Just my luck. Three days in Baltimore, and the Orioles were out of town. Most of those days were spent at a conference, but I had wanted to see a ball game in Camden Yards while I was there.
Still, I had some free time every day. How to use it? With the baseball team on the road, the only three items on my list of “must-sees” were Fort McHenry, Babe Ruth’s birthplace, and Edgar Allen Poe’s grave.
One chance to get all three came up quickly. The Baltimore Visitor Center offers a 90-minute “trolley” (actually a bus) tour of the city. Three of its stops included my wish list. I completed my work for the day, and my wife and I forked over our money ($25 each) and got on board.
What a mistake. Similar tours in other cities allow you to get off at your favorite sites, walk around, and later catch another trolley to the next site.
Not on this tour. The back of the ticket indicated they had a similar policy, and each ticket came with a wrist band to identify you as a paid trolley customer so you could use the off-and-return approach, but it never happened. The trolley rarely stopped, and – when it did stop – it didn’t let anybody off.
We spent a fair amount of time at Baltimore’s version of the Washington Monument. It’s impressive, and predates the more famous Monument in D.C. But it wasn’t on my list.
I finally checked an item off the list a few minutes later when the bus drove by Westminster Hall. Poe’s tombstone stood in the northwest corner of the small cemetery in front of the church.
Unfortunately, we didn’t stop. I got a quick snapshot of the grave’s marker as we drove by. Well, actually, it was a photo of the wrought iron fence that surrounds the cemetery, but if you use a little imagination, you can see the tombstone behind the fence.
Still, we had two more spots to check off. Next was Fort McHenry – the 18th-century fortress that defended Baltimore Harbor during the War of I812, thus inspiring Francis Scott Key to write the “Star Spangled Banner.” Unfortunately, that was another disappointment.
After a drive over Federal Hill, we reached an entrance for the “Fort McHenry National Monument and Historic Site.” I know that’s the official name, because it was on a sign by the gate. Unfortunately, that was all I saw of the park.
Turns out that buses are not allowed in the park. So the bus made a u-turn in front of the gate, while the guide said it was a great place to visit – if we wanted to return another day. Item two did not get checked off.
Still, the Babe Ruth Museum awaited. The guide map for the tour indicated it was one of the last spots, so I sat back and relaxed.
Next thing I know, the tour is over. When I stepped off the bus, I asked the guide about the Babe Ruth House.
They had bypassed the site, he said, because of construction in the area. “You can take a cab,” he added, as I walked off.
First day down, and only a glance at Poe’s grave to show for our effort. Maybe tomorrow would be better.
The next morning was devoted to work, but the afternoon was again free. This time we caught a water taxi ($10 each) at the Harbor Place shopping/restaurant area. We skipped most of the stops, heading as quickly as we could to Fort McHenry.
Success. And a little luck. We arrived on a day the site was recognizing soldiers. All visitors were admitted free of charge (regular ticket price, $7).
We spent most of the afternoon at the fort, enjoying the weather and soaking up the atmosphere that inspired Key’s poem. The weather cooperated too, providing clear blue skies for photos of the fort, it’s awe-inspiring flag, and the monuments that honor the fort’s heroes. A second item got checked off.
That left only the Babe Ruth Birthplace Museum. We took care of that on Day Three, after another morning of work.
Although I was still disgruntled by the trolley guide’s attitude, I took his advice and took a cab to 216 Emory Street – the small, two-story row house that served as the incubator for a baseball great.
The Babe’s family didn’t really own the house, but his mother’s family did. When Mom became ready to deliver, her father sent her to the house. Yep, it was Babe’s maternal grandfather – not his father – who chose the special location.
The Museum is really composed of three houses attached together. The first house serves as an entrance where a $6 ticket gives full access to the two-story museum. The second house is the historic house itself – the 216 address where the Babe was born.
The third house provides a small gift shop and an exit from the museum. I left with a “Babe Ruth Museum” baseball ($7.99) that had the museum’s logo and a reproduced autograph from the Babe himself.
Was it really worth anything? Doesn’t matter. I had to have it. And the third and last item on my list was checked off.
Overall, my visit to Baltimore was enjoyable. And, except for that over-priced trolley ride, I enjoyed the city. Next time, I’ll just have to spend more time paying my respects to Mr. Poe. He deserves more than just a poor photograph taken from a moving bus.