-20th century popular culture.


All photos except Broken Plate Pendant Company image by Ed Wetschler.

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Comment by Donna Esposito on July 7, 2014 at 1:58pm

I have been to Geppi's. What fun!



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