10 reasons why you need to book a trip to literary Baltimore

Dozens of these benches dotted Baltimore in the 1990s as part of an effort to promote literacy — Photo courtesy of Mike Allegra

Classic literature may not be the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Baltimore, but the city has a surprisingly rich literary history that’s the stuff of great stories.

Edgar Allan Poe spent much of the beginning and end of his life here, and it’s no coincidence that Baltimore’s football team is named the Ravens.

Charm City has been home to popular authors such as Laura Lippman, Anne Tyler and John Waters, and there are literary landmarks all over the city.

“The literary community is really woven into the general fabric of the city in a way that surprised me when I moved here and which totally delights me,” said Julia Fleischaker, owner of Greedy Reads. “It’s diverse, inclusive, curious, enthusiastic and socially engaged, and I’m continually blown away by how many people show up for readings and book clubs and author appearances.”

Here are 10 ways to explore Baltimore by the book.

Brilliant Baltimore

Brilliant Baltimore is just thatBrilliant Baltimore is just that — Photo courtesy of Barbie Halaby

The city’s annual Book Festival has always been illuminating, but last year it began a novel partnership with Light City to create Brilliant Baltimore, a celebration of the literary, visual, performing and culinary arts – and it is lit.

Presented by the Baltimore Office of Promotion & The Arts, the 10-day festival features author appearances, readings and book signings, exhibitors and bookseller tents, children’s activities, light art installations, performances and concerts. It literally lights up the city.

Atomic Books

Atomic Books is where hometown author John Waters picks up his fan mailAtomic Books is where hometown author John Waters picks up his fan mail — Photo courtesy of Rachel Whang/Atomic Books

This iconic indie bookstore is filled with “literary finds for mutated minds,” so it’s not surprising that they devote an entire section to hometown author/filmmaker, John Waters. In fact, if you want to send him a letter, this is where he picks up his fan mail.

Located in the hip neighborhood of Hampden, Atomic Books is a great place to expand your horizons, thanks to their eclectic collection of books, comics and zines. You may also want to join their Reading Club, which will give you 15% off their monthly selection.

George Peabody Library

The George Peabody Library is one of the most beautiful libraries in the worldThe George Peabody Library is one of the most beautiful libraries in the world — Photo courtesy of Jason Varney

One of the most beautiful libraries in the world, the Peabody is known as Baltimore’s “Cathedral of Books.” Stand in the expansive atrium and look up at the breathtaking skylight, shining 61 feet above six tiers of cast-iron balconies which house more than 300,000 volumes dating from the Renaissance through the 19th century.

Massachusetts-born philanthropist George Peabody dedicated the library to the people of Baltimore to thank them for their “kindness and hospitality.” Designed by architect Edmund G. Lind, it opened its doors to the public in 1878 and was “to be well furnished in every department of knowledge and of the most approved books of the day,” according to the library website.

Today, it’s also one of the city’s most popular wedding locations and has appeared in a number of movies, including rom-com classic, “Sleepless in Seattle.”

Edgar Allan Poe House and Museum

The Edgar Allan Poe House and Museum was the home of the famous authorThe Edgar Allan Poe House and Museum was the home of the famous author — Photo courtesy of Justin Tsucalas

Maryland’s first Literary Landmark, this house-turned-museum was the actual home of Edgar Allan Poe from 1833-1835, when he lived there with his aunt, grandmother and two cousins.

Portraits and personal effects are on display in this National Historic Landmark, along with mementos from the legendary “Poe Toaster,” a mysterious fan who left three roses and a bottle of cognac on the author’s grave on his birthday every year for six decades.

Although the traditional row house is unfurnished, it’s very well-preserved, giving you an opportunity to walk on the same floorboards as Poe. Just try to resist listening for that tell-tale heart.

The Bluebird Cocktail Room

The Bluebird Cocktail Room is named after Charles Bukowski's poemThe Bluebird Cocktail Room is named after Charles Bukowski’s poem — Photo courtesy of Shannon Patrick

This literary-themed bar in Hampden is inspired by the decadence and frivolous lifestyles expressed by the Lost Generation, and features large communal tables, navy blue walls, a gas fireplace and a long bar for pub-style dining service.

Cocktails are named after writers, including Ernest Hemingway and Virginia Woolf, and are complemented by European bistro fare including charcuterie, fried sweetbreads and steak fries.

The name of the restaurant itself pays tribute to Charles Bukowski’s “Bluebird,” and this season’s cocktail menu was inspired by the Brothers Grimm.

Each of the 18 innovative drinks is based on a fairy tale, and those stories are woven throughout the menu. Whether you opt for the Little Snow White, Briar Rose or Hansel and Gretel, chances are you won’t leave behind a drop or a crumb.

Dorothy Parker Memorial Garden

Dorothy Parker's ashes are interred in a memorial garden at the NAACP headquartersDorothy Parker’s ashes are interred in a memorial garden at the NAACP headquarters — Photo courtesy of Kathy Gadziala

Author Dorothy Parker was known for her biting work and scathing social commentary, so it’s perhaps fitting that what happened after she died was a dark comedy in itself.

Her ashes, which had been sitting in her attorney’s file cabinet for 15 years, were finally moved to the NAACP headquarters where a memorial was built around them.

The circular design was meant to honor her role as a founding member of the legendary Algonquin Round Table, and the epitaph honored her in a totally different way than the one she once wrote for herself, which read, “Excuse my dust.”

H.L. Mencken House

The H.L. Mencken House was home to the "Sage of Baltimore"The H.L. Mencken House was home to the “Sage of Baltimore” — Photo courtesy of Ty Gentner

Known as the “Sage of Baltimore,” Henry Louis Mencken was one of America’s most well-respected and influential journalists, satirists and social critics. A long-time columnist at the Baltimore Sun, he became a part of the city’s culture through his no-holds-barred writing and colorful personality.

Mencken lived in this brick rowhouse from 1883 until his death in 1956. A National and Baltimore City historic landmark, the house underwent a $1.5 million renovation and opened to the public for the first time in more than two decades. As you spend time in the environment that inspired him to fight so passionately for free speech and freedom of the press, it’s impossible not to feel inspired yourself.

Greedy Reads

Greedy Reads is a popular local bookstoreGreedy Reads is a popular local bookstore — Photo courtesy of Julia Fleischaker

This beloved Fells Point shop is a favorite of readers, who are always ready to support local authors and turn their books into store bestsellers. Examples include Chris Wilson’s “The Master Plan,” Barbara Bourland’s “Fake Like Me,” Anthony Pietila’s “The Ghosts of Johns Hopkins,” Charles Duff’s “The North Atlantic Cities,” Devin Allen’s “A Beautiful Ghetto” and anything by D. Watkins.

In fact, the store has become such an integral part of the community that owner Julia Fleischaker opened another branch in Remington.

Enoch Pratt Free Library

The Enoch Pratt Free Library is one of the oldest public library systems in the countryThe Enoch Pratt Free Library is one of the oldest public library systems in the country — Photo courtesy of Enoch Pratt Free Library

Baltimore boasts one of the oldest free public library systems in the United States, and its main branch takes up nearly an entire city block.

The library is home to one of the most important Mencken collections in the world, including correspondence, books from his personal library and typescripts and proofs of his articles and books. The Mencken Room is open to the public once a year on Mencken Day, celebrated on the Saturday closest to his birthday on September 12.

You can also explore a collection of Edgar Allan Poe’s letters, poetry and photographs – and even a lock of his hair, presumably cut from his head during his wake.

Westminster Hall and Burying Ground

Edgar Allan Poe is buried hereEdgar Allan Poe is buried here — Photo courtesy of Westminster Hall and Burying Ground

Westminster Hall, formerly a Presbyterian church, holds a place on the National Register of Historic Sites. Its cemetery, now known as the Westminster Burial Ground, was established in 1786 and is the final resting place of many notable individuals, including Edgar Allan Poe.

The author was originally buried in an unmarked grave towards the back of the cemetery but, in 1875, Baltimore’s school children held a “Pennies for Poe” fundraiser for a monument which stands at the entrance. Poe is buried with his wife and mother-in-law, and you can tour his grave site along with the tombs of many other prominent political, military and business leaders.

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